2014–2016 Emerging Scholars Grants: Focal Theme & Questions of Interest

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Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

The 2014–2016 Emerging Scholars competition sought proposals for research that will enhance our understanding of promising programs and policies that seem most effective at reducing the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, which is one of three integrated research themes shaping IRP's research agenda as a National Poverty Research Center. Solicitation for the 2014–2016 Emerging Scholars Grant Program was announced in January 2014 with a March 14, 2014, deadline. View the 2014–2016 Request for Proposals (PDF). IRP affiliates Katherine Magnuson, Associate Professor, School of Social Work; Jason Fletcher, Associate Professor of Public Affairs; and Barbara Wolfe, Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Public Affairs, Economics, and Population Health Sciences, are directing the program.

Poverty is a common experience for children in the United States, with child poverty rates following poverty rate trends in the general population. Although about one in five children is poor in any given year, roughly one in three will spend at least one year of their childhood living in a poor household. Young children, children of single mothers, children of immigrants, and children of color are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, which often has lasting effects.

Poverty scholars have long referred to the lasting effects of child poverty as the intergenerational transmission of economic disadvantage or the "cycle of poverty," whereby poverty appears to be passed across generations. Children's life chances, and perhaps those of their future children, are constrained by their parents' economic fortunes and parenting skills. Given the fact that most low-skill and low-wage workers are also parents, the diminished labor market opportunities they experience creates economic hardship not only for individual workers, but also for their children.

Poverty, economic immobility, and economic inequality can be transmitted across generations by social institutions: families, schools, communities, and labor markets. They may also be transmitted through malnutrition, poor behaviors, and limited medical care during the pregnancy itself. The urge to intervene, and break the cycle of poverty, is strong, as the payoff for successfully improving the life chances (opportunities and upward mobility) of the disadvantaged is quite large for individuals, families, and society. Yet to date, only a handful of policies and programs have been proven to improve the long-term well-being of low-income children, motivating many researchers and policymakers to seek more innovative and effective approaches and to build the evidence base about the long-term effects of early childhood interventions.

IRP's Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty research initiative is designed to advance research informing our understanding of the cycle of disadvantage, focusing on the extent to which poverty and inequality affect the life chances of children and youth, the social and biological processes that explain the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and the policies and programs that are successful in reducing it.

Questions of Interest

In response to these trends and challenges, we invite research proposals from recent Ph.D. recipients (within the past eight years) that address the following key questions:

  • To what extent do poverty and inequality affect the life chances of children and youth?
  • What social and biological processes explain the transmission of poverty across generations?
  • What interventions, policies, and programs are successful at reducing the intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children, thereby increasing the odds that poor children will have better long-run economic success than their parents? These interventions, policies and programs may be directed at a particular avenue of transmission such as community, medical care, or targeted education, or particular ages of children, or they may be broader approaches.

IRP evaluated proposals in collaboration with affiliated scholars and ASPE staff, and awarded funding to five projects with a maximum award of $20,000 each. The awards run from June 13, 2014, through November 2015. Throughout the award period, grantees will benefit from consultation with IRP senior affiliates, with each other, and—during a workshop at which grantees will present their draft paper—with other senior poverty scholars. Award notification was made on May 30, 2014.

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