Research Areas Overview
Opportunity Lab uses rigorous research based in empirical economics to address how the following six thematic areas affect poverty and inequality.
Research increasingly demonstrates that global climate change is possibly the most pressing economic challenge of our generation and that air pollution is one of the leading causes of mortality in the world. The Opportunity Lab’s Climate and Environment Initiative supports research to better understand the social value of environmental conditions and externalities while also examining the economic consequences of existing or proposed policies. Led by Professors Solomon Hsiang and Reed Walker, the initiative uses data-driven approaches to better understand the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions, the cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences of resource management strategies, and inequalities in exposure to environmental harm.
Beyond the roughly 2 million Americans who are incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons, the criminal justice system affects enormous numbers of families and communities in countless and profound ways. Contact with the system can have serious consequences for one’s ability to secure a job, qualify for benefits, and find stable housing, among other consequences. Given the serious concerns about racial disparities, high costs, and the general humanity of the system, it is imperative that thoughtful and deliberate policy research guide reform efforts at the local, state, and federal level. The Crime and Criminal Justice Policy Initiative, led by Professor Steven Raphael, employs rigorous social scientific research methods to help inform criminal justice policy deliberation among researchers, at think tanks, and at agencies at all levels of government. Through theoretical modeling, quasi-experimental and experimental empirical study, the initiative investigates issues ranging from drug interdiction efforts in U.S. prisons, to pre-trial detention policy, to racially disparate impacts of policing practice.
To a great extent, a person's life chances are set by the time he or she finishes school, and both the schooling system and other institutions governing child development play major roles in influencing these opportunities. Led by Professors Jesse Rothstein and Ted Miguel, the Opportunity Lab’s Education and Child Development Initiative is focused on investigating the impacts of childhood experiences on opportunity for life-long success. Our scholars lead the discussion on the impact of educational institutions on equality of opportunity. Central research topics include the effects of preschool programs for disadvantaged children, the role of elementary and secondary school funding, teacher quality, and the impact of segregation on student outcomes. Our work also extends to postsecondary education, including the measurement of colleges’ “value-added” for their graduates’ earnings, admissions policies and racial diversity, and the role of student debt in occupational choices.
The Opportunity Lab’s Health Initiative conducts and synthesizes economic research with the goals of improving lives and reducing inequality through the more efficient provision of health care services. The core research team, led by Professors Benjamin Handel and Jonathan Kolstad, partners with policy organizations and business to deliver key research insights. The Initiative focuses on research that uses sophisticated economic methods to study large micro-level datasets on consumer and producer and behavior in health care markets. Some of the primary research topics include consumer behavior and market regulation in health insurance markets, physician performance in the context of different payment and technology mechanisms, consumer choices of health care services and providers, and equitable systems for national health care provision.
Over the past forty years inequality has steadily increased in the United States. Income and wealth are becoming ever more concentrated at the top of the distribution while the levels of wages, earnings and income for those in the middle and bottom of the distribution have stagnated or even fallen. The Opportunity Lab’s Social Safety Net and Employment Initiative focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of these fundamental trends in our economy, as well as the role taxes and social safety net programs have in magnifying or mitigating the rise in inequality. Led by Professors David Card and Hilary Hoynes, the Initiative concerns topics such as intergenerational mobility, the gender wage gap, and the role of employers in local and national labor markets. Other topics concern the preferences for redistribution, behavioral effects of taxation, the effect of affirmative action policies on economic outcomes, and long-run effects of early life exposure to social safety net policies.
With economic inequality rising, the identification of policies which address equitable and efficient taxation is a defining challenge of our time. The Opportunity Lab's Taxation and Inequality Initiative, led by Professors Emmanuel Saez, Danny Yagan, and Gabriel Zucman, conducts research on the causes and consequences of rising inequality and on policies which might mitigate this trend. Affiliated scholars act as leading voices in discussions on economic inequality, tax policy, and the interplay between the two. Publications include seminal work on long-run trends in economic inequality in the US and abroad, the functioning of the US tax system, the equity and efficiency effects of tax reforms, and the challenges raised by globalization in taxing income and wealth effectively.