Research Areas Overview

Opportunity Lab uses rigorous research based in empirical economics to address how the following six thematic areas affect poverty and inequality. 

Bird in satellite antenna / Ave en antena sate(...) by: Aztlek

climate & environment

Research increasingly demonstrates that environmental factors are key economic assets that deliver value to all members of society. For example, global climate change is possibly the most pressing economic challenge of our generation and air pollution is one of the leading causes of mortality in the developed and developing world. The Opportunity Lab’s Climate and Environment Initiative supports research to better understand the social value of environmental conditions and externalities while also trying to better understand 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 and energy use, the cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences of resource management strategies and environmental policies, and inequalities in exposure to environmental harm.  To view Climate & Environment research please click HERE

crime, photo by Ryan McGilchrist

Crime & Criminal Justice Policy

In addition to the pain, suffering, and economic losses experienced by victims of crime, the criminal justice system affects those sanctioned for minor violations of the law to those serving long prison sentences for serious felonies. Concerns regarding the criminal justice system include racial inequality, the humane treatment of those with severe mental illness, and high public expenditures. Thoughtful and deliberate policy research and reform may offer more efficient uses of criminal justice resources in addressing these issues. Such evaluations should be broad in scope and speak to the complex objectives that societies wish to achieve through criminal justice policies. The Crime and Criminal Justice Policy Initiative, led by Professor Steven Raphael employs social scientific research methods to help inform criminal justice policy deliberation at think tanks, researchers, and 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 view Crime & Criminal Justice Policy research please click HERE

education, photo by Phil Roeder

education & child development

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 Miguelthe 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. To view Education & Child Development research please click HERE

health, photo by Frankie Leon


The Opportunity Lab’s Health Initiative conducts and synthesizes economic research with the primary 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. To view Health research please click HERE

employment, photo by Richard (flickr)

Social Safety Net & Employment

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. We also examine the role of taxes and social safety net programs 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. To view Social Safety Net & Employment research please click HERE

inequality, photo by Michael Coghlan

Taxation & Inequality

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 SaezDanny 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. To view Taxation & Inequality research please click HERE