The joint Ph.D. Programs in Social Policy are structured broadly around seven major research domains. Taken together, these domains define the core substantive focal areas of the Ph.D. Programs Social Policy. The domains are not mutually exclusive, and some research questions will, of course, bridge more than one domain. Nonetheless, these research domains convey the scope of a field specialization within the Social Policy joint Ph.D. programs and representative issues in each.
1. Work, wages, and markets. Work and pay have undergone profound changes worldwide in recent years. In the US, the most pronounced trend is a dramatic widening in wage inequality. What are the primary forces widening the distribution of wages? How have firm restructuring, skill-based technological change, and government policy on issues like education, immigration, the minimum wage, and EITC contributed to wage dispersal? How do the causes and labor market responses to economic inequality differ cross-nationally?
2. Urban poverty and residential segregation. Economic and racial segregation concentrate poor families in certain neighborhoods. When national poverty rates increase, the impact is felt in neighborhoods that are already disproportionately poor. What difference does it make when children who are poor grow up in urban communities that are overwhelmingly populated by other poor families? What are the dynamics of depopulation in ghetto areas? What is the relationship between hyper-segregation and job search behavior? What role can transportation policy, housing mobility programs, and economic development efforts play in alleviating the worst effects of urban poverty?
3. Family structure and parental roles. As men's wages have stagnated or fallen, married women's labor force participation has risen steadily. At the same time, marriage rates have fallen sharply, especially among those with low potential earnings. How much of this change in family patterns can be traced to economic factors? How much to changes in the availability of contraception and abortion? How much do social norms about whether expectant couples "must" marry? As employers' claims on mothers increase, what has been the impact on families and children? How have firms changed their approaches toward work organization to accommodate family demands? Why do women in some countries appear to do better than in others?
4. Racial disparities, immigration, and bridging racial/ethnic divides. Discrimination, educational deficits, and limitations on occupational mobility have played a critical role in determining who occupies the higher and lower strata of the income distribution. For many years the American story appeared to center on a black/white divide. For some time now, however, immigration has complicated this picture. Similarly in Western Europe, an increasing flow of immigrants has begun to challenge the cultural dominance of the traditional population. Muslims in France, Germany, and Belgium increasingly find themselves in segregated settings, with limited occupational opportunity. Yet the social policy regimes that greet them are quite different than those in the US. How do these immigration flows affect native workers and what determines different nations’ success or failure in improving educational and economic opportunities for the children of immigrants?
5. Educational access and quality. Most explanations of increasing inequality focus attention on formal education at all levels as the most powerful mobility device in the United States. Problems of school quality, segregation, parental involvement, and school governance all contribute to unequal access to the educational credentials important for advancement in the labor market. An interdisciplinary focus on changing patterns of access to higher education, institutional inequality (reflected in funding formulas, student/teacher ratios, and teacher qualifications), school dropouts, urban school governance, and the problematic nature of the school-to-work transition presents several possible research agendas.
6. Political inequalities, participation, and social capital. The political consequences of inequality represent another research domain. How and when do the consequences of inequality crystallize into political issues? How are economic and social inequalities related to problems of social trust, governance, or the emergence of social movements?
7. Institutions, policy, and comparative welfare state analysis. Social and economic policies have changed fundamentally over time and vary cross-nationally in important respects as well. Macro-level institutional and comparative analysis provide important tools for illuminating the forces reshaping the welfare state and giving rise to distinct national configurations or varieties of capitalism. Micro-level institutional approaches can help illuminate the political-economic incentives underlying the adoption of particular policies, as well as the intended and unintended effects of specific policies on individual behavior.