James M. and Cathleen D. Stone

CHICAGO – The James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation has made a generous $5 million gift to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy to establish the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Center for Research on Wealth Inequality and Mobility. This dynamic new Center will pursue cutting-edge research on the nature of socio-economic inequality and barriers to mobility. It will be led by Faculty Director Steven Durlauf, a leading economist and social scientist whose deep and innovative body of research on these issues will guide the Center’s approach. 

“The root causes and consequences of inequality are among the most challenging public policy questions of our time,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris. “I am grateful to the Stone Foundation – and to Jim and Cathy Stone in particular – for this extraordinary gift to create a new interdisciplinary research center bearing their name. The Stone Center will extend our school’s strengths and catalyze our growing focus on this crucial field of study.”

Professor Steven Durlauf

The Stone Center’s research will build on Professor Durlauf’s scholarship, grounded in an approach that emphasizes the dynamic interplay of individuals, their families, their social environment, and the broader political landscape that drives inequality. In exploring these issues, the new Center aspires to produce a comprehensive framework integrating multiple dimensions – education, class, occupation, income, wealth, and others – to investigate the complex, multi-layered challenges surrounding socio-economic mobility.

“We are delighted to partner with and support this group of University of Chicago scholars who are poised to further advance understanding of these critical questions,” said Jim and Cathy Stone. “We have long been concerned about growing inequality and a lack of socio-economic mobility in our society, and strongly believe that furthering its study is essential for creating policy that shapes a more democratic and just society.” 

The Stone Center will explore the processes that contribute to inequality in the United States, as well as other countries. Consistent with Professor Durlauf’s body of work, the research agenda will have a particular focus on intergenerational mobility, seeking to move beyond the body of academic literature that examines cross-sectional or intertemporal inequality in isolation. The Center plans to explore topics including the measurement of inequality and the mechanisms that evaluate the effectiveness of relevant public policies, such as tax policy, housing policy, and wealth redistribution. In addition to conducting research, the Center plans to connect scholars through workshops, seminars, and a new Stone Lecture Series on Inequality to be held biannually at the University of Chicago.

“The Stone Foundation has been at the forefront of supporting research into the growing inequalities in societies throughout the world. Thanks to this vital support, our scholars will be able to develop a fresh set of tools to understand wealth, income, occupational and educational inequality in the United States and around the world,” said Professor Durlauf, who is the Steans Professor in Educational Policy at Harris. “The Center anticipates making great strides in better understanding inequality at a time when the gulf between the haves and have-nots is wide, and when policymakers are struggling to find simple solutions to the complex issues at play.”

Professor Durlauf has sought to integrate sociological ideas into economic analysis. His work highlights that socioeconomic segregation enhances inequalities, so that experiences of affluent and less affluent children differ, ultimately leading to a lack of mobility and persistence of socioeconomic status. 

Associate Professor Damon Jones

Joining Durlauf on the Stone Center leadership team will be two associate directors: Associate Professor Damon Jones, who has done substantial work understanding the racial wealth gap and who recently returned to Harris following a year serving as a Senior Economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA); and Associate Professor Geoffrey Wodtke, a sociologist and statistician in the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology, who is currently working on projects relating to the impact of neighborhood poverty on child development and the link between private business ownership and growing income inequality. The Center also plans to have a multi-disciplinary board of advisors comprising scholars from a wide range of complementary fields. 

Associate Professor Geoffrey Wodtke

“I am delighted to work with these two great scholars, Damon Jones and Geoff Wodtke, to further shape and guide the Stone Center’s portfolio,” said Professor Durlauf. “Our approach calls for a robust study of the factors underpinning inequality in our society, representing an opportunity for important collaboration across disciplines – such as political science, sociology, philosophy, economics, mathematics, and statistics – as we explore normative questions as well as new quantitative approaches to inequality analysis.” 

Building on this commitment to studying inequality and its core strength in social policy, Harris is introducing a new certificate program in the 2022-2023 academic year, the Certificate in Social and Economic Inequality. The program will introduce students to modern theories of inequality and the empirical study of those theories. Additionally, Professor Durlauf is collaborating with the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at UChicago on a forthcoming UChicago Harris/AP-NORC Poll assessing public opinion on the present state of social mobility in the United States.