2018 Tobin Project Prize for Exemplary Work on Inequality and Decision Making

The Tobin Project is pleased to announce that the 2018 Prize for Exemplary Work on Inequality and Decision Making has been awarded to Orestes Patterson Hastings (Assistant Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University) and Daniel Schneider (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley). In their paper with Joe LaBriola, “Income Inequality and Class Divides in Parental Investments,” Hastings and Schneider have made a significant contribution to our understanding of the effects of inequality on individual behavior and how these effects influence our economy, democracy, and society more broadly. The Tobin Project is proud to recognize their novel and insightful work with this $20,000 prize.

The prize represents a new facet of the Tobin Project’s inquiry on Inequality and Decision Making. This initiative examines how economic inequality can have behavioral consequences that are not only important in and of themselves but may also be crucial to understanding the larger trends and problems that may result from inequality. With this prize, we recognize work that we expect will provide a model for subsequent research and spur further innovation in this critical field of study.

Through their investigation of disparities in the way parents invest in their children’s educational enrichment, Hastings and Schneider provide key insights into how individual responses to inequality reverberate throughout our society. Their study identifies a correlation between increased income inequality at the state level and different patterns of parental expenditures on children. When inequality rises, their research finds, wealthier parents dedicate both more money and a larger share of their income to lessons, schooling, and childcare, without notably increasing the amount of time spent parenting their children. This trend suggests that inequality may heighten anxiety among high-socioeconomic status parents, and, as a result, lead to greater income-based gaps in children’s educational and extracurricular opportunities. By isolating this individual-level effect, Hastings and Schneider’s findings provide an important contribution to our understanding of how inequality may depress intergenerational mobility in the United States.

In describing the significance of this research, Schneider says, “We often say that Americans tolerate a great deal of inequality in outcomes—like income or wealth—in part because Americans really believe in equality of opportunity. Americans think that every kid really does have a chance to get ahead, to make it. We sometimes conflate income inequality and intergenerational mobility—but those are different concepts and they are not necessarily related…In this project, we wanted to see if there was a link—if this period of historically extreme income inequality in the United States might in fact have served to reduce intergenerational mobility.” Since parental investments allow affluent parents to pass on their advantage to their children, Hastings explains, the paper “shows just how hard it is to separate inequality of outcomes from inequality of opportunity.”

Hastings and Schneider’s paper was selected by a committee comprised of leading scholars of inequality: Nancy Adler (Lisa and John Pritzker Professor of Medical Psychology, University of California, San Francisco), Marianne Bertrand (Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business), and Christopher Jencks (Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, Emeritus, Harvard Kennedy School). Professor Adler called Hastings and Schneider’s research “rigorous, systematic, and insightful,” explaining that their paper was exemplary in its ability to analyze both “the impact of income inequality on different aspects of parental investment and the mechanisms which could account for the resulting pattern.”

The Tobin Project Prize comes at a time when the top one percent of American earners receive upwards of twenty percent of the nation’s income. As Professor Adler observes, “the papers submitted for consideration for this prize reflected wide-ranging interest in the impact of income inequality…The number of applications and quality of the research among young researchers in a range of disciplines bodes well for this area of work.” Hastings and Schneider’s study offers an outstanding examination of how inequality manifests itself in individuals’ day-to-day lives, how individuals react to such inequality, and the possible consequences of their actions for the rest of society. The Tobin Project is hopeful that the 2018 prize will encourage scholars to examine important, unanswered questions in the field of Inequality and Decision Making and dedicate themselves to research that helps illuminate the challenges inequality poses to our society and how they might be addressed.

If you have any questions about the prize, please contact us at research@tobinproject.org.