Leading economist to give lecture on big data, inequality

John F. Kennedy called children “the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

But over the past 50 years, the chances of children in the U.S. earning more than their parents have fallen from 90% to 50%, leaving many to wonder if the American dream of upward mobility can be restored.

On April 18, at 4 p.m. in Statler Auditorium, Raj Chetty, the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the Harvard-based nonprofit Opportunity Insights, will discuss recent work he and his colleagues have done to study this issue at the Cornell Center for Social Sciences’ annual Distinguished Lecture in the Social Sciences.

In his talk, “Improving Equality of Opportunity in America: New Insights from Big Data,” Chetty will show how children’s chances of climbing the income ladder vary across neighborhoods; analyze the sources of racial disparities in intergenerational mobility; and discuss the role of higher education in creating greater income mobility.

Finally, he will discuss how local policymakers can harness big data to increase opportunity in their communities and institutions.

The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Economics. A reception in the Carrier Ballroom of the Statler Hotel will follow the talk. Due to restrictions related to some of the data being presented, this in-person event will not be recorded or livestreamed.

“Raj Chetty is arguably the most accomplished economist of his generation and is one of the foremost experts in the world on inequality and social mobility across all disciplines,” said Michael F. Lovenheim, the Donald C. Opatrny ’74 Chair of the Department of Economics. “He has pioneered the use of big data to explore critical questions related to economic mobility that have led to important new insights and policies.”

Chetty’s areas of research include tax policy and unemployment insurance; education; and affordable housing. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in 2003, he was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Chetty has received numerous awards for his research, including a MacArthur Fellowship (also known as a “genius grant”) and the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under age 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.

The Cornell Center for Social Sciences Distinguished Lecture in the Social Sciences brings eminent thinkers to Cornell to address the campus and Ithaca community on pressing social issues. Past speakers include Isabel Wilkerson, David Lazer, Mahzarin Banaji, Dorothy Roberts and Matthew Desmond. Questions related to this lecture may be directed to socialsciences@cornell.edu.

Megan Pillar is a communications coordinator for the Cornell Center for Social Sciences.

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