Does the American Dream Depend on Your Zip Code?

Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture
Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Economics and director of Opportunity Insights, Harvard University

Children’s chances of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past half century in America. How can we restore the American Dream of upward mobility for our children? In this talk, Raj Chetty discussed recent work that he and his colleagues at Opportunity Insights have done to study this question. Among other topics, the talk showed how children’s chances of climbing the income ladder vary across neighborhoods, analyzed the sources of racial disparities in intergenerational mobility, and discussed the role of higher education in creating greater income mobility. The talk concluded by discussing how local policymakers can harness big data to increase opportunity in their own communities and institutions.


Raj Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He is also the Director of Opportunity Insights, which uses “big data” to understand how we can give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding. His research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His work on topics ranging from tax policy and unemployment insurance to education and affordable housing has been widely cited in academia, media outlets, and Congressional testimony.

Chetty received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard’s history. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, he was a professor at UC-Berkeley and Stanford University. Chetty has received numerous awards for his research, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.

This lecture was made possible through an endowment from the Arthur Sulzberger Family. It was co-sponsored by the Duke Population Research Institute (DuPRI) and the Center for Child and Family Policy.