By 2050, today’s newborn will be in her early 30s, the youngest Millennials will be in their peak work years while the oldest will be close to or in retirement, and remaining Baby Boomers all will be ages 85 or older. Between now and then, changes in the US economy, society and political life will shape Americans’ lives. Demographic shifts are well underway, and the seeds of other adjustments have already been planted. Research will explore these forces over the life cycle:


Children represent the future of our nation. Children’s future life prospects and their ability to thrive in adulthood can be affected by their circumstances and experiences through a number of factors including the level of family income and wealth, family structure, their health status, where they grow up, and their educational opportunities, as well as the overall fiscal and economic environment that surrounds them and their families. The following research focuses on children:

  • The College Premium and Its Impact on Racial and Gender Differentials in Earnings and Future Retirement Income, Damir Cosic (Urban Institute): This paper studies the role that race and gender play in the earnings of college-educated workers and projects retirement income in 2050. It estimates the returns to college education in earnings and retirement income by race and gender, as well as the effects of wage discrimination on earnings and retirement income.
  • Family Structure and Parental Investments: Economic Resources, Commitment, and Inequalities in Financial Investments in Children, Orestes Pat Hastings (Colorado State University) and Daniel Schneider (University of California, Berkeley): This paper examines the relationship between family structure and parental financial investments in children’s childcare, schooling, and enrichment activities.
  • Multigenerational Cycles of Poverty? The Transmission of Childhood Poverty Across Three Generations, Fabian Pfeffer (University of Michigan) and Davis Daumler (University of Michigan): This paper explores the extent to which childhood poverty persists across multiple generations and identifies the total multigenerational effects of growing up poor. It also provides a prospective analysis of childhood poverty after considering differences in fertility between poor and non-poor women.
  • Neighborhood Disadvantage and Children’s Cognitive Skill Trajectories, Katie Vinopal (The Ohio State University) and Taryn Morrissey (American University): This study examines how neighborhood disadvantage is associated with children’s trajectories of growth in math and reading skills in early elementary school. It seeks to understand better how the communities in which children attend school affect their academic success in early grades, and how these associations vary by students’ characteristics.
  • New Developments in Childhood Health: Trends and Consequences in Young Adulthood, Robert Bozick (RAND Corporation) and Narayan Sastry (University of Michigan): This paper examines how the prevalence of childhood health conditions has changed over the past two decades. It also assesses the implications of these health conditions for the transition to adulthood, particularly with regard to educational attainment and sustained financial dependence from parents.
  • Past and Present Differences in Opportunity by Neighborhood, Catherine Massey (University of Colorado), Jonathan Rothbaum (U.S. Census Bureau*) and Liana Fox (U.S. Census Bureau*): This project seeks to understand how mobility has evolved over the course of the 20th Century to predict how it may evolve over the next 30 years. It examines neighborhood factors that affect mobility and investigates whether the historical characteristics of childhood neighborhoods affect adult outcomes. The paper includes results for children by race, gender and levels of parental income.
  • Preparing the Future Workforce: Early Care and Education Participation Among Children of Immigrants, Erica Greenberg (Urban Institute), Gina Adams (Urban Institute) and Victoria Rosenboom (Urban Institute): This study examines the demographics of young children of immigrants, their patterns of participation in early education programs, implications for future economic growth and fiscal sustainability, and policies that can help produce a stronger workforce at midcentury.
  • Visualizing the Demand and Supply of Financial Aid for College, Drew Anderson (RAND Corporation): This study uses two state case studies to assess trends in application for financial aid in order to consider the implications for a diversifying college population and whether alternative approaches to state-funded financial aid are warranted.

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Working-Age Adults

The US labor force is essential to a prosperous and growing economy. By 2050, the working world is likely to be different than it is today, presenting both challenges and opportunities for workers throughout their working lives. Working-age adults face multiple financial demands as they face a changing labor market, make decisions about family, decide where to live, confront changes in their own health or the care needs of others, and prepare for eventual retirement. They also pay taxes for and rely on the availability of public benefits and services. These factors influence labor force participation rates, social well-being and income security or families, and the financial stability of public benefit programs. The following research explores issues facing working-age adults:

  • Anticipating Spatial Patterns of Work, Poverty and Safety Net Provision in the US, Scott Allard (University of Washington): This project explores two questions: how labor force participation has varied across different geographic contexts in recent decades; and how well-matched the safety net is to need across the urban, suburban and rural landscape. The analyses investigate labor force participation by gender, education and geography; changes in work and poverty by place over time; and gaps and mismatches in safety net provision.
  • Demographic Drivers of the Post-Recessionary Fertility Decline and the Future of US Fertility, Alison Gemmill (The Research Foundation of SUNY): This paper examines trends in important demographic drivers of fertility—such as women’s intentions to have children, postponed childbearing, and migration—to better understand the implications of the recent fertility decline for future fertility patterns.
  • Digitalization, Automation, and Older Black Women: Ensuring Equity in the Future of Work, Chandra Childers (Institute for Women's Policy Research): This paper discusses the effects of increased use of digital technology and automation on the employment and earnings of older Black women and assesses the risk of future displacement in well-paid jobs.
  • Financial Fragility Among Middle-Income Households: Evidence Beyond Asset Building, Andrea Hasler (George Washington University) and Annamaria Lusardi (George Washington University): This paper explores the determinants of financial fragility of American middle-income households ($50,000–75,000 annually). It analyzes the socioeconomic characteristics of fragile middle-income households (defined as unable to come up with $2,000 in a month). It focuses on family size, debt levels, degree of financial literacy and the ability of these households to plan for retirement.
  • Geographic Mobility and Parental Co-residence Among Young Adults, Sewin Chan (New York University), Katherine O’Regan (New York University) and Wei You (New York University): This paper seeks to understand how the option of co-residing with parents affects young people’s decisions to migrate. It compares labor and housing market conditions in the areas young people leave to those conditions in areas they migrate to when deciding to co-reside with parents. It also considers role of other potential benefits of co-residence. The paper provides results by different age groups, levels of education, race and Hispanic origin.
  • Growth and Change in the Composition of Vulnerable Nonresident Fatherhood, Ronald Mincy (Columbia University) and Hyunjoon Um (Columbia University): This study looks at the number and composition of vulnerable nonresident fathers who have limited ability to pay their child support obligations. Using a representative state’s policies, it provides rough predictions of how many nonresident fathers would have negative income after meeting their full child support obligations, their own basic needs and tax obligations. It also describes the demographic composition of these vulnerable fathers.
  • Immigrants and the US Wage Distribution, Vasil Yasenov (University of California, Berkeley): This project documents how foreign-born workers affect the wages of low, middle- and high-income workers. It documents the evolution of immigrants in the US wage distribution since 1980, identifies the way that immigrants reshape the wage distribution, and considers the implications of immigration on the future wage distribution in the US.
  • The Impact of Immigration Reform on Medicare’s Fiscal Solvency, Lu Shi (Clemson University) and Gerald Kominski (University of California, Los Angeles): This paper examines the fiscal impact of immigration reform on the solvency of the Medicare Part A, Part B and Part D Trust funds. It uses a hypothetical reform proposal to estimate the additional contributions and benefit costs of expanding Medicare eligibility for immigrants who are currently unauthorized.
  • Is the Drop in Fertility Due to the Great Recession or a Permanent Change? Alicia Munnell (Boston College), Anqi Chen (Boston College), and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher (Boston College): This paper identifies factors that affect the fertility rate and estimates the magnitude of these effects. It explores whether the recent decline in fertility is a temporary drop in response to the economic downturn or is instead a slow shift to lower levels seen other developed countries.
  • The Long-Term Fiscal Benefits (and Costs) of Better Disease Prevention, Bryan Tysinger (University of Southern California) and Dana Goldman (University of Southern California): This project quantifies the competing public finance consequences of shifting trends in population health. It discusses impacts for medical expenditures, labor supply, earnings, wealth, tax revenues and government expenditures.
  • New Stylized Facts from Old Job Search Media, George Borjas (Harvard University), Jason Anastasopoulos (University of Georgia), Gavin Cook (Princeton University) and Michael Lachanski (Princeton University): This project constructs a dataset of job vacancies from 1975–2000 with details on industry, region, occupation, wage and unionization status to improve understanding of evolving trends in labor demand.
  • Sentiments and Worker Readiness for the Future of Work, Ismail White (Duke University) and Harin Contractor (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): Through a survey, this project assesses worker sentiments about technological advances, training opportunities and responsibility for preparing workers for a changing economy. It provides results for non-Hispanic white, African American, Latinx and Asian American/Pacific Islander populations.
  • Socioeconomic Disparities in Disabled and Disability-Free Life Expectancy, Melissa Favreault (The Urban Institute): This paper models how disability-free and disabled life expectancy — broken into mildly- and severely-disabled spells at older ages — vary by socioeconomic characteristics. It then discusses the impact of these findings on the finances of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • The US Labor Market in 2050: Supply Demand and Public Policy, Harry Holzer (Georgetown University): This paper analyzes the likely evolution of US labor supply and demand between now and 2050, with a particular focus on aging, immigration, and automation.
  • Work-Related Opportunity Costs of Providing Unpaid Care for Aging Parents, Stipica Mudrazija (Urban Institute): This project examines the impact on labor force participation, hours worked and earnings of adult children when they decide to provide unpaid care for older parents. It also assesses the overall employment-related opportunity cost of unpaid family care in the United States today and through 2050.

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Older Americans

As people grow older and leave the labor force, they face the prospect of many years of life without actively earning income. Their well-being in retirement reflects a lifetime of opportunities and barriers, outcomes of choices to work, save and invest, planned or unplanned circumstances, and good or bad luck, over which individuals had little or no control. At the same time that older individuals face a decline in income, their healthcare costs may increase, sometimes quite sharply, and many individuals will require care. While some older adults have access to accumulated private savings, individual retirement accounts, 401(k)s and other retirement plans, others have very few resources beyond Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on which they rely for critical financial support. The following research addresses topic relating to aging:

  • Changing Demographics, Changing Economy: Implications for Retirement Security in 2050, Barbara Butrica (Urban Institute): This project follows working-age adults over time to understand how economic, demographic and policy changes are impacting their retirement preparation. It also projects their financial outcomes at older ages to understand the implications of these changes on their future retirement security.
  • How Will Retirement Saving Change By 2050? Prospects for the Millennial Generation, William Gale (The Brookings Institution), Hillary Gelfond (The Brookings Institution) and Jason Fichtner (Johns Hopkins University): This project assesses the prospects for retirement saving for members of the millennial generation, who will be between ages 54 and 69 in 2050 and includes a focus on how retirement saving adequacy will vary by race and ethnicity.
  • Immigration and Tomorrow’s Elderly, Kristin Butcher (Wellesley College) and Tara Watson (Williams College): This project examines the role immigrants play in health and caregiving and builds on research that suggests that elderly individuals living in immigrant-dense areas are more likely to both “age in place” and enjoy lower mortality. It explores how immigration policy will affect the caregiving labor force in 2050 and how those labor force effects could affect the health of the elderly population.
  • Will Fewer Children Boost Demand for Formal Caregiving? Gal Wettstein (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College) and Alice Zulkarnain (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College): This project assesses how the number of children a person has affects eventual demand for formal caregiving facilities. It suggests that the lower fertility of the Baby Boom generations is likely to lead to greater demand for formal caregiving in coming decades.

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Politics and Political Institutions

As the US population changes, so, too, will political behavior, leadership and institutions. These changes will shape the government and determine future policy decisions. The following research examines issues related to politics and political institutions:

  • The Futures of Congress: Scenarios for the US 2050 Project, Daniel Stid (Hewlett Foundation): This paper uses a scenario-based approach to understand how Congress might function in 2050. Whether politics in the US will be polarized or pluralized, and whether the US government will operate in a Hamiltonian or Madisonian pattern generates four plausible scenarios for how Congress, and, more broadly, how American politics and government might function in 2050. The paper seeks to illuminate what these scenarios would entail for policymakers, reform advocates, and interested scholars.
  • The Multiracial Legislator (Dis)Advantage, Danielle Lemi (Southern Methodist University): This project explores issues of race and identity by studying how multiracial legislators view the relationship between their racial backgrounds and their legislative duties. The findings from this research will provide insight into the future political representation of minority communities.
  • The Impact of Race on Political Fundraising, Sarah Bryner and (Center for Responsive Politics), Grace Haley (Center for Responsive Politics): This project explores the racial makeup of the 2018 Congressional candidates to see how well they reflect the US population, including the extent to which a candidate’s race interacts with other variables including incumbency, party, age, gender and region. It also studies the resulting impact of those interactions on political fundraising.
  • The Role of Institutions in Shaping America’s Future Demographics, Jennifer Sciubba (Rhodes College): This paper examines the political and economic motivations citizens of Mexico, China and India have to migrate to the US, as well as the role that American political institutions play in determining who immigrates here. It highlights US immigration policies as playing the primary role in determining the flow of immigrants to the US, particularly for India and China. While immigration from Mexico is in part determined by policy, there is evidence that economic and network factors matter as well.

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Note: Not all organizations listed above are receiving grant funding.


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