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:

  • Class Gaps in Parental Investments in Children: How will Changes to Family Structure Affect Socio-Economic Divides in Parental Investments, Orestes Pat Hastings (Colorado State University) and Daniel Schneider (University of California, Berkeley): This paper examines the relationship between family structure and parental investments in children, and estimate how future changes in family structure will affect the class gaps in these investments over the long run.
  • The Consequences of Poor Health in Childhood Over the Life Course and Across Generations, Robert Bozick (RAND Corporation) and Narayan Sastry (University of Michigan): This paper examines how trends in overall health, physical health, mental health, and healthcare access of children shape education, employment, earnings, family formation, and socioeconomic attainment in adulthood.
  • The Education Premium and Its Impact on Racial and Gender Differentials in Future Earnings and Retirement Income, Damir Cosic (Urban Institute): The paper studies how the wage education premium between high-skilled and low-skilled workers is likely to evolve over time, how it varies across racial and gender groups and how it will influence future earnings and retirement income.
  • 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 and why childhood poverty persists across multiple generations and provides a prospective analysis of childhood poverty after accounting for differences in fertility.
  • Neighborhood Disadvantage and Children’s Cognitive Skill Trajectories, Katie Vinopal (The Ohio State University) and Taryn Morrissey (American University): This project explores the role of neighborhood disadvantage in influencing children’s trajectories of cognitive scores and academic achievement. It also measures the role children’s gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status plays in these outcomes.
  • 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 will examine the impact of neighborhood differences on children’s outcomes as adults and considers whether place-based mobility has evolved differently for different population subgroups.
  • 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 describes the patterns of early education participation for low-income children of immigrants and discusses the implications of these findings for current policies and future economic growth.
  • Visualizing the Demand and Supply of Financial Aid for College, Drew Anderson (RAND Corporation): This study uses two state case studies to assess financial aid application trends in order to consider the implications for a diversifying college population and alternative approaches to state-funded financial aid.

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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 considers how patterns of mobility have shaped spatial variations in work and poverty as well as how safety net provision varies across geography. It seeks to map how well-matched the safety net is to needs across the urban, suburban and rural landscape.
  • Is the Drop in Fertility Temporary or Permanent? Alicia Munnell (Boston College), Anqi Chen (Boston College), and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher (Boston College): This paper explores whether the recent decline in fertility is a temporary drop, a response to the economic downturn or a slow shift to levels seen other developed countries. It provides a historical context for current fertility trends, and considers structural factors that influence fertility.
  • Ensuring Equity in the Future of Work: Technological Change and the Changing Fortunes of Older Black Women Workers, Chandra Childers (Institute for Women's Policy Research): This paper discusses the effects increased use of digital technology and automation have on the employment and earnings of older Black women and will assess the risk of future displacement in well-paid jobs.
  • Financial Fragility Among Middle-Income Households, Andrea Hasler (George Washington University) and Annamaria Lusardi (George Washington University): In order to understand the determinants of financial fragility of American middle-class households, this paper assesses financial security by analyzing assets as well as debt and payment obligations, financial literacy, and demographic characteristics. It also investigates the long-term implications of financial fragility.
  • Fiscal Implications of Health Trends and Disease Interventions through 2050, 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 will discuss impacts for medical expenditures, labor supply, earnings, wealth, tax revenues and government expenditures.
  • Growth in Change Among Vulnerable Nonresident Fathers, Ronald Mincy (Columbia University) and Hyunjoon Um (Columbia University): This study examines the growth and change in the number and composition of fathers choosing between meeting their own basic needs and their full child support obligations. It also examines how recent child support policy changes affect these fathers’ financial security into their pre-retirement and retirement years.
  • Immigrants and the US Wage Distribution, Vasil Yasenov (University of California, Berkeley): This project documents how the wages of foreign-born workers have evolved over time in order to estimate what the U.S. wage distribution will look like in 2050.
  • Immigration and Medicare’s Fiscal Solvency: A Microsimulation, Lu Shi (Clemson University) and Gerald Kominski (University of California, Los Angeles): This paper simulates the impact of four different immigration scenarios on the fiscal solvency of Medicare. It will consider differences in disease incidence and health behavior between foreign-born immigrants and US-born citizens.
  • Internal Migration in the US: Recent Patterns and Potential Drivers, Sewin Chan (New York University), Katherine O’Regan (New York University) and Wei You (New York University): This paper documents recent trends in state-to-state migration, with a focus on the recent divergence in move rates of various subgroups of the population — specifically young adults 25–34 years old.
  • 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.
  • Sentiments and Worker Readiness for the Future of Work, Ismail White (Duke University) and Harin Contractor (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): This project assesses how changes precipitated by automation and technological advances in the workplace will impact African Americans, compared with Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander and White populations. It will develop recommendations for policies that will help African-American workers prepare for the shifting economy.
  • Socioeconomic Disparities in Lifetime Disability Experience: Implications for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Melissa Favreault (The Urban Institute): This paper models how individual socioeconomic characteristics affect the duration and severity of their disability. It will then discuss 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 will analyze the likely evolution of US labor supply and demand between now and 2050 and will consider an appropriate set of policy responses to expected labor market changes.
  • Variation in Achieved and Intended Fertility and Demographic Scenarios for Future Fertility, Alison Gemmill (The Research Foundation of SUNY): The paper explores trends intended fertility, as well as whether women are achieving their intended fertility. It also explores the drivers of fertility that promote or constrain women from meeting their fertility goals.
  • Work-Related Opportunity Costs of Providing Unpaid Care for Aging Parents, Stipica Mudrazija (Urban Institute): This project examines the impact adult children’s decisions to provide unpaid care for older parents have on their labor force participation, hours worked and earnings. It will also assess 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 outcomes at older ages to understand the implications these changes will have on their future retirement security.
  • How Will the Changing Demographic Profile of America Affect Retirement Saving? Jason Fichtner (Johns Hopkins University), William Gale (The Brookings Institution) and Hillary Gelfond (The Brookings Institution): This project assesses how projected demographic changes — in conjunction with economic changes affecting different generations — will affect the adequacy of private preparations for retirement saving.
  • 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 will explore how immigration policy will affect the caregiving labor force in 2050, and how this, in turn, will affect the health of the elderly population.
  • Will Fewer Children Boost Demand for Long-Term Care? Gal Wettstein (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College) and Alice Zulkarnain (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College): This project studies how the decline in the number of children per household might affect the demand for formal long-term care as well as the supply of informal care.

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Politics and Political Institutions

As the U.S. 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 insitutions:

  • Continued Decline or Institutional Developments in Congress? Daniel Stid (Hewlett Foundation): This paper addresses the question, “What will Congress look like in 2050?” It examines how Congress impacts the American polity and the country’s ability to respond to future fiscal and demographic challenges.
  • The Impact of Race on Political Fundraising, Sarah Bryner (Center for Responsive Politics), Grace Haley (Center for Responsive Politics) and Doug Weber (Center for Responsive Politics): This project explores the extent to which a candidate’s race interacts with variables including incumbency, party, age, gender and region as well as the resulting impact of those interactions on political fundraising. To do so, the project will compile a database that sheds light on the intersections of race, gender and money in politics.
  • Race, Identity and Legislative Politics, 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 of minority political representation.
  • The Role of Institutions in Shaping America’s Future Demographics, Jennifer Sciubba (Rhodes College): This study examines the political and economic motivations citizens of Mexico, China and India have to migrate to the U.S. as well as the role that American political institutions play in determining who immigrates here.

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

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