Social Genome Project

Posted by Brookings Institution on February 26, 2018

Is the United States still an opportunity society? Can people achieve the American Dream? How can we help more people reach the middle class?

The Center on Children and Families at Brookings is answering these questions with the Social Genome Project, a data-rich model using the best research on what determines success in each stage of the lifecycle. The model is a tool for researchers, practitioners, and government officials to explore the various pathways to success, and to assess the likely success of any strategy designed to increase opportunity for children and youth by conducting virtual policy experiments.

What is the Social Genome Model?

A Life Cycle Model: The SGM will provide a very explicit and useful life cycle framework for thinking more rigorously about pathways to the middle class. It is a much-needed complement to an emerging body of research on “what works” based on high-quality evaluations of individual programs because it will enable decision makers to compare and contrast the long-term and indirect effects of different programs to change the life prospects of less-advantaged children and youth. For example, if we know the effects of an investment in early childhood education on a child’s chances of being school ready, we will then be able to estimate the longer-term and indirect effects on adult earnings. It could also be used to estimate the effects of multiple interventions on an individual’s life prospects.
A Unique New Data Set: The SGM will draw on a variety of existing longitudinal data sources to create a new data set that can then be used to measure a child’s chances of success over the life cycle.
Cost-Benefit Analysis Tool: The SGM will facilitate benefit-cost analyses of different interventions to help determine where the payoff to a given investment of dollars is likely to have the greatest impact. For example, based on our work so far, we have been able to show that an investment in effective programs that prevent early and unplanned pregnancies would more than pay for themselves, even under very conservative assumptions about the savings to taxpayers.
Virtual Policy Lab: The SGM will serve as a virtual laboratory for conducting new policy experiments and for answering questions about the impact of early success on later success without the costs of mounting a full-scale experiment in the field. Those virtual experiments that seem the most promising could then become candidates for such real-world testing. It will also allow us to examine the distributional implications of different policies, since the model will be based on a detailed representation of the demographic and economic characteristics of the U.S. population.

Achieving the American Dream depends on being born to adults who are ready to be parents, and then succeeding at each subsequent stage in life. We’ve identified five benchmarks that are good predictors of eventual economic success: being born to a non-poor, two-parent family, being ready for school at age 5, mastering core academic and social skills by age 11, graduating from high school with decent grades and avoiding risky behaviors during adolescence, and obtaining a post-secondary degree or the equivalent income before age 30.

The Social Genome Project

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