Christopher Jencks

Professor of Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
Areas of Expertise:
  • Antipoverty Policy
  • Family Policies
  • Inequality & the Middle Class
  • School Reform

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About Christopher

Jencks’ main areas of research are currently income inequality, poverty, and school accountability. He has written about income inequality for more than forty years, starting in 1972 with Inequality: A Reappraisal of the Effects of Family and Schooling in America. His work on inequality covers both causes and consequences – showing how the spread of single-parent families raised inequality between the bottom and the middle; slower growth of college graduation rates raised inequality between the middle and the 90th percentile; and deregulation of the financial sector raised the gap between the top one percent and the 90th percentile. Most claims about the consequences of rising inequality are speculative, but Jencks would say the most important aspect of inequality is probably the rising political influence of the rich, which makes it ever harder to reverse the trend.



"The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States since 1960" (with David T. Ellwood), in The Future of the Family, edited by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lee Rainwater, and Timothy Smeeding (Russell Sage, 2004), 25-65.
Demonstrates that while single parent families are spreading at all education levels, the change among college educated whites has been quite small.
"The Changing Effect of Family Background on the Incomes of American Adults" (with David Harding, Leonard Lopoo, and Susan E. Mayer), in Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success, edited by Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis, and Melissa Osborne Groves (Princeton University Press and Russell Sage, 2005), 100-144.
Argues that the odds that children raised in disadvantaged families will do better than their parents did not change much between 1972 and 2000.
"Would Equal Opportunity Mean More Mobility?" (with Laura Tach), in Mobility and Inequality: Frontiers of Research in Sociology and Economics, edited by Stephen Morgan, David Grusky, and Gary Fields (Stanford University Press, 2006).
Shows how changes in the number of people moving up and down the socioeconomic ladder are not necessarily a good indicator of whether opportunity is becoming more or less equal.
"Health and Economic Inequality" (with Andrew Leigh and Timothy M. Smeeding), in The Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality, edited by Wiemer Salverda, Brian Nolan, and Timothy Smeeding (Oxford University Press, 2009), 384-405.
Explores how changes in the share of income going to the rich have not affected life expectancy in rich countries.

In the News

Christopher Jencks quoted in Jerry Kammer, "More Green Cards are Always Good for Some, but What about the National Interest?" Center for Immigration Studies Immigration Blog, January 23, 2018.
Christopher Jencks quoted on poverty in the U.S. in Max Ehrenfreund, "Bernie Sanders is Right: Bill Clinton’s Welfare Law Doubled Extreme Poverty" The Washington Post, February 27, 2016.
Christopher Jencks quoted on children of single parent homes, "Note to Fathers on Mother's Day" Daily Journal, May 9, 2015.
Christopher Jencks's research on whether we won or lost the war on poverty discussed in Thomas B. Edsall. Christopher Jencks, "How Poor Are the Poor?," New York Times, March 25, 2015.
Christopher Jencks quoted on the effects of raising a child with one biological parent in Nicholas Kristoff, "When Liberals Blew It" New York Times, March 11, 2015.
Christopher Jencks quoted on the policy implications to be gleaned from the rise of single motherhood, "The Unbelievable Rise of Single Motherhood in America over the Last 50 Years" The Washington Post, December 18, 2014.
"Was Moynihan Right?," Christopher Jencks (with Sara McLanahan), Education Next, December 2014.