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Opportunity Lab

Overview

Berkeley Opportunity Lab (O-Lab) was founded in 2016 by a multi-disciplinary group of University of California, Berkeley faculty spanning seven schools and departments who use rigorous research to tackle issues surrounding poverty and inequality domestically and abroad. The Lab utilizes large administrative datasets and “big data” sources to produce innovative quantitative research based in empirical economics. Affiliated scholars are often at the forefront of research and generate strong intellectual, societal, and policy impact. O-Lab’s research is organized into six thematic areas known as “initiatives.” Each initiative is distinct, with its own academic leadership. However, faculty research often spans multiple initiatives, demonstrating the complex and multifaceted nature of research focusing on poverty and inequality.

Initiatives

 

Climate & Environment

O-Lab’s Climate and Environment Initiative supports research to better understand the social value of environmental conditions and externalities while trying to better understand the economic consequences of existing or proposed policies. Led by Professors Solomon Hsiang and Reed Walker, the initiative uses data-driven approaches to examine the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, the cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences of resource management strategies and environmental policies, and inequalities in exposure to environmental harm. 

 

Crime & Criminal Justice Policy

O-Lab’s Crime and Criminal Justice Policy Initiative, led by Professor Steven Raphael, employs social scientific research methods to help inform criminal justice policy deliberation at think tanks, researchers, and agencies at all levels of government. Through theoretical modeling, quasi-experimental and experimental empirical study, the initiative investigates issues ranging from drug interdiction efforts in U.S. prisons, to pre-trial detention policy, to racially disparate impacts of policing practice.

 

Education & Child Development

Led by Professor Jesse Rothstein, O-Lab’s Education and Child Development Initiative is focused on investigating the impacts of childhood experiences on opportunity for life-long success. Central research topics include the effects of preschool programs for disadvantaged children, the role of elementary and secondary school funding, teacher quality, and the impact of segregation on student outcomes. Research also extends to postsecondary education, including the measurement of colleges’ “value-added” for their graduates’ earnings, admissions policies and racial diversity, and the role of student debt in occupational choices.

 

Health

O-Lab’s Health Initiative conducts and synthesizes economic research that investigates more efficient provision of health care services. The core research team, led by Professors Benjamin Handel and Jonathan Kolstad, partners with policy organizations and business to deliver key research insights. Research uses sophisticated economic methods to study large micro-level datasets on consumer and producer and behavior in health care markets. Primary topics include consumer behavior and market regulation in health insurance markets, physician performance in the context of different payment and technology mechanisms, consumer choices of health care services and providers, and equitable systems for national health care provision.

 

Social Safety Net & Employment

Over the past forty years inequality has steadily increased in the United States. Income and wealth are becoming ever more concentrated at the top of the distribution while wages, earnings and income for those in the middle and bottom of the distribution have stagnated or even fallen. O-Lab’s Social Safety Net and Employment Initiative focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of these fundamental trends in our economy, along with the role taxes and social safety net programs play in magnifying or mitigating the rise in inequality. Led by Professors David Card and Hilary Hoynes, the Initiative covers topics ranging from intergenerational mobility, the gender wage gap, and the role of employers in local and national labor markets, to behavioral effects of taxation, the effect of affirmative action policies on economic outcomes, and long-run effects of early life exposure to social safety net policies.

 

Taxation & Inequality

O-Lab’s Taxation and Inequality Initiative, led by Professors Emmanuel Saez, Danny Yagan, and Gabriel Zucman, conducts research on the causes and consequences of rising inequality and examines policies that may mitigate this trend. Affiliated scholars generate new evidence on economic inequality, tax policy, and the interplay between the two. Publications include seminal work on long-run trends in economic inequality in the US and abroad, the functioning of the US tax system, the equity and efficiency effects of tax reforms, and the challenges raised by globalization in taxing income and wealth effectively.