American Voices Project

Our Mission


Opportunities for upward mobility are declining. And the decline is precipitous: Ninety percent of children born in 1940 grew up to earn more than their parents, whereas today only half of all children earn more than their parents. Our mission: To talk to people across the country to learn how they’re faring and to find out what is and isn’t working in their lives.

The American Voices Project will thus start with a fact-finding census of 200 rural, suburban, and urban communities. We will interview 5,000 individuals across the country to understand their successes and struggles, their hopes and dreams, and their ideas for making our country work better.

We don’t know why some communities succeed in providing opportunity, while others lag behind. We don’t know why some people are doing well and others are struggling. We try to help those in need, but we don’t know if that help is effective.

The solution: There’s simply no substitute to talking to people openly and honestly and finding out what’s happening in their lives. The American Voices Project is not a survey, it’s not a poll, it’s an honest and open conversation that we’re holding across the country.



research fellows






(plus NATIVE NATIONS, D.C., and Puerto Rico)



The American Dream has it that all children, rich and poor alike, should have the same opportunities. Here’s an idea: What if we took that dream as a serious national commitment and worked together to figure out what it would take to actually realize it.
— David Grusky, Principal Investigator

Tell me the story of your life.


The American Voices Project interview will yield rich and deep portraits of the everyday lives of Americans. The interview covers:

  • Defining life events

  • Daily routines

  • Relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and relatives

  • Formal and informal jobs

  • Health and health care

  • Economic successes, difficulties, and challenges

  • Political beliefs, civic engagement, and participation

  • Sources of meaning, values, and aspirations


“The interview blends a comprehensive life history with a discussion of everyday routines, what makes life meaningful, and who makes life meaningful—all captured within the vehicle of an intimate conversation.”

- Kathy Edin

Read more about the principal investigators’ vision for the project here.


The American Voices Project is a joint initiative of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, Princeton University’s Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, the American Institutes for Research, and a coalition of Federal Reserve banks.

The principal investigators are Peter W. Cookson, Jr. of Georgetown University; Kathy Edin of Princeton University; and David B. Grusky of Stanford University. Meet our team.

Applications are now open for research fellows.

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Chetty, Raj, et al. 2017. "The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940." Science.
Fox, Liana. 2018. "The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2017." Current Population Reports.
Saez, Emmanuel. 2015. "Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2014 preliminary estimates)." No 201506, Technical Notes, World Inequality Lab.