Russell Sage Foundation

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Russell Sage Foundation
RSF logo.jpg
Founded 1907
Founder Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage
Type Private Foundation
  • 112 E. 64th St., New York City
Key people
President - Sheldon Danziger
Endowment $200 million (2011)
Mission The improvement of social and living conditions in the United States

The Russell Sage Foundation is an American foundation located in Manhattan, New York City which funds and publishes research in the social sciences. Founded in 1907, the foundation focuses on labor markets, immigration, social inequality, behavioral economics, the U.S. Census and the Great Recession, among other subjects.


In 1907 Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage started the Russell Sage Foundation...
...with the fortune she inherited from her late husband, Russell Sage

One of the oldest American foundations, the Russell Sage Foundation was established in 1907 for "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States" by a gift of $10 million from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage (1828–1918), widow of railroad magnate and financier Russell Sage.[1] Mrs. Sage directed the foundation to pursue its mission through a broad set of activities, including "research, publication, education, the establishment and maintenance of charitable or benevolent activities, agencies and institutions, and the aid of any such activities, agencies, or institutions already in existence."[2] Her will added a $5 million bequest in 1917.[3]

Early years[edit]

Soon after its establishment, the Foundation played a pioneering role in dealing with problems of the poor and the elderly, in efforts to improve hospital and prison conditions, and in the development of social work as a profession. The Foundation was also responsible for early reforms in health care, city planning, consumer credit, labor law, the training of nurses, and social security programs.[4]

In 1907, the foundation funded the Pittsburgh Survey,[5] the first systematic effort to survey working class conditions in a large U.S. city. Considered a major Progressive Era achievement, the findings inspired labor reforms and helped end twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks for steel workers.[6] Between 1909 and 1922, the Foundation spent nearly a sixth of its capital to build Forest Hills Gardens, a model suburban community for working families designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The aim was to demonstrate the economic and social viability of an intelligently planned suburban community.[7] The first lots sold for $800, and a new suburb began thriving by 1917, but housing prices soon soared beyond the range of the families they were intended for.[4]

During its first 40 years, the Foundation also spent more than $1 million on the Regional Survey and Plan, a guide for development in the New York metropolitan region. Researchers completed 12 massive volumes as part of the effort, and in 1928, the Foundation helped launch the Regional Plan Association to implement the plan’s recommendations.[8] It provided support for social feminists such as Mary van Kleeck, founder of the International Institute of Industrial Relations.[9]

1945 - 1980[edit]

Since World War II, the Foundation has devoted its efforts to strengthening the social sciences as a means of achieving more informed and rational social policy. It launched a variety of programs to draw the social sciences closer to decision-makers in other professions, from policymakers to health care providers. This initiative included funds for research on "social indicators", a collection of data that measure the quality of life.[10]

In the 1950s, the Foundation supported research on the practice and aims of philanthropy. It established the Foundation Center, now the country’s leading source of authoritative information on organized philanthropy. It was also the first to publish The Foundation Directory, a comprehensive listing of the nation’s several thousand largest foundations.[11]

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Foundation turned to medical ethics, including patients' rights, extreme measures to sustain life, and the use of human subjects in research. Foundation-supported books from this period include Bernard Barber’s Drugs and Society (1967)[12] and The Dying Patient (1970).[13]

1980s - present[edit]

The Foundation was an early force in the development of behavioral economics,[14] launching the Behavioral Economics program in 1986 with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.[15] A number of seminal books on behavioral economics published by Russell Sage remain key texts in the field today, including Quasi Rational Economics (1991)[16] and Advances in Behavioral Finance (1993).[17]

In 1993, the Foundation also established the Behavioral Economics Roundtable,[15] a group of leading behavioral economists elected by grantees in the program and charged to design initiatives to advance the field. Three charter members of the Roundtable subsequently received the Noble Prize in economics: George Akerlof, Daniel Kahneman, and Thomas Schelling.

The Foundation launched new programs to study immigration, the rise of economic inequality and contact among cultures within the American population. Between 1992 and 2000, the Foundation worked with the Ford Foundation to conduct a Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality.[18] In 2000, the Foundation partnered with the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) to produce The American People: Census 2000, edited by Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan and John Haaga of PRB.[19] The Foundation also supported several other census-based books reflecting on the import of the new millennium and the evolution of American society, including Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years (2006) by Claude Fischer and Michael Hout,[20] both of University of California, Berkeley and One Nation Divisible: What America Was and What it is Becoming (2006) by Michael Katz and Mark Stern, both of the University of Pennsylvania.[21]

Current activities[edit]


The Foundation currently pursues four principal programs:

  • A program of research on the Future of Work concerned principally with the causes and consequences of changes in the quality of low-wage work in the United States and other advanced economies.[22]
  • A program of research on Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration concerned with the social, economic, and political effects of the changing racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. population, including the transformation of communities and ideas about what it means to be American. This program was formed to replace two prior programs, Immigration and Cultural Contact, in 2015. [23]
  • A program on Social Inequality, focused on the social effects of rising economic inequality, with particular attention to the ways in which the U.S. political and educational systems have responded to growing economic disparities.[24]
  • A program of research on Behavioral Economics which incorporates the insights of psychology and other social sciences into the study of economic behavior.[15]

The principal programs feature a number of working groups:

  • The Biology and Social Science Working Group examines how the incorporation of biological concepts, processes and measures in social science research might improve our understanding of a range of social and economic outcomes.[25]
  • The Political Influence of Economic Elites Working Group examines the mechanisms through which economic elites influence politics, and the relationship between money, politics, and inequality.[26]
  • The Racial Bias in Policing Working Group examines the impact of racial, ethnic, and gender-based attitudes on law enforcement. The group is working with metropolitan police departments across the U.S. to develop policies to reduce racial bias in law enforcement.[27]
  • The Cultural Contact and Immigration Working Group examines immigrant life outside of customary gateway cities such as New York, Miami, or Los Angeles, with an emphasis on the cultural frictions resulting from the rapid growth of the foreign-born population in the United States at a time of high economic uncertainty and political polarization.[28]

In addition to the activities sponsored under the Foundation's main programs, the Foundation also supports a range of special initiatives focused on other issues of current importance:

  • A initiative on the social, economic and political effects of health care reform that seeks to support innovative social science research on the effects of the Affordable Care Act.[29]
  • A website that reports on the social and economic condition of the country as revealed by the 2010 census and related national surveys.[30]
  • A special project to track and analyze the social consequences of the Great Recession.[31]
  • A special project investigating new ways of collecting social science data from the public in order to counter the growing problem of non-response to social surveys.[32]
  • A working group on the Obama Administration's efforts to reorient U.S. public policies in a number of key areas, such as health care, education, and financial regulation.[33]
2008 conference booth


The Foundation publishes books on a wide variety of subjects, with particular emphasis on work related to its programs. It also publishes work based on special initiatives, such as the Series on Trust and its 9/11 Initiative, and is the publisher of the American Sociological Association’s distinguished Rose Series in Sociology.

Visiting scholars and journalists program[edit]

The Russell Sage Foundation has established a center where visiting scholars can pursue their writing and research.[34] Each year, the Foundation invites a number of scholars to its New York City headquarters to investigate topics in social and behavioral sciences. The Foundation particularly welcomes groups of scholars who wish to collaborate on a specific project during their residence at Russell Sage. While visiting scholars typically work on projects related to the Foundation’s current programs, a number of scholars whose research falls outside the Foundation’s active programs also participate.

List of visiting scholars and journalist[edit]

  • In 1990, Robert K. Merton became the first Foundation Scholar at Russell Sage, recognizing his long and invaluable service as an adviser to the administration and a mentor to other visiting scholars.
  • In 2000, Nobelist Robert M. Solow became the second Foundation Scholar, following Merton’s retirement. In 2003, the position was renamed the Merton Scholar.
  • For spring 2016 Carole A. Carmichael of the Seattle Times and Eyal Press of The Washington Post are the Visiting Journalists. [35]


The Foundation's archives are located in the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.[36]

The former headquarters of the Russell Sage Foundation on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, New York City

Headquarters buildings[edit]

When the Foundation was formed, it attempted to locate its offices in the United Charities Building on Park Avenue South and East 22nd Street in Manhattan, but was unable to do so as the building was fully rented; instead, the new foundation spread out to a number of locations in the area. In 1912, Margaret Sage and Robert de Forest decided to construct a headquarters building for the Foundation which would also serve as a memorial to her late husband. They engaged Beaux-Arts architect Grosvenor Atterbury, who had designed the Forest Hills Gardens model housing project for the Foundation in 1908, to design the building, and purchased property at 120 East 22nd Street at the corner of Lexington Avenue, just down the street from both United Charities Building and the Church Missions House of the Episcopal Church, and a short block from Gramercy Park. The building, which was originally nine stories before a penthouse was added in the 1920s, was constructed between 1912 and 1913 and altered in 1922-1923. A fifteen-story extension on East 22nd, which Atterbury also designed, connected to the original building with a five-story "hyphen", was added between 1930 and 1931.[37][38]

The Foundation's current headquarters

Atterbury's design took the form of a Renaissance Florentine palazzo. Because it was both headquarters for the Foundation and a physical memorial for Sage, the building was more opulently constructed than would generally be the case for a charity. Atterbury utilized expensive materials in the interior, such as rare Kingwood sandstone in the elevators.[37] The 1922-1923 alteration added second floor sculptural panels by Rene Paul Chambellan illustrating the foundation's ideals, goals and deeds.[39]

The Foundation made available space in the main building, at no charge, to other social-service organizations, such as the Family Welfare Association of America, the American Association of Social Workers and the Library of Social Work, which took up the top two floors of the main building. Space in the 22nd Street extension was rented out, and the New York School of Social Work was the primary tenant.[37]

The Foundation sold the building in 1949 to the Archdiocese of New York which used it as the headquarters of Catholic Charities, and it was sold again in 1975, after which it was converted to apartments; it is now called Sage House.[37] The building was designated a New York City landmark in 2000,[39] and is part of a proposed extension to the Gramercy Park Historic District.[40]

Since 1981, the Foundation has been headquartered in a Philip Johnson-designed International Style building at 112 East 64th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, built in 1958-1960 for the Asia Society and Japan Society. The building is located in the Upper East Side Historic District.[41][42]



  1. ^ "Margaret Olivia Sage, Founder of the Russell Sage Foundation", Auburn University Digital Libraries
  2. ^ Letter of Gift, April 19, 1907
  3. ^ Glenn et al. (1947), p.xvii
  4. ^ a b "Celebrating 100 Years of Social Science Research", 2007
  5. ^ , "The Pittsburgh Survey," by Paul Kellogg in "Charities and the Commons," 1909,
  6. ^ Overland, Martha Ann (13 January 2011), "To Fight Poverty, A Fund Changes Tactics But Sticks To Its Mission", The Chronicle of Philanthropy 
  7. ^ Glenn et al. (1947), p.49
  8. ^ Keele, Harold, ed. (1984). Foundations. Joseph C. Kiger (1984 ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 376. 
  9. ^ Alvon, Guy (1992). Nelson, Daniel, ed. A Mental Revolution: Scientific Management since Taylor (PDF). Columbus Ohio: Ohio State University Press. 
  10. ^ "Social indicators" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  11. ^ Foundation Center
  12. ^ Google Books
  13. ^ Google Books
  14. ^ Heukelom, Floris (2011), "A Sense of Mission: The Alfred P. Sloan and Russell Sage Foundations’ Behavioral Economics Program, 1984-1992", Forthcoming, Science in Context 
  15. ^ a b c "Behavioral Economics" on the Russell Sage Foundation website]
  16. ^ "Quasi Rational Economics" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  17. ^ "Advances in Behavioral Finance" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  18. ^ "Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality" on the Russell Sage website
  19. ^ "The American People: Census 2000" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  20. ^ "Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years" on the Russell Sage Foundation website]
  21. ^ "One Nation Divisible: What America Was and What it is Becoming" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  22. ^ "Future of Work" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  23. ^ "Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  24. ^ "Social Inequality" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  25. ^ "Biology and Social Science Working Group" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  26. ^ "The Political Influence of Economic Elites Working Group" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  27. ^ "Racial Bias in Policing Working Group" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  28. ^ "Cultural Contact and Immigration Working Group" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  29. ^ "The Social, Economics, and Political Effects of the Affordable Care Act" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  30. ^ US2010 website
  31. ^ "The Social Effects of the Great Recession" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  32. ^ "Research Agenda for the Future of Social Science Data Collection" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  33. ^ "Reaching for a New Deal: President Obama's Agenda and the Dynamics of U.S. Politics" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  34. ^ "Visiting Scholars" on the Russell Sage Foundation website
  35. ^ Staff. (November 16, 2015) "RSF Announces Spring 2016 Visiting Journalists" Russell Sage Foundation website
  36. ^ Rockefeller Archive Center website
  37. ^ a b c d "Russell Sage Foundation" on Gramercy Neighborhood Associates
  38. ^ The 5-story connector building was necessitated by a covenant to the deed for the site, which was sold to the Foundation by the Gramercy Park Hotel. The intention was to preserve access to sunlight for the hotel's north-facing rooms.
  39. ^ a b New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Postal, Matthew A. (ed. and text); Dolkart, Andrew S. (text). (2009) Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.86
  40. ^ "Proposed Extension to the Gramercy Park Historic District" on Gramercy Neighborhood Associates
  41. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Postal, Matthew A. (ed. and text); Dolkart, Andrew S. (text). (2009) Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.155
  42. ^ White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5. , p.391


  • Glenn, John M.; Brandt, Lilian; Andrfews, F. Emerson (1947). Russell Sage Foundation, 1907-1946. Russell Sage Foundation. 

External links[edit]