REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS - February 1, 2017 Deadline

Determinants of Life Expectancy by Income and Geography,

and Implications for Social Security Policy

The National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to conducting and disseminating economic research, seeks applications for research projects that deepen our understanding of the mechanisms explaining geographic variation in the relationship between income and life expectancy in the United States, by using recently released statistics from the Health Inequality Project. In this call, with funding support from the Social Security Administration through the NBER Retirement Research Center, we encourage proposals that leverage the newly released data to better understand the reasons for the strong relationship between income and life expectancy, its geographic variability, and its implications for interventions and policy.

Using 1.4 billion administrative tax records from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the years 1999-2014 and nearly 7 million death records from the Social Security Administration (SSA), Chetty et al. (2016) documented geographic and intertemporal variation in the relationship between income and life expectancy in the United States and evaluated factors associated with differences in longevity using the variation across areas. Much remaining research remains to be done on the causal factors underlying these findings and implications for policy.

To facilitate further research on the questions that were left unanswered in the paper, the authors made a rich set of new local area statistics of life expectancy by income publicly available. The data are available for download at These data include, for men and women
  — national life expectancies at age 40 by year and income percentile;
  — state and commuting zone life expectancies by year and income quartile; and
  — county life expectancies by income quartile.
National mortality rates for men and women are also available by year and income percentile, at each age between 40 and 76 years. Estimates of local area mortality rates based on Gompertz models are also available. In addition, the website provides an extensive set of commuting zone and county-level characteristics that were collected as part of the recently-published study. The data are available in Excel spreadsheets and Stata format.

Topics of Interest
Applicants from the social sciences and public health are encouraged to submit proposals utilizing this new data resource (possibly in combination with other data sources). Examples of the types of research questions of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:
  — How have differential economic changes in different parts of the country affected life expectancy for people at different levels of income?
  — What medical system characteristics ameliorate the impact of unequal health distributions, and are those policies likely to materially influence health trends going forward?
  — What are the effects of major state and local area public health interventions such as smoking bans and efforts to reduce obesity on life expectancy gaps between the rich and the poor?
  — What other social and economic factors have influenced health for low and middle income populations?
  — What have the areas where life expectancy has grown most rapidly for low-income men and women done right? What could other areas do to replicate their successes?
  — To what extent are mortality trends correlated with disability trends, and what does this imply about the link between disability policy and Social Security policy?
  — What does the variation in life expectancy across income groups and areas mean for Social Security, particularly for the redistributive aspects of Social Security. How are these distributional consequences changing over time given current mortality trends?
  — What are the future costs and distributional implications of proposed changes in Social Security policy, such as indexing the age of eligibility to mean life expectancy, given the estimates of trends in local-area mortality rates?

Eligibility and Requirements
We will accept applications from junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows or doctoral students, and welcome applications from either individuals or research teams.

NBER expects to fund 5-7 proposals. All awards will be for a 1-year project period, starting March 1, 2017. (Note that there is no opportunity to extend the funding period.)

Grantees are expected to present findings at the NBER in spring 2018 (see below), and are free to publish research in their preferred outlet. We are required by the terms of our grant to forward manuscripts to SSA for comment prior to journal submission.

Research Conference
Research from accepted proposals will be presented at a one-day academic conference at NBER in spring 2018. The conference will focus on improving the quality of the research and fostering collaboration amongst early career researchers interested in health inequality and Social Security policy. NBER will reimburse participants for reasonable travel expenses to attend the conference; this expense should not be included in the project budget.

Maximum funding for faculty or faculty-student teams:
 Either $25,000 for non-personnel costs such as data, travel, or other research expenses;
 OR $12,000 for salary (investigator and/or research assistants);
 OR $5,000 for salary and up to $15,000 for non-personnel costs.

Maximum funding for grad student projects:
  Up to $12,000 for non-personnel costs

All funds are awarded directly, not by subcontract.

Application Deadline and Guidelines
Applications will be accepted through Wednesday, February 1, 2017, at 5 pm Eastern Time (ET). Late or incomplete applications will not be reviewed.
Complete applications, with the sections listed below, must be emailed as a single attachment to [subject line: RRC Determinants of Life Expectancy].

To apply, send:

  • a concise (4 pages max., excluding references) single-spaced proposal describing their proposed work;
  • a brief description of your budget needs;
  • up-to-date abbreviated CVs (5 pages max. per CV);
  • students must also submit a letter of recommendation from their faculty advisor. Letters may be submitted by the applicant or sent separately by the faculty advisor.

Applicants should explore in detail the available data at and be specific in the proposed analysis, including which tables from the project they plan to use and any additional sources of data that will be required.

If you still have questions after reviewing the information, please send a message to

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