A range of speakers gathered at the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy this Friday to discuss why inequality is not an issue of skewed wealth distribution alone.
The conference on Sept. 20 kicked off the center's 2019-2020 theme, "Reverberations of Inequality," with three panels on "Health and Inequality," "Barriers to Mobility," and "Policy Responses to Inequality." Guest speakers from universities across the country discussed various ways in which the lack of access to reasonably priced health care, fair policies, and other resources exacerbate inequality.
The conference was organized by a committee of Penn professors to highlight how equality is not always attainable and how a lack of equality might affect access to democratic participation and liberty.
“We have had a period of rising inequality in the U.S. in recent decades, and a lot of that research has looked at the economic dimensions of it," Sociology professor and Reverberations of Inequality program chair Annette Lareau said.
Chloe Bird, a sociologist at the RAND Corporation, spoke about gender inequality in health care at the "Health and Inequality" panel. She said medical researchers in the United States are not required to carry out analyses to see if new treatments affect men and women differently, adding that institutions are reluctant to spend money on studying women specifically.
While researchers had assumed that women had worse mental health than men, Bird discussed that many studies reveal men actually have worse mental health on average. Her fellow panelists included Sociology professors Elaine Hernandez of Indiana University and Bruce Link of University of California, Riverside.
Andrea Mitchell Center Director Jeffrey Green said the center's executive committee decided to focus on inequality as the annual theme, but a special planning committee prepared the opening conference and selected the speakers.
“It is important to us that these events not only diagnose problems but also if possible try to address those problems,” Green said.
Throughout the year, the center offers monthly workshops on the theme, as well as a variety of other events focused on politics and democracy.
In the keynote lecture, Harvard economics professor Raj Chetty discussed his research on the economic mobility of American children in comparison to their parents. He further analyzed social mobility for children in poverty with detailed graphs and charts.
"There is an incredible variation in the spectrum of upward mobility in the U.S.,” Chetty said. “There are some parts of the U.S. that should rightly be called lands of opportunity."
Attendees said they found the event interesting because they were able to connect it to their own research.
“I feel like this panel piqued my interest even more in maternal and child health and even more in women’s health," attendee Erica Danhoui said. Danhoui is a public health graduate student at Temple University.
Chloe Zhu, a Master of Science in Social Policy student, said she enjoyed Chetty's lecture because it tied into her own work.
“I think the research was great because I’m also doing research on the same topic," Zhu said. "He’s really inspiring to me.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.