Reducing inequality for youth ages 5 to 25 in the United States is one of our primary research interests. The defining element of the Foundation’s work in this area is our focus on responses to inequality—not the causes, contours or consequences of inequality, which have been the point of much prior work. We believe that research that uses qualitative or mixed methods is essential to building and understanding programs, policies and practices that reduce inequality in youth outcomes.

Qualitative studies have a powerful role to play in reducing inequality, as they can potentially reveal and richly describe the patterns underlying cultural and social relationships. Qualitative studies can also bring to light how these patterns can be changed. Mixed-methods studies leverage the strengths of qualitative work in combination with quantitative studies. For the purposes of this essay, we broadly define quantitative studies as those that have variables as the units of analysis, employ hypothesis testing and mathematical analyses, and result in generalizable findings. We broadly define qualitative studies as those that have cases as the units of analysis, and involve analyses of people’s behaviors, perspectives, and subjective experiences.

Since the launch of our reducing inequality initiative in 2014, we have mainly received applications to study questions that beg quantitative studies. But we see research to reduce inequality as a complex endeavor—one that uses a wide range of designs and methods to investigate important questions that they are well suited to answer. As part of the Foundation’s larger effort to attract— and fund—qualitative and mixed-methods studies, this essay has two primary aims: 1) to highlight why and how qualitative and mixed-methods studies are crucial to reducing inequality, and 2) to showcase qualitative and mixed-methods research that we funded as part of our previous focus on understanding the social settings of youth development.

Download the PDF below or read this essay online in the first issue of the William T. Grant Foundation Digest.