The Social Genome Model

The (SGM) is a powerful policy tool that can forecast the long-term effects of policies, programs, and practices. Using nationally representative data to track the academic, social, and economic experiences of people from birth to middle age, the SGM can identify paths to upward social mobility and assess the effects of specific policy and program interventions.

The SGM is a critical tool for policymakers deciding whether and how to invest in programs, initiatives, and interventions. While evaluation studies that follow children into adulthood are resource- and time-intensive, the SGM gives researchers and policymakers a cost-efficient “virtual laboratory” to understand how policy changes will affect children at the time those changes are under consideration, rather than years—or even decades—in the future. The SGM, originally developed at the Brookings Institution and based at the Urban Institute, is a collaborative effort of the Brookings Institution, Child Trends, and the Urban Institute.

Using the SGM, researchers and policymakers can:

  • Assess the long-term effects of specific programs (such as Head Start) through adulthood
  • Predict long-term effects of programs that have not previously been measured due to a lack of time or insufficient resources to follow up with participants
  • Predict the cumulative effects of participation in multiple programs on children through adulthood
  • Evaluate certain “What if…?” scenarios that have previously been difficult to study (for example, if we could improve the reading scores of elementary school students, how much improvement might we see in their high school graduation rates and adult incomes?)

Child Trends and its partners have used the SGM to develop and run varied simulations of the effects of program and policy interventions. For :

  • In November 2016, the SGM research team published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Social Issues, for which they used the model to show how early interventions can positively affect the future economic prospects of children born into low-income families.
  • Child Trends implemented a “What if…?” scenario to explore the effects on youth of increasing their mother’s level of education or delaying the timing of her first birth.
  • Child Trends, Urban Institute, and Brookings Institution researchers used the SGM to analyze the benefits of policies to improve the lives of women and girls for the White House Council for Women and Girls, under a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.
  • An August 2017 report produced by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, used the SGM to understand the long-term benefits of early and middle childhood interventions for children who have been exposed to lead.
  • Child Trends used the SGM to simulate the benefits experienced by children who participate in integrated student support programs at school. The results are detailed in the December 2017 report Making the Grade: A Progress Report on Integrated Student Supports.


Report: What if You Earned a Diploma and Delayed Parenthood? Intergenerational Simulations of Delayed Childbearing and Increased Education

Project: Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure

Article: The Social Genome Model: Estimating How Policies Affect Outcomes, Mobility and Inequality across the Life Course

Report: Social Genome Model Analysis of the Bridgespan Group’s Billion-Dollar Bets to Improve Social Mobility

January 2018