Economics study reaps million-dollar funding

by Sean Kelly

Staff writer

The distribution of material well-being in Canada and Canadians' attitudes towards inequality and related public policies, are among the subjects of a UBC-led interdisciplinary research project that recently won a $1.25 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Bernie Bressler, vice-president, Research, called the SSHRC award "a significant achievement for UBC."

"The award reflects the high calibre of our applied and policy-oriented social science research," Bressler said.

The UBC team, led by Economics Prof. Jonathan Kesselman, competed against 22 proposals for funding under SSHRC's Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI) Program. Normally only one such award is made annually.

The five-year study, titled "Equality, Security, and Community: Explaining and Improving the Distribution of Well-Being in Canada," involves 12 UBC researchers from the departments of Economics, Political Science, and Sociology, as well as the faculties of Law and Commerce and Business Administration.

They are joined by seven researchers from Simon Fraser, Queen's, and Dalhousie universities, the University of Montreal, and Statistics Canada.

Kesselman, who is also director of UBC's Centre for Research on Economic and Social Policy, says the researchers will examine how economic, political and social factors, as well as people's attitudes, have affected the inequality and insecurity experienced by Canadians.

"The distribution of well-being in Canada is the result of shifting socio-economic forces and public policy," he says. "We hope that by understanding the way these elements have interacted in the past, we can improve economic equality and security in the future."

As part of the research, Canadians will be polled on such topics as incomes, job security, taxation, connectedness to community organizations, attitudes towards the efficacy of governments, and involvement in political groups.

One of the keys to landing funding from SSHRC was UBC's financial commitment to the study well before the application to SSHRC was made, says Kesselman.

"SSHRC's MCRI program looks for significant institutional support, although they don't specify a particular amount," he says. "We were able to leverage university funds to obtain larger amounts of external funding. This is important news for UBC faculty members wondering how to finance larger projects in these days of constrained research funding."

Of the total project budget of $1.75 million over five years, $500,000 comes from sources other than SSHRC, including the university's Hampton Research Fund, the Faculty of Arts, the office of the vice-president, Research, and the Dept. of Economics, as well as government agencies and non-governmental organizations.