COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: A multidimensional investigation of the dynamics of market transition and social change

Project: Research project

Project Details


Wealth is a critical determinant of well-being. Understanding how people gain access to wealth is therefore critically important in efforts to eradicate poverty and promote well-being. Research among marginalized populations within the United States suggests that restricted access to material wealth and formal education results in risk pooling by sharing limited resources through kin and friendship networks. But those same networks may also restrict individual access to material wealth and thereby inhibit economic mobility. Understanding how social networks either buffer against risk or impede access to the forms of wealth most closely associated with well-being is necessary for policy makers and social scientists who wish to understand the causes and consequences of poverty and associated social problems. Therefore, the research supported by this award will investigate the relationship between economic development and a range of wealth types, including material wealth, health, education, and social networks.

The research will be undertaken by Dr. Siobhan Mattison (University of New Mexico), Dr. Tami Blumenfield Kedar (Furman University), and Dr. Mary Shenk (University of Missouri). To understand how various forms of wealth interact with each other and with health to affect well-being, the team has designed a comparative study in two societies where access to material wealth, education, and healthcare is rapidly changing and altering local social networks. The study populations comprise two small-scale agricultural populations, the Mosuo of Southwest China and the villagers of Matlab, a rural district in Bangladesh. In both places, formerly subsistence-based populations are rapidly becoming integrated with regional, national, and international markets in labor and goods. This provides a natural experiment that allows them explore how recent and ongoing shifts in labor and educational opportunities, family systems, and demographic processes affect wealth and well-being. The researchers will conduct demographic and social network surveys to collect economic and social information, take anthropometric measures to assess health, and conduct focus groups, in-depth interviews, and short video interviews to examine local interpretations of wealth and well-being. The comparative approach employed by the study will allow an understanding of how different social norms and institutions act to either help or limit access to changing forms of wealth. Findings will also show whether these norms are protective or harmful with respect to well-being in different socio-economic contexts. The results of this study will provide a detailed understanding of how individual-level and larger-level social constraints affect the distribution of wealth and well-being in economies undergoing economic development, thus providing a useful model for understanding the opportunities and challenges affecting people struggling to thrive in the United States and around the world. The project is jointly funded by the Cultural Anthropology Program, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and the Office of International Science and Engineering.

Effective start/end date8/15/158/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $156,647.00


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