Social policy can transform lives across all sectors of society. Through research and education, we provide students with an understanding of the impact of laws, regulations, and data on social outcomes. The intent is to improve the lives of citizens by supporting their education, work, health, and well-being.

The school and our faculty aim to promote equity by identifying and addressing inequalities in access to support and services for individuals and communities. 

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Academic Overview 

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Professor Lisa Gennetian uses the tools of economics to get at the thorny policy questions about poverty, inequality, and the well-being of children.

Related Programs & Courses

  • Public Policy Studies major
  • Child Policy Research Certificate (open to all Duke majors)

MPP (Social Policy Concentration available)

- View concentration requirements

PhD in Public Policy

  • Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Family Connects
  • Hart Leadership Program
  • North Carolina Education Research Data Center  
  • Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity
  • Social Science Research Institute

Sample Stories & Research

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Research Spotlight

Policymakers and the public need updates on how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis. A research project by Anna Gassman-Pines draws on data from an ongoing study of over 1,000 service workers with young children. Economic instability remains high, food insecurity has increased, and safety nets are not reaching everyone. She provides recommended actions for policymakers to keep struggling families afloat.

Listen to the podcast
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Student Spotlight

"I had the tremendous privilege of participating in the historic White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Being able to attend this conference and represent the Duke World Food Policy Center and my food policy research with El Departamento de la Comida (El Depa)—a food sovereignty and mutual aid organization based out of Puerto Rico—was an immense honor." - Denise Rebeil MPP'23

Read about Denise's experience
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Diversity Spotlight

The fall 2022 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture featured Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery. EJI has won reversals, relief, or release from prison for 135+ wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was adapted as a major motion picture.  

More distinguished lectures

What can you do with a focus on Social Policy?

Key Partnerships

Center for Child and Family Policy

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The Center for Child and Family Policy is dedicated to improving the well-being of children and families through research, education, and engagement. They study factors influencing child outcomes, develop and test promising interventions, and advance evidence-based practices and policies to inform change and unlock opportunities for all children and their families.

Family Connects

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Recently launched as a 501c3 nonprofit, Family Connects offers an evidence-based nurse home visiting program for newborns and their families. It's also one example of CCFP’s success in developing research-based strategies for reducing inequities and promoting positive outcomes for all children.

Hart Leadership Program

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The Hart Leadership Program challenges students to practice the art of leadership in public life. Through academic courses, experiential learning programs, community-based research, and co-curricular initiatives, students develop their frameworks for leadership and work alongside others toward a common purpose.

North Carolina Education Research Data Center

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The North Carolina Education Research Data Center (NCERDC) was established in 2001 through a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to store and manage a publicly accessible dataset to provide researchers and the broader policy community ready access to the data on the state's public schools, school districts, students and teachers.

Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity

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The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity is a scholarly collaborative that studies the causes and consequences of inequality and develops remedies for these disparities and their adverse effects.

Social Science Research Institute

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The Social Science Research Institute brings together researchers interested in problems that cross the various social and behavioral sciences, including issues that connect with the humanities and natural sciences. They promote multidisciplinary collaboration among such scholars as they work on critical social issues that are challenging to address fully within any discipline.

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Let's Connect!

Interested in pursuing a degree with a focus on social policy? Great! The admissions page for each program has detailed guidelines, including our contact info. Please reach out!