Allison receives MSU’s first Russell Sage Foundation grant to study early marriage outcomes

Rachel Allison

Rachel Allison

Rachel Allison, an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Sociology, is receiving a three-year grant intended for early-career scholars for her project titled “First Comes Marriage: Educational and Workforce Trajectories of the Early Married in Mississippi.”

Allison’s research addresses the social factors that influence young adult family formation and work outcomes, and will consider how these may vary across gender, race and socioeconomic status.

She is the first MSU faculty member to receive a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation. Created in 1907, the foundation was established by Margaret Olivia Sage for “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.”

“One goal of the study is to understand how young people decide to marry statistically early, given that the average age of first marriage in the U.S. is about 28,” said Allison. “Another goal is to understand how early marriage shapes outcomes in education and the workforce over time.”

Allison began her research with a seed grant from the Strategic Research Initiative program funded by the College of Arts and Sciences -- something she said is “a very clear example of success coming from this internal program.”

“The SRI program has been indispensable to my success, and I could not have applied for or won this grant without it,” Allison said.

“This internal university funding allowed me to collect the data I needed to apply to larger, more competitive opportunities. It was only after I had been able to use the SRI funds to collect substantial preliminary data that my proposal to the Russell Sage Foundation was considered and ultimately funded.”

Allison said the $49,716 grant will fund the next three years of her research.

The RSF receives approximately 100 proposals annually, reviewing less than two dozen. Each year, only four to five proposals are funded. Dedicated to strengthening the social sciences as a means of diagnosing social problems and improving social policies, the RSF is one of the only foundations to fund social science research exclusively, prioritizing studies of social inequality.

Nicole Rader, head of the sociology department, said the “prominent grant” is an indication of the strength of Allison’s work.

“Dr. Allison’s research will make a large impact on our understanding of gender and family dynamics in the discipline of sociology and the state of Mississippi,” Rader said. “We are grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences for providing her the seed money through the SRI program which led to the Russell Sage grant, and we are proud of Dr. Allison for being the first person to ever receive a Russell Sage grant at MSU.”

In 2017, Allison began a longitudinal interview study of 18-23 year olds attending either MSU or EMCC’s Golden Triangle campus, including a group of engaged or married students and a comparison group of those who are single or in relationships. This year, Allison plans to use the RSF grant to help fund the addition of a new comparison group—those 18-23 in Mississippi who are not attending college.

Allison received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2009 and 2014. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and French in 2007 from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

Her research focuses on gender and intersectionality across societal institutions characterized by women’s increased representation, including education, medicine and sports.

Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, complete details about the Department of Sociology may be found at

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Sarah Nicholas | College of Arts and Sciences

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