My research examines the processes that produce racial and socioeconomic inequality: the interplay between academic inequality and segregation in educational contexts, the ways that individual choices shape aggregate patterns of segregation, and how boundaries between social groups are maintained and negotiated. I hope that my work will not only help us understand our most pressing social problems but also identify policies and practices to reduce inequality. My research has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Social Forces, Sociology of Education, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Education Research Journal, among others.

The first strand of my research focuses on inequality and segregation in educational contexts. Inequality – in both opportunity and outcomes – is a stubbornly persistent feature of the American educational system. My work seeks to shed light on the extent of this inequality, how it develops, and the mechanisms that explain its endurance. For example, recently published work examines how educational inequality has shifted in the post-recession, pre-pandemic period, mapping both how achievement disparities have changed over time and the extent to which they are predicted by changing segregation levels. Likewise, another recent article examines the sources of the Black gender gap in educational attainment. In addition, my ongoing work on these topics investigates the causal effects of school district secessions on achievement gaps and the causal effect of a first-dollar scholarship policy on college access in my home state of Michigan.

A closely related but distinct line of research examines how preferences and decision-making patterns shape aggregate patterns of segregation. Though individuals are tasked with making educational decisions – such as to send their child to a certain school or to declare a specific major – in individual contexts, these decisions have cumulative consequences for the demographic makeup of a community’s schools, a university’s major, or an entire occupation. My research in this vein focuses on two sites for understanding decision-making and consequences for stratification. The first examines how parents of school-aged children choose a school for their child. Here, I leverage a series of novel survey experiments to explore how status competition and boundary maintenance shape parental engagement with ranked educational data, such as the information one might find on I also focus on undergraduate course and major selection as a second site for understanding the granular process of consideration and choice.

Finally, my research agenda interrogates the emergence of categories themselves and how people draw boundaries between “us” and “them”. For example, ongoing work examines how genetic ancestry tests (such as those available commercially through 23andMe and affect the boundary-making processes of Black Americans as they grapple with their perceptions of who is – and isn’t – Black. This work advances theoretical understandings of the racial classification logics that shape the racial structure of the U.S. and addresses key social and policy questions, including debates over who should be eligible to benefit from policies such as affirmative action and reparations.

Publications & Working Papers

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Working Papers

“They have Black in their blood”: Exploring how genetic ancestry tests affect racial appraisals and classifications.
Marissa E. Thompson, Sam Trejo, AJ Alvero, and Daphne O. Martschenko


My School District Isn’t Segregated: Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Information on Parental Preferences Regarding School Segregation.
Forthcoming at Sociology of Education. 
Marissa E. Thompson* and Sam Trejo*


The Role of Early Schooling in Shaping Inequality in Academic, Executive Functioning, and Social-Emotional Skills.
Marissa E. Thompson, Christina Weiland, Meghan P. McCormick, Catherine Snow, and Jason Sachs

Examining the Black Gender Gap in Educational Attainment: The Role of Exclusionary School Discipline & Criminal Justice Contact.
Social Forces. 
Marissa E. Thompson

From Pipelines to Pathways in the Study of Academic Progress.
René F. Kizilcec, Rachel B. Baker, Elizabeth Bruch, Kalena E. Cortes, Laura T. Hamilton, David Nathan Lang, Zachary A. Pardos, Marissa E. Thompson , and Mitchell L. Stevens

Uneven Progress: Recent Trends in Academic Performance Among U.S. School Districts.
American Education Research Journal
Kaylee T. Matheny *, Marissa E. Thompson*, Carrie Townley Flores*, and Sean F. Reardon


Grade Expectations: The role of first-year grades in predicting the pursuit of STEM majors for first- and continuing-generation students.
The Journal of Higher Education. 
Marissa E. Thompson

Studying Undergraduate Course Consideration at Scale.
AERA Open ● ●
Sorathan Chaturapruek, Tobias Dalberg, Marissa E. Thompson, Sonia Giebel, Monique H. Harrison, Ramesh Johari, Mitchell L. Stevens, and René Kizilcec


The Confidence Gap Predicts the Gender Pay Gap Among STEM Graduates.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
Adina D. Sterling, Marissa E. Thompson, Shiya Wang, Abisola Kusimo, Shannon Gilmartin, and Sheri Sheppard


Entrepreneurial Intent of Engineering and Business Undergraduate Students.
Journal of Engineering Education
Shannon K. Gilmartin, Marissa E. Thompson, Emily Morton, Helen Chen, Anne Colby, and Sheri D. Sheppard


Bioresorbable silicon electronics for transient spatiotemporal mapping of electrical activity from the cerebral cortex.
Nature Materials
Ki Jun Yu, Duygu Kuzum, Suk Won Hwang, Bong Hoon Kim, Halvor Juul, Nam Heon Kim, Sang Min Won, Ken Chiang, Michael Trumpis, Andrew G. Richardson, Huanyu Cheng, Hui Fang, Marissa E. Thompson, Hank Bink, Delia Talos, Kyung Jin Seo, Hee Nam Lee, Seung Kyun Kang, Jae Hwan Kim, Jung Yup Lee, Younggang Huang, Frances E. Jensen, Marc A. Dichter, Timothy H. Lucas, Jonathan Viventi, Brian Litt, and John A. Rogers