Ellen Bryer

Ellen Bryer, Photo credit: Emily Bucholz

2018 Cohort

McNeil 318


I am a doctoral candidate in sociology and an IES predoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. My research draws on qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the relationship between economic inequality and young adults’ educational experiences. Navigating ever-changing landscapes of student debt forgiveness and occupational risks and returns is a growing part of early adulthood for college graduates. My dissertation is a mixed methods study of student pathways through graduate education and their implications for social stratification. I focus particularly on program choice as a complex and high-stakes decision for students. Research from my previous interview study on young adults’ experiences with graduate student debt has been published in Sociological Forum and Socius. I also have an ongoing collaborative project on the emergence of racial wealth gaps in young adulthood and have co-authored two policy reports on how state policies can mitigate the impacts of college closures.

Prior to joining the Department of Sociology at Penn, I worked in a Philadelphia-based research and evaluation firm and am an Americorps alum. I hold a BA in Sociology from Smith College.


BA, Sociology - Smith College

MA, Sociology - University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests

Social Stratification; Higher Education; Student Debt; Transition to Adulthood; Social Class; Wealth Inequality

Selected Publications

Bryer, Ellen. 2022. “My Debt? Our Debt?: Ambiguity and Advantage in Family Financial Assistance for Graduate School.” Sociological Forum 37(3):856–79. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/socf.12829.

Bryer, Ellen. 2022. “Not Nearly as Bad”: Social Comparisons and the Debt Experience.” Socius 8. doi: 10.1177/23780231221121075.


IES Predoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania (2021-2023)

CV (url)