• Online Program Director, College Of Social Work
  • Associate Professor, College Of Social Work

Research Statement

Broadly, my research agenda concerns poverty and inequality and focuses on economic and social well-being of impoverished groups.  More specifically, much of my research emphasizes social and economic development with low-income women at the individual and household level.  At the individual and household level, social and economic development initiatives are intended to enhance financial capability and social well-being.  While more immediate economic well-being indicators, such as household income, are of critical importance, a “development” approach emphasizes investment; building capacities of individuals, families, and communities over time in contrast to more traditional poverty and social service initiatives that focus largely on income maintenance. 

My research builds on a larger body of scholarly work that emphasizes advancing financial capability and asset/wealth accumulation among the poor and adds a unique and meaningful contribution through an emphasis on women.  Initiatives to promote asset accumulation among low-income groups include such things as microenterprise development programs, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and financial literacy programs.  Microenterprise programs focus largely on women and other low-income groups who do not have access to traditional financial service markets or business training.  IDAs are matched savings accounts that allow participants to save for asset purchases such as the purchase of a home, supporting a microenterprise, or human capital development through post-secondary education.  With an emphasis on low-income women I have conducted research on microenterprise initiatives, wealth inequality, homeownership, and financial literacy and capability programs.  My methods of inquiry have been both quantitative and qualitative in nature.

More recently my research has focused on the economic dimension of intimate partner violence (IPV).  Low-income women face significant challenges to building financial security, as they often lack resources, knowledge, and access to financial services.  For survivors of domestic violence these challenges are multiplied.  Domestic violence survivors often face significant financial obstacles as a result of their abuse, including economic abuse.  Many survivors have been removed from the workforce for years; prohibited from pursuing higher education and job training activities; remain unbanked, and must often repair credit damaged by their abuser.  Additionally, economic dependence on an abusive partner is a primary reason women stay with or return to an abusive partner.  While short-term crisis services are available to survivors of domestic violence, services and resources that facilitate long-term financial capability are limited.  Thus, my work has focused on both understanding “economic abuse” as a dimension of IPV (see for example Sanders, 2015; Weaver, Sanders, Schnabel, and Campbell, 2009) as well as community based initiatives that seek to promote long-term economic stability for survivors including financial education and IDA programs (see for example Sanders, 2016; Sanders, 2014).

Finally, my work in the area of financial inclusion has led me to begin asking questions about social and political inclusion as well.  Social inclusion can be thought of as creating conditions that enable full and active participation of every member of society.  Recently, I published an article (Sanders and Scanlon, 2021) that promotes social inclusion by highlighting the digital divide as a human rights issue and the need for more social work involvement.  Similarly, I am interested in political inclusion including political literacy and voting rights of marginalized groups including people with a felony record.   



Research Keywords

  • Poverty and Inequality
  • Asset Based Social Welfare Policy and Programs
  • Financial Capability
  • Financial Literacy
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Women's Issues
  • Financial, Social, and Political Inclusion


  • Daftary, Ashley, Ortega, Debora, Sanders, Cynthia & Hylton, Mary (2021). A CRT analysis of policy making in Nevada: A case study for SW education. Journal of Social Work Education. Published, 08/2021.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. & Scanlon, Edward (2021). The digital divide is a human rights issue: Advancing social inclusion through social work advocacy. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work. Vol. 6, 130-143. Published, 03/2021.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2018). Promoting financial capability of incarcerated women for community reentry: A call to social workers. In Birkenmaier, J., Sherraden, M. Jacobson Frey, J. Callahan, C. & Santiago, A.M. Eds. Financial Capability and Asset Building with Diverse Populations: Improving Financial Well-being in Families and Communities. Routledge Press. Published, 02/13/2018.
  • Scanlon, Edward & Sanders, Cynthia K. (2017). Financial capability and asset building: A transformational practice framework. Advances in Social Work. Vol. 18(2). Published, 12/17/2017.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2016). Promoting financial capability of incarcerated women for community reentry. Journal of Community Practice. Vol. 24(4), 389-409. Published, 11/17/2016.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2014). Economic abuse in the lives of women abused by an intimate partner: A qualitative study. Violence Against Women. Vol. 21(1), 3-29. Published, 12/28/2014.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2014). Savings for survivors: An Individual Development Account program for survivors of intimate partner violence. Journal of Social Service Research. Vol. 40(3), 297-312. Published, 04/07/2014.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2013). Financial capability among survivors of domestic violence. In Birkenmaier, J.M., Sherraden, M., & Curley, J.C. Eds. Financial Capability and Asset Development: Research, Education, Policy, and Practice.. Oxford University Press. Published, 05/2013.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. & Porterfield, Shirley L. (2009). The ‘ownership society’ and women: Exploring female householders’ ability to accumulate assets. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. Vol. 31, 90-106. Published, 12/01/2009.
  • Weaver, Terri L. , Sanders, Cynthia K. , Schnabel, Meg & Campbell, Carole L. (2009). Development and preliminary psychometric evaluation of the domestic violence-related financial issues scale. Development and preliminary psychometric evaluation of the domestic violence-related financial issues scale. Vol. 24(4), 569-585. Published, 04/24/2009.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K., Weaver, Terri & Schnabel, Meg (2007). Economic Education for Battered Women: An Evaluation of Outcomes. AFFILIA: Journal of Women and Social Work. Vol. 22(3), 240-254. Published, 08/01/2007.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. & Schnabel, Meg (2006). Organizing for economic empowerment of battered women: Women’s Savings Accounts. Journal of Community Practice. Vol. 14(3), 47-68. Published, 09/2006.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K., Porterfield, Shirley L. & Rainford, William (2006). The wealth holdings of married-couple households with children with disabilities. Journal of Policy Practice. Vol. 4, 19-39. Published, 04/2006.
  • Sherraden, Margaret S. , Sanders, Cynthia K. & Sherraden, Michael (2004). Kitchen Capitalism: Microenterprise in Low-Income Households. State University of New York (SUNY) Press. Published, 10/2004.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2004). Employment options for low-income women: Microenterprise versus the labor market. Social Work Research. Vol. 28(2), 83-92. Published, 06/2004.
  • Sherraden, Margaret S. , Ssewamala, Fred & Sanders, Cynthia K. (2003). Microenterprise performance: A comparison of experiences in the United States and Uganda. Social Development Issues. Vol. 25(1/2), 219-234. Published, 07/01/2003.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. (2002). The impact of microenterprise assistance programs: A comparative study of program participants, non-participants and other low wage workers. Social Service Review. Vol. 76(2), 219-234. Published, 02/2002.
  • Sanders, Cynthia K. & Scanlon, Edward (2000). Mortgage lending and gender. AFFILIA: Journal of Women and Social Work. Vol. 15(1), 9-30. Published, 09/30/2000.