Julia Behrman

Assistant Professor of Sociology


Sociologist Julia Behrman’s research explores the relationship between inequality in educational opportunity and demographic processes, with emphasis on fertility and family formation. Much of her work is motivated by a central question: How does family background shape educational opportunities, and in turn, how does education shape fertility, family formation, and the intergenerational transmission of inequality? Her work takes an international comparative perspective that focuses on contexts in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia undergoing rapid economic, social, and demographic change. More recent work has explored the interplay between international migration and family change among migrants from high-fertility African and Asian countries to lower-fertility European countries. 

Behrman’s research has received awards from American Sociological Association Sections on Education, Population, and Development; the Society for the Study of Social Problems; the Population Association of America; and the Sociologist AIDS Network. Her research has received funding form the South African Medical Research Council and the NYU Global Research Institute.

Behrman served as a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Sociology at Nuffield College, University of Oxford for the 2017–18 academic year and joined Northwestern and IPR in the fall of 2018.

Current Research

School Expansion and Social Mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa: Moving Beyond Attainment. This project explores trends in inequality of educational opportunity in low-income sub-Saharan African countries where there has been substantial expansion in schooling systems in recent decades. Educational investments targeted toward poor populations provide a promising way to reduce inequality of opportunity (IEO).  However, elimination of school fees have been critiqued for improving access to school at the expense of deterioration in school quality and poor learning outcomes. This project moves beyond the focuses of the IEO literature on attainment to document inequalities in learning outcomes and explore the factors that drive inequalities in learning.

Global Family Change. There have been dramatic changes in family life around the globe in response to social, economic, political, and demographic forces. However, sociologists and demographers continue to lack an empirical understanding of macro-level trends in family change in lower- and middle-income countries and a comprehensive theory for how and why family systems are changing globally. In a collaborative project with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Oxford, and Bocconi University, Behrman is using multi-state life-tables and growth convergence techniques to document crosscutting trends in global family change over the life course. A key feature of this project is the ability to test leading theories of how and why family systems undergo change, with an emphasis on whether patterns of family change converge or diverge across countries at different levels of economic development and socioeconomic inequality. 

Selected Publications

Quisumbing, A., N. Kumar, and J. Behrman. In press. Do shocks affect men’s and women’s assets differently? Evidence from Bangladesh and UgandaDevelopment Policy Review.

Behrman, J., and S. Duvisac. 2017. The relationship between women’s paid employment and women’s stated son preference in India. Demographic Research 36(52): 1601–36.

Behrman, J. 2017. Women’s land ownership and participation in decision-making about reproductive health in Malawi. Population and Environment 38(4): 327–44.

Behrman, J., A. Peterman, and T. Palermo. 2017. Does keeping girls in school prevent against forced sex? Quasi-experimental evidence from Eastern and Southern Africa. Journal of Adolescent Health 60(2): 184–90.

Behrman, J., and A. Weitzman. 2016. The effect of the 2010 Haiti earthquake on women’s reproductive health: A difference-in-difference analysisStudies in Family Planning 47(1): 1–15.

Weitzman, A., and J. Behrman. 2016. Disaster, disruption to family life and intimate partner violence: The case of the 2010 earthquake in HaitiSociological Science 3:167–89.

Behrman, J. 2015. Do targeted stipend programs reduce gender and socioeconomic inequalities in school attainment? Insights from rural Bangladesh. Demography 52(6): 1917–27. 

Behrman, J. 2015. Does schooling affect women’s desired fertility? Evidence from Malawi, Uganda, and EthiopiaDemography 52(3): 787–809.  

Behrman, J. 2015. The effect of increased primary schooling on adult women’s HIV status in Malawi and Uganda: Universal primary education as a natural experiment. Social Science and Medicine 127:108–15.