Julia Behrman

Assistant Professor of Sociology (on leave, 2017–18)


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. 

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 will serve as a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Sociology at Nuffield College, University of Oxford for the 2017–18 academic year and will join the 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 intergenerational educational mobility in low-income East and South East African countries where there have been substantial expansion in schooling systems in recent decades. Educational investments targeted towards 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. Conventional measures of IEO focus on attainment outcomes only, thus failing to take into account the tradeoff between access and quality that may occur in low-income contexts. This project moves beyond the focuses of the IEO literature on attainment to explore whether there has been intergenerational mobility in school progression and skill acquisition, in additional to access/attainment outcomes. 

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. 

Women’s Economic Opportunities and Desired Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa. This project contributes to the literature on the “puzzle” of persistently high African fertility rates by exploring how constraints in women’s economic prospects play a role in shaping fertility preferences in formative years. Using Demographic Health Survey data from across Sub-Saharan Africa, Behrman conducts a multi-level model analysis of the association between changes in women’s paid employment opportunities at the regional level and desired fertility among unmarried adolescent girls. In doing so, she tests hypotheses about the relationship between perceived “opportunity costs” and desired fertility among young women in countries with some of the highest fertility rates in the world.  

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.