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Julia Behrman

Assistant Professor of Sociology

PhD, Sociology, New York University, 2017

Julia Behrman’s research investigates the causes and consequences of family change in a global perspective.  Her research explores how the institution of the family shapes and is shaped by key social phenomenon in four main areas: (i) educational expansion; (ii) environmental change, natural disaster and climate shocks; (iii) expansion of women’s labor force participation; and (iv) migration. Much of her work is motivated by questions of power: who has power within families and how is it manifested? What events or experiences lead to changes in power dynamics within families? Do changes in family structures alleviate or perpetuate disadvantage between and within families?  

Behrman’s research has received funding from the National Science Foundation and South African Medical Research Council and her work 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. Prior to starting at Northwestern, she was a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Sociology at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. She received her PhD from New York University in 2017. 

Current Research

Gender inequality and fertility. One line of Behrman's research investigates the association between gender inequality and fertility in the United States.  As part of this, she is in the advanced stages of conducting an online conjoint survey experiment with Emily Marshall to test the hypothesis advocated by Frances Goldscheider and others that gender inequality is an important determinant of low fertility in high-income settings.  A pilot of the project was conducted in December 2022 and the project was selected by the Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS) program, run by NORC at the University of Chicago, to be fielded as part of a nationally representative sample in the summer of 2023. A related in-progress paper tackles the apparent inconstancy between persistently high family size ideals in the United States and declining fertility.  Behrman argues that an important piece of unpacking this puzzle is to understand how gender attitudes towards family have also changed. By adopting a Latent Class approach that considers the ways in which ideal family size is bundled with attitudes towards gender, she shows that respondents in more recent survey waves are significantly more likely than respondents in older survey waves to embrace a two-child ideal characterized by progressive ideas about gender responsibilities in the family. However, in the absence of family policies that equalize care burdens, progressive respondents are also more likely to have fewer children than their traditional counterparts. Taken together, these findings deepen demographic understandings of how ideal family size intersects with gender attitudes at the start of the twenty first century.  

Migration and family dynamics. An ongoing collaboration with Abby Weitzman and several graduate student co-authors furthers Behrman's interest in migration and family dynamics by exploring how the implementation of punitive immigration policies in the United States has cascading effects on migrant families. Over the last three years they have constructed a novel time-varying dataset that combines: (i) restricted-access geo-referenced information on family size ideals and gender attitudes from the General Social Survey; (ii) restricted-access geo-referenced information about family, school-based, and community violence from the National Crime Victimization Survey, and (iii) state and county level information about immigration policies from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Transactional Records Access Clearing House (TRAC), and Center for Immigration Studies.  In the next few years, they plan to leverage this dataset to better understand the full scope of ways in which punitive policies impact family life among affected communities.  An initial paper from this project currently has a revise and resubmit and two additional papers are in preparation for review. 

Inequalities in schooling and climate shocks. Another future stream of research incorporates Behrman's interests in mass schooling and environment to advance conceptual and empirical understandings of the linkages between climatic shocks and inequalities in schooling in sub-Saharan Africa. With collaborator Liliana Andriano, Behrman is in the progress of combining climatic data with geo-referenced cross-sectional and panel data on school attendance and learning from 174 surveys from 25 sub-Saharan countries collected since 1990.  This project will make crucial contributions to research and policy understandings of the linkages between climatic shocks and educational stratification in a context of educational expansion and climate change. 

Selected Publications

Behrman, J.A., and A. Weitzman. 2022. Point of reference:  A multi-sited exploration of African migration and fertility in FranceInternational Migration Review.

Behrman, J.A., M. Eilers, I. McLoughlin-Brooks, and A. Weitzman. 2022. International Migration and Modern Contraceptive Use:  A Research Note on African Migrants to France. Demography.

Andriano, L., J.A. Behrman and C. Monden, C. 2021. Husbands’ Dominance in Wives’ Health Decision-Making:  A Diffusion Perspective in Sub-Saharan AfricaDemography.

Behrman, J.A., and M. Frye. 2021. Attitudes toward intimate partner violence in dyadic perspective:  Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa. Demography.

Kashyap, R. and J.A. Behrman. 2020. Gender discrimination and excess female under-five mortality in India: a new perspective using mixed-sex twins. Demography. 57, 2143–2167.

Gruijters, R. J., and J.A. Behrman. 2020. Learning Inequality in Francophone Africa: School Quality and the Educational Achievement of Rich and Poor Children. Sociology of Education. 93(3):256-276

Behrman, J.A., and J. Erman. 2019. An exploration of differences in ideal family size between Muslim and non-Muslim women in France. Demographic Research. 41(22):617-648. 

Behrman, J.A. 2019. Polygynous unions and intimate partner violence in Nigeria: An examination of the role of selection. Journal of Marriage and Family. 81(4): 905-919. 

Behrman, J.A. 2019. Contextual declines in educational hypergamy and intimate partner violence. Social Forces. 97(3): 1257-1282.