Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
205 Townshend Hall
1885 Neil Avenue Mall
Areas of Expertise
- Health & Medical
Sarah Hayford studies family formation and reproductive health, primarily in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. She is interested in how people make plans about these behaviors and who is able to carry out these plans. For example, in one ongoing project, Hayford is exploring race-ethnic differences in unintended childbearing in the United States. Another project compares the influences of community norms and women’s empowerment on mother’s plans for their daughters’ circumcision in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, she is beginning a large cross-national data collection project studying the impact of parental migration on children's socioemotional development, educational outcomes, and family formation behaviors in Mexico, Mozambique, and Nepal.
My first job was in applied public health, on a project that helped manage family planning clinics in developing countries. As I worked on the project, I became increasingly interested in the big picture questions behind our applied work. How did we know whether our project was working? How was demand for family planning services measured? And, most centrally, why did some women come to want to limit their childbearing, while others wanted large families? Having fewer children can open up new opportunities for women and lead to improved health. But it can also mean adopting new attitudes and beliefs about what family means and how to lead a good life. To try to understand these issues, I turned to demography and then to sociology. Over my career, I’ve broadened the scope of my interests. But all of my research seeks to answer the fundamental questions of how people make decisions about socially meaningful family and health behaviors and how social structures and pressures support or limit their ability to carry out these decisions.