David Sahn



David E. Sahn is an International Professor of Economics in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Economics. Since 2015, he has been a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany. In 2017, he became a Senior Fellow at the Fondation for International Development Study and Research (FERDI) in Clermont-Ferrand, France. From 2011–2015, he was Chaire d’Excellence at Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches sur le Développement International (CERDI), l’Université d’Auvergne, France. He received a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Michigan. His main academic interest is in identifying the solutions to poverty, malnutrition, and disease in developing countries, as well as the determinants of human capital and the role of cognitive and non-cognitive skills in labor market outcomes. In addition to teaching and mentoring of graduate students, he devotes considerable efforts to training and capacity building of research institutions in Africa and working with government officials and international organizations to integrate research findings into policy. Before coming to Cornell in 1988, Professor Sahn was an Economist at the World Bank, and prior to that, a Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. He has been a visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, a visiting researcher at both the Département et Laboratoire d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, École Normale Superieure (DELTA) and Laboratoire d'Économie Appliquée de Paris, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris, and a visiting professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. He has also worked extensively with numerous international organizations, such as the Hewlett Foundation, the African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Union, and several UN agencies such as UNICEF, the UN Development Programme, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations University, and the World Health Organization. He has also worked as a consultant for various governments in Asia, Africa, and transition economies in Eastern Europe. Dr. Sahn has a long list, numbering over 140, of peer-reviewed books, chapters, and journal articles dealing with issues of poverty, inequality, education, health, nutrition, and related economic and social policy. This body of literature includes both research focused on the impact of economic policy on household welfare, such as his widely cited books on the impact of economic reforms in Africa, Structural Adjustment Reconsidered (Cambridge University Press), Economic Reform and the Poor in Africa (Oxford University Press), as well as issues of health and nutrition, including the edited volumes, The Socioeconomic Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Africa (Cornell University Press), The Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition (Oxford University Press), and Health, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction (University of Nairobi Press).


Recent publications include "Starting Strong: Investigating the Importance of Early Academic Performance for Adult Human Capital," Journal of African Economies, forthcoming (co-authors: Heidi Kaila and Naveen Sunder); “Cognitive Achievement Production in Madagascar: A Value-Added Model Approach,” Education Economics 29 (6): 670–99, June 2021 (co-author: Frédéric Aubery); “Childhood Determinants of Internal Youth Migration in Senegal,” Demographic Research 43: Article 45, 1335–66, November 2020, DOI: 10.4054/DemRes.2020.43.45 (co-author: Catalina Herrera-Almanza); “The Role of Weather on Schooling and Work of Young Adults in Madagascar,” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 101 (4): 1203–27, July 2019 (co-authors: Francesca Marchetta and Luca Tiberti); “Teen Fertility and Female Employment Outcomes: Evidence from Madagascar,” Journal of African Economies 28 (3): 277–303, June 2019 (co-authors: Catalina Herrera Almanza and Kira Villa); “Early Childbearing, School Attainment and Cognitive Skills: Evidence from Madagascar,” Demography 55 (2): 643–68, April 2018 (co-author: Catalina Herrera Almanza); “Household Shocks and Education Investment in Madagascar,” in Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 78 (6): 792–813, December 2016, with co-authors Peter J. Glick and Thomas F. Walker; and  “The Role of Education and Family Background in Marriage, Childbearing, and Labor Market Participation in Senegal,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 64 (2): 369–403, January 2016 (co-author: Francesca Marchetta).

Research Focus

Professor Sahn’s work is motivated by the need to identify solutions to poverty, malnutrition, and disease in developing countries, and reducing inequalities that contribute to low levels of living standards. His focus is on understanding the determinants of human capital over the life course, with a particular attention to infant and maternal health, early childhood well-being, and transition into young adulthood. As a result, his research looks at decisions and constraints that affect school and cognitive outcomes, health care access and utilization, and food choices and consumption. His research also focuses on family formation, fertility, and how they interact with schooling and labor market outcomes. In all these areas, he is particularly interested in gender dimensions and the disadvantages faced by women. Intrahousehold decision-making is thus a focus of his research; and likewise, his research explores the range of policy prescriptions and programs that can overcome discrimination against women, whether that be in terms of schooling, labor market opportunities, or bargaining power within the household. In pursing these objectives, he relies on innovative models of household- and individual-level behaviors that explain choices regarding schooling, health care, childbearing, and labor market outcomes and related behaviors. He also devotes considerable effort to training and capacity building of research institutions in Africa and working with government officials and international organizations to promote evidence-based policymaking.

ECON Courses - Fall 2024