B16 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, New York
Division of Nutritional Sciences


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 135, 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 “Early Childbearing, School Attainment and Cognitive Skills: Evidence from Madagascar,” forthcoming in Demography (co-author: Catalina Herrera Almanza); “The Incidence of Child Health Improvements,” Review of Development Economics 21(2): 304–320, 2017 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger); “An Incidence Analysis of Recent Child Health and Education Improvements in Africa” in Poverty Reduction in the Course of African Development, edited by Machiko Nissanke and Muna Ndulo, Oxford University Press, 2017 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger); "Household Shocks and Education Investment in Madagascar," in Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 78(6): 792–813, 2016, with co-authors Peter J. Glick and Thomas F. Walker; “Pro-Poor Policies in Sudan and South Sudan: Distributional Impact of Public Spending and Taxation,” in African Development Review 28(S2): 191–218, 2016 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger); "The Role of Education and Family Background in Marriage, Childbearing, and Labor Market Participation in Senegal," in Economic Development and Cultural Change, 64(2): 369–403, 2016 (co-author: Francesca Marchetta; "Schooling, Marriage, and Childbearing in Madagascar," in Population Studies 69(2): 219–236, 2015 (co-authors Peter J. Glick and Christopher Handy); "Is Food the Answer to Malnutrition?" in the Oxford Handbook of Food, Agriculture and Society (2015); "Public and Private Returns to Investing in Nutrition," in the Oxford Handbook of Economics and Human Biology (2015); "Nutrition, Health and Economic Performance," in the Encyclopedia of Health Economics (2014, Oxford: Elsevier); "Health Inequality across Populations of Individuals," in the African Development Review 24(4): 267–269, 2012; "Health Challenges in Africa" and "Impact of Health on Economic Outcomes," both included in The Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa (2012). 

My research is focused on issues of poverty, inequality, and the economics of health, nutrition, and education. My primary interest is in understanding the determinants of schooling outcomes and cognitive achievement; examining household decision-making and the impact of household choices on health and nutrition outcomes; and exploring methods for analyzing the multiple dimensions of inequality and poverty. My empirical research involves estimating behavioral models that rely on innovative household survey data, and is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this work involves trying to understand the constraints to and opportunities to promote human capital accumulation and improved living standards.


"Early Childbearing, School Attainment and Cognitive Skills: Evidence from Madagascar." Demography 2018, (co-author: Catalina Herrera Almanza).

 "The Incidence of Child Health Improvements." In Review of Development Economics, 21 (2): 304–320, 2017 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

 “An Incidence Analysis of Recent Child Health and Education Improvements in Africa.” In Poverty Reduction in the Course of African Development, edited by Machiko Nissanke and Muna Ndulo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Household Shocks and Education Investment in Madagascar." In Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 78 (6): 792–813, 2016 (co-authors: Peter J. Glick and Thomas F. Walker).

"Pro-Poor Policies in Sudan and South Sudan: Distributional Impact of Public Spending and Taxation." In African Development Review 28(S2): 191–218, 2016 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"The Role of Education and Family Background in Marriage, Childbearing, and Labor Market Participation in Senegal." In Economic Development and Cultural Change 64(2): 369–403, 2016 (co-author: Francesca Marchetta).

Health, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction. Editor. University of Nairobi Press, 2016.

"Schooling, Marriage, and Age at First Birth in Madagascar." In Population Studies, 69(2): 219–236, 2015 (co-authors: Peter J. Glick and Christopher Handy). 

The Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition: The Role of Food, Agriculture, and Targeted Policies.Editor. Oxford University Press, 2015.

"Agriculture for Nutrition: Getting Policies Right." In The Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition: The Role of Food, Agriculture, and Targeted Policies, edited by David E. Sahn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015 (co-authors: Prabhu Pingali and Katie Ricketts).

"Public and Private Returns to Investing in Nutrition." In Oxford Handbook of Economics and Human Biology, edited by John Komlos and Inas Rashad Kelly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015 (co-author: Harold Alderman).

"Is Food the Answer to Malnutrition?" In Oxford Handbook of Food, Agriculture and Society, edited by Ronald J. Herring. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. 

"Health, Poverty and Economic Growth: An Introduction." In African Development Review. 24(4): 267–269, December 2012.

"Nutrition, Health, and Economic Performance." In Encyclopedia of Health Economics, edited by Anthony J. Culyer, Oxford: Elsevier, 2014.

"Health Inequality across Populations of Individuals." In African Development Review 24(4): 316–326, December 2012.

"Health Challenges in Africa." In The Oxford Companion to the Economies of Africa, edited by Ernest Aryeetey, Shanta Devarajan, Ravi Kanbur, and Louis Kasekende. Oxford University Press, 2012.

"Impact of Health on Economic Outcomes." In The Oxford Companion to the Economies of Africa, edited by Ernest Aryeetey, Shanta Devarajan, Ravi Kanbur, and Louis Kasekende. Oxford University Press, 2012.

"Household Water Supply Choice and Time Allocated to Water Collection: Evidence from Madagascar," Journal of Development Studies 47(12): 1826–1850, December 2011 (co-authors: Christopher Boone and Peter Glick).

"Comparing Population Distributions from Bin-aggregated Sample Data: An Application to Historical Height Data from France," Economics & Human Biology 9(4): 419–437, December 2011 (co-authors: Jean-Yves Duclos and Josée Leblanc).

"Family Background, School Characteristics and Children’s Cognitive Achievement in Madagascar," Education Economics 19(4): 363–396, September 2011 (co-authors: Peter Glick and Jean Claude Randrianarisoa).

"Partial Multidimensional Inequality Orderings," Journal of Public Economics 95:(3-4): 225–238, April 2011 (co-authors: Jean-Yves Duclos and Stephen D. Younger).

The Socioeconomic Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Africa: Challenges, Opportunities, and Misconceptions. Editor. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

"The Relationship between Poverty and Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa." In Reproductive Health, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction in Africa: Frameworks of Analysis, edited by Olu Ajakaiye and Germano Mwabu. University of Nairobi Press, 2010 (co-author: Chad Meyerhoefer).

"The Impact of Poor Health and Nutrition on Labor Productivity, Poverty and Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa." In The African Food System and Its Interaction with Health and Nutrition, edited by Per-Pinstrup Anderson, (Chapter 11). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

"Inequality and Poverty in Africa in an Era of Globalization: Looking Beyond Income to Health and Education" In The Poor under Globalization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, edited by Machiko Nissanke and Erik Thorbecke. Prepared for UNU-WIDER, Oxford University Press, July 2010 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger). 

"Early Academic Performance, Grade Repetition, and School Attainment in Senegal: A Panel Data Analysis." World Bank Economic Review 24(1): 93–120, January 2010 (co-author: Peter J. Glick).

"Explaining Stunting in Nineteenth Century France," Economic History Review 63(2): 315–334, May 2010 (co-author: Gilles Postel-Vinay). 

"Fiscal Incidence in Africa: Microeconomic Evidence." In Poverty in Africa: Analytical and Policy Perspectives, edited by Augustin Fosu, Germano Mwabu and Erik Thorbecke. University of Nairobi Press, 2009 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Living Standards in Africa." In Debates on the Measurement of Global Poverty, edited by Sudhir Anand, Paul Segal, and Joseph E. Stiglitz. Oxford University Press, 2009 (co-authors: Stephen D. Younger). 

"Weights on the Rise: Where and for Whom?" Journal of Economic Inequality 7(4): 351–370, December 2009.

"Risk, Knowledge and Health in Africa: Introduction to the Symposium," African Development Review21(1): 1–4, April 2009 (co-authors: Olu Ajakaiye, Christopher B. Barrett, Ravi Kanbur, and Stephen Younger). 

"Cognitive Skills among Children in Senegal: Disentangling the Roles of Schooling and Family Background," Economics of Education Review 28(2): 178–188, April 2009 (co-author: Peter Glick).

"Determinants of HIV Knowledge and Behavior in Madagascar: An Analysis Using DHS Data," African Development Review 21(1): 147–179, April 2009 (co-authors: Peter Glick and Josée Randriamamonjy). 

"Measuring Intra-Household Inequality: Explorations Using the Body Mass Index," Health Economics 18(S1): S13–S36, April 2009 (UNU-WIDER Special Issue on Health and Development) (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa: Macroeconomic Adjustment and Beyond." In Poverty and Globalization, edited by Paul Collier and Jan Willem Gunning. Edward Elgar Publishing, April 2008 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Are Africans Practicing Safer Sex: Evidence from Demographic and Health Surveys for Eight Countries," Economic Development and Cultural Change 56(2): 397–439, January, 2008 (co-author: Peter Glick).

"Robust Multidimensional Poverty Comparisons with Discrete Indicators of Well-being." In Inequality and Poverty Re-examined, edited by Stephen P. Jenkins and JohnMicklewright. Oxford University Press, 2007 (co-authors: Jean-Yves Duclos and Stephen D. Younger).

"Using an Ordinal Approach to Multidimensional Poverty Analysis." In Quantitative Approaches to Multidimensional Poverty Measurement, edited by Nanak Kakwani and Jacques Silber. Palgrave-MacMillan, November 2007, pp. 244–261 (co-authors: Jean-Yves Duclos and Stephen D. Younger).

"The Joint Demand for Health Care, Leisure, and Commodities: Implications for Health Care Finance and Access in Vietnam," Journal of Development Studies 43(8): 1475–1500, November 2007 (co-authors: Chad D. Meyerhoefer and Stephen D. Younger). 

"Estimating the Consequences of Unintended Fertility for Child Health and Education in Romania: An Analysis Using Twins Data," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 69(5): 667–691, October 2007 (co-authors: Peter J. Glick and Alessandra Marini). 

"Changes in HIV/AIDS Knowledge And Testing Behavior In Africa: How Much and for Whom?" Journal of Population Economics 20(2): 383-422, April 2007 (co-author: Peter Glick).

"Changes in Inequality and Poverty in Latin America: Looking Beyond Income to Health and Education," Journal of Applied Economics IX(2): 215–234, November, 2006 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Robust Multidimensional Poverty Comparisons" Economic Journal 116(514): 943–968, 2006 (co-authors: Jean Yves-Duclos and Stephen D. Younger).

"Robust Multidimensional Spatial Poverty Comparisons in Ghana, Madagascar, and Uganda," World Bank Economic Review 20(1): 91–113, 2006 (co-authors: Jean-Yves Duclos and Stephen D. Younger). 

"The Demand for Primary Schooling in Madagascar: Price, Quality, and the Choice between Public and Private Providers," Journal of Development Economics 79(1): 118–145, 2006 (co-author: Peter Glick).

"Equality of What? Evidence from India." In Poverty, Inequality and Development: Essays in Honor of Erik Thorbecke, edited by Alain de Janvry and Ravi Kanbur. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2005.

"Consistent Estimation of Panel Censored Demand Systems," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 87(3): 660–672, 2005 (co-authors: Chad Meyerhoefer and Christine R. Ranney). 

"Improvements in Children’s Health: Does Inequality Matter?" Journal of Economic Inequality 3(2): 125–143, 2005 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Socioeconomic Determinants of Children’s Health in Russia: A Longitudinal Study" Economic Development and Cultural Change 53(2): 479–500, 2005 (co-author: Leonid Federov).

"Intertemporal Female Labor Force Behavior in a Developing Country: What Can We Learn from a Limited Panel?" Labour Economics 12(1): 23–45, 2005 (co-author: Peter Glick).

"Child Allowances and Allocative Decisions in Romania Households," Applied Economics 36(14): 1513–1521, 2004 (co-author: Ari Gerstle).

"Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa: Macroeconomic Adjustment and Beyond," Journal of African Economies 13(90001): i66–i95, 2004 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Strengthening Quantitative Methods Through Incorporating Qualitatative Information." In Q-Squared: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Poverty Appraisal, edited by Ravi Kanbur. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003.

"Estimating the Incidence of Indirect Taxes in Developing Countries." In The Impact of Economic Policies on Poverty and Income Distributions: Evaluation Techniques and Tools, edited by François Bourguignon and Luiz A. Pereira da Silva. Washington, DC and New York: The World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2003 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger). 

"Urban-Rural Inequality in Africa," Journal of African Economies 12(4): 564–597, 2003 (co-author: David C. Stifel).

"Exploring Alternative Measures of Welfare in the Absence of Expenditure Data," Review of Income and Wealth 49(4): 463–489, 2003 (co-author: David C. Stifel).

"Decomposing World Health Inequality," Journal of Health Economics 22(2): 271–293, 2003 (co-authors: Menno Pradhan and Stephen Younger). 

"The Demand for Health Care Services in Rural Tanzania," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 65(2): 241–260, 2003 (co-authors: Stephen D. Younger and Garance Genicot). 

"Progress Toward the Millenium Development Goals in Africa," World Development 31(1): 23–52, January, 2003 (co-author: David C. Stifel)

"Incidence and Implications of Public Spending in the Health and Education Sectors in Tanzania." In Education and Health Expenditure and Poverty Reduction in East Africa, edited by Christian Morrisson. Paris: OECD, 2002 (co-author: Sylvie Lambert).

"Parental Preferences for Nutrition of Boys and Girls: Evidence from Africa," Journal of Development Studies 39(1): 21–45, October, 2002 (co-author: David Stifel)

"Robust Comparisons of Malnutrition in Developing Countries," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 84(3): 716–735, August, 2002 (co-author: David C. Stifel). 

"Expenditure Incidence in Africa: Microeconomic Evidence," Fiscal Studies 21(3): 329–347, 2000 (co-author: Stephen D. Younger).

"Dominance Testing of Transfers in Romania," Review of Income and Wealth 46(3): 309–327, 2000 (September) (co-authors: Stephen Younger and Kenneth Simler).

"Poverty Comparisons Over Time and Across Countries in Africa," World Development 28(12): 2123–2155, 2000 (co-author: David C. Stifel).

"A General Equilibrium Analysis of the Effect of Macroeconomic Adjustment on Poverty in Africa," Journal of Policy Modeling 22(6): 753–776, 2000 (co-author: Paul A. Dorosh).

"Schooling of Girls and Boys in a West African Country: The Effects of Parental Education, Income, and Household Structure," Economics of Education Review 19(1): 63–87, 2000, (co-author: Peter Glick).

Director, Cornell Food and Nutrition Policy Program (CFNPP)

Cornell Graduate Field Memberships: Economics; Applied Economics and Management; Policy Analysis and Management; International Development; Nutrition; and Demography

Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Labor (Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit), Bonn, Germany, 2015–present

Senior Fellow, FERDI Senior Fellow, Foundation for International Development Study and Research (FERDI), Clermont-Ferrand, France, 2017–present

Project Coordinator: Collaborative Research Program, Impact Of Agricultural And Food Policies On Nutrition Outcomes In Africa, African Economic Research Consortium, Nairobi, Kenya, 2017–present.

Associate Member, CIRPÉ (Centre Interuniversitaire sur le Risque, les Politiques Économiques et l’Emploi), 2002–present

African Economic Research Consortium Steering Committee, 1996–present

Programme Committee, African Economic Research Consortium, 2011–present

Member, Strategic Planning Committee, Division of Nutritional Sciences, 2016–present

Chair, Appointments and Tenure Review Committee, Division of Nutritional Sciences, 2016–present

Faculty Associate, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, 2013–present

Faculty Member, Food Systems and Poverty Reduction, IGERT PhD Traineeship Program, 2013–present

Faculty Fellow, David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 2009–present

Member, Social Science Internal Advisory Council (SSIAC), Cornell University, 2009–present

Faculty Affiliate and Executive Board, Cornell Population Program, Ithaca, NY 2007–present

Faculty Associate and Advisory Board Member, Institute for African Development, 2007–present

Faculty Affiliate, Center for the Study of Inequality, 2004–present

Faculty Associate, Program for Comparative Economic Development, 2000–present

Center for International Studies, CFNPP Director, 1995–present

Member, Faculty Mentoring Committee, Division of Nutritional Sciences, 2016–2017

Member, Strategic Planning Committee, Division of Nutritional Sciences, 2016–2017

I have undertaken research on the effects of government policies and programs on the poor. In addition, my research focuses on the functioning of the market and the behavior of various agents, including enterprises, households, and individuals, in order to understand how policy change affects health, nutrition, and human resource development. My research activities are also devoted to training and capacity building of research institutions in Africa and working with government officials and international organizations to integrate research findings into policy.

I work to make the classroom experience more intimate and more engaging for undergraduates, so that the students are more directly involved in the learning process. This involves moving away from a strict lecture format, and instead, trying to develop a learning community where student interactions, debate, and critical analysis of reading material is the focus of the classroom experience.


Nutritional Sciences 6850/Economics 7710: Microeconomics of Development: Applications to Health, Nutrition, and Education

The seminar explores recent empirical research and focus on the microeconomics of development. Topics covered are health, nutrition, and education, with an emphasis on models of behavior of households and individuals, as well as impacts of social programs. Although we briefly review underlying theory and econometric techniques, the course attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice, addressing issues such as model identification, functional form, and estimation techniques to control for endogeneity and heterogeneity. A key objective of the class is to investigate the merits and limitations of randomized control trials (experiments) and non-experimental and econometric methods used to evaluate social interventions, as well as to gain an understanding of behavior and structural relationships. We also discuss the various types of household surveys that are employed for these purposes.


The course is designed as a seminar, rather than a lecture course, to encourage active participation of all students. Students are expected to be ready to discuss all the assigned readings. For each meeting, students will be (randomly) assigned to lead discussions, in which all the other students are expected to actively participate. Those leading the session will be required to prepare a short and critical evaluation of the assigned readings, usually 3–5 pages, in outline or annotated form. These reviews are to cover central issues related to the strengths and weaknesses of the papers, and the effectiveness of the readings in addressing underlying concerns of causation, identification, internal and external validity, and so forth.


 Nutrition 699/Economics 694/Applied Economics 694: Poverty and Well-Being in Africa

The course explores the economic and social factors that have impeded growth and poverty reduction in Africa. We take a “bottom-up” perspective, which starts from the capabilities of individuals, households, and communities — their productivities, their vulnerabilities, their institutions, and their environment — and consider in detail how economic and social development can and do play out at the ground level. Our aim is to understand further the economic, social, institutional, and natural constraints that keep Africa’s poor from prospering in the context of growth-oriented reforms. While there are many structural constraints that hold the poor back, we focus on four: education; health and nutrition; risk, vulnerability and poverty dynamics; and empowerment and institutions.


 Nutrition 685/Applied Economics 665: Food and Nutrition Policy Analysis

This course examines the role of government policy in alleviating poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition. It emphasizes the identification and measurement of problems of hunger and malnutrition, and the role of economic analysis and economic models in identifying actions that will contribute to economic growth, higher incomes, and improved nutritional outcomes.


Nutrition 4740/Economics 4570: Health, Poverty and Inequality: A Global Perspective

The course focuses on issues of global health inequality. We explore the nature and extent of global inequalities in health, and the possible policy responses to improving health and well-being, and reducing observed disparities. We examine global health inequalities at various levels, including across countries, at the national level, and even within the household. Likewise, the class examines the implications of the health crisis that afflicts the poorest countries, especially in Africa. Special attention is given to problems such as malnutrition and HIV/AIDS. The ethics of dealing with problems of global health inequality, as well as some policy options are also discussed. The latter issue of how to most cost-effectively address global health problems is the subject of class projects.

1984 PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts

1976 Master of Public Health, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan

1975 Bachelor of General Studies, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan


As Director of the Cornell Food and Nutrition Policy Program, I manage a large number of externally funded research, training, and technical assistance projects. Administrative responsibilities also include operating a collaborative research and training program for African scholars, funded by the African Economic Research Consortium, to examine the nature and determinants of poverty and approaches to raise household incomes.


Cornell Food and Nutrition Policy Program


Strategies and Analysis for Growth and Access (SAGA)


Improved Policy Analysis for Economic Decision-Making (ILO)


G|L|M LIC Growth and Labour Markets in Low Income Countries Programme


IZA Institute of Labor Economics


Personal Website