Sonalde Desai

Sonalde Desai

Professor and Director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre (NDIC)

Sonalde Desai (Distinguished University Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland and Professor and Centre Director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre, New Delhi) is a demographer whose work deals primarily with social transformation and its impact on the lives of individuals with a focus on education, employment, gender, and maternal and child health.

She leads the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) of over 40,000 households, one of the few national panel surveys in India providing a rich and free public resource for studying the transformation of the Indian society in the 21st century between 2004 and 2023. Desai has published extensively in Indian and international journals and served on editorial boards of several major journals. She is a frequent contributor to Indian English language newspapers.

Desai received a Ph.D. from Stanford University and post-doctoral training at the University of Chicago and RAND Corporation. Desai was elected President of Population Association of America for 2022 and has been named a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She also serves on several government committees such as the Standing Committee on Statistics (MoSPI), the Task Force on Indian Statistical System (NITI Aayog), and Technical Advisory Committee on Surveys (RBI).

Journal | Feminist Economics
Gender and Generation: Land Ownership and Older Indians
Yan, Xu | Sonalde Desai | Debasis Barik
Forthcoming

Journal | Demographic Research
Aligning household decision-making with work and education: A comparative analysis of women’s empowerment
Yu Sojin | Feinian Chen | Sonalde Desai
April 2023

Journal | Annual Review of Sociology
Measuring Women’s Empowerment in the Global South
Sonalde Desai | Feinian Chen | Shilpa Reddy | Amy McLaughlin
2022 

Journal | Social Science and Medicine: Population Health
The paradox of declining fertility and declining contraceptive use in India: An artefact of survey design?
Sonalde Desai | Santanu Pramanik | Bijay Chouhan
May 2021

Journal | Social Science and Medicine
Male Out-Migration and the Health of Left-Behind Wives in India: The Roles of Remittances, Household Responsibilities, and Autonomy
Lei Lei | Sonalde Desai
May 2021

Journal | World Development
Lack of Access to Clean Fuel and Piped Water and Children’s Educational Outcomes in Rural India.
Pallavi Choudhuri | Sonalde Desai
May 2021

Journal | Feminist Economics
Precarity in a Time of Uncertainty: Gendered Employment Patterns during the Covid-19 Lockdown in India.
Sonalde Desai | Neerad Deshmukh | Santanu Pramanik
2021

Journal |BMJ
Protecting health in dry cities: considerations for policy makers.
Howard Frumkin | Maitreyi Bordia Das | Maya Negev | Briony C Rogers | Roberto Bertollini | Carlos Dora |Sonalde Desai
2020

Journal | Demography
The Emergence of Educational Hypogamy in India.
Zhiyong Lin | Sonalde Desai | Feinian Chen
2020

Journal | Demographic Research
Fathers’ migration and nutritional status of children in India: Do the effects vary by community context?
Lei Lei | Sonalde Desai | Feinian Chen
2020

Journal | Journal of Cleaner Production
Gender Inequalities and Household Fuel Choice in India.
Pallavi Choudhuri | Sonalde Desai
2020

Policy Brief | IHDS Website
A Glass Half Full: Changes in Standard of Living since 2012 
Manjistha Banerji | Sonalde Desai | Debasis Barik | Dinesh Tiwari | O.P. Sharma
2020

Measurement Brief | NCAER National Data Innovation Centre
Urban Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the Delhi NCR Coronavirus Telephone Survey, Rounds 1 and 2
Pallavi Choudhuri | Santanu Pramanik | Sonalde Desai
2020

Measurement Brief | NCAER National Data Innovation Centre
Insured but Not Covered: Rising Insurance Coverage Should be Accompanied by Awareness of Entitlements.
Debasis Barik | Santanu Pramanik | Sonalde Desai
2020

Measurement Brief | NCAER National Data Innovation Centre
Improving Measurement of Women’s Work Participation: Sensitivity of Work Participation Rates to Questionnaire Design
Neerad Deshmukh | Sonalde Desai | Santanu Pramanik | Dinesh Tiwari
2020

Journal | Indian Journal of Labour Economics
The Paradox of Declining Female Work Participation in an Era of Economic Growth 
Sonalde Desai | Omkar Joshi
2019

Journal | Feminist Economics
Village Transportation Infrastructure and Women’s Non-agricultural Employment in India: The Conditioning Role of Community Gender Context.
Lei Lei | Sonalde Desai | Reeve Vanneman
2019

Journal | Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Physical versus Imagined Communities: Migration and Women’s Autonomy in India 
Esha Chatterjee | Sonalde Desai
2019

Journal | Annual Review of Sociology
Families in Southeast and South Asia
Wei-Jun Jean Yeung | Sonalde Desai | Gavin Jones A
2018

Journal | Demographic Research
Mothers’ work patterns and Children’s cognitive achievement: Evidence from the India Human Development Survey 
Kriti Vikram | Chen Feinian | Sonalde Desai
2018

Journal | Demographic Research
Indian paradox: Rising education, declining womens’ employment 
Esha Chatterjee | Reeve Vanneman  | Sonalde Desai
2018

Journal | World Development
Economic Status and Adult Mortality in India: Is the Relationship Sensitive to Choice of Indicators?
Debasis Barik | Sonalde Desai | Reeve Vanneman
2018

Journal | Review of Development and Change
Who participates in MGNREGA? 
Omkar Joshi | Sonalde Desai | Reeve Vanneman | Amaresh Dubey
2018

Journal | World Development
Escaping and Falling into Poverty in India Today 
Amit Thorat | Reeve Vanneman | Sonalde Desai | Amaresh Dubey
2017

Book Chapter | Population Council
Demographic Contributions to Policymaking during the Pandemic. In Covid-19 and the Global Demographic Research Agenda, edited by Landis MacKellar and Rachel Friedman, 28–32. New York
Sonalde Desai
2021

Book Chapter | Springer Nature
Regional Fertility Differences in India, In Schoen, Robert (Ed.) Analyzing Contemporary Fertility. Cham, Switzerland.
Esha Chatterjee | Sonalde Desai
2020

Book Chapter | Doing Gender Vs. Doing Modernity
Gender in the New Middle Class in India
Sonalde Desai
2017

BOOK | Routledge
Investing in the Future: Public Policy Opportunities to End Undernutrition in India
Sonalde Desai, Lawrence Haddad, Deepta Chopra and Amit Thorat (eds.)
2016

BOOK | NCAER
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act: A Catalyst for Rural Transformation
Sonalde Desai, Prem Vashishtha and Omkar Joshi
2015

BOOK | Oxford University Press
India Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition
S Desai, A Dubey, B L Joshi, M Sen, A Shariff and R Vanneman (eds.)
2010

BOOK | The Population Council
Gender Inequality and Demographic Behaviour: India
S Desai
1994

Opinion | The Indian Express
Population growth committee: Move beyond Emergency-era fears
Sonalde Desai
February 6, 2024

Opinion | The Indian Express
From America to India, the free speech challenge on campus
Sonalde Desai
January 13, 2024

Opinion | The Hindu
Closing the gender pay gap in the workforce
Sonalde Desai
October 16, 2023

Opinion | The Times of India
India needs to rebuild once-vaunted statistical system
Sonalde Desai
July 30, 2023

Opinion | The Hindu
Demographic Transition and Changes in Women’s Lives
Sonalde Desai
July 12, 2023

Opinion | The Indian Express
India’s Employment Problem and Bad Statistics
Sonalde Desai
May 26, 2023

Opinion | The Hindu
Different faces of Indian women’s movement
Sonalde Desai
March 8, 2023

Opinion | The Hindu
Measuring women’s work participation: Why it is important to get it right
Sonalde Desai and Pallavi Choudhuri
February 11, 2023

Opinion | The Hindu
Learning to Live Together, All 8 Billion of Us
Sonalde Desai
November 15, 2022

Opinion | The Indian Express
Global Hunger Index: A Lesson in How Not to Measure Hunger.
Sonalde Desai
October 21, 2022

Opinion | The Hindu
Beyond the statistical soundbites: why data matter.
Sonalde Desai
September 21, 2022

Opinion | The Indian Express
India in 2023: The challenge and opportunity of being the most populous country
Sonalde Desai
July 12, 2022

Opinion | The Hindu
Should we have been surprised by the Agnipath protests?
Sonalde Desai
June 22, 2022

Opinion | The Hindu
Why the battle over Roe vs Wade signifies a struggle for America’s future
Sonalde Desai
June 7, 2022

Opinion | The Indian Express
The Hijab Hurdle
Sonalde Desai
February 26, 2022

Opinion | The Indian Express
With India’s Demographic Transition, Come Challenges
Sonalde Desai
December 2, 2021

Opinion | The Economic Times
Why India’s Experience is nothing like the `Great American Resignation
Sonalde Desai
October 23, 2021

Opinion | The Indian Express
Lessons from the Death of Ease of Doing Business Index
Sonalde Desai
October 5, 2021

Opinion | The Indian Express
Why China’s About Turn Shows Restrictive Population Policies don’t Work
Sonalde Desai
June 5, 2021

Opinion | The Indian Express
World is Her Stage
Sonalde Desai
March 9, 2021

Opinion | The Economic Times (ET Prime)
Class struggle for students
Manjistha Banerji | Reem Ashraf | Sonalde Desai
February 20, 2021

Opinion | The Indian Express
Reluctance to take Covid-19 vaccines could hinder achieving herd immunity sooner
Santanu Pramanik | Sonalde Desai
January 28, 2021

Opinion | The Economic Times
Addressing the last-mile challenge in vaccine distribution
Sonalde Desai
December 11, 2020

Opinion | The Indian Express
A social registry linking Aadhaar to residence info can target aid to the vulnerable during a pandemic
Pallavi Choudhuri | Sonalde Desai
November 28, 2020

Opinion | The Indian Express
An Urban Safety Net
Sonalde Desai | Neerad Deshmukh | Santanu Pramanik
October 20, 2020

Opinion | The Hindu
India’s population data and a tale of two projections
Sonalde Desai
August 12, 2020

Opinion | The Indian Express
PM-KISAN is not reaching all farmer households as intended
Bornali Bhandari | Santanu Pramanik | Sonalde Desai
August 3, 2020

Opinion | Mint
Virus fear and logistical challenges curtailing economic activity in Delhi-NCR, new survey shows
Sonalde Desai | Santanu Pramanik
July 4, 2020

Opinion | The Hindu BusinessLine
Urban poor need better relief measures
Sumit Mazumdar | Santanu Pramanik | Sonalde Desai
May 24, 2020

Opinion | The Economic Times
View: Beyond the lockdown bend
Sonalde Desai | Santanu Pramanik
April 29, 2020

Opinion | The Indian Express
Telephone survey shows high understanding of social distancing, support for lockdown
Sonalde Desai | Santanu Pramanik
April 20, 2020

Opinion | The Indian Express
Decline in women work participation rates can be traced to poor quality of data collection processes
Sonalde Desai
March 17, 2020

Opinion | Business Standard
With 2 weeks to prepare, how to tackle coronavirus outbreak the Indian way.
Sonalde Desai
March 14, 2020

Opinion | The Mint
Is NSS Right on Consumption Fall?
Sonalde Desai
January 23, 2020

Opinion | The Hindu
Minding the Gaps in India’s Data Infrastructure
Sonalde Desai
October 24, 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
A demographic window of opportunity: on population and policy
SONALDE DESAI
July 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
Squandering the gender dividend
SONALDE DESAI
June 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
The sum and substance of jobs data
SONALDE DESAI
June 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
A strange paradox for Indian women
SONALDE DESAI
March 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
Everyone is Afraid of Data
SONALDE DESAI
February 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
Solution in Search of a Problem: On 10% Reservations
SONALDE DESAI
January 2019

Opinion | The Hindu
Make it the Indian Way
SONALDE DESAI | HEMANT KANAKIA
November 2018

Opinion | The Hindu
A Strange New World
SONALDE DESAI
September 2018

Opinion | The Hindu
The Tools for Counting
SONALDE DESAI
June 2018

Opinion | The Hindu
Data in a Post-Truth Age
SONALDE DESAI
May 2018

Opinion | The Hindu
Power of Numbers
SONALDE DESAI
March 2018

Opinion | The Hindu
Reimagining the OBC Quota
SONALDE DESAI
September 2017

Opinion | The Hindu
The Deep Divide within White America
SONALDE DESAI
August 2017

Opinion | The Hindu
Reclaiming Public Spaces
SONALDE DESAI
March 2017

Opinion | The Hindu
No Economy for Women
SONALDE DESAI | ANUPMA MEHTA
March 2017

Opinion | The Hindu
Drawing up a Diet Plan
SONALDE DESAI
February 2017

Opinion | The Hindu
The politics of perceptions
SONALDE DESAI
November 2016

Opinion | The Hindu
The Dynamic Nature of Poverty
SONALDE DESAI | AMIT THORAT
August 2016

OPINION | The Indian Express
Tackling poverty in India: jobs, not transfers, the big poverty-buster
SONALDE DESAI
June 2016

OPINION | The Hindu
Quantifying the caste quotas
SONALDE DESAI
February 2016

OPINION The Indian Express
Don’t dismantle, reform
SONALDE DESAI
November 2015

OPINION | The Hindu
An unjustified pay hike
SONALDE DESAI
October 2015

OPINION | The Hindu
Smoking kills in India too
SONALDE DESAI
May 2015

OPINION | The Indian Express
The New Young
SONALDE DESAI
August 2014

OPINION | BusinessLine
Keep calm and carry on MGNREGA
PRIYANKA KOTAMRAJU (Interview with S Desai )
August 2014

OPINION | The Hindu
Smoking Kills – in India too
S Desai & D Barik
May 2014

OPINION | The Hindu
Poorly Performing Public Services
S Desai
April 2014

OPINION | The Hindu
Food Security in the Time of Inflation
S Desai
March 2014

OPINION | The Hindu
Employer of the Last Resort?
S Desai
March 2014

OPINION | The Hindu
Declining Sex Ratios Seen in the Gender Score Card
S Desai
March 2014

OPINION | Indian Express
When income grow, but jobs elude
S Desai
July 2013

OPINION | The Indian Express
Cereal indiscretions
SONALDE DESA
June 2013

OPINION | Indian Express
Like Flowers and Chocolates
S Desai
March 2013

OPINION | Business Standard
Learning
S Desai
September 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
Getting Out of the Quota Quagmire
S Desai
June 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
Health care needs a booster dose
S Desai
May 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
The Great Indian Poverty Game
S Desai
March 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
Sons of the Soil
S Desai
February 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
Indian Think Tanks – Time to Look Within
S Desai
February 2012

OPINION | Business Standard
After the Demographic Dividend
S Desai
December 2011

OPINION | Business Standard
India’s Hidden Transformation
S Desai
November 2011

OPINION | Economic Times
Indian Education, Employment Sector: A Study in Contrasts
S Desai
November 2011

OPINION | Economic Times
Children’s Living Arrangements in Comparative Perspective
S Desai
September 2011
[BREAK]

OPINION | Economic Times
Jobless Growth is Focused Largely in the Female Half of the Population
S Desai
June 2011

OPINION | Economic Times
For Growth Focus on Remote Villages
S Desai
August 2010

OPINION | Economic Times
Recasting Census 2011
S Desai
May 2010

OPINION | Economic Times
Women’s Share in Demographic Dividend
S Desai
February 2010

OPINION | Economic and Political Weekly
Soldiers of Saffron, Sonal Shah and Secularism
S Desai
2009

OPINION| Economic and Political Weekly
Obama, Indian Americans and a Conversation about Race
S Desai
2008

OPINION | Economic Times
Challenges for Sixth Pay Commission
S Desai
2008
[BREAK]

OPINION | Economic Times
AIDS Education: Beyond Sound Bites
S Desai
January 2008

OPINION | Economic Times
Language of Division
S Desai
October 2007

OPINION | Economic Times
Baniya, Babu and Borrowing: Household Debt is Concerning
S Desai
October 2007

OPINION | Economic Times
Myths about Private Schooling in India
S Desai
June 2007

Presenter, Indiana University India Symposium, “Recovery and Vulnerability: Divergent paths in the wake of the pandemic”, March 9, 2021

Presenter, “Precarious Livelihoods: A Worm’s Eye View” Ahmedabad University Economics Conference, March 3, 2021

Speaker, Annual Rajyashree Khushu-Lahiri Memorial Lecture on “Economic Transformation and Growth of Middle Class” Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, February 19, 2021

Speaker for a topic “Expert Talk: Innovative data and quality assurance modules” in a session Data Collection of online workshop Strengthening Indian Statistical Systems through Technology: Agriculture organised by NITI Aayog, December 15, 2020

B.G. Kumar Memorial Lecture “Economic Transformation, Growth of Middle Class and Family Change in India.” Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, November 5, 2020

Presenter. “Measuring Women’s Empowerment in the Context of Family Planning” US National Academy of Sciences Conference on Women’s Empowerment, September 24, 2020

Expert speaker in a United Nations Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery, consultation on “gender equity research to inform the socio-economic response to COVID-19”, virtually organised by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in collaboration with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), August 18, 2020

Discussant to the “Property Rights Research Consortium (PRRC)” in a virtual launch of the working paper by Brookings India, August 4, 2020

Expert speaker to the “Roundtable on COVID 19 Pandemic & Forced Migration“, virtually organised by Swaniti Initiative, July 24, 2020

Presented on “Delhi NCR Coronavirus Telephone Survey (DCVTS)“, virtually organised by Development Monitoring & Evaluation Office (DMEO), NITI Aayog, May 28, 2020

Panelist in roundtable discussion on “Positioning population studies to understand the short and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic“, virtually organised by IUSSP, May 20, 2020

Panelist in session “Key Technical Debates in Women’s Economic Empowerment Measurement” in a virtual meeting Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment: Key Debates & Practical Proposals, organised by Center for Global Development and Data2X, April 28, 2020

Invited Lectures | Indian Association for Social Sciences and Health
Food Security or Nutrition Security? Challentes for the National Food Security Act.” Dr. K. E. Vaidyanathan Memorial Lecture
SONALDE DESAI
December 2018

Invited Lectures | Indian Society for Labour Economics
The Puzzle of Low Work Participation Rates for Rural Women
Keynote Address at 60th Annual Conference
SONALDE DESAI
December 2018

Invited Lectures | MIT Joint Seminar on South Asia
Does Rising Women’s Education Lead to Changing Gender Norms? Evidence from Husband-Wife Educational Inequality” Brown, Harvard
SONALDE DESAI
December 2018

Invited Lectures | Duke Population Research Institute Seminar
Beyond the End of Hypergamy: Increase in Hypogamy in India
SONALDE DESAI
December 2018

Leapfrogging Methodology & Technology in Household Survey Research: Lessons from the US and India
November 13, 2013

Human Development in India: Evidence from IHDS
June 20, 2013

Education

  • PhD Sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, 1987
  • MA Sociology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 1980
  • BA Sociology and Political Science, University of Bombay, India, 1978

Work Experience

  • November 2017-Present: Professor and Centre Director, NCAER-NDIC
  • 2009-2017: Senior Fellow, NCAER
  • 2021-Present: Distinguished University Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland.
  • 2008-2021: Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland.
  • 1996-2008: Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland.
  • 1994-1995: Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland.
  • 2007-2008: Visiting Scholar, The World Bank Development Research Group (DEC-RG)
  • 2000-2001: Visiting Scholar, National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi
  • 1989-1994: Associate, Research Division, The Population Council, New York
  • 1987-1989: Post-Doctoral Fellow, Labor and Population Program, The RAND Corporation
  • 1986-1987: Post-Doctoral Fellow, Population Research Center, University of Chicago
  • Sum. 1986: Visiting Scholar, Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education, West Berlin