Sonalde Desai is a demographer whose work deals primarily with social inequalities in developing countries with a particular focus on gender and class inequalities. She studies inequalities in education, employment, and maternal and child health outcomes by locating them within the region's political economy. While much of her research focuses on South Asia, she has also engaged in comparative studies across Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. She has published articles in a wide range of sociological and demographic journals, including American Sociological Review, Demography, Population and Development Review, and Feminist Studies. She is a frequent contributor to Indian newspapers.

Professor Desai is currently examining changes in the nature and composition of Indian middle classes in the context of India’s movement from state-capitalism to market-capitalism and increasing involvement in the global economy.

Sonalde Desai is the principal investigator for the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), India’s first nationwide panel survey of over 40,000 households. Following interviews in 2004-5 and 2011-12, Wave 3 of IHDS is currently in the field, spanning 2022-23. This survey has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the UK Department of International Development. These data are publicly available to all researchers and are being used by more than 11000 users worldwide. Further information is available at Ongoing studies based on these data include the intersection between caste and gender in India; the changing nature of social stratification and caste inequalities; the role of affirmative action in shaping education inequalities in India; gender inequalities in access to health services; and the role of social capital in shaping access to opportunities.

Sonalde Desai holds a joint appointment with the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi, as Professor and Director of National Data Innovation Centre, a collaborative enterprise between NCAER, University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan. This Center is funded by a grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Sonalde Desai was the president of Population Association of America for 2022. She has been named a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science and is a member of the Committee on Population, National Academy of Sciences. She also serves on a variety of committees for the Government of India, including the Standing Committee on Statistics. 

Twitter handle: @sonaldedesai

Personal website:

Project websites:  and


Areas of Interest

  • Demography, Sociology of Development, Gender, Study of Contemporary Indian Society, Survey Methodology


  • PhD
    Ph.D. , Sociology, Stanford University

Courses Taught: Sociology of Development (Graduate), Demography of the Labor Force (Graduate), Gender, Population and Development (Graduate), Social Demography (Undergraduate), Contemporary Indian Society (Undergraduate)

  • Professional
    Past President, Population Association of America, 2022
  • International
    Member, Technical Advisory Committee for Household Surveys, Reserve Bank of India.
  • Professional
    Member, Committee on Population, National Academy of Sciences
  • International
    Member Standing Committee on Statistics, Government of India

Current Students

Former Students

  • Maitreyi Das
    Lead Social Development Socialist, The World Bank
  • Gheda Temsah
    Research & Evaluation Specialist in International Population, Health and Development at ICF Internat
  • Sonya Rastogi
    Senior Demographer, Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications
  • Samia Ahmad
    Hindustani Classical Musician Teacher and Vocalist
  • Soumya Alva
    Senior Evaluation Advisor, John Snow Inc.
  • Valerie Durrant
    Director, Division of AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences, National Institutes of Health
  • Kiersten Johnson
  • Esha Chatterjee
    Assistant Professor of Sociology, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

Related Students (Listed by Student on Student's Profile)

  • Saswathi Natta
  • Shilpa Reddy
  • Hope Xu Yan
Sonalde Desai
3119 Art/Sociology Building
Department of Sociology
sdesai [at]