My research seeks to understand social inequality across the life course, which I typically measure in terms of disparities in physical and mental health, as well as survival.

Most of life is a series of forgettable experiences. Yet, for those who live beyond adolescence, monumental events pepper life’s mundane moments, from the often celebrated—completing school, marrying, having a child—to the dreaded—a child’s death, divorce, or illness. My work carefully documents how the occurrence, timing, and context surrounding such major life events can leave an indelible mark on individuals’ lives, either inhibiting or facilitating their ability to achieve a “good life” for themselves and for their children. My research focuses on sub-Saharan African contexts where individuals are charting their life’s course in politically, economically, and ecologically unforgiving environments. In the resource-scarce, high-mortality contexts I study, life is high stakes. For instance, my research shows that normative variation in the timing or sequencing of events in women’s lives, such as leaving school or becoming pregnant, corresponds with outcomes as dramatic as their young children’s elevated risk of death.

All of my work applies a demographic perspective and uses quantitative methods. I sometimes turn to standardized, secondary data sources, like the Demographic and Health Surveys, to answer my research questions. Such data lends itself nicely to my interest in Africa’s social, economic, and cultural diversity, and to demonstrating how context fundamentally shapes all elements of individuals’ lived experiences. I also collect my own data. I have been involved in population-based data collection in Balaka, Malawi through my involvement with Tsogolo la Thanzi, an ongoing, longitudinal study of approximately 2,000 young adults.


Here I have listed my publications thematically. Please see my CV if you want to see what I’ve been up to each year.

Intergenerational TRANSMISSION & Influence

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. Forthcoming (Feb 2020). Does Union Instability Disrupt Intergenerational Advantage? An analysis of sub-Saharan Africa. Demography.

 Weitzman, Abby and Emily Smith-Greenaway. Forthcoming (Feb 2020). The Marital Implications of Bereavement: Child Death and Intimate Partner Violence in West and Central Africa. Demography.

 Smith-Greenaway, Emily, Weitzman, Abigail and Abdallah Chilungo. 2019. Child Sex Composition, Parental Sex Preferences, and Marital Outcomes: Evidence from a Matrilineal Context. Journal of Marriage and Family.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily, Brauner-Otto, Sarah, and William Axinn. 2018. The Education of Adult Children and Parental MortalitySocial Science Research.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. 2016. Premarital childbearing in sub-Saharan Africa: Can investing in women’s education offset disadvantages for children?Social Science & Medicine (Population Health), 2:164-174.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Sangeetha Madhavan. 2015. Maternal Migration and Child Vaccination in Benin: An Analysis of Disruption and Adaptation ProcessesSocial Science Research, 54: 146-158.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Kevin Thomas. 2014.  Exploring Child Mortality Risks Associated with Diverse Patterns of Maternal MigrationPopulation Research and Policy Review, 33:873-895.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily2013. Maternal Reading Skills and Child Mortality in Nigeria: A Reassessment of Why Education MattersDemography, 50(5): 1551-1561.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. 2013. Mothers' Reading Skills and Child Survival in Nigeria: Examining the Relevance of Mothers' Decision-making PowerSocial Science & Medicine, 97:152-160.

The Lasting Influence of Educational Experiences

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. 2015. Educational Attainment and Adult Literacy: A Descriptive Account of Select Countries in sub-Saharan AfricaDemographic Research, 33: 1015-1034.

Ghimire, Dirgha, Axinn, William, and Emily Smith-Greenaway. 2015. Impact of the Spread of Mass Education on Married Women’s Experience with Domestic ViolenceSocial Science Research, 54: 319-333.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. 2015. Are Literacy Skills Associated with Young Adults’ Health in Africa? Evidence from MalawiSocial Science & Medicine, 127: 124-133.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily, Leon, Juan, and David Baker. 2012. Understanding the Association between Maternal Education & Use of Health Services in Ghana: Exploring the Role of Health KnowledgeJournal of Biosocial Science, 1(1): 1-15.

Baker, David, Leon, Juan, Smith-Greenaway, Emily, Collins, John, and Marcela Movit. 2011. The Underappreciated Education Effect on Population Health: A Reassessment, Meta-analysis of All-cause Mortality, and an Improved HypothesisPopulation and Development Review, 37(2): 307-332. 

Considering Context to Understand Disparities

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Shelley Clark. 2017. Variation in the Link between Parental Divorce and Child Health Disadvantage in Low and High Divorce African SettingsSocial Science and Medicine (Population Health), 3: 473-486.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily. 2017. Community Context and Child Health: A Human Capital PerspectiveJournal of Health and Social Behavior, 58(3): 307-321.

Clark, Shelley, Koski, Alissa, and Emily Smith-Greenaway. 2017. Recent Trends in Premarital Births in sub-Saharan Africa. Studies in Family Planning, 48(1):3-22. [Lead Article]

Jadhav, Apoorva, Weitzman, Abigail, and Emily Smith-Greenaway. 2016. Household Sanitation Facilities and Women's Risk of Non-Partner Sexual Violence in India. BMC Public Health, 16(1): 1139-1149.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Jenny Trinitapoli.  2014. Polygynous Contexts, Family Structure, and Infant Mortality in sub-Saharan AfricaDemography, 51(2):341-66. [lead article]

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Jessica Heckert. 2013Does the Orphan Disadvantage “Spill Over”? An analysis of whether living in an area with a higher concentration of orphans is associated with children’s school enrollment in sub-Saharan AfricaDemographic Research, 28(40): 1167-1198.

The Demographic Relevance of Intentions, Desires, and Emotions

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Sara Yeatman. 2019. Unrealized Educational Expectations and Mental Health: Evidence from a Low-Income Country. Social Forces, online first.

Axinn, William, Ghimire, Dirgha, and Emily Smith-Greenaway. 2017. Emotional Variation and Contraceptive Use to Limit FertilityDemography, 54(2): 437-458.

Yeatman, Sara and Emily Smith-Greenaway. 2018. Birth Planning and Women’s and Men’s Health in MalawiStudies in Family Planning.

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Christie Sennott. 2016. Death and Desirability: Retrospective Reporting of Unintended Pregnancy after a Child’s DeathDemography, 53(3):805-834.

Connecting Early and Later Life Course Experiences

Smith-Greenaway, Emily and Shelley Clark. 2017. Women’s Marriage Behavior following a Premarital Birth in Sub Saharan AfricaJournal of Marriage and Family, 80(1): 256-270.