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Leading development economist to join Northwestern

Christopher Udry’s research focuses on rural economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa

Chris Udry
Chris Udry started his academic career at Northwestern more than two decades ago.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Christopher Udry, one of the foremost U.S. authorities on development in Africa, will join Northwestern University as professor of economics, effective July 1, 2017. 

Currently the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics at Yale University, Udry is particularly focused on agriculture and the rural economy of sub-Saharan Africa. 

“Udry, along with the projects he’s bringing, will position Northwestern among the top development economics programs in the world,” said Adrian Randolph, dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. “He has made -- and continues to make -- outstanding contributions to the study of developing economies. He will also contribute to existing strengths in African studies.”

Udry has conducted extensive field research in West Africa on technological change in agriculture, the use of financial markets, asset accumulation and gift exchange to cope with risk, and gender relations and the structure of household economies. 

“He shows considerable range and inventiveness, as well as deep insight,” Randolph said. “He also has been an exemplary advisor of Ph.D. students.”

At Yale, Udry has directed the Economic Growth Center and served as the chair of the department of economics. He teaches graduate courses on development economics and undergraduate courses on economic development in Africa.

Udry said he is delighted to return to Northwestern, where he started his academic career in 1990 and received tenure in 1996.

“My time at Northwestern as an assistant professor were years of tremendous growth for me, in a department that then, as now, is rigorous, dedicated to scholarship, open to new ideas and tremendously collegial and supportive,” Udry said. “On a personal level, it is wonderful to reconnect with old friends and mentors.” 

The hiring of Udry illustrates the increasingly global nature of Northwestern’s vision, said Lawrence Christiano, the Alfred W. Chase Professor and chair of economics at Northwestern. Home to the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the University is advancing work on critical global issues through collaborative research, public dialogue and engaged scholarship.

“The Udry hire, as well as other projects still in the works, puts Northwestern well on its way to becoming a major hub in an international research network on economic development,” Christiano said. “The fact that many people on our planet continue to live in dire poverty is one of the major problems of our time, and Northwestern will become a significant player in this area of scholarship.”

At Northwestern, Udry will further the production and use of evidence to understand and address the challenges of overcoming poverty and improving well-being in the developing world -- through seminars on development economics, graduate student research support, faculty research support, undergraduate research opportunities and data management support.

The activities will include a cluster-focused research approach for addressing issues of poverty and growth in developing countries -- with the initial geographic research cluster in Ghana where Udry already has established the foundation of a long-term data collection effort with the University of Ghana and the Ghana Office of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Udry said he is eager “to join a superb group of faculty and graduate students who study economic development and growth and to work with them to build a center of transformative scholarship to understand and address the challenges of overcoming poverty and improving well-being in the developing world.”

Among his numerous honors, Udry is a fellow of the Econometric Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Earlier this year, he received an honorary degree from the University of Ghana for his “distinguished scholarship.” His citation stated that he is “internationally recognized for outstanding research and publications in the area of development microeconomics. He has supported research at the University of Ghana and enhanced capacity building for several Ghanaian and African development economists for many years.”

Early in his career, Udry spent two years as a secondary school teacher in northern Ghana and has been a visiting scholar at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and at the University of Ghana at Legon.

Udry is co-author of “Development Microeconomics,” with Pranab Bardhan, and he co-edited the two-volume work “Readings in Development Microeconomics,” with Bardhan as well.

Udry’s research has been supported by numerous grants from the National Science Foundation, as well as from the World Bank, the Institute for Policy Reform and the Pew Charitable Trusts, among others.

Udry earned a B.A. with high honors in 1981 from Swarthmore College, where he majored in economics with a minor in history, political science and anthropology. He received a Ph.D. from Yale in 1991.

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