Sangeetha Madhavan is Professor of African American Studies and Sociology and the Associate Director of the Maryland Population Research Center. As a family demographer working in African and, in particular, South Africa and Kenya, she has made substantial contributions to our understanding of extended family systems, parenting, household dynamics, inter-household connectivity, spatial proximity and child and adolescent well-being. As PI for a recently completed NIH funded project, she led a team to develop and test a new instrument to collect data on kinship structure and support for low income single mothers and their children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. The publications from this project have appeared in Population Studies, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Social Science Research and the Geographical Journal. Other work from South Africa and Africa has appeared in Demography, Journal of Family Issues, Demographic Research, Social Science Research and Population and Development Review. She has considerable experience working with longitudinal data-sets from demographic surveillance system data and has also designed qualitative studies on family dynamics. She also works on issues related to gender, aging and social context in rural South Africa.

Areas of Interest

  • Family Demography
  • Parenting
  • Kinship
  • Children's well-being
  • sub Saharan Africa
  • African Diaspora
  • mobility and migration
  • social impact of HIV/AIDS
CV: Madhavan CV44.74 KB


  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Sociology and Demography University of Pennsylvania
I believe that the best way to engage students is to enable them to contribute to their own learning, that of their peers and my own through class participation and discussion about readings. Therefore, even during the “lecture” component of my courses, I solicit reactions, refutations and comments to what I am saying. Thanks to technology which enables me to post the lecture slides on Blackboard, students need not focus their effort on taking notes during class. Instead, they can listen to what is being said and respond. My emphasis on class participation is made clear by the equal weighting on participation, exams and papers that is given in most of my classes. Students take turns leading the discussion of the weekly readings by developing a set of critical questions that they pose to the rest of the class.For the latter, I emphasize the collegial nature of this endeavor and make them appreciate their own bodies of knowledge that they bring with them.

My research seeks to answer two key questions: 1) how are people connected? and 2) which relationships matter for children and young adults and why? Through systematic examination of the household, extended family systems and kinship in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa more generally, I have been working towards the development of an innovative model of “social connectivity” that extends beyond co-residence to incorporate biological and non-biological connections across time and space. Specific outcomes of interest include children’s nutritional status, school progress, adolescent childbearing and young people’s parenting roles. My research has been influenced by anthropology which has made a valuable contribution to understanding how demographic processes are, in large part, a function of cultural and sociopolitical norms. It has also inspired me to challenge assumptions often made about certain categories or contexts based on aggregate level demographic data. I view family structure and family functioning as dynamic, conditioned by cultural norms and socioeconomic circumstances and marked by cooperation and conflict. Social inequality underpins most of my research given that much of it has been conducted in South Africa which ranks as the most unequal society in the world. Therefore, any research conducted in urban or rural contexts must address inequalities on a number of interrelated dimensions including race, class, gender and location.

  • Reviewer for Demography, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Social Science and Medicine
  • Reviewer for Population Studies, Social Forces, Journal of Family Issues
  • Reviewer for National Institutes of Health Study Sections
  • Associate Director for Maryland Population Research Center
  • Campus Scholarships and Awards Committee

Former Students

  • Sangeeta Parashar
    Assistant Professor Montclair State University
  • Mariano Kanimori
    Post-Doctoral Fellow University of Miami
  • Tyler Myroniuk
    Post Doctoral Fellow Brown University
  • Mark Gross
    Doctoral Student Sociology UMD
  • Diane Gardsbane
    Doctoral Student Anthropology UMD
S Madhavan headshot
1123E Taliaferro Hall
African American Studies Department
smadhava [at]