Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett teaches development economics, with an emphasis on behaviors and outcomes at individual through community (micro- and meso-) levels of analysis and possible institutional, policy and technological responses to persistent poverty, malnutrition and vulnerability. He holds degrees from Princeton (A.B. in History, 1984), Oxford (M.S. in Development Economics, 1985) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (dual Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics and Economics, 1994). He worked as a staff economist with the Institute for International Finance in Washington, DC in the second half of the 1980s, then taught at Utah State University for four years before joining the faculty at Cornell in 1998. At Cornell, he currently teaches an undergraduate course onContemporary Controversies in the Global Economy and a graduate course on theMicroeconomics of International Development, and directs a year-round graduate research seminar in development microeconomics.

Prof. Barrett’s research ranges widely across topics related to poverty, hunger, food security, economic policy and the structural transformation of low-income societies, with important threads focused on individual and market behavior under risk and uncertainty and on the interrelationship between poverty, food security and environmental stress in developing countries. Most of his work has focused on rural sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, Barrett’s research explores why unnecessary suffering continues to disfigure a rich, technologically advanced world and what individuals and institutions can do to improve matters. He has published or in press 10 books, including Decentralization and the Social Economics of Development: Lessons From Kenya (with Andrew Mude and John Omiti, CAB International, 2007), Understanding and Reducing Persistent Poverty in Africa (with Michael Carter and Peter Little, Routledge, 2007), The Social Economics of Poverty: On Identities, Groups, Communities and Networks(Routledge, 2005) and Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role (with Dan Maxwell, Routledge, 2005), as well as more than 180 journal articles and book chapters. He and his students and post-docs have conducted research in numerous countries, with grant support from the National Science Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, USAID, the World Bank and other sponsors. He served as editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, is presently as an associate editor or editorial board member of the African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Journal of African Economies and World Development, has served on a variety of boards, and has won several university, national and international awards for teaching, research and public outreach.

Barrett’s current research explores the theory of, empirical evidence on, and possible responses to poverty traps. His work is among the first empirical studies to econometrically identify poverty traps at the household level. In this world of plenty, almost half the world’s six billion people live on two dollars a day or less. In most of the world, especially in rural areas of low-income countries, their deprivation persists for very long periods of time; in these regions, unlike the United States and most high-income countries, most poverty is structural rather than transitory. These populations’ productivity is dampened by malnutrition, ill health, rudimentary production technologies, relatively unfavorable access to remunerative markets and essential public goods and services. Furthermore, the poor are extraordinarily vulnerable to uninsured risk caused by natural disasters (such as droughts or floods), violence, ill health and market volatility; this risk exposure and the behaviors it induces are both cause and consequence of persistent poverty. Barrett’s current research explores these causes and consequences of persistent poverty, low productivity, high vulnerability. He is especially interested in the links between economic phenomena and both biophysical processes that regulate the natural environments on which the rural poor especially depend and the sociocultural institutions that incentivize and regulate individual behavior.

Barrett will lead the ISS 2008-2011 theme project on “Persistent Poverty and Upward Mobility.” As part of that effort he will develop a new module on Reducing Persistent Poverty in his undergraduate course and will co-organize the theme project’s conferences at Cornell each semester in academic year 2009-10.


Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

AEM Office:
315 Warren Hall 

 See Chris Barrett’s Departmental Bio Page.