Hayford's research focuses on childbearing, family formation, and reproductive health in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. Overarching themes in her work include how people form plans. She is interested in how people make plans for having children and who is able to carry out these plans. Hayford has studied unintended childbearing in the United States, female genital cutting in sub-Saharan Africa, and impacts of policy on reproductive health access and outcomes in Ohio. She serves as the Director of the Institute for Population Research, an interdiscipinary center supporting demographic research at Ohio State University.