This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New Additions to the PAA Oral History Project

I am taking the liberty today of copying an article that I wrote for the latest issue (Spring 2018) of PAA Affairs (the quarterly newsletter of the Population Association of America), since I think that this stuff is important!

The PAA History Committee is very pleased to let you know that two new interviews of Past PAA Presidents have been added to the PAA Oral History Project archives on the PAA website: .

The latest interviews are with Dr. Andrew Cherlin (PAA President in 1999) and Dr.Arland Thornton (PAA President in 2001). Both of them are self-described family and household demographers. Here’s how Cherlin describes the field of demography as he saw it in his early years in the profession:
In the 1960s and early ’70s, the PAA was still about the population problem, how to reduce the birth rates. And a huge proportion of all the people who attended the meeting or were presenting papers were presenting on fertility—some on mortality, because we wanted to get death rates down. Fields like family and household demography and also migration were very underdeveloped. There were a lot of changes happening right at that time in the American family. And so there was a good group of people who were interested in these changes. And I think that group attracted people like Arland Thornton and me at the time.
To be sure, Thornton tells a similar tale:
I first went [to a PAA meeting] in 1972—I think we met in Toronto that year. It would be nice to see that program. I think that program would have been dominated by international family planning. I don’t think there was very much on mortality or on migration. I think that there would have been things on these issues, but not a lot. I think the main focus was on family planning. I think that the 1972 session where Paul Glick had a paper in a session on the family was the only one on the topic we now call family demography. And now, PAA is much bigger. The list of topics is much, much bigger. I think I would have had a little bit of a hard time in 1975, ’6, ’7, ’8, saying that divorce was part of demography. I think some people would have defined it as being outside demography. But with Andy [Cherlin] and Linda [Waite] and—oh, I didn’t mention Larry Bumpass and Jim Sweet before--it all soon became part of PAA. And studying school and mobility and occupational attainment, I don’t think there was very much of that at PAA in 1972. But Dudley Duncan was doing it, and if he was doing it, it almost had to be part of PAA. I think the expansion of topics at PAA has been amazing, and I’m delighted. I like demography being a big tent.
He also adds some advice for young people starting their careers:
I tell graduate students and post docs—this might be worth saying—to pick things to study that you’re passionate about. Do things that captivate you, that are enjoyable, that are fun. And if you do that, you’re going to work all the time, but it won’t seem like work.
The PAA Oral History Project is a unique source for the history of demography. It currently includes interviews with 51 of the 71 demographers who have served as president of the PAA since 1948. The project began in 1973 as the brainchild of Anders (Andy) Lunde. In 1988, Jean van der Tak replaced Andy as PAA Historian, and Jean was tireless in her pursuit of interviews until 1994, when the job of PAA Historian was handed over to John Weeks. He subsequently formed the PAA History Committee, whose current members include Karen Hardee, Dennis Hodgson, Deborah McFarlane, and Emily Merchant.

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