Appointment to the faculty of the University of Chicago

Chicago, 1963-8

Phil Hauser had over a period of time been urging me to come to the University of Chicago, and I had said I was satisfied with Toronto. But from the perspective of Montreal Toronto seemed less wonderful than when I was there, and I agreed. It gave me something of a twinge to think how little gratitude that showed to Dean Bladen who had gone to the trouble of arranging a senior appointment for me, and rescued me from the monotonous life of Ottawa. Yet that seemed no reason to repeat my senseless faithfulness to the DBS over 23 years. So I started at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1963.

Emigration to the United States

The only thing that need be said about the emigration to the United States is that it was simple. The medical part for example: Each of us was asked "How are you feeling?" and we both said "Great". No further evidence of health was required.

We were given various papers, and as I recall we validated them by a trip to New York for a weekend on April 25 1963. We received a green card to testify to all this.

In the mid-1970s George Homans said thast if I took American citizenship he would put me up for election as a regular member of the NAS. I did and he did and I was elected.

Demography favored me

Chicago 1963

Partly because the birth fluctuations, of which the baby boom from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s was one, had such a striking effect on individual careers in a number of occupations, there was a general interest in population growth and fluctuation at the time I began teaching. That is, aside from the baby boom giving me an opportunity to teach, it also gave me the subject matter for my teaching. Entry into the labor force would burgeon in the 1960s and 1970s, then there would be an increase in births as an echo of the original boom, and looming in the 21st century, say about 2010-2015 a grim problem of financing health and retirement, all superimposed on underlying long term declines in birth rates and in death rates. This meant that an increaseed number of retirements, each of them lasting longer, would have to be supported by a decreased number of people of working age.

(Now, in 2003, as the crisis of social security and medicare approaches, are we worrying about it, are we saving up to meet it? Not at all. Our horizon has shortened down to the next election. No present day politician is going to ask the public to give up something in order to make life a little less difficult ten years from now.)

Foundations responded to the problems in the only way they could--by offering research grants. Funding to study these matters was plentiful Applying for research moneys did not require so much effort that it kept scholars from doing research. In fact applying was mostly a matter of reminding the donor of the problem and asking for the money. I accordingly got my share.

Moreover there was a sense that the future of social science lay in the application of mathematics to its problems. The Social Science Research Council, a private group aiming to improve the quality of scholarly work, set up a committee to stimulate the use of mathematics in its fields, to whose work I was invited to contribute.

But aside from easy funding, there were two other elements that happily coincided with my entrance into the academy. One was the existence of a phenomenal mass of results of the application of mathematics to population. Alfred Lotka was the best known of the writers, but there were scores of others as well, and their writing was scattered through places like the Journal of Cell Biology, the Journal of Hygiene, Mathematical Biosciences, Biometrika, the Journal of the American Statistical Association and other publications that social scientists do not regularly read. And if they do fall on them they are put off by the strange applications (for instance to populations of bacteria, or the population of trucks in a large fleet) and mystified by the variety of notations.

Yet it was plain to me that there were formal elements in common among all these applications, and I began to set them down. I put them into a uniform notation, showed the relation of one result to others, and generally systematized the field. If that was creativity on my part it was of a low order, though it was certainly hard work

But this was not enough. Nothing in what I derived constituted new mathematics, and it was not really new demography either. There were plenty of formulas in my assembly, but abstract formulas is what they could well have remained. Those extracts from the literature, even when suitably arranged, would have been mere curiosities.

What saved my hard work from this fate was the advent of the computer. The year I got to Chicago on the invitation of Phil Hauser was 1963, and the University of Chicago had just set up a computer center to house its brand new IBM 7090. It occupied an entire building on Ellis Avenue, and was mostly used by physicists. Very few social scientists ever passed through its doors.

For me it did something almost magical: it brought to life the formulas on which I was working. To demographers only formulas to which numbers can be applied are for real. A formula is not redeemed by being carefully and flawlessly derived. If I did not enter numbers in my results no one else would. A desk calculator would not have been able to do the work in any finite time, so resort to a computer was the answer. In those days that meant learning to program in FORTRAN, and I taught myself the early primitive version, applied it in a number of instances, with Beatrice punching in the programs and data on the then standard 80-column IBM cards. Its incisive logic appealed to graduate students, Fr. Wilhelm Flieger, Jay Palmore, Mike Murphy, Lee Jay Cho, and they went to work programming further formulas, and so we produced the examples that gave some meaning and interest to the manuscript I was putting together.

After some years of this activity statistician Fred Mosteller noticed my work, went over it carefully, gave me some 70 pages of closely typed corrections, demands for clarification and suggestions, so adding a further year of work for me. Ultimately Fred approved the ms. for publication on behalf of publisher Addison-Wesley. That plus his help on later work, plus help from Robert Dorfman, Aage Sorensen (both now deceased, alas) and others give meaning to the idea of a scholarly community. The resulting book, Introduction to the Mathematics of Population, whose first edition was published in 1968, surprised me by its success, at least in reviews if not in sales: it was taken as defining population mathematics as a new field. Every academic discipline likes to expand its domain by the addition of a new sub-discipline, and demographers are no different. Books and articles have since been written by myself and others extending it further, Courses are now given in many universities, and a Journal of Mathematical Population Studies now exists, and finds worthwhile contributions issue after issue. On the strength of little more than that one book I rocketed all the way up to membership in the National Academy of Science, for which I had been nominated by Professor George Homans.

Beyond all that I have mentioned was the widespread recognition that population increase retarded development. At first for the reason that Malthus gave, that additions to the population were driven to marginal lands, but when this argument fell into disrepute--because of enormous increases in agricultural technology that virtually eliminated land as the limiting element in sustaining population--then there was recourse to something different--raising and equipping the newcomers in a rapidly increasing population drew capital away from investment that would raise the productivity of the existing population.

Whatever the reasons, goodwill towards the new nations that were formed in the era of decolonization generated large budgets for foreign aid, especially in the form of technical assistance. Every country needed a demographer to enable it to understand the population problem. So I landed in Burma, Indonesia, Ceylon, Argentina, and indeed much of the travel described in this memoir has had the purpose of raising consciousness of population and population research. Demographers, after all, think of ourselves as scholars, not as presenting a case for more people or for fewer people. So my task was to make students aware of the issues that demography treats, and let them draw their own conclusions on population policy.

Since then there has been disillusion with foreign aid, and budgets have been drastically cut. Had I been born two or three decades later or two or three decades earlier I could never have had those assignments in foreign countries. that often proved uncomfortable, but were always instructive. And perhaps even a little useful to the people I had been assigned to help.

Four momentous years

Berkeley, 1968-72

We lived in Chicago and I taught at the University of Chicago. It was Phil Hauser whom I knew well and respected greatly, who organized my coming there, and I had some doubts but in the end I resigned from the University of Toronto and came. I thought and still think that at the time I was there Chicago was the greatest assembly of scholars in the country. Why did I ever leave, despite my gratitude to Phil for bringing me to so distinguished a place? It looks as though I was just restless. Having spent the first 23 years of my working life in a bureaucracy in which I was steadily promoted, nearly reaching the top, but in which I always fitted badly, and learned very little, I wanted adventure from then on.

And I got it. Little did I dream that my four years at Berkeley would give me a front-row seat in a theater in which history would be acted out. Those years would change for all future time the nature of academic life in the US. They would divide the young from the old and not since have the generations been quite in the pre-1968 relation, a relation in which the young took for granted the wisdom of their elders.. What was going on in Berkeley would reverberate around the world. The example set by the Berkeley students was followed up by protests against globalization in Seattle, protests against a war in Iraq today, all arising from the fact that VietNam, called to attention by the Berkeley students showed how far from infallible the older generation was. Mention May 1968 anywhere in the United States or Europe, and people will know you are referring to the new relation between the generations with which we are now living.

In any case I was persuaded by Kingsley Davis and his wife Judith Blake Davis to go west. They had founded a Department of Demography, the only one in the United States. It had branched off from the Department of Sociology, and for the first time demographers were on their own--they would be able to decide who was a demographer. The Berkeley Department of Sociology was no disgrace; indeed at one point it was rated first in the country. But just as nations want to be independent, so do academic disciplines.

When we got to the West Coast, we found the climate all that was promised, the University of California at Berkeley was on a fine campus, the nearby city of San Francisco as colorful as anyone could want . After a short stay in rented premises near the University, we bought a house on the Alameda, and there we settled with our dog Bonnie. It was a good spot, a few blocks below the home of Jerzy Neyman, by then arguably the world's most eminent statistician, whom we visited often. He never spoke of himself but under questioning admitted that he was a member of the Polish aristocracy, the minor aristocracy, he insisted. .

Aside from the Davises I was the senior member of the new Deparment. It included Sam Preston, then just married to Winnie, and a year or two later it brought in Etienne van de Walle, a senior scholar of Flemish origin who came to us from Princeton on a one-year invitation. Altogether a small but promising group.

Two years after our arrival the campus exploded. The local police could not keep order, and the National Guard had to be called. I remember one morning when I arrived in the usual way and found the campus closed. It was surrounded by the National Guard, grim, silent men in uniform with fixed bayonets. When I tried a witticism no one cracked a smile and I went back home.

A few days later the campus opened up again. I had been assigned a classroom half under ground level. Tear gas was being used to disperse student protest meetings, and this particular day the National Guard released it from helicopters. Clouds of yellow gas drifted across the campus. Those in buildings well above ground were safe, but we were below ground level. We rushed to close the windows. The authorities had ordered lecturers to keep talking whatever happened, and I managed to obey with a minimum of coughing.

Finally peace was restored; the disturbances came to an end. What had all this fuss been about? Though there were a number of lesser complaints it was principally about the Vietnam War. The students saw that war as unjust--we had no business in Vietnam--and that it was bound to fail. After all the French, with a long history of relations in Southeast Asia, had tried, and in the end had been forced to retreat before stubborn and well organized resistance.. For us to think we American newcomers could do it was sheer arrogance. But it was not the military side, it was the ethical side that aroused young people across the United States.

Why did we fight so long? Because no political party wanted to admit the inevitable defeat. For the same reason that the French stayed in Algeria. It took a Frenchman of exceptional courage, historical understanding, and leadership, Charles de Gaulle, to end that war when there was no chance of winning it. We had no de Gaule, and the war dragged on until an American student uprising forced it to an end. By then 50,000 American soldiers had died, and perhaps ten times as many Vietnamese. We seemed to have forgotten all the rules of civilized warfare, treating the Vietnamese as subhuman in Mylai and other places. A considerable part of the adult population wanted the war to be pursued to a victorious conclusion, At the lunatic fringe idea of dropping a nuclear bomb was circulated.

Our young had only the newspapers to go on, but they read them more intelligently than did their elders. The students had nothing but contempt for elders who could support such goings on as the press reported. This sense that their elders did not know anything and had no morals was an outcome that far outlasted the war. "You can't trust anyone over 30" was the watchword. And it was not confined to the Vietnam issue--the distrust of authority spread to all issues and all continents. "May, 1968" symbolizes the revolt of youth in Europe as in the U.S.

The revolt reached down to our Department of Demography. Sam Preston, with some support from myself and Etienne, seemed to be the voice of the students, and Judith Davis the voice of authority. I joined Preston, and when we had a meeting of faculty and students, questions of wider political orientation merged with those of the administration of the Department.

Judith and I were still talking to one another, but a further incident brought all civility to an end. An eminent legal scholar, John Noonan, a liberal Catholic who had written a book on contraception, called on me one day and suggested that we share a course. I knew that we would differ on many subjects; he would argue against making contraception more widely available and I in favor. This would add spice to the course and be informative to students. His suggestion was extremely flattering to me; he was one of the most distinguished scholars on the Berkeley campus. He was even spoken of for the Supreme Court.

In any case Judith was scandalized. To her birth control was a sacred matter and debating it was sinful. She went to the extreme of locking the door of the classroom where we were to teach, leaving us and the students standing in the hall. But we did give the course, and it went well. Noonan and I became friends, and I remember one great evening that he spent at our house.

The outcome of all this was a shock to Judith. I accepted an appointment to Harvard and Preston to the University of Pennsylvania, while van de Walle, having only a one-year appointment at Berkeley returned to Penn, which became one of the strongest in our field anywhere.

With we three leaving the Davis's were the whole faculty of the Berkeley Department of Demography. Now we will be able to get three really good people, Judith said in effect. Not so fast, the authorities responded, that is not the way we do things. The Administration will appoint a committee from other Departments, and it will recommend new personnel. Judith said she would rather dissolve the Department than lose its autonomy.

While this issue was in the air the University budget came up. Judith, threatened by cuts, had Kingsley go to Sacramento and lobby the State Legislature so that it approved a line item for the Department in the final budget. Kingsley had qualities that made him an exceptionally effective lobbyist--prestige and persuasiveness.

To the Berkeley administration that was the last straw. They forced Judith's resignation. The best she could do was an appointment in the School of Public Health of the Los Angeles campus. (When she was riding high Judith had spoken scornfully of schools of public health.) To make thing worse the marriage with Kingsley broke up. Not so many years later I read of her death at a rather young age. I was sorry, having always hoped we could become friends again. I never had any dislike of Judith--she did what she thought most effective in limiting population and just misjudged the means.

One other incident at Berkeley remains in my mind, though I was not personally involved. The State Government, under Ronald Reagan, proposed to cut the University's budget--at a time when the rest of the State Budget was on the rise. A delegation called on him in his Sacramento office, headed by the distinguished physicist Owen Chamberlain. I remember seeing on television Chamberlain wagging his finger at the Governor. Ronald Reagan leaned back comfortably in his chair, unmoved, listened and said nothing. When the final budget was published it was even lower than the draft.

Teaching and surfing in Hawaii

Honolulu, 1971

Paul Demeny was in charge of the Department of Population at th University of Hawaii and he invited me to join the tenure staff. I was not ready to do that, but a three month spell out in the Pacific Ocean was more than acceptable. Beatrice and I moved out there, and agreed that the climate was everything that had been said about it. Even the rain was pleasant--"liquid sunshine" Paul called it.

Once I had my classes organized I turned my attention to Waikiki Beach. I hired a surfing instructor, rented a very large surf board (the larger the board the less difficult to stand up on), and got going. Following my instructor I waded and swam what seemed like half a mile out into the water, and stopped. My instructor turned his educated eye towards the incoming waves, and when he saw one that looked good I clambered aboard and lay on my stomach. At the right moment he gave the board and myself a mighty push, so that we caught the wave, and we were wafted landward.

The trick was to go from flat to kneeling, and then stand up, cleverly steering the board by shifting weight from one leg to the other. I went through this day after day, and only once in my entire stay in Hawaii did I manage to stand on that board.

I did buy a board and took it home, storing it in the basement of our place in North Hampton. In the autumn. the season of tallest waves,the young men of New Hampshire would be out there surfing in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. (Most of us found that water too cold for swimming even in July.)

That was not the end of my Hawaiian epic. Out in the bright sunshine, that came down both directly and then as a reflection from the water, my unprotected eyes were badly affected. For a while I couldn't see to read. But the eyes gradually recovered. I was glad not to have this memento of my stay in Hawaii.

We got around in an old VW (Volkswagon) that we bought at the outset of our stay. In it we did the circuit of the island of Oahu, and when leaving sold for slightly more than we had paid. Another confirmation of my principle of "It is always cheaper to buy than to rent" mentioned earlier.

One other memory of Hawaii: the cockroaches. They were everywhere. When walking about one often saw a house enveloped in a large transparent tent where the work of fumigation was under way. That would rid the occupant of cockroaches--for a limited time.

Beatrice did not like Hawaii-in fact she hated it. For her it seemed terribly far from everything. Not quite as isolated as a colony on the moon, but the same idea. The evening TV news came in at 10:00 p.m., delayed by the time taken to fly the tape from the mainland.

So in due course we said good-bye to our friends the Demeny's, and left.

The University of Wisconsin

Madison, 1971

The Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin was and is an attractive place for a social scientist. For me it was attractive because of the demographers there, led by Robert Hauser. I knew and admired Reynolds Farley and David Featherman. Beside his group there was James F. Grow in popuation genetics. I was invited to join, and was certainly interested. How far my expression of interest was a promise to join, I do not remember. What I do know is the Bob Hauser felt that it was indeed a promise, and when I went back on it to join Harvard, he felt betrayed. I now see that at the very least he was entitled to an apology and I don't remember offering such an apology.

Invitation to Harvard: George Homans and Roger Revelle

Cambridge, 1972-83

That fall (1972) we moved to Harvard, where we were welcomed by Roger Revelle, who had come from California to found the Harvard Center for Population Studies in the fall of 1964. And by Derek Bok, who had just been appointed President of Harvard and who was on crutches, result of an accident on the basketball floor. He recovered, and even among Harvard Presidents he was outstanding--for intellectual leadership and as an administrator. During his years of tenure Harvard made important advances.

The formal invitation to Harvard came from George Homans, Chair of the Department of Sociology Here are a few words about where he stood in our discipline.

George Homans, great practitioner of sociology

Cambridge, 1972

It helps me in giving an idea of Homans that he was interviewed by Bill Bainbridge for Sociology Lives.

Homans made much of field work, of the kind that he and the Westinghouse researchers did with industrial groups. "Studying a small group over six months or more," he said, "provides illumination as to actual human behavior" that is among other things often "absolutely crucial in understanding the statistical results."

I can confirm that, having been lucky enough to spend some months living in a peasant cottage in East Java. I saw from the inside a mode of living totally different from the staid lace curtain style of a North American suburb, all in one of the most crowded rural areas in the world. I ate what my hosts ate, watched them at work, talked to them day after day, empathized with their problems.

How did the population get to the point where the pressure on the land is intense, and where the standard of living is rock bottom low? Bare statistics don't answer that. Those peasants have traditionally liked kids more than they liked private property in land or other wealth. We have few children and concentrate on the increase of wealth, so revealing a scale of values that is the reverse of the Javanese. If a Javanese couple had many children they would be assigned extra land; a couple with few or no children, not needing much land, would be assigned less on the next of the traditional periodic redivisions of the irrigated rice terraces. Such redivision had in practice lapsed by the time I did my field work, but it was very much a living ideal often mentioned when children were discussed. People might say that So and so has many children; he should have more land. We would say So and so shouldn't have had so many children--he can't support them.

I could see a simple feedback in what I was told: more children entitles [one] to more land, and more land enables more children to survive, so density and poverty spiral, all accommodated in Clifford Geertz's culture of poverty.

Field work enabled me to realize deep down that people of other cultures think differently from myself, and their way of thinking comes as naturally to them as mine does to me. People everywhere undergo many of the same vicissitudes, like having children, but when these are interpreted differently they become different experiences. It takes observation on the ground, not often enough done by demographers, to reveal the varieties of meaning births and other demographic events present. For a pious Muslim couple a first birth is needed to validate a marriage, so that a wife who cannot produce even one child is likely to find herself divorced and on the street, virtually an outcast from society. For an ambitious American couple an unexpected birth is often interpreted as an obstacle to the couple's advance. (Evidence: one and a half million pregnancies are aborted each year in the United States.)

Such differences reach into all countries and every aspect of life. The Japanese, whose historic experience of real hunger is still remembered, willingly pays four times the world market price for home-grown rice, simply for the security of having it whatever happens abroad; the American, who has no historic experience of hunger, cannot understand this and thinks the Japanese should forget those fears and buy in the cheapest market.

Not relevant to his work in the academy, and never referred to by Gerge himself, with two U.S. precedents in his ancestry, if there is such a thing as an American aristocrat it was he.

Roger Revelle

Cambridge 1972

Roger was a big man in every way: tall, big feet, large, quick mind, great sense of humor. One could not help admiring him, though at times he could be exasperating--always by intention. He really belonged on the West Coast, and had risen very high in the hierarchy of the University of California, but was disappointed when passed over for the Presidency of the University. In the academy he had been oceanographer and geophysist, but that led him to ecology and the sustainability of our way of life. That led him to the world population problem, and left him open to an invitation to be the founding head of the Harvard Center for Population Studies.

Once described by the New York Times as "one of the world's most articulate spokesmen for science" and "an early predictor of global warming," Roger Revelle was a giant in American science who accomplished enough during his eighty-two years to distinguish several lifetimes.

"Revelle first made his mark in oceanography-as a scientist, explorer, and administrator-and went on to become a senior spokesman for science, giving counsel in areas ranging from the environment and education to agriculture and world population. He was one of the first scientists to recognize the effects of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the Earth's surface temperature.

"Born in Seattle, Washington, on March 7, 1909, Revelle was raised in Pasadena, California, and was identified as a gifted student early in his academic career. In 1925, Revelle entered Pomona College with an interest in journalism, but later turned to geology as his major field of study. In 1928, Revelle met Ellen Virginia Clark, a student at the neighboring Scripps College and a grandniece of Scripps College founder Ellen Browning Scripps. They were married in 1931."

In short It was as though George (on behalf of the Department) owned the coveted post; Roger, as head of the Harvard Center for Population Studies, controlled the funds that would pay my salary.

To find out all about Harvard run