You are here

IUSSP Laureate 2004. Henri Leridon

Speech by Jacques Vallin at the Laureate Ceremony, Population Association of America Meeting, Boston MS, USA, March 31st, 2004.


Dear Henri


On behalf of the Council of the International union for the scientific study of population, I have the great honor and pleasure to present you the IUSSP award for the year 2004. It's a great pleasure, since we have been friends for exactly 40 years, from IDUP to now. But, the task is not so easy, since we know each other too well to allow me to play a "candide" whose lovely mistakes could be forgiven. Fortunately, in courtesy toward our audience, at this PAA meeting, I have to do it in English and you know me well enough to believe that any mistake I make would be due to my limited expertise in that language. No, I will not be able to use Shakespeare's tongue and even less to deliver my speech in the the hexametrical lines of Mousset or Baïf, as François Heran recently did to honor Thérèse Locoh. You will have to content yourself with my modest prose of dog English, which will obviously be worse than that of Monsieur Jourdain.



If I had to choose a title for this short speech, I would not hesitate a second to call it "from Henry to Henri", the first one with a Y and the second with an I: "from Louis Henry to Henri Leridon". Not only because Louis Henry was the first to be awarded with the IUSSP prize after this distinction was created, in 1991, and that, after 14 other famous scholars, you are the second French to be honored, but also and overall because from Henry to Leridon, the only difference is from Henry the master to Henri the disciple who surpassed his master.


As Louis Henry, and as most of the brilliant scientists who created INED like Alfred Sauvy, Paul Vincent, Jean Bourgeois-Pichat, Sully Ledermann, you came from that prestigious Grande École named École polytechnique. You were an X, as one says. I do not remember if you were from the red or from the yellow (this is for the initiates), but you were an X. An X like every successive director of INED from Alfred Sauvy to Jacques Magaud, at a time when that position was not yet open to other people. And, as all the young X entering INED at the time, you joined the most renowned Service inside INED, that of Louis Henry. Louis Henry was then at the top of his career.



I still remember the great Alfred Sauvy claiming at the first European Conference, in Strasbourg, how much he had been taught by Louis Henry about demography. A time where Jean Bourgeois-Pichat felt a bit absent (remember "between Philadelphia and INED a choice is needed!"), Sully Ledermann a bit bizarre and Paul Vincent a bit mad… Let us forget the others like Alain Girard, Leon Tabah, Roland Pressat or Paul Paillat who were not even polytechniciens!!! Louis Henry was the center of the hard core of INED and you started there, under his wing. With him, beyond mathematics and physics, you learned demography and you learned fast. Very soon you became the best disciple of the best master. And from the best interpreter of his works and of his thought you soon expanded on both of them by entering various fields Louis Henry never entered himself: sociology, when you took in charge the INED Department of socio-demographic surveys, and then biology, which recently led you to set the first joint research unit between INED and INSERM.


Indeed, Henri, while Louis Henry was a famous historian demographer, you have become a great socio-bio-demographer, a category just created for you! Demographer, first, without any contest. Of course, getting degrees at IDUP (the Institute of Demography of Paris University) you knew everything about French style demography, but after having inherited from Louis Henry both a broad view on historical process and the best way to apply mathematics to demography you also went to Philadelphia and came back with an intellectual bridge between American and French style demography.


Never denied by the French "gardiens du temple", you also received recognition from the American population scientific community. As a demographer you soon encompassed the full concept of population dynamics through your different studies. In the late sixties you had the opportunity to analyze a very typical case of rapid demographic transition with the first survey on fertility changes in the French Caribbean Islands, which supplied the material for your first book "Fécondité et famille en Martinique". And you conducted a second survey in Guadeloupe, which resulted in a second book ten years later "Transition démographique et modernisation en Guadeloupe et en Martinique". Two small populated islands where a very high demographic pressure lead to huge emigration streams and a very fast fertility transition. But these exotic works did not distract you from your interest in more hexagonal concerns, since, meanwhile, you published another book "Natalité, saisons et conjoncture économique" mainly devoted to long term trends in France and some other developed countries. Comparing these two very different situations you came to the conclusion that not everything is possible in the field of population policy and even that, in most cases, population policies can only accompany the major demographic trends, and can only achieve rather modest objectives. And your subsequent precise demographic analyses always reinforced that wise view on population trends. More recently, once again, you mobilized your demographic expertise to clearly demonstrate that the concept of replacement migration proposed by the UN Population Division to offset population ageing was utopian rather than an actual sustainable alternative.


Of course, Henri, you are first a well known demographer. But you also are a demographer who has deeply invested in the field of sociology. From the beginning you were interested in changes in family patterns. Most of your work on fertility in the developing countries and in the developed ones, has taken into account the importance of changes in family norms and features. It was natural then that when Alain Girard retired, you were asked by Gérard Calot to take charge of the INED Department of socio-demography. And the family was not only the context of your major demographic findings in your famous book on the "second contraceptive revolution" (where we learned so much about the fact that, contrary to many other low-fertility countries, French couples jumped directly from coitus interruptus to the pill!), but it became a new field of research when you produced "Constance et inconstance de la famille" with Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp. It was such a changing field that you had to innovate new methods of collecting data as well define new and more complex categories. Family, couples, contraception: you could not avoid to add sex. And you did it. Especially when the HIV/AIDS made it urgent that we improve our poor knowledge of French sexual behavior. You undertook with your friend Alfred Spira and Michel Bozon the ACSF survey and then published a special issue of Population on "Sexuality and social sciences". But I cannot leave the field of sociology without mentioning that it is also thanks to your lead in that active INED Department that younger sociologists destined for great things like Michel Bozon or François Héran came to us. A great demographer, deeply involved in sociology, but also fascinated by biology.


Once again, the seeds of that third string to your research bow germinated in your very early works that led to "Human fertility. The basic components" first published in French as "Aspect biométriques de la fécondité humaine", or "Natural fertility", a IUSSP book edited with Jane Manken. Once again, fertility is the entry point, but approaching fecundity, sterility, and the means to prevent them required some familiarity with biology. And, to tell the truth, these familiarities led you far away from the strict socio-demographic field when you published with Ron Gray and Alfred Spira "Biological and demographic determinants of human fertility ", another IUSSP book, or with Alain Giami "Les enjeux de la stérilité", and when you wrote for the Committee directed by Alexandre Minkovski a report on genetic and biological advancements and their demographic consequences. And once again, in your wake, you attracted young brilliant researchers from another discipline towards INED and demography, like Elise de la Rochebrochard. But, overall, on the solid bridge thus built between demography and biology, after a long and patient collaboration with the medical and biologic community, you very elegantly succeeded in founding the first joint research unit between INED and INSERM (the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research), a very promising team that you just began to head last year. You will forgive me, dear Henry, for not telling more about your very fertile research activities or your very numerous scientific publications, since time is running short and since, as prominent as is your contribution to population science, it is only one of the reasons why the Council decided to award you the IUSSP prize. Let me conclude the point by one short story you probably never heard. Early in the seventies, when I was working for the Population Council, I had lunch in Paris with Parker Mauldin and Léon Tabah. Parker asked Léon "are there any other fellows INED could lend to the Pop Council for a while?" and after a short list which did not seem to satisfy him he asked "what about Leridon?" "oh! no! Never. INED will never let him go out, he is too good!". It was not so kind to me and it is probably why I never told you that story, though overall it was false. INED never refused to let its' best researchers go elsewhere. The truth was that you preferred to serve INED from inside than from outside. And, beyond your own research and publications you served INED and demography well.


To be short, I'll mention only three major features: publishing, teaching and international contributions Without any contest, you gave a new departure to INED publications twice. First when, for seven years, you were in charge of the "Collections de l'INED". You renovated the old series "Travaux et documents", which included heterogeneous types of works, to make a series of substantive books of very high scientific quality -- fewer but better books. At the same time you created new collections to welcome books of a different but well identified nature, namely, the series "Colloques et Congrès", "Méthodes et savoirs" or "Données statistiques". And last but not least, you revived an almost dead series initiated by Alfred Sauvy early on : "Classiques de l'économie et de la population". Then, all that done, you switched to the head of "Population", for another seven years, and, once again when you transmitted that journal to your successors it was a completely new one. You made it much more independent from INED than in the past. As for "Les collections", you strengthened the peer review process and made it much more reliable, and, above all, you fully realized an old dream we had together when founding the French Committee of the IUSSP: make Population bilingual with a Population F in French and a Population E in English, the contents of which are strictly the same and to which anybody can submit in one or the other language.


Teaching is also an activity were you excelled. First, in Paris, where you taught demography for more than 20 years at the National School for Statistics and Economics, the place where all the professionals of INSEE are trained. But you also taught fertility and mortality biometrics at the Institute of demography of the University of Paris and Methods in demography at the Institute of Statistics of the same University. And you also taught Fertility analysis at the Institute of Political Sciences and the Human reproductive process at the National Museum of Natural History. Finally you also taught for shorter periods at Philadelphia, San Jose de Costa Rica, Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), etc. Not only your activity in that field resulted in a long procession of future demographers who benefited from your pedagogic talent but also in valuable didactic publication; not only you recently honored me and my colleagues Graziella Caselli and Guillaume Wunsch with four excellent chapters in the Volume 2 of Demography: Analysis and Synthesis; but you also produced, in 1997, with Laurent Toulemon, an essential and indispensable textbook. Let me share with you a second secret. Seven years ago, when I wrote to my friend John Wilmoth about the petition circulated to preserve the bilingualism of the Union, he answered, among other things, that reading "Demographie. Approches statistique et dynamique des populations" was one of the rare but convincing experiences that made him encourage his students to learn French!


Finally, dear Henri, let me recall how you also served the scientific population community through your involvement in major international research projects, the two most important of which are certainly the World Fertility Survey and the European Family and Fertility Survey. But you also served the international scientific community through you successive commitments inside the IUSSP. And you will not be surprised if I tell you that this point also has been taken into account by the Council! As early as 1977 you become one of youngest member ever elected to the Council and you were reelected for a second 4-year mandate. You were associated with the preparation and success of the General Conferences of Manila and Florence. But you also were very active in our scientific committees and working groups. As early as 1974 you joined the Committte on Comparative Analysis of Fertility, chaired by Ansley Coale, and, as I already mentioned, you edited with Jane Manken the Ordina book issued after the first seminar organized by that committee. Then you participated in the Working Group on Biological and Demographic Determinants of fertility, chaired by Ronald Gray, by editing with Ron and Alfred Spira the outcome of the Baltimore seminar in our OUP Series. And finally you participated in the Working Group on Biology Culture and Population in the late nineties, with Claudine Sauvain Dugerdil and Nick Mascie-Taylor the work of which resulted in a book, edited by you, which will be either the very last one on our OUP series or the first on a new one we'll soon start with another publisher. Last but not least for about 20 years you were active member of the editorial board of International Studies in Demography, given to the Union the opportunity to benefit from your large experience acquired with INED publications.


Of course I have not forgotten how you involved me in the early eighties in the creation of the French National Committee. We were very much in agreement on the main objectives: develop a group inside the Union instead of creating a French population association, to encourage French demographers to become members of the Union and the French Government to give money to the Union, but also to have as much as possible French publications translated into English. But you asked me to become the first president of that Committee, preferring to be the Secretary General. You honored me more than you probably thought, since, soon after, I received a phone call from Marc Lebrun in Liège, to congratulate me. "For what?" "For soon becoming the president of the Union!" "Excuse me Marc, it is only the French National Committee of the Union" "Yes, but do you know that the first president of the first French National committee founded in 1928, Léon Bernard, was elected Vice-President of the Union in 1931? Of course you will become president!" The logic was a bit twisted since at the time the vice president was not president elect but the prediction was not so bad. And I thank you very much for having put me in this position. Of course this is not the reason why I am glad to honor you to-day. It is for all the reasons I mentioned before. You fully deserve the highest distinction the Union can give you. It is not the Nobel Prize, but there is no Nobel Prize in demography. And I hope very much you will accept it as a sincere testimony from the Council, from the IUSSP, from the whole population scientific community for your outstanding contribution to the advancement of our discipline and its acknowledgement among other disciplines.


Mon cher Henri, c'est avec un plaisir non dissimulé que je te remets ce soir les symboles de ce prix : le globe qui remplace les anciennes médailles un peu trop banales et témoigne de la portée mondiale de tes travaux et le classique diplôme que tu pourras faire encadrer et faire admirer à tes petits enfants et arrière-petits enfants jusqu'à la nieme génération…