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IUSSP Laureate 2007. Charles Westoff

Dr. Charles Westoff, Professor Emeritus, of Princeton University received the 17th IUSSP Laureate during a ceremony that took place at the PAA meeting in New York City, on 28 March 2007.

 

IUSSP President, John Cleland presented the award citing Charles Westoff’s important contributions to demography and population policy through his seminal work on fertility and contraception and the design and analysis of national and World Fertility Surveys and the Demographic and Health Surveys in an ongoing career that spans more than 50 years of research and publications on fertility, contraception, and contraceptive behaviour. Charles Westoff has been a member of the IUSSP since 1955.

Please find below, the speech delivered by IUSSP President John Cleland during the award ceremony letter highlighting Charles Westoff’s contributions to the field.

 

I first met Charles Westoff in 1975, in the early days of the World Fertility Survey. I was then a mere pup. Charles Westoff and Norman Ryder would descend on London like Gods from Olympus to guide us mere mortals. We were in awe of them both because they were already leading international experts in the design and analysis of fertility surveys, with a long record of prestigious publications.

 

Over the past 30 years, I have remained in touch with Charlie, most notably when I spent several weeks at Princeton University working with him on the questionnaire for the first round of the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). So it is with huge personal pleasure and pride that I am here to present to you the 2007 IUSSP Laureate Award.

 

You received your BA in international relations and your MA in sociology from Syracuse University. From there you moved to the University of Pennsylvania for a PhD in sociology. For your PhD dissertation, awarded in 1953, you tested one of the two dozen hypotheses that had been generated by the Indianapolis Study of Social and Psychological Factors Affecting Fertility. This research led to an appointment following graduate school with the Milbank Memorial Fund.

 

You came to Princeton University and to the Office of Population Research in 1955 where you soon became director of the Princeton Fertility Study – a longitudinal analysis of fertility change in America’s largest cities. The research led to an impressive series of monographs: Family Growth in Metropolitan America (1961), The Third Child (1963), and The Later Years of Childbearing (1970).

 

A second stream of fertility research that grew out of the Indianapolis Study began at the University of Michigan under the influence of Ronald Freedman. The 1955 and 1960 Michigan Growth of the American Family (GAF) studies were continued in 1965 and 1970 as the National Fertility Study, with you and Ryder as co-directors. Two additional volumes were produced out of the National Fertility Study: Reproduction in the United States (1971) and the Contraceptive Revolution (1977). Thus by the late 1970s you had already co-authored six or more major volumes, an impressive feat and a demonstration of productivity that puts many of us to shame. 

 

In 1970 you were chosen to be Executive Director of the US Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, a massive two-year inquiry into the economic, social, environmental, and political consequences of population change in the United States. In that capacity, you exercised what has been described as “the most influential policy advisory role that any demographer has ever played in the United States.” The Commission’s Final report, issued in 1972, concluded, “in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population would contribute significantly to the Nation’s ability to solve its problems.” US fertility began a sustained drop below replacement the following year, leading you to quip “never had a federal commission been more effective.”

Your involvement with the World Fertility Survey (WFS) started in 1971. You played a major part in designing the core questionnaire and were centrally involved in the intellectual tussle over the value of asking women in poor countries questions about their family size preferences: this ended in the compromise of an optional set of questions “the fertility regulation module”. When the WFS ended, you became in 1986 senior technical advisor to its successor, the Demographic and Health Survey and exercised huge influence in that role. You have been at the core of most high quality fertility surveys, both in USA and developing countries, for almost 50 years. It is a unique contribution. 

 

You once told me that, when required to present your curriculum vitae, you usually cited your books but brushed off the need to cite articles with the phrase “too many to list”. At the time, I interpreted this stance as hubris. But, having seen your list of publications, I now realise that you were merely being realistic. You have published over 250 books, articles, and reviews. Most are single-authored or first-authored. And they have appeared in the most prestigious journals: Science, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Millbank Memorial Quarterly as well as in the ‘usual suspects’ – Demography, Studies in Family Planning, International Family Planning Perspectives and so on.

 

You have published on a wide range of subjects: teenage fertility, fecundability and coital frequency (your description of the decline in the latter by age as the “saddest curve” has become part of demographic folklore), contraceptive failure and discontinuation, the marriage market, Catholicism and fertility, mass media and reproductive behaviour and, in a prescient Science paper published in 1974, on sex pre-selection.

 

But you will be most remembered for your work on three topics: unwanted and wanted fertility; unmet need for contraception; and the relationship between contraception and abortion.

 

The first publication of yours that I would locate on the topic of unwanted fertility was a 1970 journal paper with Larry Bumpass on US data. This was followed by a 1976 paper in Science on unplanned births in the USA. You then applied the concept to developing countries in a 1981 paper “Unwanted fertility in six developing countries”. This was followed by other publications, some in the DHS series. Mainly through your ingenuity, wanted and unwanted fertility rates have become measures that are familiar to all of us working in this area of demography.

 

The concept of unmet need for contraception is even more familiar and polemically important than that of unwanted fertility. It is uncertain to me whether the idea for this measure originated with your work on US survey data; your first publication on the topic appears to be a 1978 paper “Unmet need for birth control in five Asian countries”. This contained the insight that unmet need does not necessarily fall in line with fertility decline and rises in contraceptive use because ‘need’ itself may be changing at a quicker pace. This was followed by a much cited 1981 paper with Ann Pebley on alternative measures of unmet need and by a host of other papers, including the influential DHS Comparative Studies. You may (or may not) be pleased to learn that unmet need has been selected as one of the few indicators to track the newly adopted Millennium Development target of “universal access to reproductive health”. One could say that you have penetrated the heart of the UN development effort.

 

The third topic that will always be associated with your name is the relationship between contraception and abortion. In the 1970s you published several articles on this theme, using US evidence. Once again you successfully adapted the approach to developing countries using WFS data with a 1980 article “Abortions averted by sterilization in Korea” and this was followed in 1981 by an article on “Abortions preventable by contraceptive practice, co-authored by Jane DeLung and others. In the late 1990s you turned your attention to newly available data sets from Central Asia and the former USSR and with exquisite precision, showed how the advent of modern contraception was starting to displace induced abortion in some countries and quantified the proximate pathways to induced abortion. This recent work, published in DHS monographs, demonstrates that you have lost none of your skills or appetite for exciting analysis.

 

I have always admired in particular two of your qualities: your unerring instinct for what is important and interesting; and your undimmed curiosity about how the world works. These and your many other qualities have been widely recognised. You are past president of the Population Association of America an elected fellow of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and a recipient of the Irene Taeuber award for excellence in demographic research. You are now a Laureate of IUSSP. Many congratulations.

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