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2013 IUSSP Laureate John Bongaarts. Ceremony Thursday 29 August 2013. Busan Conference




The 2013 IUSSP Laureate Award has been granted this year to John Bongaarts in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of population sciences and distinguished service rendered to the IUSSP.

 The Laureate Ceremony will take place  Thursday 29 August 2013 just after the IUSSP General Assembly, which begins at 19:00, in the Grand Ballroom, 3rd Floor of the BEXCO Convention Hall in Busan, South Korea.  All IUSSP members, friends and colleagues of John Bongaarts are warmly invited to attend the ceremony in his honour.


Nomination Letter for John Bongaarts

I am writing to propose the appointment of John Bongaarts as IUSSP Laureate in 2012.  John is an extraordinarily talented demographer who has contributed fundamental analyses to an exceptionally wide array of demographic subjects. I can think of no one who has contributed more to the battery of methods used to study population processes. And John has applied his ingenious inventions to critical issues in substance and policy.
John is perhaps best known for two contributions to the analysis of fertility, the proximate determinants framework and the distinction between quantum and tempo of fertility. The proximate determinants framework broke fertility down into its constituent biomedical parts: exposure to intercourse, fecundability, contraception, abortion, and postpartum infecudity associated with birth the birth process and with breastfeeding. These elements were combined by John in an attractive, straightforward equation that provided many extremely important insights, e.g., the high synergy between contraception and abortion in their effect on the total fertility rate, and the central importance of breastfeeding in restraining fertility in non-contracepting populations.  I would guess that there has not been a Ph.D. in demography anywhere in the world in the past quarter century who has not been exposed to this framework.

The distinction between quantum and tempo of fertility was first made by Norman Ryder but John and Griffith Feeney developed and applied a more precise version that permitted a population’s fertility levels to be broken down into these two components. The application of their approach has provided a convincing demonstration that fertility in Europe during the1990s and the early years of the present century has been substantially depressed by timing components, i.e., the delay of childbearing to older ages in later generations. In a related paper, John has shown how the government of China’s population growth targets could be achieved with higher levels of fertility if ages of childbearing were to increase.

These are outstanding contributions, but there is much, much more. As someone who principally studies mortality, I have found John’s recent analyses of trends in old-age mortality in developed countries to be extremely insightful.  His Population and Development Review article, “How Long Will We Live?”, and its successors, cast a great deal of light on a very contentious subject. Much of the contention is among individuals who treat mortality as a unitary process. John breaks it down into juvenile mortality, background mortality, and senescent mortality, with the latter including a component representing the effect of cigarette smoking. In a simple and direct way, John decomposes life expectancy trends into these components. He shows that, purged of the effects of smoking, senescent mortality trends have been highly linear in the past half century. This leads to an elegant projection method.  I note that John is now on the Technical Advisory Committee to the US Social Security Administration, where his approach is sure to find an interested audience.

He has done an equally remarkable job with his analysis of the factors affecting the rising costs of public pensions. The transfers from the working age population to the retired population can be broken down into factors of age structure, retirement age, contributions by the working age population, and receipts by the retired population. These factors can be combined in formulas that show very directly the tradeoffs involved. John presents and applies these formulas for what I believe is the first time. When used in conjunction with population projections, the fiscal hazards faced by European countries are vividly revealed.

John has contributed to population projection methodology in a number of other ways, including editing the first-rate volume on population projections issued by the National Research Council. John’s 1994 article in Science, “Population Policy Options in the Developing World,” introduced an extremely important distinction into population projections by breaking future growth down into that resulting from momentum, that resulting from desired fertility above the replacement level, and that resulting from unwanted childbearing.  The demography textbook by Preston, Heuveline, and Guillot says of this article, “Because it clarified the future sources of growth at a time when population policies were being reconsidered on a global scale, Bongaarts’ article is one of the most influential ever written in demography.”

John has made important contributions to research on HIV/AIDS, on the world food supply, on global warming, and on household structure. Some of these are addressed in letters that I have attached in support of this nomination. He has also performed massive service to the profession, which is evident on his attached vita.

I have repeatedly used the phrase “broken down” in this letter. The word “analysis”, from the Greek, is defined by Wikipedia as “the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.” In my view, John analyzes demographic phenomena better than anyone in his generation. He is eminently deserving of the designation of Laureate of the IUSSP.

Samuel H. Preston
Professor of Demography and Sociology
University of Pennsylvania