You are here

IUSSP Laureate 2002. Ronald Freeman

Speech by Jacques Vallin at the Laureate Ceremony, Population Association of America Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, May, 8, 2002


Dear Professor Freedman,


On behalf of the council of the IUSSP, I have the great honor and the great pleasure to present to you the IUSSP laureate award for the year 2002.


Every year since 1991, it has become more and more a special tradition for the union to honor a prominent person in the field of population studies. Thus, you are the 12th, after Louis Henry, Nora Federici, Anthony Wrigley, Nafis Sadik, Jorge Somoza, William Borrie, Nathan Keyfitz, Samuel Preston, Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye, Norman Ryder, and, last year, Dirk van de Kaa. You are the 12th scholar honored, and will forever have a special place among the distinguished demographers of history.


It is a great pleasure, to present this award to you, but I am also a little bit shy about it. When you published, in 1946, in the American Journal of Sociology" your first article on the "Informal social organization in the Army", I still was a 5-year old child, and when, in 1955, after ten years of an already very productive career, you became a member of the union, I had not yet completed secondary school! More than a colleague, you are a father in the science and you can easily understand how I am proud to play my role today, but also how I am a bit apprehensive.


Fortunately, I received some experience when, as vice-president of IUSSP, I presented the award to Sam Preston and Norm Ryder. Now as president of IUSSP, and with the help I received from your good friend Al Hermalin, I feel more prepared to make this presentation to you. You are the fourth American to receive this award and this reflects the important contribution that American demographers have played in the development of population studies, and the prominent role you have played in the development of the field within the united States.


It would be too long to summarize all your contributions to the development of demographic science. However, you were so productive in one direction that if I was asked to characterize Ronald Freedman's main writings by only one word, I would not hesitate to say "fertility". Fertility is your topic but also "fertile" is the right word to describe your work on fertility. It is difficult to think of Freedman without thinking of fertility studies but it is almost impossible to think of fertility studies without thinking of Freedman! In another context, to reduce the focus of one's life work to a single word might seem demeaning, but in this case it is the reverse. Although many sociologists, demographers, and economists have worked on the topic of fertility, you continue to be the scholar who is cited the most. That indeed is a mark of great distinction.


To an attentive observer of American demographic research in the 1940s, one would not have predicted this path for you, since your early research was devoted to migration. But as soon as you started to delve into the Indianapolis survey of social and psychological factors affecting fertility, the die was cast. Your paper in 1949, "Some aspects of research in differential fertility" already pointed up the ability of the survey to go beyond the usual census data to include attitudes and values, and you also recognized the additional insights that flow by differentiating between fertility desires and actual fertility intent or behavior. You quickly followed up these insights with several studies (with Pascal Whelpton) that analyzed differentials by religion and traditional values and that made use of survey data on fertility plans.


This experience made you deeply convinced of the power of the sample survey to explore demographic issues, particularly those concerned with fertility and family planning. You took the lead in the first U.S. nationwide survey on fertility related behaviors, which resulted in the landmark volume (with Pascal Whelpton and Arthur Campbell), "Family Planning. Sterility, and Population Growth", in 1959. This work and the many articles that followed from these data demonstrated that women would report reliably on matters of fertility and family planning, and that expectations about future child bearing were useful indicators of future aggregate trends.


Beyond all the specific findings, you brought to the attention of the demographic community the importance of viewing childbearing and family planning behavior within a broad sociological framework, influenced by the values and norms of society and reference groups, as well as by social and economic conditions faced by each family. In the mid seventies you published, "The sociology of human fertility" which is still quoted by any self-respecting author of a text-book. In the seventies and the eighties, when fertility analysis began to focus more and more on the so called intermediate variables like marriage, breastfeeding, or post-partum infecundity, you stressed that we were now faced with "the challenge of specifying the determinants of the proximate determinants"(1) . We needed to look for the institutional and behavioral backgrounds of marriage, contraceptive use, breastfeeding, abstinence practices, and you indeed did look for them. At the same time, and this is probably the better proof of your great perceptiveness, you never yielded to the temptation of claiming to have established a general fertility theory. On the contrary, in the late eighties you wrote that, although demography has built adequate descriptive instruments, the emerging vision is still insufficient, at least insufficient to be relevant for concrete situations, and that a 'grand unifying theory' remains far beyond the capacities of the discipline (2).

Your broad perspective, asserted so early, became particularly critical with the advent of formal family planning programs. By seeing the latter as a form of social intervention, which had to work in the context of other social and economic forces, you gave the key to establishing a balanced view of the potential and limitations of such interventions.


From there, quite naturally, you began your outstanding contribution to international demographic research. Just as Ron Freedman is an inescapable reference for any fertility research, his work is inescapable for any Asian research! To begin, for four years in the early nineteen sixties, you were the coordinator of the Taiwan Population Studies Center. From there you pioneered the study of the determinants of family size in developing countries by carrying out a series of KAP studies and you helped develop and structure the family planning program in Taiwan. You confirmed that the power of the sample survey could be applied to developing countries as well as industrialized countries and that, carefully constructed and executed, surveys could provide valuable estimates of demographic parameters, as well as illuminate the social and economic dynamics behind fertility trends. The Taichung experiment, which applied classic experimental design to the introduction of family planning programs, established the receptivity of that population to family planning as well as the importance of diffusion of new ideas within societies. It is a landmark in demographic and social science research.


In keeping with your broad sociological perspective, the surveys you helped to design in Taiwan and then in many other Asian countries went far beyond narrow questions of fertility and contraceptive use, to study key issues such as women's employment, education, and family relationships as important determinants, as well as important social indicators of changing values and outlook. By utilizing repeated cross-sections of similar surveys, you also showed how one could capture the emerging demographic trends and the changing social factors that lie behind them.


Beyond your contributions to Taiwan, on all these topics you were also a frequent consultant to many other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and finally, the People's RePUBLIC of China. These countries and others also benefited from your valuable advice on their programs and research efforts. As Al Hermalin wrote to me: "A hallmark of Ron's international work was his belief that there was always an appropriate starting point for a family planning program or similar intervention but that each program had to be fashioned in ways appropriate to the local culture and socioeconomic conditions. In other words, 'one size did not fit all' when it came to developing sound programs".


I have alluded to your tremendous scientific "fertility". The number of Publicationsis indeed staggering; but what is also important to note is how often you collaborated with a wide variety of people from different disciplines, different countries and at different levels of seniority. This record does not of course diminish your contribution but rather emphasizes how much you have enriched the broad field of population studies. Secondly, your contributions span an amazingly wide gamut of Publicationsin sociology and demography. My only quibble (now wearing my INED hat) is that you never provided Population with any fragment of your inexhaustible production. But it is never too late. And now less than ever, since, beginning this year, you can directly publish in the English version of Population and your article will also be automatically published in the French one.


But, dear Ron, as rich and brilliant as your scientific research has been this is not the only aspect of your career which deserves, not only the very modest IUSSP prize, but our strong admiration. There are at least three other reasons:


Not only was your research at the very top level but you also devoted a lot of your time to teach the younger generations. Perhaps I even was wrong when putting research first, since your entire active life was devoted to teaching cohort after cohort of students at the university of Michigan. Your teaching contributions continued uninterrupted from 1949, when you began as an "instructor in sociology" until you retired in 1987, and I probably would be correct to say until to-day, since your still are on the spot as Roderick McKenzie Distinguished Emeritus Professor. unfortunately I never had the opportunity to be taught by you but according to what I indirectly heard about it I am sure that it is a great pity. I shall only report here that Al made my conviction even stronger when he told me that you really were a "superb teacher".


A superb teacher but also a "generous PUBLIC servant" and a very creative builder. You especially built an outstanding population center at Michigan, which has been, for many years, very famous all around the world. For ten years, you directed it yourself with great success. But this contribution becomes even more of a success story when it is recognized that you made the Center strong enough to be able to remain active and productive long after you handed over control.


You also took a great part in the administration of research and teaching through various units at the university of Michigan and elsewhere, including chairing the Department of Sociology and serving on important posts for many national and international institutions like uS Bureau of Census, the President's Committee on Population and Family Planning, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, panels and committees of the National Academy of Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, the World Fertility Survey or the World Bank, without forgetting, of course, the PAA of which you were the president in 1964. You even were, in the early sixties, coordinator for some series of Voice of America!


Last, but not least with regard to the IUSSP point of view, you were very active as a union member. You probably do not know that to be awarded with the union prize, you need to have been a member for more than 20 years, but you have been fulfilling this requirement for almost 50 years!! 30 years more than necessary!! You have also participated in the union activities, very actively. For two consecutive mandates, you were a "Member" of the Council. You thus contributed to the general management of the union for eight years. You also were for another four years in the late seventies a very active member of the union's Scientific Committee on Comparative Analysis of Fertility.


According to your prominent role in the development of population sciences, you have already received many honors and distinctions. As early as 1947 you received the Colver-Rosenberger Award for Dissertation research, and four years later the Class of 1917 Award for Excellence in undergraduate Teaching. In 1969 you received the Faculty Distinguished Service Award from the university of Michigan. And in 1981 you were presented with the Irene B. Taueber Award from the Population Association of America and the Office of Population Research. Of course I should not forget that you have been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1974.


For all these reasons, dear Ron, I am afraid that we are a bit late with the very modest prize you are awarded to-day. But, as one says in my mother tongue: mieux vaut tard que jamais ! I hope that you will forgive us and that you will accept not only the prize but also the great sincerity and the great affection with which all the Council, every member of the Council, made the decision. The recognition was in our heads long before we had the opportunity to do it.


Dear Ron, on behalf of the union's Council, I officially award you the 2002 laureate prize of the International union for the Scientific Study of Population.




Jacques Vallin
President of the IUSSP


1 FREEDMAN Ronald, 1986. Theories of fertility decline. In: K. Mahadevan, (ed.): Fertility and mortality: theory, methodology and empirical issues. SAGE publications , New Delhi, p. 30-36. (p. 30)

2 FREEDMAN, Ronald, 1987. The contribution of social science research to population policy and family planning program effectiveness. Studies in Family Planning, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 57-82.