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Social Demography

Michigan’s social demography program is one of the most distinguished in the world and has trained many of the leading scholars in sociology and demography. Broadly defined as the study of population composition and change, social demography encompasses a variety of substantive sub-areas. A traditional strength of the social demography program at Michigan has been its attention to population structure and dynamics in developing countries. In recent years it has expanded to include the study of families and households; health and aging; and inequalities by social class, race, ethnicity and gender. Thematically, an important focus of the social demography program is how gender, age, race, family origin, and historical or cultural contexts shape individual lives and opportunities. Methodologically, social demographers typically use quantitative research methods, including the analysis of survey data, but are increasingly incorporating ethnographic and other qualitative approaches into their research.

The primary objective of the social demography program is to train graduate students to be outstanding researchers and educators. Specifically, the program is designed to produce fully trained sociologists with broad knowledge in population studies and highly skilled in statistical and demographic techniques, and who can undertake independent research on a wide range of population topics. Housed in both the Sociology Department and the Population Studies Center (a research center within the Institute for Social Research), sociology graduate students in the program are exposed to an interdisciplinary research environment with participating students and faculty from departments of economics, public health and anthropology. A key component of the program’s approach to graduate training is an apprenticeship program in which student “trainees” gain practical research experience under the supervision of a faculty member. This apprenticeship is supplemented by a variety of other formal and informal activities; these include a weekly "brown bag" seminar series as well as a bimonthly Student Research Forum in which students discuss their research, present their dissertation prospectus ideas, present work in progress, and practice formal presentation of conference papers or job talks.

Recent dissertations by students in the social demography program include studies of the effects of social and racial segregation on racial inequality in labor market outcomes; changes in marriage timing in Japan; men’s contributions to household labor; changes over recent decades in the effects of parenthood on men’s and women’s labor market involvement; unmarried cohabitation; the effects of father involvement on adolescent well-being; gender differences in the education of scientists; the causes and consequences of educational inequality in rural China; and racial and social class differences in childhood mortality.