Conrad Taeuber

conradtaeuberCon Taeuber (1906-1999) lived a long professional life and made a significant contribution to the demographic field in every stage of it. He even contributed in his personal life, where he nurtured his wife Irene’s equally distinguished career in the population field, as well as establishing what some have called “the Taeuber demographic dynasty” through two sons and a daughter-in-law.

Conrad Taeuber was born and grew up in rural South Dakota. He received his A.B. degree in 1927, M.A. in 1929, and Ph.D. in 1931, all in sociology and all from the University of Minnesota. For some nine months in 1929-30, he studied sociology and collected data for his Ph.D. dissertation—“”Migration to and from Selected German Cities: An Analysis of the Data of the Official Registration System (Meldewesen) for 1900 to 1927″—at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He was a research assistant at the University of Wisconsin in 1930-31 and on the faculty at Mount Holyoke from 1931 to 1933.

In 1934 Con began a long and varied career with the Federal Government in Washington, DC.  As an economic analyst with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (which became the Works Progress Administration), he started a series of studies of the rural population.  In the process, he worked to encourage and assist workers in rural sociology at the state colleges of agriculture to carry on similar studies in their states. As Frank Notestein noted in his last published article,[1] this work “directed public attention to the problems of poverty and public relief in the Depression.”

In 1935 Con joined the Department of Agriculture to continue his study of the problems of the agricultural population, now at the Bureau of Agricultural Economics as agricultural economist and administrator. Here he was responsible for the annual series of estimates of the flow of population from and to farms. While at the department, Con became involved with the preparatory work for what became the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and became the first Chief of its Statistics Division.  In this position he was responsible for collecting and publishing data not just on the traditional topics of agricultural production and marketing, but also on all aspects of rural life around the world. (Worldwide, the rural population still constituted the majority of people.)

However, he left the FAO when it moved to Rome in 1951, in part because of his wife’s career. In a typically understated way, he told his PAA Presidential interviewer: “Irene was well established in a position which could only be carried out in the Washington/Princeton/New York area [as editor of Population Index and involved in research, writing, and consultation for Princeton’s Office of Population Research, the federal government, and the Rockefeller Foundation, etc.]. Changing that career pattern for a situation in which women could expect discrimination was not appealing.”

So Con went to the Bureau of the Census as its first Assistant (then Associate) Director of Demographic Fields. This gave Con the opportunity to develop a program of demographic statistics, focused not just on the United States but the world. As essentially the Bureau’s chief demographer, Con focused particularly on improving the Bureau’s communications with the public. He said later, “I would like to think that releases from the Bureau improved in clarity and with more rigorous attention to the underlying statistics.” Anyone who has worked with or at the Bureau knows how important this contribution was, and how hard it was to make it happen in an agency that is essentially focused on data collection, not data dissemination or analysis.

Con played an important part in the development of the modern census monograph reports, which had been abandoned after the 1920 census, and was editor of both the 1950 and 1960 series. Notably, with Irene Taeuber, he wrote two important monographs (“The Changing Population of the United States,” 1958, and “People of the United States in the Twentieth Century,” 1971). Both sets of monographs drew on the analytical capabilities that Con fostered at the Bureau by hiring analysts with graduate-level training in demography.

In 1970, the New York Times reported that all of the activity in connection with the 1970 census came together in Con’s office: “There in the heart of it all, like the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain in the Emerald City, sits a small, bald, kind, quiet, and expert man named Conrad Ferdinand Taeuber.”[2]  But Con’s career at the Census and with the federal government ended with the intrusion of politics into the statistical agencies during the Nixon Administration.  Con wrote in his unpublished memoirs that the Administration felt that the agencies were “pushing statistics on poverty, unemployment, racial segregation, and other social problems.”

In 1973, Con moved to Georgetown University, where he became the director of the Center for Population Research, with a focus on the policy aspects of population study. After Irene’s unexpected death in 1974, Con continued his work at Georgetown until 1985, where he contributed to the next generation of demographers. As Chris Bachrach (a student at Georgetown from 1972-74) remembers, Con’s arrival at the Center not only added to the outstanding faculty (many of whom had also worked at the Census Bureau) but also provided an impressive role model for leadership in the population community. And Marty Riche (Director of Policy Studies at the Population Reference Bureau from 1991-94) recalls how she and her colleagues benefited from Con’s contributions to the discussions at the monthly policy-related seminars. Indeed, some at PRB hold that the organization’s move from its building on M Street at the end of 1990 was in part a desire to have an accessible conference room so Con could continue to attend.

Con served as the President of PAA in 1948-49. In a typically unselfish way, instead of giving a presidential address, Con arranged for statements by a panel of speakers, specialists in a number of the fields that were affected by contemporary concerns about problems of feeding the world population. A controversial book had highlighted these problems in what Con felt was an alarmist way. The event he organized, he said in his PAA Presidential interview, focused on “statements of scientific knowledge,” which he felt were “fundamental to any consideration of the possibility of increasing food supplies at a rate which would at least keep up with the prospective rate of population growth.”

Con also served as Secretary of PAA in 1939-42 and as a member of the Committee on Population Statistics during the 1970s. He was awarded the Robert J. Lapham Award in 1991 for “contributions to population research, the application of demographic knowledge to improve the human condition, and service to the population profession.” His awards also included the Exceptional Service Award from the Department of Commerce (1963), and the Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology from the American Sociological Association (1986).

Con remarried in 1979 and he and Dorothy had an active life together for nearly two decades. Late in life they moved to a retirement community in Nashua, NH. They were much missed regulars at PRB’s monthly population seminars, where Con’s contributions were to the point and much appreciated by the attendees.

[1] “Demography in the United States: A Partial Account of the Development of the Field” (Population and Development Review, December 1982, p. 683).

[2] New York Times, March 30, 1970.

List of Donors

Christine Bachrach
Robert Hauser
John Long
Thomas Merrick
Martha Farnsworth Riche
Karl Taeuber
S. Jean van der Tak
Paul Voss