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Congratulations to Steve Ruggles – 2022 MacArthur Fellow

By John Weeks posted 10-13-2022 20:20


Many PAA members will have heard by now that our very own Steve Ruggles is a 2022 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly known as the “Genius Award.” All of us at PAA wish to congratulate Steve for this hugely impressive and important honor. Read below for details.

Description of Steve’s work from the MacArthur Foundation (follow the link for more information and a video): Steven Ruggles is a historical demographer building the most extensive database of population statistics in the world. The challenges Ruggles encountered in his research on changing family structures led him to create the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) in 1993. At IPUMS, Ruggles leads the collection, harmonization, and dissemination of a wealth of demographic data useful for studies of social change.

Steve Ruggles leaning casually in a libraryRuggles’ scholarship on changes in family composition and living arrangements in the United States has analyzed the decline of multigenerational households and the rise of single parenthood and divorce. To investigate these and other changing characteristics of the population over decades and centuries, Ruggles required massive quantities of individual and household-level census data from manuscript collections dating back to the mid-19th century. Prior research with historical census data used inconsistent sampling techniques and focused on populations relevant only to specific research questions. Without uniform coding schemes and consistent documentation methods, these incomplete samples could not be used to make comparisons of data across vast time scales and different population subgroups. In response, Ruggles launched IPUMS to provide researchers with free and easy access to harmonized data sets. IPUMS includes data from United States decennial censuses from 1790 to 2010, in addition to other national survey archives. IPUMS records contain valuable information about social indicators such as occupation, housing, fertility, mortality, and migration. They are longitudinally linked across census years, allowing researchers to analyze trends over time. Ruggles has expanded the scope of his original vision by developing International IPUMS, which integrates census records from over 100 different countries and allows for comparative, transcontinental studies.

The highly versatile research infrastructure of IPUMS has set new standards for quantitative research in history and the social sciences. Scholars have used IPUMS data sets to explore the population dynamics contributing to COVID-19 vulnerability, how residential segregation interacts with employment, and the relationship between climate events and migration, among countless other topics. As he works to preserve the utility and accuracy of public use microdata, Ruggles is expanding the range of questions researchers can ask and answer about long-term demographic change.

Description of IPUMS from Population by John R. Weeks: It is taken for granted in North America that census data can be downloaded for free from the internet. The United States, Canada, and Mexico all provide such free access to census data, as do an increasing number of countries around the world. In many of these cases, however, the data are already tabulated for you by the statistical agencies. For researchers interested in uncovering trends and patterns in the data, it is vastly preferable to have access to raw data from the individual census records so that detailed statistical analysis can be undertaken, as long you have the requisite statistical software such as SPSS, SAS, or STATA, or you are fluent in R. Census agencies provide these kinds of data by creating what are known as Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS). A small sample of all census records, typically 5 to 10 percent, is randomly selected. These records are stripped of all personally identifying information, but with a geographic code left in place so that a person’s general location can be determined, and this data set is then made available to researchers for analysis.

Over the past few decades, the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota has been creating a genuinely amazing resource of public use microdata samples from the censuses of the United States (1850 to the present), the American Community Survey from 2001 to the present, the Current Population Survey of the United States from 1962 to the present, and an ever-growing library of data from censuses all over the globe. The files are harmonized so that variable definitions are similar from one census to another, and they are provided in standard statistical software formats, along with links to digital maps for those countries. The Minnesota Population Center also hosts the National Historical Geographic Information System which includes georeferenced aggregated (not individual level) U.S. census data from 1790 to the present, all linked to digital maps that you can download and analyze yourself. They have several other related projects, and overall these are the kinds of data that truly move us forward in our understanding of what’s going on in the world. I encourage you to investigate the resource at

The PAA History Committee is proud to celebrate Steve, the first PAA member to win this prestigious award (that we know of). Steve’s PAA Presidential Address, which he delivered in 2015, can be viewed in this video.