Arland Thornton is Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, where he is also a Research Professor at the Population Studies Center and Survey Research Center. Arland served as President of the Population Association of America and held a MERIT award from the National Institute of Health. His contributions to demography have been recognized with the Irene B. Taeuber Award given by the Population Association of America, as well as a Distinguished Career Award bestowed by the American Sociological Association. His books have also won awards from the American Sociological Association, including two Goode Distinguished Book Awards, the Otis Dudley Duncan Award, and the Outstanding Publication Award.
Arland grew up in rural Idaho and graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah. After his Western upbringing, Arland became a long-time Michigander. He completed his MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan and then began working at Michigan’s Survey Research Center in 1975. Soon after, he joined the faculty in the Department of Sociology and the Population Studies Center, where he continues to work today. During his tenure, he has served as Director of the Population Studies Center, as well as the Family and Demography Program. Arland was also affiliated with the Detroit Area Study for nearly four decades, moving from a first year graduate student on the project to faculty investigator.
For much of his career, Arland has focused on the study of family and demographic issues, with an emphasis on marriage, cohabitation, divorce, childbearing, intergenerational relations, and gender roles. His work has shown how the various strands of social, economic, and family life intersect and influence each other in multiple ways, as well as the ways in which parents and children affect each other as the children mature into adulthood. An important theme in his research is change over time in family behavior, as well as family-related values and beliefs. Arland’s work on family change culminated in developmental idealism theory, which was the subject of his PAA Presidential Address and award-winning book, “Reading History Sideways: The Fallacy and Enduring Impact of the Developmental Paradigm on Family Life.” With developmental idealism theory, he suggested that values and beliefs about social and economic development have been a powerful force of family change, as well as social and economic change more broadly.
The broad reach of developmental idealism has also taken Arland’s research well beyond the realm of the family. His recent work examines beliefs about developmental models and hierarchies, ideational influences on migration, and the spread of developmental idealism through schooling and textbooks. It has also taken him home to Idaho, where he is beginning to explore the effects of developmental idealism on the Nez Perce people.
The geographic range of Arland’s research is astonishing, including 14 countries and counting. His early collaborations on the Detroit Area Study took him from the United States to Taiwan and, from Taiwan, to Nepal. Over the years, he worked on projects in countries ranging from Iran, to Malawi, to Argentina, to Bulgaria. These wide-ranging projects are usually the product of collaborations with demographers from around the world, many of whom are listed below.
As a collaborator and mentor, Arland has also contributed to the development of many demographers. His patience, care, and respect for others is extraordinary. Arland always provides a calm harbor to thoroughly consider the latest analyses, paper draft, or career choice; a short meeting with him can turn into to two hours without the slightest hint that more than the allotted time has been used. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of working with Arland is his well-used collection of one-line lessons, including: “Every talk might be a job talk,” “Don’t let the perfect get in the road of the good,” and “There are no small jobs.” This last line originated with one of Arland’s own mentors, Ron Freedman, and is known as “Freedman’s First Rule.” Thus, fittingly, Arland is not only a scholar of intergenerational relations, but a practitioner of intergenerational relations of the very best kind.