Charles B. Nam is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Research Associate of the Center for Demography and Population Health at Florida State University, where he has been a faculty member since 1964. He has devoted his career to fostering integration of the social sciences through population studies. He is esteemed for his substantial contributions as a scholar, teacher, administrator, and professional leader. He is known for generating seminal ideas that create new pathways for research and then engaging colleagues and students to work with him in elaborating those ideas.
Charlie was born in Lynbrook, New York in 1926, the son of European immigrant parents who changed the family name from Namowitz when he was three years old. After serving in the US Army in Europe as an artillery surveyor during WWII, Charlie attended Harvard University for one year under Army Reserve Specialized Training (1945-46). He received his BA degree in Applied Statistics from New York University in 1950 and his MA and PhD degrees in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1957 and 1959. Rupert Vance directed his doctoral dissertation on generational changes in the social stratification of US nationality groups of European origin, later published in a monograph, Nationality Groups and Social Stratification.
Charlie worked as Chief of the Education Statistics Section and then the Education and Social Stratification Branch at the US Census Bureau from 1957-64, where he participated in planning for the 1960 Census, prepared Current Population Reports, helped train foreign students in census techniques, and served as Project Director for a landmark study matching death certificates and census records.
Working at Census laid the foundation for many of Charlie’s later professional interests. He used the seemingly dry statistics on schooling to paint a rich picture of changes in the educational structure of the nation and as a marker of social change, which led to a series of articles and a co-authored census monograph on Education of the American Population. His interests in the socioeconomic aspects of occupations resulted in a nationally-recognized and widely-used scale of occupational measurement that was the topic of a major census report and a co-authored monograph, The Socioeconomic Approach to Status Measurement, along with numerous articles. The Occupational Status Scale has been replicated and updated with new scores every ten years since the late 1950’s and is a standard entry in guides of methods of social research.
Charlie is perhaps best known for his research on the determinants of mortality trends and variations, resulting in numerous articles and chapters as well as a co-authored monograph, Living and Dying in the USA. His early attention to the phenomenon of human “mortality crossovers” (the tendency for some populations with relatively high infant and childhood death rates to assume relatively low death rates at older ages), his specification of the conditions under which they do and do not occur, and his hypothesis that selective biological and social processes are involved led other researchers to produce extended models of the process that traced the heterogeneity of frailty and its changes over the life cycle.
His insistence on the need to study mortality not just as events that occur at a point in time, but as the end of complex processes that have their origin at much earlier times, led Charlie to study factors affecting the chances of dying in infancy and at adult ages. Charlie has made particular contributions to the realization that medical causes of death are not singular but multiple (hardly anyone dies because of a single medical cause and most deaths have compound causal determinants). He has studied how personal and social behaviors interact with demographic and social background factors (as reflected in his work on smoking-mortality linkages). His analysis of sudden infant death syndrome suggested a strong social explanation to complement the medical explanation for many of the cases.
Author or editor of a dozen academic books and more than eighty articles or chapters, Charlie’s demographic analysis and publications have spanned many topics (fertility, mortality, internal and international migration, age structure, and population distribution), and his sociological analysis and publications cover the sociology of education, social stratification, and the social consequences of population change. His research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Aging, the US Office of Education, and other organizations.
As a teacher, Charlie distinguished himself at Florida State University as well as nationally and internationally through lectures and short courses at other institutions. He was recognized by department and university level teaching awards for undergraduate and graduate instruction, and he directed graduate training programs funded by the National Institutes of Health. He was major professor or committee member for numerous doctoral students in sociology and master’s students in sociology and in FSU’s Master of Science in Demography program. One particular area of instructional effort has been the training of foreign graduate students. Of special significance has been the teaching of Indonesians, both in Jakarta where Charlie was based for a year and in Tallahassee. He has authored or edited four college level textbooks in demography, the last adapted and translated into Polish, and a middle school text.
Chief among Charlie’s administrative contributions was his effort to organize the Center for Demography and Population Health at FSU, where he served as Director for fifteen years and continues to maintain an affiliation. He was also Chair of the Department of Sociology for one term.
Charlie has been a leader in academic professional circles. He was President of the Population Association of America in 1979, after having edited Demography (1972-75) and serving in numerous positions on committees and the Board of Directors. He was President of the Southern Sociological Society (1981-82). His presidential addresses at PAA, “The Progress of Demography as a Scientific Discipline,” and SSS, “Sociology and Demography: Perspectives on Population,” deal with issues of continuing concern regarding the intellectual and institutional standing and relationships of demographers working in American universities. One interesting tidbit is that the intensity of his professional commitment is symbolized by his having attended every annual meeting of PAA since 1952; the association recognized this exceptional dedication with a special award in 2005. Charlie is a member of numerous other regional, national, and international associations where he has played varying roles over the years. He has received numerous recognitions, including having been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Statistical Association, and the Southern Demographic Association. He was placed on the Roll of Honor of the Southern Sociological Society.
Following his retirement from FSU, Charlie took up new careers as a fiction writer and a genealogist. His first book of historical fiction, The Golden Door, was published in 2006. He serves as membership chair for an international genealogical organization and has been archivist for one genealogical association and webmaster for another.