Charles F. Westoff is the Maurice P. During Professor of Demography and Sociology, Emeritus, at Princeton University and former Director of the Office of Population Research. He is a world leader in the study of childbearing, contraception, sexual behavior, and the design and analysis of fertility surveys, with more than 50 years of research and publication on these topis.
Westoff received his BA in international relations and MA in sociology from Syracuse University and a PhD in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953 His dissertation analyzed data from the Indianapolis Study of Social and Psychological Factors Affecting Fertility. After working for a time at the Milbank Memorial Fund he moved on to Princeton University and in 1955 became Director of the Princeton Fertility Study – a longitudinal analysis of fertility change in America’s largest cities. The research led to a series of seminal monographs that set the agenda for research on fertility for decades, including Family Growth in Metropolitan America (1961), The Third Child (1963), and The Later Years of Childbearing (1970). Based on these seminal studies he was appointed as a Full Professor in 1962 and in 1972 assumed Princeton University’s prestigious Maurice P. During Chair.
Following completion of the Princeton Fertility Study he collaborated with Norman Ryder in designing the National Fertility Study, which was implemented in two rounds in 1965 and 1970. The NSF produced two widely cited volumes, Reproduction in the United States (1971) and The Contraceptive Revolution (1977). Based on this work, in 1970 Westoff was chosen to be Executive Director of the US Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, a two-year inquiry into the economic, social, environmental, and political consequences of population change in the United States.
As he was completing work on the Commission in 1972, he collaborated with a team in London on the design and implementation of a major effort to study the determinants of fertility throughout the world. Known as the World Fertility Survey, this data collection effort was the first attempt to gather valid, representative information on childbearing behavior, contraceptive knowledge, and family size in many countries of the developing world.
In 1975 he was appointed as the third Director of the Office of Population Research, following in the footsteps of Frank Notestein and Ansley Coale, a position he held until 1992. When the World Fertility Survey came to an end in 1986 he became senior demographic advisor to the project’s successor, the Demographic and Health Surveys, where he continues to exercise a major influence on the study of human fertility.
In the course of his career, Westoff has published over 300 books, articles, and reviews. His work has appeared in the most prestigious journal of social science including Science, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Milbank Memorial Quarterly as well as in the leading journals of demography, including Studies in Family Planning, International Family Planning Perspectives, Population Studies, and Demography.
The range of topics he has covered is immense, including teenage fertility, fecundability, coital frequency, contraceptive failure and discontinuation, the marriage market, religion and fertility, mass media and reproductive behavior, and sex pre-selection. He is colloquially known in the field for his graphic description of coital frequency by age or marital duration as “the saddest curve in the world.” He is best known professionally for his work on unwanted and wanted fertility, unmet need for family planning, and the relationship between contraception and abortion. He continues to publish actively and in 2011 produced an article on “The Association of Television and Radio on Reproductive Behavior” for the Population and Development Review.
In recognition of his service to demography he was elected President of the Population Association of America and served in 1974-1975. He is an elected fellow of the American Association of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, a recipient of the Irene Taeuber award for excellence in demographic research, and in 2007 was named a Laureate of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.