Betty Thomson is Professor of Sociology Emerita, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Professor Emerita of Demography, Stockholm University. She is former director of the UW Center for Demography and Ecology (1999-2004) and of the Stockholm University Demography Unit (2004-2013). Since 2008, she has founded and directed the Linnaeus Center for Social Policy and Family Dynamics in Europe, based at Stockholm University.
Betty is a family demographer who has made important contributions in a number of substantive areas, especially related to fertility, union formation, stepfamilies, parenthood, and family structure and child wellbeing. In recent years, much of her research has focused on comparative European family demography. Across all of her research, she is exacting in her approach to science and is committed to ‘getting it right’ using the best tools and concepts for a given research question. She is a true demographer with keen attention to data and measurement, who carefully analyzes populations at risk, exposure, and events, considering the importance of timing, transitions and trajectories within the life course.
Her early work examined fertility intentions and the value of children among couples, highlighting the importance of considering both wives’ and husbands’ perspectives overall and as linked with childbearing behavior. She was a pioneer in highlighting cohabitation in union formation processes and evaluating its link with marital stability. She has especially illuminated how family structure is linked with children’s behavior, including key mechanisms of economic resources and parental behaviors. Her recent work has considered parents’ multipartner fertility (i.e., having kids with more than one partner) in cross-national comparison and across generations. Throughout her career, she has been particularly attuned to gender differences in family patterns and experiences and the importance of considering both men’s and women’s perspectives.
Betty has received numerous research grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Swedish Research Council, and she has served in various advisory and review capacities for a range of organizations and data sources, including (recently) the European Research Council and the Generations and Gender Survey. Since 2005, Betty has been a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She served as a member of PAA’s Board from 1993 to 1996 and as PAA’s Vice President from 2006 to 2008.
Beyond her many research accomplishments, Betty is known as a generous and thoughtful colleague, co-author, mentor and leader. She has developed/led multiple research centers in ways that have spurred innovative new research and have launched/nurtured multiple research careers. She has advised numerous students and postdocs, and she is known for her ability to bring groups of people together to consider common research goals and objectives. In sum, Betty has made outstanding contributions to the field of population science in her own research, her mentorship of others, and in her many investments in academic institutions and organizations.