Harley L. Browning inspired a generation of Latin American demographers through his research on internal migration, urbanization, and the structural transformation of employment. Born in Akron, Ohio on April 28, 1927, he received a BA from Kent State in 1949 and pursued graduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in 1962. Harley’s dissertation, “Urbanization in Mexico,” which was written under the direction of Kingsley Davis, laid the foundation for a long-term research agenda about migration and urban development in Latin America. At Berkeley, Harley met his future wife, Waltraut (Waldi) Feindt, a collaborator on the path breaking Monterrey Mobility Project, and a lifelong friend to dozens of colleagues and graduate students.
In 1962 Harley joined the sociology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he left indelible institutional and training legacies through his astute stewardship of the Population Research Center (PRC) from the mid-60s through 1977 and skillful recruitment and training of several generations of Latin American demographers. During his tenure as director, the Texas Population Research Center evolved from a unit within the sociology department to a center reporting to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and acquired a distinctly interdisciplinary approach with regional depth in Latin America. Under Browning’s leadership, in 1971 the Texas Population Research Center became the first to receive core support funding from NICHD. Before stepping down in 1977, Browning secured a continuation grant.
With Jorge Balan and Elizabeth Jelin, Browning pioneered a life history approach to internal migration, making their groundbreaking study, Men in a Developing Society, a classic in the migration literature. Waldi had a strong hand in the design of the of the Monterrey survey, which linked education, job progression and geographic mobility to family life events. As such, this pioneering study set the direction of much work on internal and international migration by contextualizing migration decision-making against social and family circumstances.
Equally insightful, if less well known, are his ideas about the social significance of generational length. Harley was among the first to document how life expectancy could influence people’s decisions about the timing of major life events that define the transition to adulthood. The timing of events such as completion of education, first marriage, and first birth shifted as life expectancy increased. During the latter part of his career, Harley was in the vanguard in recognizing the broad social implications of the structural transformation of employment. Because advanced economies are based more on services and less on the production of goods, he signaled the importance of understanding development through the nature and size of tertiary employment. To this end he developed a new industry classification scheme that took account of the differentiation of services and also identified their functions and differential growth rates in the course of development. Harley’s research on the evolution of service industries in the course of development has benefitted subsequent scholarship about industrial restructuring and research about the nature of work in low-income countries.
Through decades of working with students, colleagues and other collaborators, Harley was indispensable to consolidating the field of Latin American demography. Many of the best-known demographers of Latin America were either Harley’s students or collaborators, many of whom were affiliates or visitors of the Population Research Center. His students hailed from Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and the United States.
Harley’s students and colleagues could honor him for any number of achievements, but through this tribute we wanted to acknowledge his unique and superb mentorship that seemed customized to each student. In addition to extraordinary generosity with his office time, he welcomed all of us to his home for memorable social occasions and extended mentoring sessions. Former students remember his probing questions, sharp editorial pencil, and magnanimous contributions to our libraries—all in the interest of improving our work. Junior faculty benefitted from his sage advice, extensive comments on manuscripts, and unequivocal research support. Harley Browning redefined academic selflessness and cultivated trust, admiration and gratitude among his students and colleagues. Collectively and individually we stand in his debt.