Isaac W. (Ike) Eberstein is the Charles Meade Grigg Professor of Sociology at Florida State University (FSU). His career has been characterized by excellence in research, dedication to and innovation in classroom teaching, exceptional mentorship to graduate students and junior colleagues, and tremendous service to both the sociological and demographic communities. Ike is also a person of the highest character, an incredibly dedicated husband, father, and grandfather and a go-to person to many people in sociology and demography for his listening skills, trusted advice, honesty, and integrity.
Ike grew up in Ennis, Texas and earned his BA in Sociology (1974) from the University of Texas at Austin (UT). He stayed at UT for graduate school, earning his MA (1976) and PhD (1979) degrees in Sociology, with an emphasis on Demography. Ike’s earliest publications focused on patterns and trends in marital instability across racial and ethnic subgroups in the United States. Ike’s dissertation, directed by fellow Texan and close friend W. Parker Frisbie, concentrated on the metropolitan hierarchy of the United States; papers from his dissertation later appeared in Social Forces and Social Science Quarterly.
Ike’s first academic job was in the Department of Sociology at the University of Mississippi, which he greatly enjoyed. But he could not pass up the chance to move to Florida State University (FSU) in 1981, where he was recruited to help strengthen the Department of Sociology and Center for the Study of Population. Over the 35 years he has been at FSU, he has served as Chairperson of the Department of Sociology for 13 years, Director of Graduate Studies for 2 years, Director of the Center for Demography and Population Health for 3 years, and chairperson and member of dozens and dozens of college- and university-level committees. Ike has been a voice of reason and trusted administrator in each of those roles, and particularly so during some rough periods for higher education in the State of Florida. Ike has also been a very conscientious and innovative classroom instructor at FSU, winning a number of teaching awards over the course of his career. Even more important, Ike has been an extremely active thesis and dissertation advisor to many graduate students throughout his career. He spends an incredible amount of time with each of his graduate students, always stressing that they conduct the highest quality work and carry themselves with the highest level of professional integrity. To date, he has chaired 49 masters-level thesis committees and 13 PhD dissertations to completion, while serving on the committees of dozens and dozens of others. His former graduate students have gone on to high level academic, governmental, and private positions in demography and sociology, both in the United States and around the world. A large number of them continue to regularly rely on his advice; indeed, his former students find him to be remarkably accessible and they value his mentorship well beyond graduate day.
Ike’s research over his career to date at FSU has focused on the social demography of health and mortality. Together with his treasured colleague and close friend Charles Nam, he secured support from NICHD and authored some of the most important papers on patterns and trends of infant mortality to date. Focusing on the State of Florida, this set of papers featured record matching between birth and infant death certificates; until that time, record matching involving birth and infant death certificates was not at all common on such a large-scale basis. With tremendous attention to detail, Ike and his collaborators documented troubling patterns of racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality, while also showing how social and biological factors work in tandem to influence the odds of infant mortality for different causes of death, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In bridging the social and biological sciences in his work on infant mortality, Ike was truly at the forefront of the integration of the biological and social sciences within the context of the population sciences. That said, his early papers stemming from these projects – published in Demography, Social Forces, Sociological Forum, Social Biology, and other outlets – emphasize the fundamental social influences on patterns and trends of infant mortality.
Later, in the 1990s, Ike led an interdisciplinary study team – with FSU colleagues David Sly, Janet Kistner, and David Quadagno – that spearheaded the nation’s first in-depth work on children’s and parents’ knowledge of, and attitudes toward, HIV/AIDS. This project, funded by NIMH, later helped produce related NICHD-funded projects that focused on HIV/AIDS prevention across culturally diverse populations in the United States. Together, this set of studies produced some of the nation’s earliest knowledge about children’s and parents’ knowledge and attitudes about HIV/AIDS and prevention efforts geared toward curbing the epidemic. More recently, Ike led an NIA-funded study focused on US adult mortality differentials by multiple cause of death; has collaborated on studies geared toward the understanding of early life influences on older adult health; and has documented adult health patterns of the Jewish American community. Moreover, his recent work on the old age black-white mortality crossover, published in Biodemography and Social Biology, is one of the go-to papers on that long debated and controversial topic. All told, his body of research work has been characterized by a clear sense of problem, an integration of social and biological science perspectives, methodological detail and rigor, and the incorporation of many students into his projects.
Ike has also been a very active member of the broader demographic community. He has been a frequent study section reviewer at NIH over the past 25 years, including service as a member of the Population Sciences Committee between 2005 and 2009. He has served as President of the Southern Demographic Association (1990-91), and was instrumental in that association becoming the home of Population Research and Policy Review. He has been a long-term Board Member of the Society for the Study of Social Biology. He has served as Secretary of the Association of Population Centers. And in the Population Association of America, Ike has served in many roles over the years, including chairperson and discussant of many sessions and as a volunteer for PAA Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. In all of these roles (and many more), Ike has served the demographic community in ways that have helped pushed the field forward. While doing so, he has always exhibited the utmost regard for students and junior members of the profession, while doing his work with the highest levels of professional and personal integrity.