It is a privilege to highlight some of John Knodel’s contributions to the Population Association of America (PAA) and to the field of Population Studies as he is recognized as one of PAA’s Honored Colleagues. John is currently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and is an international staff member of the College of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
After earning his A.B. in Psychology at Duke University in 1961, John went on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University in 1963 and 1965 respectively. Prior to joining the University of Michigan, where he spent most of his career, he held positions at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research, Rutgers University, the Population Council, and Brown University.
With regard to scholarship, John has had numerous impacts upon the methods and substance of what are now considered to be central features of our field. That population scientists now embrace qualitative methods as a major component of their methodological toolkit is due in large part to John’s efforts to make such methods accessible and palatable to a field with a more quantitative orientation. His 1993 “The design and analysis of focus group studies: A practical approach” is the most cited among his very frequently cited publications. John’s enthusiasm for fieldwork has inspired younger generations of demographers to supplement their skills in data analysis with structured activities to observe, query, and listen in situ.
John started his academic career as part of the Princeton study of the historical decline of fertility in Europe. He was responsible for covering Germany and authored in 1974 The Decline of Fertility in Germany 1871-1939 based on official statistical sources. He extended his research in historical demography by analyzing family reconstitution data, mainly from German village genealogies. This work culminated in the publication in 1988 of his book Demographic Behavior in the Past. Along with this focus early in his career on the historical demography of Europe, he also developed an early and enduring interest in the demography of Southeast Asia, initiating the first of numerous extended projects in Thailand in 1971. Much of his early work there focused on the more contemporary fertility decline that was underway at that time. A major outcome was Thailand’s Reproductive Revolution, published in 1987 with co-authors Aphichat Chamratrithirong and Nibhon Debavalya, a classic in studies of fertility decline. John’s long-standing interest in gerontology positioned him well to become one of the earliest scholars to recognize and systematically investigate the extent and degree to which the elderly were being negatively impacted by HIV infections among their adult children; and how the demographic transition interacts with long-standing intergenerational support systems for older persons in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. More recently, John has helped pave the way for other scholars to initiate demographic research in the formerly inaccessible countries of mainland Southeast Asia (John has been instrumental in designing and conducting recent national surveys of older persons in Vietnam and Myanmar, and has worked extensively on how the HIV epidemic affects older persons in Cambodia); and also to generate opportunities for scholars from these countries to further their education and pursue collaborative opportunities abroad.
With regard to service to the association and the profession, John served as Vice-President of PAA in 2002. A regular participant for most of his career, John has regularly featured his overseas collaborators, junior colleagues, and students in sessions on a wide range of topics.
With regard to teaching and mentoring, neither of us has had the pleasure of taking a class with John, but friends and colleagues have attested to his pedagogical skills in the classroom. As junior colleagues, we have both benefited from his attentive and engaging mentorship: John is a good listener, a careful reader, and a direct and thoughtful critic. Our work has benefited immensely from our relationship with John, and he has inspired us to try to give our students and junior colleagues that same kind of attention and focus.
To many of us, John has long been an honored colleague. We’re thrilled to see this recognized in a formal way by the PAA.