Marta Tienda is the Maurice P. During ’22 Professor in Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. She has served the PAA indefatigably in multiple capacities since 1979, was elected to its Board of Directors in the 1980s, and was elected PAA President in 2002.
Since she earned her PhD in sociology in 1976 from the University of Texas at Austin, she has been a member of the faculties of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1976-1987), the University of Chicago (1987-1997), and Princeton University (since 1997). In Madison she began a rapid ascent to national and international prominence in what has been an extraordinary career, filled with outstanding contributions in cutting-edge research, teaching, mentoring and public service. At the University of Chicago she was the Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology, chaired the Department of Sociology, and served as editor of the American Journal of Sociology. At Princeton she has served as Director of the Office of Population Research, and as the Founding Director of Princeton’s Program in Latino Studies.
She is the coauthor or coeditor of more than a dozen books and special issues, more than 150 articles and chapters, and countless research reports, reviews and Op-Eds. Her research over the years has honed in on metrics of social inequality and economic opportunity, ranging from education and employment to poverty and welfare, seeking to spell out how ascribed race and ethnic differences acquire their social and economic significance. Her studies of immigration, population diversification and concentrated poverty have documented social arrangements and life course trajectories that perpetuate and reshape socioeconomic inequality. One of her most ambitious projects was the recently completed decade-long study of the Texas Top 10 Percent Plan, critically evaluating the effectiveness of social policy in broadening access to higher education. Tienda found that even these top-performing students are hesitant to step out of their isolated, mostly Hispanic world. “The cultural difference between south Texas and Austin, Texas,” says Tienda, “and south Texas and the moon is the same.”
Two current projects entail comparative immigration research at both ends of the age distribution: one focuses on child migration in traditional and new immigrant nations, and the other on late-age immigration to the United States. These latter efforts have already yielded three special issues which she has co-edited: “Beyond Admissions: Re-thinking College Opportunities and Outcomes,” in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2010); “Immigrant Youth,” in The Future of Children (2011); and “Migrant Youth and Children of Migrants in a Globalized World,” also in the Annals (2012).
Her books include Immigration: Issues and Policy (1984); Hispanics in the U.S. Economy (1985); The Hispanic Population of the United States (1987); Divided Opportunities: Minorities, Poverty and Social Policy (1988), The Color of Opportunity: Pathways to Family, Work, and Welfare (2001); Youth in Cities: A Cross-National Perspective (2002); Ethnicity and Causal Mechanisms (2005); and Africa on the Move: African Migration and Urbanisation in Comparative Perspective (2006). She also chaired the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Hispanics in the United States (2003-2006) which produced two authoritative companion volumes in 2006: Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies; and Hispanics and the Future of America.
Marta Tienda’s wide-ranging influence is reflected in her membership on the boards of many foundations, corporations and research institutions over the years, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, TIAA, the Carnegie Corporation, Brown University, the Rand Corporation, the Center for Migration Studies, the Social Science Research Council, the Jacobs Foundation (in Switzerland), and the Sloan, W.T. Grant, Russell Sage, and Kaiser Family Foundations. She served as editor of the social inequality series of Stanford University Press and Westview Press, and more recently of the Cambridge University Press/Jacobs Foundation Series on adolescence, in addition to serving on the editorial boards of many journals and editing the AJS. Throughout she has been an exceptional mentor and role model, expecting and extracting the best from her students (who frequently earn first-author roles in collaborative publications), pushing them as she was pushed, insisting on intellectual quality and methodological rigor.
In a career festooned with honors commensurate with her manifold contributions, she has been elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. She is the recipient of several honorary degrees and many other awards, among them the American Dream Legacy Award from the International Institute of New Jersey, which has provided services to immigrants for nearly a century, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hispanic Business Inc.; she was picked among the Top 100 Influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine, and named the Outstanding Latina Faculty in Higher Education by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.
Marta’s achievements—the product, in no small part, of relentless drive and determination and prodigious energy—are best gauged from her point of origin and the distance she has traveled to become one of the world’s most honored and influential social scientists. She was born in Donna, Texas (population 5,000 then); her Mexican immigrant father crossed the border into South Texas at age 16, without papers or formal education, to work for a dollar a day picking fruit. The growing family moved to Detroit, where her father worked two jobs in consecutive eight-hour shifts, one at a steel mill, the other at Ford Motors. When he was laid off as a result of strikes and Marta was 10 and 11, the entire family would join the migrant labor stream in Michigan, living summers in a shack without running water or a kitchen, getting up before dawn and working all day picking crops—Marta needing to fill a quota of forty gallons of tomatoes a day to get paid. School was a refuge; she excelled and won a state scholarship for low-income students to Michigan State University, where she majored in Spanish literature—the first in her family to attend college. Serendipity and a Ford Foundation fellowship led her to UT Austin for graduate work; a turning point proved to be a course she took from Harley Browning, who became her mentor and changed the course of her career (she called him “maestro,” he was impressed by “her tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I’d never met someone who went 150 miles an hour like that.”) Three decades later, the director of an Institute on whose board she served would say of Marta that she was “a force of nature and a national treasure.” Indeed. Marta continues to impress and to inspire us all, richly meriting this tribute from her peers.