Robert A. Hummer has made foundational research, leadership, teaching, and mentoring contributions to the population sciences over his career to date. Hummer is currently the Howard W. Odum Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Fellow of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). He moved to UNC-CH in 2015 after spending 19 years (1996-2015) in the Department of Sociology and Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where he served as Director of their NICHD-supported Population Research Center (2001–05), Principal Investigator (PI) of their NICHD-supported Training Program in Population Studies (2007-10), and Chairperson of their Department of Sociology (2006–10). Early in his career, he served as an assistant professor of sociology at East Carolina University (1993-95) and assistant professor of sociology at Louisiana State University (1996-96). Hummer is currently serving as the President of the Population Association of America (PAA), the 84th president in the history of the organization. He recently served as President-Elect (2020) and Vice-President (2017) of PAA; was Deputy Editor of Demography for four years under two editorial teams (2013-2017); served a 6-year term on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the US Census Bureau (2011-2017); and is currently serving as a member of the Committee on Population (2018-2024) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Professor Hummer earned his Ph.D. in sociology, with an emphasis on demography, from Florida State University (FSU) in 1993. During his graduate training at FSU, he was mentored and strongly influenced by Drs. Isaac Eberstein and Charles Nam, who encouraged and supported Hummer to combine expertise on demographic and quantitative methods with theoretical perspectives from sociology focusing on the development and maintenance of systematic inequalities in American society. His dissertation, later published in papers in Social Forces and The Sociological Quarterly, focused on race, racism, and infant mortality in the United States. Over the years, his work on health and mortality disparities has continued to be influenced by the first-rate training he received from his wonderful mentors at FSU.
Professor Hummer's research program is focused on the accurate description and more complete understanding of population health patterns and trends in the United States. He is currently serving as Director of the long-running National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), which is funded by the National Institute on Aging and five co-funding institutes/offices (NICHD, NIMHD, NIDA, OBSSR, ODP). Now in its sixth wave, Add Health is one of the most innovative and well-utilized nationally representative cohort studies of Americans ever undertaken. Long directed by Hummer’s close friend and colleague Kathleen Mullan Harris, Add Health provides longitudinal data for thousands of researchers around the nation and world to more fully understand the multi-level (biological, survey, contextual) life course factors that contribute to health and health disparities in US adolescents and adults. Professor Hummer is currently working with Add Health Deputy Director Allison Aiello and teams of researchers from across the scientific landscape to design the Wave VI data collection effort, which will be fielded in 2022-24. Hummer’s particular interest in Add Health is in better understanding how and why the physical, mental, and cognitive health of individuals in the United States differs across racial/ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic subgroups of the population.
Over his career to date, Professor Hummer has published more than 150 journal articles and book chapters in his areas of interest, with attention to health disparities both during infancy/childhood as well as across the adult life course. He has developed conceptual models to better understand disparities in health/mortality and specializes in the creative and effective use of very large data sets to study health/mortality patterns and trends. He has co-authored two books, including Population Health in America (University of California Press, 2019, with Erin R. Hamilton) and Living and Dying in the USA (Academic Press, 2000, with Richard Rogers and Charles Nam), the latter of which won the Otis Dudley Duncan Award for Distinguished Scholarship from the Section on the Sociology of Population at the American Sociological Association. He has been the principal investigator (PI) or multiple principal investigator (MPI) of ten NIH grants and five NSF awards to date, and has served as a co-investigator on dozens of others. At present, he is MPI (with Jennifer Karas Montez, Jennifer Ailshire, and Sarah Burgard) of an NIA-funded network (The Network on Life Course Health Dynamics and Disparities in 21st Century America, NLCHDD) that is building a cadre of diverse researchers to better understand the geographic and life course factors that play into the overall poor population health and wide disparities in US health and mortality patterns.
Professor Hummer has mentored hundreds of undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty members over the years. He often describes mentoring as “the best part of the job.” His efforts were recently recognized when he won the 2020 Mentoring Award from the Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science. To date, Hummer has supervised or co-supervised 30 dissertations to completion; many of his former students are on the faculties of prestigious institutions around the United States and in countries around the world. He has served on an additional 60+ dissertation committees. Hummer has also supervised or co-supervised seven postdoctoral trainees to date, all of whom are in tenure-track academic appointments. Hummer’s training record also includes many students and postdocs from under-represented minority groups, including those who have gone on to tenure-track academic appointments or prestigious government positions. In collaboration with Allison Aiello, Hummer also recently developed an innovative training program for predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees at the Carolina Population Center, funded by NICHD, focusing on the integration of the biological and social sciences for the more holistic understanding of life course processes of health and health disparities.
Professor Hummer has been married to his wonderful partner, Dawn, for 35 years; together, they have raised two amazing daughters, Holly and Chelsea, who they are immensely proud of and love to spend time with. Raised in Detroit, Hummer maintains a very strong affinity for all of the Detroit professional sports teams. He also enjoys traveling with his wife Dawn and other family members whenever possible.