Robert J. Lapham, an authority on international demographics, earned all three of his degrees at the University of Michigan, where he received his B.A. (1954), M.A. (1965), and Ph.D. (1970). His original research and his direction of the Demographic and Health Surveys Program advanced our knowledge of population processes. He helped formulate population policy through his work at the Population Council and with the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Population. He strengthened the profession through his service as Secretary-Treasurer of the PAA. He died on February 20, 1988 at the age of 58 and is remembered here by his family, colleagues, students and colleagues.
From 1955 to 1987, Lapham was involved in international technical, development, and scientific activities. A decade of work overseas included seven years in Jordan, carrying out village development activities (organizing and operating agricultural and village improvement projects, and directing health and welfare programs). This work included the restoration of several springs and large cisterns dating from Roman times.
In 1965, while obtaining his doctorate from Michigan, Lapham was awarded a Ford fellowship for study in Morocco, after which he joined the Population Council and was assigned to Tunisia. Beginning in 1966, Lapham’s professional activities were primarily in the field of international population. For example, during the mid-1970s, as director of a maternal and child health/family planning program and of the Research and Evaluation Unit at The Population Council, he supervised a staff of 20 plus professionals, about half overseas and half in New York. During 1983-84, he was co-principal investigator in a major study of family planning programs and their effectiveness, collecting and analyzing data on 100 developing countries. Lapham spoke French and Arabic fluently and published in both languages.
At the National Academy of Sciences, from 1977-85, Lapham, as Study Director of the Committee on Population, was involved in the administration of several research projects: demographic estimation; improving demographic methodology; fertility determinants; relationships between population growth and economic development in developing nations; and family planning effectiveness. Over 30 scientific reports were produced, and close to 200 population specialists were involved in this work, including 97 from developing nations.
As Director of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program, Lapham was responsible for the implementation of 35 surveys and related activities in developing nations around the world. Along with research goals, a principal objective of DHS was to provide program officials and policymakers with information useful for understanding and improving family planning and health programs.
Lapham was active with the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, serving on the Joint Committee for the Near and Middle East for six years, including chair 1980-82. He helped initiate a project on Law and Social Structure in the Middle East, and a Task Force on Social Stratification in the Middle East. Lapham was a referee for professional journals including Demography, Science, Studies in Family Planning, Studies in Comparative International Development, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Family Planning Perspectives, and Journal of Developing Areas. He was also an external reviewer for the government’s Office of Technology Assessment and US Bureau of the Census. He taught graduate courses at New York University, Brooklyn College, and Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute Center for Population Research and Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and he served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception. In July 1984 he began a three-year term as Secretary-Treasurer of the Population Association of America.
First granted in 1989, PAA’s Robert J. Lapham Award is given biennially in recognition of Lapham’s contributions that blended research with the application of demographic knowledge to policy issues. He richly deserves this honor.