Ronald Rindfuss is the Robert Paul Ziff Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1992, directed the Carolina Population Center from 1992 to 1997, and served as President of the PAA in 1991-1992. Papers Rindfuss coauthored received the 2000 Erdas Award for Best Scientific Paper in Remote Sensing from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and the 2011 award for Distinguished contribution to Scholarship in Population presented by the Population Section of the American Sociological Association.
Rindfuss received his PhD in 1974 from Princeton University, under the mentorship of Charles Westoff and Norman Ryder. In the subsequent decades, he published many influential articles on fertility and family formation in the leading journals in demography, sociology, geography and public health. Rindfuss’s major books include Postwar Fertility Trends and Differentials in the United States (1977 with James Sweet) and First Births in America (1988 with S. Philip Morgan and Gray Swicegood). The first documented remarkably pervasive fertility changes during the U.S. baby boom and bust. The latter book focused on the sharp rise in age at first births in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s; a trend that persists to the present. The book describes the social context that produced increasing ages at first birth and analyzes the variation across population sub-groups. Of particular import are the striking differences in first birth patterns by levels of education and for whites and African-Americans.
His PAA Presidential Address (1991, published in Demography) has been highly influential for its characterization of the young adult years as “demographically dense” and with a diverse set of transitions leading to adulthood. Paving the foundation for the PAA Presidential Address was a coauthored 1987 American Sociological Review article that documented the prevalence of “disorder” in the early life course and its association with timing of the first birth. The article was a harbinger of today’s interest in sequence analysis in the demographic and social sciences. An article in Population Development Review in 1990 explored the relationship of cohabitation to singlehood and marriage in the U.S., and one appearing in the same journal in 1993 announced the “divorce” of U.S. marriage from childbearing. Rindfuss worked collaboratively with Charles Hirschman on the sequence and timing of family formation in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, Rindfuss has focused attention on low fertility in developed countries. An important project that analyzed the changing relation between education and fertility and identified the availability of affordable child care as a factor maintaining near replacement-level fertility in Norway, resulted in influential publications in top journals such as American Sociological Review and Population and Development Review.
Rindfuss also developed a major collaborative and interdisciplinary project in Nang Rong, Thailand, which began in the mid-1980s as a study of community and contraceptive use, expanded into a study of social networks, migration, and the life course in the early 1990s, and expanded again into a study of landscape dynamics and demographic change soon after that. Working with colleagues from Mahidol University in Thailand as well as from UNC-Chapel Hill, Rindfuss was PI of complex longitudinal surveys fielded in 1994/5 and 2000/1 in Nang Rong and currently archived at ICPSR. The first of these innovated methods for collecting complete social network data at multiple levels and on multiple relations; the second innovated methods for linking households to the land they use.
In the 1998 edited volume, People and Pixels, and publications since, he has explored methodological approaches to linking demographic and satellite data to further our understanding of the changing relationship between population and the environment. He is now using agent based models to examine demographic and land use interrelationships in Nang Rong, as well as examining the impact of tourism on the environment in the Galapagos Islands. Publications based on this work are co-authored with long-time UNC colleagues Barbara Entwisle and Stephen J. Walsh, Mahidol University colleagues Pramote Prasartkul and Aphichat Chamratrithirong, and numerous other colleagues, students, and postdocs.
Over a successful career of almost four decades, Ron has mentored numerous PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have become successful demographers and sociologists themselves. Ron has also nurtured productive collaborative relationships with many colleagues, in Chapel Hill and around the world. We see no better way to celebrate the field of demography than to recognize the achievements and influence of Ronald R. Rindfuss, one of the finest demographers of our discipline.