Suet-ling Pong (1955-2015) Professor of Education, Demography, and Sociology, Penn State University
In 1982 Suet-ling Pong came to study Education, Demography, and Economics at the University of Chicago. Previously, in Hong Kong, she had double-majored in sociology and economics at the new Chinese University, and when she graduated she helped support her family by teaching high school.
In her Chicago dissertation she made pioneering use of the 1976 and 1981 Hong Kong census to discover the effects of increasing women’s education on household income inequality and on marital fertility. Later, as a Population Council post-doc and Rockefeller Foundation fellow at RAND, she traveled to Malaysia and began to investigate women’s status among the Indian, Malay, and Chinese populations, and she used RAND’s longitudinal study of women. In addition to gauging the impact of education for son-preference, she published widely-cited studies on educational inequality and the effects of ethnic preferential policies.
After moving to Penn State University in 1992, Suet-ling shifted to previously under-researched intersections between demography and American education (teaching a class in this subject for 20 years). Suet-ling looked at effects on children’s achievement of household structure, such as living with grandparents, or living with a single parent. As a professor of education, she especially looked at the types of schools that could attenuate or exacerbate the impact of family structures. She viewed child development as embedded in families, communities, and nations that offered different types of resources necessary for success.
Her international work, authored with her late collaborator Jaap Dronkers, proved that children in single-parent households were much less-disadvantaged in countries having strong family support policies. Another collaboration, with her husband, David Post, showed that Hong Kong’s family structure and family resources became less determinant of educational access following policies implemented in the 1980s and 1990.
At the same time, nativity status became more important for marriage outcomes, earnings, and education after Hong Kong was returned to China. One of her most fruitful collaborations was with Lingxin Hao, with whom she actually shared an apartment for six months while both women worked as residential scholars at the Spencer Foundation, taking time whenever weather permitted to do laps in Lake Michigan. Together they showed how the context of reception mattered for the education of different immigrant groups
Many who knew Suet-ling found it remarkable – and inspiring – that during her final 17-years of productivity and travels and motherhood she was living with advanced breast cancer. Happily, Suet-ling was well almost until the end of her life and then passed away peacefully at home surrounded by friends, her husband, and her daughter Sara.