Negotiating the Problems of Population: Demography, Ecology, and Family Planning in the Post-war United States

Jan 01, 2010 | by
  • Description

The subject of population has long proven controversial, so much so that the demographer Charles Westoff once described it as a "dirty word."[1] Its study and control has been associated with birth control activism, eugenics, even racial genocide. My research is focused on the ways in which the discipline of demography emerged and developed in association with social and political movements, and how its members negotiated the stigma that resulted from these associations. The success of demography has depended upon its perceived utility to policy, and yet this, in turn, has demanded that it stand apart as an objective science. Population has also existed as a site of intense contest, struggle and negotiation between disciplines, and as demography evolved as a social science in the United States, its members sought to discredit and distance themselves from the biological study of population dynamics. Particularly important to the discipline was the Population Council, founded by John D. Rockefeller 3rd in 1952. It was a professional organization that functioned to balance these two elements, walking a thin line that emphasized policy usefulness while retaining scientific credibility.