When it opened its doors in 1960, the Population Research Center (PRC) was the exclusive domain of sociologists. Who else, after all, was qualified to research demographics, migration issues and population trends?
The answer, it turns out a half-century later, includes the likes of psychologists, economists, anthropologists, geographers and political scientists, all of whom are now part of the PRC faculty.
“Population research is really a nexus for intellectual discussion, not just within the social sciences, but within other fields like biology and medicine,” says PRC Director Mark Hayward. “These different approaches toward thinking about demographic processes are germane to all the fields where we’re looking at human populations.”
As the PRC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it remains one of the top-ranked population centers in the nation. Its faculty includes leading scholars in health disparities, children’s education and transition to adulthood, and demographic trends in Latin America.
The center has been a driving force in the emergence of population research as an interdisciplinary field. Some faculty members are developing collaborations with geneticists to investigate gene-environment influences on human behavior. Others are engaged in discussions with colleagues from other universities who study such topics as aging and mortality in primates, worms and even insects.
“This is the type of bridge we can build between disciplines. It’s possible we can use these model populations to look at human life,” says Hayward, noting, for example, that death rates in humans tend to spike when people reach their mid-90s, then drop and level off, similar to the patterns in non-human species.
The PRC will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Nov. 4-5. A reception will be held honoring its nine past directors, including founders Jack Gibbs and Harley Browning. And prominent alumni will discuss the future of biodemography, international migration and acculturation, and other issues.
Those alumni are leaders in the field and are on faculty at such schools as Princeton, Penn State, Duke and the University of Colorado.
“But this is their intellectual home,” says Hayward. “Once a Longhorn, always a Longhorn.”