Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, December 6, 2000
Memorial Resolution: Dudley Kirk


Dudley Kirk, Morrison Professor Emeritus of Population Studies in the Food Research Institute and Professor Emeritus in Department of Sociology at Stanford died on March 14, 2000. He was a major figure in the scholarly analysis of the demographic transforma-tions that have shaped societal change in the industrialized societies and the less developed countries of the world. He did not limit his interest to any specific sector of the world's population, for he sought to understand the basic principles that explained changes in mortality and fertility at every socioeconomic level.

Dudley's work at the Office of Population Research at Princeton, at the Rockefeller-funded Population Council, and at Stanford, affected public action on population problems in three ways. First, his predictions of the coming population explosion after World War II influenced generations of political actors. He was among the first to stretch analyses of the etiology of the demographic transition to include socioeconomic development. The increase in incomes that was driven by the industrial revolution had triggered an early decline in mortality rates, followed by a decline in birth rates. But Dudley argued that, for areas like Latin America, Africa and Asia, modernization was the determining variable that brought about declines in mortality, and especially declines in fertility. He defined modernization as a holistic process involving an interrelated set of social and economic changes, including education, urbanization, literacy, health facilities, communication media, plus increases in per capita income.

Second, as one of the most influential demographers in the world, he helped to determine the disbursement of funds, both for scholarship and for the implementation of inter-national policies to reduce poverty and population growth. He discussed the population explosion wisely, with genial equanimity and unflappable reassurance. He noted that growth rates, compounded, would often lead to inappropriate judgments about the probable duration of explosive rates of population growth. He stressed that only by examining the evidence in specific situations we could arrive at informed judgments.

Third, as a teacher, he influenced a generation of future researchers and consumers of information about demographic change in the world. His courses had different titles, like "Population Problems," "Demography of Developing Countries," "Population Perspectives in the Third World," and "Population in the American Economy and Society," but they all stressed the importance of socioeconomic development. The influence of his teaching was extended by his writing. He was one of the first to conclude that the decline in fertility rates among contemporary developing countries would be more rapid than indicated by earlier experience. The decline in death rates could be followed by a similarly rapid reduction in fertility rates if a country could reach "a certain threshold of socioeconomic development." His empirical research and that of other demographers confirmed that important conclusion.

Over the years, Dudley made enormous contributions to numerous aspects of the research and teaching programs of the Food Research Institute. In the Department of Sociology, his level-headed and thoughtful approach was important in the selection of faculty and reform of the curriculum, culminating in his service as Chair in 1975-1977.

Dudley's last research project, a joint effort with Bernard Pillet, makes it clear that when a late-developing country fails to reach a certain threshold of socioeconomic change, the rapid-growth phase of the demographic transition is almost certain to be of long duration. Sadly, their analysis of 21 African countries found that even the beginning of a decline in birth rates was evident in only 5 countries, and, even in those countries, the average woman would give birth to 5.1 children during her child-bearing years.

It was not in Dudley's nature to become a crusader or a pamphleteer, flailing at windmills. He was, instead, the scholar and teacher who analyzed each problem carefully, determined how much of it was in our world to handle, and what part was in our stars to accept. He was an insightful and reassuring prophet of the population explosion and its outcomes.

Dudley Kirk was born on October 6, 1913 in Rochester, New York. He passed away after a short illness on March 14, 2000 in San Jose, California. He was a graduate of Pomona College and held advanced degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University, where he also obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology (1946). After serving briefly at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, Dudley Kirk was appointed Chief of the Planning Staff for the Office of Intelligence Research of the State Department in Washington, D.C. (1947-1954). In 1954 he was appointed Director of Demographic Research of the Population Council in New York where he served continuously (except for a sabbatical year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences) until 1957. Then he joined the Food Research Institute, initially as Professor and subsequently as holder of the Dean and Virginia Morrison Chair of Population Studies. He served concurrently as Professor in the Department of Sociology until his retirement in 1979.

Dudley Kirk is survived by his wife Ruth Louise of San Jose; his children, Margaret L. Kirk of Fresno, California, John D. Kirk of Angwin, California, and Deborah K. Rihn of Spokane, Washington; son-in-law Bernard A. Rihn; and grandchildren, Annie S. Rihn, Bernard K. Rihn and Alexander K. Rihn.

The Committee:

Pan A. Yotopoulos, Professor,

Food Research Institute

Bruce F. Johnston, Professor Emeritus,

Food Research Institute

Sanford M. Dornbusch, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology