John Bongaarts

Distinguished Scholar

New York, United States

John Bongaarts is a distinguished scholar at the Population Council. He joined the Council in 1973, following a postdoctoral fellowship in population dynamics at Johns Hopkins University. His research on critical demographic challenges—such as population momentum, the determinants of fertility, the impact of family planning programs, population–environment relationships, and the demographic effects of the AIDS epidemic—assists policymakers in addressing these issues. He has published more than 190 scientific articles and book chapters, in journals such as Science, Scientific American, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The Lancet, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Population and Development Review, Studies in Family Planning, Demography, Population Studies, and Demographic Research.

Among Bongaarts’s best-known early contributions is the development of the proximate determinants framework to analyze the level and pattern of fertility. This framework provided a simple, but comprehensive model for describing the relationships between behavioral and biological factors that directly influence fertility—such as the pattern of marriage, use of contraception, and rate of induced abortion—and the level of fertility. Previous attempts to explore these relationships were complex and difficult to apply. This influential framework is now taught to students in demography around the world and is a mainstay for demographic investigations.

In 1994, Bongaarts published a ground-breaking analysis, “Population policy options in the developing world,” in the journal Science. The article examined three causes of population growth—unwanted fertility, high desired family size, and population momentum—and advocated a significantly expanded approach to addressing them. Previous efforts to slow population growth had focused largely on implementing family planning programs. Bongaarts argued for improving the quality and reach of these services, and highlighted a previously neglected opportunity: reducing population momentum. To offset population momentum, Bongaarts recommended taking steps to increase the age at which young women have their first child, particularly by investing in education for adolescent girls. The textbook Demography: Measuring and Modeling Population Processes, by Samuel H. Preston, Patrick Heuveline, and Michel Guillot (2001), states that, “Because it clarified the future sources of growth at a time when population policies were being reconsidered on a global scale, Bongaarts’s article is one of the most influential ever written in demography.”

Bongaarts is a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received the Robert J. Lapham Award (1997) and the Mindel Sheps Award (1986) from the Population Association of America, and the Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (1980), and was named Laureate of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) in 2013. Bongaarts chairs the Council’s Institutional Review Board and the editorial committee of the Council’s journal Studies in Family Planning. He is a member of the editorial committee of the Council’s other journal, Population and Development Review.

Bongaarts holds a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Eindhoven Institute of Technology, Netherlands, and a PhD in physiology and biomedical engineering from the University of Illinois.