CDE’s primary objective is to support innovative, influential research and rigorous training in population science. With more than 70 faculty across 21 departments, CDE research underscores the value of interdisciplinary approaches to address pressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

CDE’s research is focused in five primary research areas: 1) Families and Family Change; 2) Health and Biodemography, 3) Inequality, Poverty, Wealth, and Mobility; 4) Spatial and Environmental Demography; and 5) Gender and Reproductive Health. Within the Center, research development is supported by the weekly research seminar (DemSem), the weekly Demography Training Seminar, and by regular meetings of thematic working groups. The five working groups, each led by two Research Area Directors, bring together Center affiliates from across disciplines (a) to seed, build, and augment collaborative research and (b) to develop strong proposals to fund high-impact population science.

Active Research Groups

Families & Family Change

Health & Biodemography

Inequality, Poverty, Wealth, & Mobility

Spatial & Environmental Demography

Gender & Reproductive Health

Research Area Directors
Christine Schwartz
(Sociology) &
Alejandra Ros Pilarz
(Social Work)
John Mullahy
(Population Health Sciences) &
Lauren Schmitz
(Public Affairs)
Eric Grodsky
(Sociology) &
Jessica Pac
(Social Work)
Malia Jones
(Community & Environmental Sociology) &
Meg Bea 
(Consumer Science)
Christine Durrance
(Public Affairs) &
Leigh Senderowicz
(Gender & Women’s Studies and OBGYN)
Email Mary Lynn (mldombrowski@wisc.edu) if you would like to be added to a Research Group email list

Families and Family Change

Research Area Directors: Christine Schwartz (Sociology) and Alejandra Ros Pilarz (Social Work)

CDE has long been known for its pioneering work in family demography. This reputation continues as a new generation of CDE scholars addresses new and more diverse questions, with particular emphasis on family complexity, socioeconomic differences in family behavior, and the implications of those differences for broader social and economic inequality. Understanding the causes and consequences of trends and socioeconomic differences in fertility, union formation, union dissolution, and the composition of households is an important component of demographic science. This is particularly so in the context of growing social and economic inequality, increasing family complexity arising from the decoupling of marriage and childbearing, changing gender dynamics accompanying relative improvements in women’s educational and occupational status vis-à-vis men.

Health and Biodemography

Research Area Directors: John Mullahy (Population Health Sciences) and Lauren Schmitz (Public Affairs)

Population health is a core research focus of many CDE affiliates, who explore (a) the causes and consequences of health inequality; (b) how early-life exposures and experiences contribute to variation in subsequent health outcomes; and (c) how health dis/advantage is reproduced across generations. CDE scholars have advanced the use of biological markers to study both individual health trajectories and population health outcomes. These scholars integrate information on growth and physical development, stress hormones, the microbiome, the genome, and the epigenome into the study of health behaviors and health outcomes.

Inequality, Poverty, Wealth, and Mobility

Research Area Directors: Eric Grodsky (Sociology) and Jessica Pac (Social Work)

High levels of poverty and social and economic inequality impact family behavior, health, child well-being, the intergenerational transmission of (dis)advantage, and racial/ethnic inequity. The levels and patterns of inequality in a particular society indicate the resources available to individuals and have implications for social organization and cohesion, political processes, and the evolution of a nation’s economy. Inequality shapes population transformations at all levels of society, from the local, state, and national contexts.

Spatial and Environmental Demography

Area Research Directors: Malia Jones (Community & Environmental Sociology) and Meg Bea (Consumer Science)

Environmental context, events, and change are a primary concern for human populations and represent a growing, yet still poorly understood, source of inequality in health and well-being over the life course. Recent research shows that the reality of place—reflecting the natural and built environments, social context, and specific location within a spatial structure—affects a host of outcomes for individuals, including health, socioeconomic attainment and longevity. Place also impacts broader demographic processes (i.e., fertility, migration, and mortality), which in turn, influence population size and composition. CDE affiliates study a wide range of environmental concerns, including temperature increases, agricultural yields, sea-level rise, epidemic threat, population migration and displacement, among many others.

Gender and Reproductive Health

Area Research Directors: Christine Durrance (Public Affairs) and Leigh Senderowicz (Gender & Women’s Studies and OBGYN)

Fertility and reproduction are core dimensions of population dynamics. For individuals and families, reproductive health, health care, and health policy shape welfare across the life course. CDE affiliates have a long history of pioneering data collection on contraception, fertility, and maternal health. A new generation of scholars studies how reproduction is stratified across and within populations, and how stratified reproduction, in turn, underpins gender, race, and ethnic differences in wellbeing.