Bernard Berelson was an influential thinker and writer on population issues during the 1960s and 1970s, when population growth became a global concern and international assistance to family planning programs in developing countries increased substantially. Berelson's career mixed academic appointments and administrative and policy positions in international development assistance groups. He was, in Parker Mauldin's phrase, a "practical scholar" whose work contributed to social science and to the improvement of family planning programs (1979, p. 260).
Berelson was graduated from Whitman College in 1934. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1941 and joined the Foreign Broadcast Service of the Federal Communications Commission. He later served as research director of Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research and held appointments as professor at the University of Chicago and as director of the Ford Foundation's Behavioral Science Program. Before becoming involved in the population field, Berelson produced important books on voting, graduate education, and human behavior.
Berelson joined the Population Council in 1962 as director of its communication research program. He became vice president in 1963 and president in 1968. He remained in that position until 1974, when he resigned, in part because of disagreements with John D. Rockefeller 3rd, the Council's founder and chairman of its board of trustees, about new directions in population policy and the importance of family planning for slowing population growth. Berelson continued as a senior fellow at the Council until his death in 1979.
Berelson excelled at summarizing important scientific work, pointing out missing pieces, and spelling out implications. He had a well-developed sense of what research findings would make a practical difference, and his influential syntheses shaped the knowledge-base and the direction of field programs. His contributions in this mode include "Beyond Family Planning" (1969); "The Great Debate on Population Policy: An Instructive Entertainment"(1975); "The Record of Family Planning Programs"(1976); "Paths to Fertility Reduction: The Policy Cube" (1977); and "The Condition of Fertility Decline in Developing Countries, 1965–75" (1978). Some 14 of his articles and essays were posthumously published in a volume edited by John A. Ross and W. Parker Mauldin (1988). That volume also includes Berelson's full bibliography. His writings on population reflect the conviction that population growth was "among the great problems on the world agenda," because "rapid population growth retards social and economic development." From these premises he drew the conclusion that "everything that can properly be done to lower population growth rates should be done" (Ross and Mauldin, 1988, p. 42).
Berelson encouraged collaboration between scientists and family planning providers to develop innovative service delivery programs and to evaluate them carefully. The best-known example was the Taichung experiment in Taiwan, but similar approaches were used in South Korea, Thailand, and Bangladesh to evaluate specific family planning interventions and to reassure government leaders that program interventions would be politically and socially acceptable. Similar work continues in the twenty-first century in Ghana and other places in Africa.
Berelson's impact on the population field is also evident in a number of other ways. He established the journal Studies in Family Planning, and in 1965 organized the first international conference on population programs and edited the report of that conference. Together with John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Berelson promoted the World Leaders Declaration on Population, which was released in 1967. He served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, and provided an array of useful ideas on communicating family planning messages.
selected work by bernard berleson.
Berelson, Bernard, and Gary A. Steiner. 1964. Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
selected works about bernard berleson.
Harr, John Ensor, and Peter J. Johnson. 1991. The Rockefeller Conscience. New York: Scribners.
Lincoln, Richard. 1989. "Review of Berelson on Population." Population and Development Review 15(1): 150–153.
Mauldin, W. Parker. 1979. "Bernard Berelson: A Personal Appreciation." Studies in Family Planning 10(10): 259–261.
Ross, John A., and W. Parker Mauldin, eds. 1988. Berelson on Population. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Peter J. Donaldson