Judith Blake was born in New York City and spent most of the first three decades of her life there. She received her B.S. degree magna cum laude from Columbia University in 1951 and her Ph.D. in Sociology, also from Columbia, in 1961. Her first exposure to social demography came through a course cotaught by demographers Hope Eldridge and Kingsley Davis (1908–1997), whom she later married.
Blake moved to Berkeley, California, in 1955 and initially held a series of lectureships, first in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and later in Sociology and then Speech at the University of California, Berkeley. Having completed her dissertation, in 1962 she was appointed Acting Assistant Professor of Demography in the School of Public Health at Berkeley. She quickly advanced to the rank of Professor and along the way established the Graduate Group in Demography (1965), soon to become the Department of Demography (1967), with herself as Chair.
The Department of Demography could not withstand the tumultuous anti-war protest years at Berkeley, and, under a new Chancellor, the department was disbanded in the early 1970s. Nevertheless, Blake, together with her two faculty colleagues in the department (demographers Samuel Preston and Nathan Keyfitz) and Kingsley Davis in the Sociology Department, managed to train an impressively large number of prominent demographers in a relatively short period of time. Following the closing of the department, Blake moved for a short while to the university's School of Public Policy. Then, in 1976, she became the first holder of the Fred N. Bixby Chair in Population Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with joint appointments in Public Health and Sociology. Blake was the first woman at UCLA to be appointed to an endowed chair.
From the beginning, Blake was intensely interested in the determinants and consequences of fertility-related attitudes and behaviors. Her dissertation, which was published as Family Structure in Jamaica: The Social Context of Reproduction in 1961, explored why Jamaica's birth rate was so much lower than Puerto Rico's. One of her most original and influential articles, "Social Structure and Fertility: An Analytic Framework," co-authored with Davis in 1956, identified a set of intermediate variables through which any social factors affecting fertility must operate. This line of research endures in contemporary work on the proximate determinants of fertility.
Blake's research on American fertility was wide ranging. In a 1968 article, she criticized economists for equating children with consumer durables and for ignoring important components of the opportunity cost of childrearing and other non-economic determinants of fertility differentials. She showed that, in their fertility attitudes and practices, American lay Catholics and non-Catholics were actually quite similar and that the Vatican's influence over the use of contraception was minimal. In her influential book Family Size and Achievement (1989), Blake demonstrated that single children were not disadvantaged in terms of their sociability and that children with few or no siblings experienced higher levels of material well-being and cognitive development. She showed that earlier studies of attitudes toward abortion were simplistic, and she accurately predicted (to her dismay) the emergence of a backlash against abortion in the United States. She drew forceful attention to the pronatalism inherent in U.S. laws and institutions, including the emerging women's movement, and argued, at a time when U.S. fertility was still near its postwar peak and well above replacement level, that a reduction in fertility could be accomplished by a lifting of these incentives rather than by an introduction of disincentives.
Whether in her teaching, her performance at professional meetings, or in her published work, Judith Blake was invariably intellectually challenging and often provocative. She did not shy away from controversy, and she was a fearless and penetrating critic both of her own work and that of others. Her scientific contributions to social demography were recognized with her election as President of the Population Association of America in 1981, and, at the time of her death, she served as editor of the Annual Review of Sociology.
selected works by judith blake.
Blake, Judith. 1961. Family Structure in Jamaica: The Social Context of Reproduction. New York: Free Press.
——. 1968. "Are Babies Consumer Durables? A Critique of the Economic Theory of Reproductive Motivation." Population Studies 22: 5–25.
——. 1972. "Coercive Pronatalism and American Population Policy." In Aspects of Population Growth Policy: U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, 6: 85–108, ed. Robert Parke Jr. and Charles F. Westoff. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
——. 1989. Family Size and Achievement. Berkeley: University of California Press.
——. 1994 (1972). "Fertility Control and the Problem of Voluntarism." Population and Development Review 20: 167–177.
Davis, Kingsley, and Judith Blake. 1956. "Social Structure and Fertility: An Analytic Framework." Economic Development and Cultural Change 4: 211–235.
selected works about judith blake.
Bourque, Linda B., Judith Blake, Jennifer Frost, Thomas Espenshade, Ronald Lee, Valerie Oppenheimer, and Jean van der Tak. 1995. "A Biographical Essay on Judith Blake's Professional Career and Scholarship." Annual Review of Sociology 21: 449–477.
Thomas J. Espenshade