Taeuber, Irene Barnes (1906–1974)

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Taeuber, Irene Barnes (1906–1974)

American demographer and first woman president of the Population Association of America. Born Irene Barnes on December 25, 1906, in Meadville, Missouri; died of pneumonia and emphysema on February 24, 1974, in Hyattsville, Maryland; daughter of Ninevah D. Barnes (a farmer and barber) and Lily (Keller) Barnes; University of Missouri, B.A., 1927; Northwestern University, M.A., 1928; University of Minnesota, Ph.D., 1931; married Conrad Taeuber (a demographer), in 1929; children: Richard Conrad (b. 1933); Karl Ernst (b. 1936).

Coedited the Population Association of America's Population Index; joined Princeton University's Office of Population Research (1936) and was appointed senior research demographer (1961); coauthored 16 books and monographs on demography and population; was the first woman elected to presidency of PAA (1953); researched Japanese population and published The Population of Japan (1958), a landmark demographic analysis; was the first woman elected vice-president of International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (1961).

Irene Barnes Taeuber was born in Meadville, Missouri, in 1906, the second of four children of Ninevah C. Barnes and Lily Keller Barnes . One younger brother died in infancy. Irene was closest to her mother Lily and maternal grandparents, who nursed her through scarlet fever in childhood. Ninevah was variously a farmer, a barber, and a justice of the peace, and was often absent from the family for periods of time, once for over a year.

Although Ninevah opposed his daughter's further education, Lily encouraged it, and upon graduation from high school, Irene attended Northeast Missouri State Teachers College for a year. Assisted by scholarships, she then transferred to the University of Missouri where she majored in sociology and received a B.A. in 1927. Influenced as well by the study of biology, Irene continued in the field of sociology, receiving an M.A. in 1928 from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in 1931 from the University of Minnesota.

While in graduate school in 1929, Irene married Conrad Taeuber. They were research assistants together at the University of Wisconsin, where they gathered rural demographic statistics. Both then received appointments to Mt. Holyoke College's economics and sociology department, Irene as an instructor and Conrad as an assistant professor. In the early years of her marriage, Irene worked part-time in order to be with her two sons, who would also choose careers in fields related to demography.

In 1935, Taeuber began working with the Population Association of America in the preparation of a serial publication, a bibliography of recent articles on population. The next year Princeton University established the Office of Population Research (OPR) under the direction of Frank W. Notestein; there, Taeuber and Louise K. Kiser were co-editors of the Population Index, the successor of the original bibliographic serial. In addition to her career-long affiliation with the OPR, Taeuber also served as director of the Library of Congress census library project from 1941 to 1944, when she became head of the social demography section of the American Sociological Association. After Kiser's death in 1954, however, Taeuber wanted to devote more time to her own research and asked to be relieved of her duties with the Population Index. Working in a predominantly male field, Taeuber faced such challenges as receiving less clerical and research assistance than her male colleagues. While she maintained an international reputation with over 250 articles to her credit, it was not until 1961 that she was promoted to senior research demographer at the OPR, a position she would hold until her retirement in 1973.

During the mid-20th century, the field of demography grew as the U.S. government recognized the importance of population studies in formulating policies. The League of Nations had commissioned the OPR in 1939 to study future populations of Europe, and Taeuber was involved in this work and in the study of Asian populations. After World War II, she made several trips to Japan, developing a lifelong interest in that country. Although she did not understand the language, she could readily grasp Japanese statistical tables, and when her study The Population of Japan (1958) was published it was recognized as a landmark work of demography. It also prompted the Japanese government to begin its own program of demographic analysis.

Throughout her studies, Taeuber covered numerous countries, including Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. With her husband, she coauthored The Changing Population of the United States (1958) and People of the United States in the Twentieth Century (1971). In her work, she was interested in the cultural as well as the social and economic reasons for population trends. Her early fieldwork prompted several visits to rural villages, and she also stressed the roles of women and children in the studies in which she participated. At the time of her death, Taeuber had been working on population trends in China. Since little research had been undertaken in this field, it was information gathered later that confirmed her theory that China was bringing its fertility rate under control.

Taeuber was a consultant to many governmental and international organizations. She served also as president of the Population Association of America from 1953 to 1954 and vice-president of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population from 1961 to 1965—the first woman elected to either of these positions. Taeuber received two honorary degrees and distinguished service medals from the universities of Missouri and Minnesota, and was visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965. A careful and sensitive researcher, Taeuber was admired by her colleagues and students alike. She continued to work up until her death from pneumonia and emphysema at her home in Hyattsville, Maryland, on February 24, 1974.


Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Martha Jones , M.L.S., Natick, Massachusetts