John C Caldwell Chair in Population, Health & Development

Emeritus Professor John Charles Caldwell AO, better known as Jack to his colleagues, was Head of the Department of Demography at The Australian National University for 20 years before taking on the Associate Directorship at Centre at the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health (NCEPH) in 1988. Since his retirement in 1993, Jack has been a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute (ADSRI) at ANU.

The John C Caldwell Chair in Population, Health & Development was established in 1998 to honour the contribution of Jack, who is cited by the United Nations as “one of the most influential and prolific scientists in the field of population … his work to frame the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as a demographic, epidemiological and socio-cultural phenomenon is unparalleled”.


Emeritus Professor John Charles Caldwell AO

Professor Caldwell’s first academic appointment was as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Ghana (1962-64) where he initiated a demographic studies unit and started field work on African population dynamics, supporting his young family on a local salary. This early experience began a lifelong interest in Africa.

He returned to Australia in 1970 to take up the Head of the Department of Demography at the ANU, a position he would hold until 1988. 

He soon took a leave of absence to serve as the Regional Director for the Population Council and Professor of Demography at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1972-73). It was here that Professor Caldwell co-directed the Changing African Family Project with Francis Okediji. This program of work, funded by the Population Council, used demographic and anthropological approaches to identify the transformations in African society which contributed to fertility decline.  His seminal work on changes in the intergenerational transfers of wealth within families as a trigger for fertility decline was an out-growth, in part, of this research.[i]

Although Professor Caldwell championed micro-approaches to demographic research, he was no opponent of national surveys. The Manual for Surveys of Fertility and Family Planning (which was written mostly by Jack and his wife Pat) played a pivotal role in the development of the World Fertility Survey (WFS), for which Jack served as Secretary for the Planning Meeting at The Hague in 1972. He continued to contribute to the WFS as a member of the Technical Committee.

For ten years, from 1977, Professor Caldwell’s research attention shifted to South Asia where a fertility transition was underway, although he continued to publish on African fertility and to develop his theories drawing on field work from both continents. 

In 1988 he accepted the role of Advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation on Health Transition. The Rockefeller Foundation had provided major initial funding for the establishment of the Health Transition Centre, which explored the cultural and social determinants of health. The Centre was situated within NCEPH from 1989. 

As the enormity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic became clear in the late 1980s, Professor Caldwell applied his knowledge of African family systems to understand what he termed ‘sexual networking’. Funding from the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC) supported research collaboration with academics in Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria into the social context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Professor Caldwell has received recognition at home and overseas.  In 1985 the Population Association of America presented him with their highest prize, the Irene Taeuber Award for excellence in demographic research.  He was invested as Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 1994.  That same year he started a four-year term as president of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and in 2004 he was given the United Nations Population Award for outstanding contribution to population studies.  A 2009 survey of nearly 1000 demographers worldwide named him as the most influential researcher in the field.[ii]

[i] Caldwell JC. Toward a restatement of demographic transition theory. Population and Development Review 1976;2(3/4):321-66.

[ii] van Dalen HP, Henkens K. What is on a demographer's mind?: a worldwide survey. Demographic Research. Rostock, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, 2012:363-408.