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The Executive Officer’s Column

On Becoming 200: Looking Forward

Will ASA prosper during the next 100 years as it has during its first century? What will the Association look like after all the likely bumps and thrills along the way to 2105? As we celebrate ASA’s centennial this year we will certainly be focusing largely on the Association’s 100 years of accomplishments. This is an appropriate focus, and a summary of a number of the Association’s retrospectively oriented activities appears in the January 2005 Footnotes Vantage Point column, titled “On Becoming 100,” and in the front-page article, “ASA Is 100 Years Old.”

But we should take the opportunity to view this centennial year also as the beginning of our next century. Like all “commencements,” retrospection is only half of our obligation. We should speculate a bit on the promise of renewal that accompanies such times. Not a crystal-ball sort of speculation but a projecting-from-numbers kind of perspective. While I focus here on ASA’s membership growth potential, which is the core of ASA growth, it is not the only story. The organization’s operational efficiency, productivity, and program quality (e.g, its publications, annual meetings, academic alliances, minority affairs, research on the profession, policy and media relations efforts), all contribute to the Association’s future prospects to continue as the premier representative of professional and academic sociology in the United States.

On the Positive Side

At the present time and for the past three years (i.e., about one percent of the way to our bicentennial), ASA has experienced a noteworthy growth spurt, reflected in our near-record membership numbers, record-breaking sections memberships, healthy journal submissions, and record-breaking attendance at the 2004 Annual Meeting (nearly 5,600 attendees).

At the end of our 2004 membership year, ASA had 13,712 members, the highest number in a quarter century, following three consecutive years of growth. And we are currently well ahead of the 2004 pace of renewals. Member retention across years is likewise strong in ASA (at about 75 percent), especially when compared to other scientific societies. Membership in ASA sections stood at 21,366, the highest ever section participation level. The number of ASA sections has been growing at a rate of about one per year since 1994, standing now at 44, with an additional section in formation. Reflecting the changing scientific context of our current century, “Evolution and Sociology” is the current section in formation, and you can read about our newest section, Ethnomethodology and Conversational Analysis, elsewhere on this page. Numbers do not tell the whole section story, however. Member activities within sections are expanding and vigorous, even in sections that are modest in size.

When it comes to voting in ASA elections, we consistently boast a high participation rate (at 30 percent) among eligible voters, a voter participation rate way beyond that of many comparable nonprofit scientific associations.

Growth in Context

Numbers in the absence of context are just that. So while ASA numbers have been on an upward march, it’s imperative that we look also at the larger context of sociology-relevant demographics and relate them to ASA’s long-term membership potential.

In 2003, ASA’s Committee on Executive Office and Budget asked for a set of estimates to determine whether ASA membership size is likely to increase, stay stable, or decrease over the next five years to ten years. These estimates were to take into account the retirement of large cohorts of older sociologists and assumptions about retention, new member growth, and replacement of older members with younger cohorts. The resulting projections are not long-term forecasts or extrapolations (i.e., not based on time-series data over decades) but are descriptive data that make certain weighted statistical assumptions. The conclusions of this report from ASA’s Research and Development Department are that ASA membership numbers are likely to remain robust in the near future. Data pushing these estimates further into our second century will come over time. For now, however, the Executive Office takes this as a challenge to keep serving the membership well and to inspire improved services to our members and to the sociology profession and discipline in general.

Myriad other data and studies on the trends in the discipline (e.g., numbers of new PhDs awarded annually) are available on ASA’s website at and are relevant to ASA’s future. Data tables and graphs there reveal short- and long-term trends in the profession on factors relevant to the potential growth of ASA as an organization. These include data on enrollments, degrees awarded, employment, faculty salaries, as well as sociology’s inclusiveness as a discipline when it comes to women and minorities in the educational pipeline. The tables incorporate secondary data from nationally representative surveys as well as data collected by the Association. For example, the number of sociology doctorates awarded between 1990 and 2001 is up nearly 39 percent, and masters and bachelors degrees are up 67 and 60 percent, respectively, over the same period. Federal R&D expenditures in constant 2001 dollars in sociology are up by nearly 83 percent, and from non-federal sources have increased by about 84 percent over this period.

Data exist elsewhere on dynamic environmental issues (e.g., changes in the percentage of American students who pursue science, the cost and growth of higher education, U.S. population growth) that will modulate sociology’s growth. For example, see the National Science Foundation at

Positive trends in the discipline at the commencement of our second century as a scientific society and professional association contribute to ASA’s vision. While I am neither a gambler nor a crystal ball gazer, I predict that ASA’s fundamental strength, its integrity of purpose, and its ability to face and meet the real challenges that lie ahead, will carry us vigorously through our next 100 years to the celebration of our bicentennial.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer