American Sociological Association

Harriet Presser Award Statement

Harriet Presser Award Statement

Harriet Presser (University of Maryland) is the 2010 winner of the ASA Jessie Bernard award.She received her PhD in Sociology at the University of California-Berkeley in 1969, and has spent much of her career at the University of Maryland-College Park. Her work has helped transform the field of demography by bringing a gender perspective to bear on the study of fertility. More broadly, she has played a key role in integrating gender issues into the sociological study of work and family.She achieved both objectives by consistently making acute empirical observations of things that others had failed to notice. She noticed them where others did not because she saw their social significance.

This started with her discovery in the late 1960s that a third of women in Puerto Rico were voluntarily sterilized, and her analysis of the social, economic, and political conditions that led to this widespread practice (Sterilization and Fertility Decline in Puerto Rico, 1973).In her mainland U.S. studies that followed, she was ahead of the curve in recognizing the importance of the age at which women begin childbearing, of child care availability, and of the varied time schedules demanded by jobs in our new 24/7 service economy.

In the 1970s, she conducted a longitudinal study showing that the age at which women have their first birth has as much or more of an impact on their life course outcomes as how many children they have.Her insights affected the later application of event history analysis to fertility behavior and the emerging interest in teen fertility.In the 1980s, she demonstrated how the cost or unavailability of child care was making it nearly impossible for many women to hold jobs, an issue neglected at the time by policy makers and social scientists. In the 1990s, she began path breaking work on time use, calling for a new view of the temporal nature of work and family life.She showed how common it was for two-earner couples to work different shifts, with fathers doing child care during mothers’ work shifts. She found that poor single mothers were most apt to work nonstandard shifts. She documented how difficult this made it for them to find child care, and argued that welfare reform must take these constraints into account.Her work on time use culminated in publication of Working in a 24/7 Economy: Challenges for American Families in 2003. She then began comparative work on the feminization of nonstandard work schedules, examining the relevance of social policies in various countries.

She has been a catalyst for a number of institutional transformations that have brought women’s concerns to the forefront.In the 1970s, she did behind-the-scenes work to get the U.S. Census Bureau to stop the sexist practice of automatically labeling men the “heads” of their households in datasets and government reports. Similarly, she played a key role in expanding the collection of national data on child care and work schedules.She was the founding director of the Center on Population, Gender, and Social Inequality at the University of Maryland, the first center on population studiesto have a focus on gender and inequality. Internationally, she was a leader among sociologists calling for rigorous research on the multi-dimensional meaning of women’s empowerment, a concept that emerged at the United Nations’ International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).Her 2000 book, edited with Gita Sen, on Women’s Empowerment: Moving Beyond Cairo advanced this agenda, as did her 1997 article, “Demography, Feminism, and the Science-Policy Nexus” (in Population and Development Review). She has worked tirelessly for gender to be taken more seriously by demographers as well as other sociologists, and has had substantial success.In recognition of this work, the Population Association of America (for which she served as President) named an award in her honor in 2008, to be given every two years to recognize career contributions to the study of gender in demography.