Suzanne Bianchi


Suzanne Bianchi died on November 4th. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July. Beyond her family and friends, Suzanne’s death is a tremendous loss for family demography and sociology, to which she contributed so much, and to the network of collaborators, students, and former students that she nurtured during her too-short career.

After completing her PhD at the University of Michigan in 1978, she spent 16 years working at the U.S. Census Bureau before joining the faculty at the University of Maryland in 1994. In 2009 she moved to UCLA. In 2000 she was president of the Population Association of America. (Google Scholar profile, UCLA profile, UMD profile.)

I met her at Maryland in 1995, where I took her seminar, Demography of the Labor Force, and she served on my dissertation committee in 1999. We wrote an article together in 1999, and I contributed to another one in 2004. But those bio details don’t tell the story of her impact on my life and career, or those of so many other students.

From my own first job at Census to my move back to Maryland, I haven’t made a major career decision in the last 20 years without consulting her, and for good reason — for a smart, selfless, well-centered interpretation of what was going on, no one was better. Hers was the rare ability to do great social science and great personal interaction, and she cared deeply about both.

Back: Ching-Yi Shieh, Rose Kreider, Aparna Sundaram, Suzanne Bianchi, Liana Sayer, Philip Cohen. Front: Soumya Alva, Chunnong Saeger, Lekha Subaiya, Jane Lawler Dye, Marybeth Mattingly

This picture, probably from the 2000 Population Association conference, hints at her influence on the students with whom she worked (this CV lists her students through 2011). In academia, policy and demographic practice, the field is littered with people who learned from her and worked with her, directly or indirectly. These are 57 of her co-authors:

Katharine Abraham
Mary Allard
Christine Bachrach
Michael Bittman
Caroline Bledsoe
Lynne Casper
Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
Philip Cohen
Diana Colasanto
Thomas DiPrete
Jane Dye
Paula England
Reynolds Farley
Javier Garcia-Manglano
Shirley Hatchett
Howard Hayghe
Sandra Hofferth
Joseph Hotz
Kristin Hunt
Joan Kahn
Sarah Kendig
Laurent Lesnard
Judith Lichtenberg
Aaron Maitland
Marybeth Mattingly
Kathleen McGarry
Brittany McGill
Melissa Milkie
Kristin Moore
Philip Morgan
Tiziana Nazio
Kei Nomaguchi
Pia Peltola
Joseph Pleck
Joe Price
Tetyana Pudrovska
Yeu Qiu
Sara Raley
John Robinson
Carolyn Rogers
Nancy Rytina
Seth Sanders
Liana Sayer
Howard Schuman
Judith Seltzer
Daphne Spain
Jay Stewart
Charles Strohm
Jeffrey Stueve
Lekha Subaiya
Duncan Thomas
Betsy Thorn
Robert Wachbroit
Wendy Wang
David Wasserman
Vanessa Wight
Jenjira Yahirun

Suzanne’s presidential address was titled, “Maternal Employment and Time with Children: Dramatic Change or Surprising Continuity?” If you’re reading this you are probably familiar with it. She reported that, despite dire warnings of imminent harm to children — and countless empirical searches for that harm — the evidence was that women’s employment did not harm their children, perhaps because it wasn’t leading to parents spending less time with them. Instead, lower fertility, changing definitions of ideal childhood, time juggling by parents, and increasing father time had kept parental time with children roughly constant. Plus, parents didn’t spend as much time with their kids in the old days as researchers generally assumed anyway. Her address changed the field, and helped open up research into the dynamics of family time use, which had often been black-boxed as simply non-employed time.

As I thought about her own time cut suddenly short and reread that article, I caught on the last paragraph. With her typical balance of clear-eyed yet completely compassionate, she concluded:

My one concern is that I have given the impression that women have found it quite easy to balance increased labor force participation with child rearing, to reduce hours of employment so as to juggle childcare, and to get their husbands more involved in child rearing; and that fathers have found it easy to add more hours with children to those they already commit to supporting children financially. I do not think these changes have been easy for American families, particularly for American women. Why have women so increased their hours of paid employment? Many observers would emphasize constraints — men’s poor labor force prospects — and this is probably part of the story. But this explanation is not sufficient, for it gives too little attention to the dramatic change in opportunities for women and in women’s own conceptions of what a successful, normal adulthood should entail. Yet I suspect that every mother has felt self-doubt about the path taken, and has been concerned about whether she has done the best thing for herself and/or her children, and that these feelings continue to give women pause and to slow change both in the marketplace and at home.

I’m sure she was reflecting in part on her own life and career as she delivered that speech — at the pinnacle of her career, with her family in attendance. Her life embodied that transformation — those opportunities, and that self-reflection — and in her career she made an indelible contribution both to our understanding of this newer world, and to the lives of many people making their way within it.

Update: Since I wrote this, other obituaries and tributes have appeared. Here are a few:





16 thoughts on “Suzanne Bianchi

  1. Thanks for this beautiful remembrance Phil. I got to know Suzanne when I had a fellowship at the Census Bureau in 1986-87. Always turned to her for the clear-eyed and accurate answer about any demographic question I had. She also volunteered on IWPR’s program advisorty committee.


  2. Her last paragraph certainly reflects my feelings of self doubt and concern for what I did to my children. I am sorry I didn’t have more opportunity to get to know her before she left Maryland. I do know how important she has been both to the field and the people.


  3. Very nicely stated, Phil. Suzanne will be sorely missed by so many. We were very fortunate to have been counseled by Suzanne through our own process of balancing work and family after grad school. It will continue to be my pleasure to ensure that generations of students learn from her generous research and advice.


  4. Phil, what a thoughtful and beautifully written eulogy! I never took any classes with her, but we occasionally ran into each other in the swimming pool at UMD. Our brief exchanges always left me wonder struck as to how anyone could achieve SO MUCH and still have time to swim and take care of her health! That she would be snatched so early from this world despite doing everything right is ironic. But she packed her short life with all things worthy and memorable. I am sure she is at peace.


  5. Thank you letting us know.
    She was one of the best professor at UCLA, and I enjoyed her demographic population class so much.


  6. Lovely remembrance. I never had a chance to take a class with her, but have always admired her work. Thanks for this.


  7. I had a couple of graduate classes with her at the University of Maryland. They were among the best and I regularly refer to those classes as a teacher now. A loss in so many ways.


  8. I AM an old french Grand Ma ! we were so happy to know Jenifer and her family: we got some very good time together . I appreciated the personality of SUZANNe very much , at once one could feel she was GREAT, Besides , while reading what you studied with her I should say it’s about the same in France and in Europe more or less thank you


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