Nathan Keyfitz, pioneer in applying math to the study of populations, dies

For immediate release: April 15, 2010

Boston, MA — Nathan Keyfitz, an innovative statistician and professor emeritus who broke new ground in applying math to human populations, passed away on April 6, 2010, at a health care facility in Lexington, MA. He was 96 years old. Keyfitz was the Andelot Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and of Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). He also chaired the Department of Sociology.

Keyfitz showed how to apply mathematical tools to study populations even when census or vital statistics data are missing. He embraced the use of computers in the 1960s to help analyze demographic information, and in 1968 wrote Introduction to the Mathematics of Population, a text that became a standard in the field.

He began his career at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa, Canada, where he was a research statistician. He worked there for more than 20 years, examining aspects of the Canadian population, including trends in fertility, emigration, and immigration.

In 1952, Keyfitz earned a PhD from the University of Chicago. Over the course of his career, he held appointments at the Universities of Toronto, Chicago, and California, and Ohio State University.

In 1972, Keyfitz came to Harvard, where he was a professor of demography and sociology until 1983. He led the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies from September 1973 to January 1975 and was a member of the Department of Population Sciences at HSPH.

After achieving emeritus status at Harvard, Keyfitz continued to develop and share his expertise through research, teaching, and advisory roles. In 1983, he became director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria, and later became the institute’s president. In 1985, he consulted with the Harvard Institute for International Development, and in the 1990s, he consulted for the Center for Initiatives on Children in Cambridge, MA.

He was a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association. In 1977, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He was the recipient of multiple honorary degrees.

Keyfitz was married to the late Beatrice (Orkin) Keyfitz. He is survived by his children, Robert and Barbara, grandchildren, and a sister, Ruth Karp. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be sent to the Longy School of Music, 1 Follen Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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Christina Roache

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