Emeritus Professor John (Jack) Caldwell AO, 1928-2016

By Bob Douglas, Terry Hull and Peter McDonald

John Charles (Jack) Caldwell was one of the University’s international treasures. A 2009 survey of nearly 1000 demographers worldwide named him as the most influential demographer of all time.

Caldwell’s seminal work included documentation of the role of mothers’ education in fertility limitation and child mortality decline and the role of circumcision in inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

He is particularly noted for his “wealth flows” theory, which relates demographic transition theory to changes in intergenerational transfers within the family.

Caldwell believed deeply that researchers could not gain a good understanding of demographic phenomena without being steeped in the cultures to which the behaviour applied.

He practised this himself in what he called micro-demography (or anthropological demography), where the researcher meets face-to-face with the subjects of the research in their own environment.

His belief was that this experience should inform quantitative surveys, leading to the development of theoretical modelling, which was also underpinned by the experience to be gained from the historical record in the western world.

Caldwell shared most of his research career with his anthropologist wife of 60 years, Rosie, also known as Pat. Together they were a formidable team.

From 1977, Caldwell’s research attention shifted to South Asia (India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) where he fine-tuned the micro-approach working with South Asian scholars. Visitors and students flocked to the ANU to learn about “Caldwellian methods”.

As Head of ANU Demography, he attracted numerous PhD students from Australia, from other developed countries and, most importantly, from developing countries.

He was then highly influential in furthering the careers of the Department’s PhD graduates, often ensuring they occupied positions where they could be exponents of micro-demography.

He was an incredibly generous leader and teacher, encouraging all staff and students to develop their own interests and produce their own publications.

Caldwell stepped away from the Demography Department at the end of 1988 but he had by no means finished his work.

The Rockefeller Foundation provided Caldwell with initial funding for the establishment of a Health Transition Centre, to explore the cultural and social determinants of health.

Caldwell was the author of 25 books, 128 book chapters and 139 journal articles. He was the first President of the Australian Population Association and served as the Association’s Patron until his death.

He received recognition both at home and overseas. In 1985, the Population Association of America presented him with its highest prize, the Irene Taeuber Award for excellence in demographic research.

In 1994, he began an elected four-year term as President of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, the peak international body for demography and, in 2004, he was presented with the United Nations Population Award.

He was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 1994 and received the Australian Centenary Medal in 2001.

Jack was a humble and unassuming man with an adventurous mind and an abiding commitment to a better understanding of human behaviour.

He is survived by four sons, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.