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COLLECTION Identifier: HUGFP 144

Papers of Nathan Keyfitz, 1947-2002


Nathan Keyfitz, was Andelot Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and of Demography in the Harvard University School of Public Health from 1972 to 1983. He is a leader in the field of mathematical demography and a pioneer in the application of mathematical tools to the study of population characteristics.


  • Creation: 1947-2002


Conditions on Use and Access

Permission of the archivists is required for access to the Papers of Nathan Keyfitz. Please see reference staff for details.


5 cubic feet (10 document boxes)

The papers of Nathan Keyfitz document his studies in the characteristics of human population growth and its impact on social and economic development. The bulk of the collection consists of published and unpublished writings, and incoming and outgoing correspondence with colleagues, friends, and family members. A small quantity of biographical material, photographs, and subject files are also included in this collection.


Nathan Keyfitz (1913-2010), Professor of Demography and Sociology at Harvard University (1972-1983), is a leader in the field of mathematical demography and a pioneer in the application of mathematical tools to the study of population characteristics where vital statistics and census data are incomplete. He has written extensively on a wide range of topics that include population theory, historical demography,mortality,urbanization,forecasting,social security and retirement, poverty, democracy, and the interaction between people and their environment.

Keyfitz was born on June 29, 1913 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to Arthur (an advertising agent) and Anna (Gerstein) Keyfitz. He graduated from McGill University in 1934 with a degree in Mathematics. In 1936 Keyfitz began working for the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa, Canada as a research statistician. He would remain with the bureau for the next twenty-three years.

Beginning as a statistician, Keyfitz analyzed census schedules and census results. He studied occupational distributions in Canada, England, and the United States and wrote monographs describing the unemployment situation existing in Canada during the Great Depression. Later, as a mathematical and senior statistical advisor, he became known for his statistical surveys, which examined the size and nature of the Canadian population, its distribution, trends in fertility, emigration and immigration. In 1950 he was elected to the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, a leading international professional association for individuals interested in population studies. In 1952 Keyfitz received a fellowship to attend the University of Chicago and graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology. His dissertation was a study of the fertility of the Canadian population as reported by the 1941 census.

Keyfitz's first contact with less developed countries occurred in 1951 when he accepted a three-month assignment as a census advisor to the Burmese Statistical Office in Rangoon. He helped develop a trial census and procedures for editing schedules, punching cards, and taking tabulations. This would be the beginning of many trips abroad for Keyfitz.

Keyfitz began his academic career in 1959 at the University of Toronto (1959-1962). At Toronto he taught general sociology. In 1962 he took a leave of absence and joined the faculty at the University of Montreal (1962-1963). Here, his objective was not only to teach, but also to learn French, which he accomplished. The University of Chicago (1963-1968) offered Keyfitz, at the age of 50, his first real opportunity to explore the field of demography. It was at Chicago that Keyfitz began to apply mathematical tools and computer technology to the analysis demographic data. In 1968 he published his groundbreaking Introduction to the Mathematics of Population that described his methodology. As of 2003, this work is still widely used. In 1968, Keyfitz moved on to the University of California at Berkeley and remained with the Department of Demography until it was disbanded in 1972.

Keyfitz was appointed the first Andelot Professor of Demography and Sociology at Harvard University in 1972. He was associated with the Department of Sociology, the Department of Population Sciences in the School of Public Health, and the Center for Population Studies. During his eleven years at Harvard, Keyfitz found himself traveling around the world. He acted as a demographic consultant for the Indonesian government in 1972, and a lecturer on population mathematics in Rome (1974), India (1975), Russia (1978), and China (1982). In 1977, Keyfitz wrote Applied Mathematical Demography, which examined demographic questions that could be analyzed mathematically. This work was revised in 1985 and published in Chinese in 1999. Keyfitz's changing schedule at Harvard allowed him to accept a Professorship in Social Demography at Ohio State University in 1981. As a result, he served both at Harvard University and Ohio State University until his retirement from teaching in 1983.

Keyfitz's retirement did not end his demographic research. In 1983 he accepted the directorship of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a research organization located near Vienna, Austria. This institute conducts scientific studies about environmental, economic, technological and social issues related to global change. In 1998 he became its first president.

Keyfitz continued his association with Harvard University by accepting a consulting position with the Harvard Institute for International Development in 1985. Under the auspices of this institute, Keyfitz visited Jakarta, Indonesia several times between 1985 and 1990 as part of an effort to improve Indonesia's higher educational system. In 1985 Keyfitz wrote An East Javanese Village in 1953 and 1985: Observations on Development, which compared his first experiences in Indonesia in 1953 with his later observations in 1985.

In the 1990s, Keyfitz consulted for the Center for Initiatives on Children, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and became interested in examining the relationship between population growth, the middle class lifestyle and environmental security.

Nathan Keyfitz has traveled as a teacher, consultant, advisor, and researcher examining demographic trends and developments in both the developed and underdeveloped world. He has taught population and planning in Ceylon and Argentina, lectured at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta, and advised the United States Bureau of the Census and the Social Security Administration. Keyfitz has remained at the forefront of demographic research for over a half-century and his innovative approaches and techniques have helped advance an understanding of human development and its impact on global change.

Nathan Keyfitz was married on October 8, 1939 to Beatrice (Orkin) Keyfitz. They have two children, Barbara Lee and Robert Norman.

  1. Nathan Keyfitz, Oral History Interview, conducted May 1991 by Jean van der Tak, for the Population Association of America Oral History Project.


  1. Biographical Material
  2. Books
  3. Shorter Writings
  4. Correspondence
  5. Subject files

Acquisition Information

  1. Accession number: 14031; 1999 September 17.
  2. Accession number: 14117; 2000 March 7.
  3. Accession number: 14390; 2001 September 9.
  4. Accession number: 14476; 2002 January 3.
  5. Accession number: 14519; 2002 March 11.
  6. Accession number: 14533; 2002 April 16.
  7. Accession number: 14864; 2003 August 15.
  8. Accession number: 14913; 2003 October 8.

Related Material in the Harvard University Archives

  1. Records of the Harvard Department of Sociology, 1931-1980.
  2. Records of the Center for Population Studies, 1960-1978.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2020 June 17.

Processing Note

Majority of the material processed by Rachelle Furman, Samuel Mallery, Robin McElheny, and Barbara Meloni from March through October 2000. This finding aid was encoded, with minor re-arrangement of the collection, and some writings and correspondence added (contents of boxes 7 through 9) by Dominic P. Grandinetti from November through December 2002. In July 2003 Juliana Kuipers added two 2003 accessions (Box 10) to the collection. Biographical material, correspondence, and writings were integrated into the existing series. An additional series, Subject files, was created, and the photographs series was moved into the biographical material series. The finding aid updated.

Keyfitz, Nathan 1913- Papers of Nathan Keyfitz : an inventory
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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