Courtesy of Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue

February 28, 2020

Sociology and Population Change: How Demographics Affect Society

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With 360,000 new babies born each day, untangling the globe’s vast web of people can seem, at first glance, a near-impossible task.

But for Prof. Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, chair of development sociology and associate director of the Cornell Population Center, sorting through those ever-complicated population dynamics is just another day’s work.

The Cameroonian-born sociologist specifically focuses on the role changing families have on developing societies — a phenomenon which can shape a society’s propensity towards inequality, growth, violence, peace and development.

“We are all products of our social circumstances,” Eloundou-Enyegue explained. “Where you were born, where you grew up, the neighborhood in which you went to school and returned home to everyday affects who you become in terms of the values, the opportunities [and belief system] that you have.”

While his work primarily centers on developing countries, Eloundou-Enyegue, who previously taught a course on educational inequality, pointed out that those same factors, like early childhood education, can have lasting impacts on the rest of one’s life — even for those who end up attending an Ivy League university.

“[If] a low income kid and a middle class or upper class kid … both come to Cornell, [the upper class kid] is going to be more comfortable going to a professor and contesting a grade or asking for extra help, whereas the other is maybe a little more shy, and won’t make the same claims,” Eloundou-Enyegue said.

Wide-ranging in scope, the professors’ recent academic work has included papers measuring the link between age structure and income inequality, and demographic transition in Africa.

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue at an event related to his research and community work in Africa.

Courtesy of Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue at an event related to his research and community work in Africa.

Those lines of inquiry have taken Eloundou-Enyegue all the way to the United Nations — where he recently helped pen a 250-page report for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to present before a General Assembly meeting in September. The vast work was prepared for the U.N.’s Global Sustainable Development Goals, a project that sets priorities on ambitions ranging from world hunger to climate change.

But beyond the worlds of academia and diplomacy, Eloundou-Enyegue places a strong emphasis on ensuring the next generation of scientists are equipped to address the world’s great social and population transformations that lie ahead.