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Robert Mare ’73

February 1, 2021, in Los Angeles, California, of leukemia.

An expert on social inequality and demographic trends, Robert, in his scholarship contributed to the understanding of social trends in schooling, marriage, and multigenerational transmission processes.

Born in North Vancouver, Canada, he came to Reed, where he wrote his thesis, “Neighborhood Context and Social Participation,” advised by Prof. John Pock [sociology 1955–98]. Robert got a master’s degree and a PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan.

“Rob was my student at the University of Michigan,” said Prof. William Mason ’63. “Upon completing his degree, he was snapped up by the University of Wisconsin. After a suitable interval, I tried, unsuccessfully, to tempt him to come back to Ann Arbor. I had much better luck at UCLA; by then he was ready to trade the comforts of Madison for the enticements of the big city.”

After leaving UW, where he had directed the Center for Demography and Ecology, Rob joined the faculty in the sociology department at UCLA, where he was the founding director of the California Center for Population Research and held an appointment in statistics. In addition to his contributions to demography, stratification, and methodology, he did pathbreaking work on the multigenerational transmission of inequality.

His first major contribution—published in a 1980 article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association—argued that factors influencing  educational attainment differed in importance by transition points, such as the transition from high school completion to college. Rob’s research uncovered something that others had missed: family resources mattered most earlier—rather than later—in the educational process. As students move through the system, they are an increasingly selective group and their own performance becomes more important than their parents’ resources. That finding came to be known as the “Mare model,” which continues to be used, debated, and improved upon by sociologists and economists studying educational inequality.

Subsequent work in social inequality and demography addressed how people form marital unions, putting forth the notion of assortative mating; the idea that people tend to marry people like themselves, with similar education, earnings potential, and the values and lifestyle that come with them. People who go to college, for example, are more likely to marry other people who go to college. Rob showed that while the result has been growing equality between husbands and wives alongside growing inequality across households, an implication of people seeking marriage partners like themselves is that it can increase inequality in family resources and children’s socioeconomic achievement.

In the decade prior to his retirement in 2015, Rob’s work continued to advance the understanding of fundamental social processes, such as residential segregation by race. He collaborated with other researchers to model the effects of demographic events on multigenerational inequality.

Christine Schwartz ’96, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an affiliate of the Center for Demography and Ecology, chose to go to graduate school at UCLA, in part because of the Reedies in the UCLA sociology department.

Don Treiman ’62, Bill Mason, and Rob Mare were all in the department at the time,” she recalled. “Elizabeth Bruch ’99 and Sarah Burgard ’97 were there as grad students along with me, and we had all been advised by John Pock. So, despite a wide variation in age, we all had Reed and John Pock in common. It was probably the highest concentration of Reed alum sociologists in the country at the time.

“Rob was an incredible mentor—generous, constructive, and collaborative. We published several articles together during my time in graduate school and after. I am incredibly grateful to him and his spouse, who survives him, Judy Seltzer, also an esteemed sociologist, for their friendship and mentorship over the years.”

Elizabeth Bruch, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, was Rob’s PhD student at UCLA. “Sometimes Rob would have all the answers for a problem or question in our collaborative projects, but sometimes we were working on something at the limit for both of us,” she remembered. “And those were the best times. Because I got to watch Rob go from being stuck to unstuck and observe first-hand the strategies he had for doing so. And it wasn’t just about watching Rob struggle by himself; he really brought his students into the struggle. There was a deep empathy and connectedness in the whole experience, a sense of comradeship and shared adventure. And there was also a methodology. By allowing us into his process so completely, Rob offered a road map for doing research: how to navigate, how to get unstuck, what to do with confusion and despair, and how to find joy and discovery. Importantly, he made a potentially isolating experience sociable, even fun.”

A fellow of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, Rob was recognized by social and population scientists. He was elected president of the Population Association of America and of the Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility of the International Sociological Association. The American Sociological Association awarded him the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Award for lifetime achievement, and he received the Robert M. Hauser Award from the Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility section of the American Sociological Association.

Robert is survived by Judith Seltzer, his wife and colleague since their graduate studies at the University of Michigan.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2021

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