Campus & Community

Berkman named director of Center for Population and Development Studies

4 min read

Social epidemiologist Lisa Berkman has been appointed director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman announced today (Oct. 26).

“I am extremely pleased that Professor Berkman has accepted the position,” said Hyman. “She brings both expertise in population-based research and a long history of collaborative activities that will serve to reinvigorate the center, expand the breadth of its work, and involve faculty and students from across the University.”

Berkman, the Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), is currently chair of the school’s Department of Society, Human Development and Health. Recognized for her groundbreaking work in the field of social epidemiology, she is noted for identifying the effects of social networks on mortality risks that helped define the field in the late 1970s. She has also broadened the field with her investigations of how social conditions related to inequality, race, ethnicity, and social isolation influence health and aging.

“Lisa is a creative and dynamic leader with the rare gift of being able to engage with members in almost every faculty in the University and bringing together people and ideas from the biological sciences, social sciences, and humanities,” said Dean Barry R. Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health, which administers the center.

“This is an exciting time for the Population Center,” said Berkman. “Population and development is now a dynamic field embracing many disciplines including demography, epidemiology, and a host of social sciences. The field has lately begun to demonstrate a great capacity to identify and understand the causal processes shaping the health and well-being of populations. Determinants of population health include social, physical, and biological environments as well as health systems and political systems. Issues of migration will also be central to the mission of the center.”

Similar to the development of neuroscience decades ago or of systems biology more recently, scientists interested in population dynamics and health are rapidly developing innovative approaches that integrate several scientific fields.

“A nascent science of population health is being born,” Berkman noted. “These new analytic approaches will reveal ways to intervene and reduce inequalities in health and well-being within and across countries. We expect the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies to be at the center of this new discipline that could have a transforming impact on global health and quality of life.”

Although the appointment is effective immediately, Berkman will continue to direct the Department of Society, Human Development and Health until the end of the academic year while a search is conducted for her successor.

Before coming to HSPH in 1995 to head what was then the Department of Health and Social Behavior, Berkman was head of the department of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine.

A graduate of Northwestern University, Berkman received her master’s (1975) and doctorate (1977) in epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the Yale faculty in 1979 as an assistant professor.

Berkman is currently a member of the Institute of Medicine and serves as chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. She is a past president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research.

The Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies was founded in 1964. It is an independent, University-wide center that draws its faculty from many individual Schools across Harvard University and also welcomes visiting faculty. The center is administered by the School of Public Health and reports to the Office of the Provost. For more information on the center, see its Web site: