Department of Demography
John Wilmoth(John Wilmoth)

John Wilmoth


Department of Demography, UC Berkeley
2232 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94602 USA
510 643-8558


Office Hours

Link to a recent curriculum vitae (.pdf)

Current teaching schedule (on leave)

Welcome to my simple but functional web page. Formally, I am a Professor in the Department of Demography of the University of California at Berkeley, and a researcher in the Berkeley's Center on the Economics and Demography of Aging. I am also an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Sociology.

Starting in January 2013, I have taken a leave-of-absence from UC Berkeley to serve as Director of the Population Division of the United Nations in New York City.The Population Division produces authoritative studies of population trends for the United Nations and its Member States, and thus helps to guide the international political discussion and debate about such topics. The Population Division also produces the official UN estimates and projections of world population trends, which are used by many people for various purposes.

Previously, in 2005-2007 I took a similar leave from UC Berkeley while working for the United Nations.


UC Berkeley is the only university in the United States with a Department of Demography. Our primary emphasis is the training of researchers within a graduate program, where we offer both MA and PhD degrees in Demography, as well as a PhD in Sociology and Demography (through the Graduate Group in Sociology and Demography). At the undergraduate level, we offer a minor in Demography but no major.

Given our emphasis on graduate education and research, a large portion of my teaching occurs outside the usual classroom. Several graduate students work together with me on various research projects (see below), and this kind of involvement forms an important part of their education. In the traditional classroom setting, I teach courses on population change and research methods in demography and/or sociology. Courses that I havetaught in recent years are as follows:

  • An undergraduate lecture course, “Population Issues,” Sociology 126 / Demography 126. This course is offered annually (usually in the Fall semester), taught either by myself or by Prof. Jennifer Johnson-Hanks.
  • A graduate seminar on “Mortality and Health,” Demography 230. We try to offer this course every other year.
  • A graduate lecture course, “Advanced Demographic Analysis,” Demography 211. Normally, this course is offered every other year during the Spring semester.
  • A graduate seminar on “The Politics of Population Policies,” Demography 260, co-taught with Prof. Ruth Dixon-Mueller in Fall 2012.


Much of my research has examined the enormous increase in human longevity that has occurred during the past 250 years. This work has been supported continuously since 1993 by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Published and unpublished papers from this project are listed on my CV. This work explores several related topics:

  • Causes of the historical mortality decline
  • Future trends in human mortality and life expectancy at birth
  • Exceptional longevity and possible limits to the human life span.
  • Mortality differentials among social groups within populations
  • Variation in mortality over the life course in humans
  • Familial resemblance in mortality and longevity

any of these projects include a significant methodological component, which is addressed in the context of the substantive research. However, some methodological topics have become important research projects of their own, including:

  • Methods for forecasting mortality and life expectancy
  • Parametric models for describing mortality differentials
  • Methods for decomposing historical population trends into distinct components

This research has also included a special emphasis on developing better sources of information about historical patterns and trends in human mortality and life expectancy. Some of this information is now publicly available through the Human Mortality Database (HMD), a project co-sponsored by UC Berkeley (with funding from the NIA) and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, located in Rostock, Germany. The HMD replaces the earlier Berkeley Mortality Database (BMD). However, the BMD website remains operational at this time, because it still contains some data not yet available elsewhere (see explanation on the BMD home page). A companion project to the HMD, the Human Life-Table Database (HLD), consists of a collection of ready-made life tables from various sources. The HLD project is co-sponsored by UC Berkeley (with funding from the NIA), the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and the Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques (INED), located in Paris, France.

Aside from the work on human mortality and longevity, other topics of my research (both past and present) include:

  • Demographic impact of assisted reproductive technologies (ART)
  • History of the debate about world population growth
  • Contribution of immigration to population growth in the United States
  • Methods for forecasting international migration
  • Methods for characterizing demographic variation as a function of age, period, and cohort
  • Methods for assessing fertility levels in the presence of changes in the timing of births over the life course

Public Service

In 2009-2010 I served on an expert panel convened by the Committee on Population of the National Academy of Sciences, on the topic of “Divergent trends in longevity in high-income countries.” The panel’s task was to help uncover the causes behind the declining position of the United States in international longevity rankings. The Panel’s report is available at the website of the National Research Council.

In 2003 I participated in a Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods organized by the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB). The SSAB is an independent, bipartisan, federal agency charged with advising the President, the Congress, and the Commissioner of Social Security on matters related to the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs. Every four years, the SSAB convenes a Technical Panel to review the assumptions and methods used in projecting the Trust Funds of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) systems. The 2003 Technical Panel met monthly from January until September, usually in Washington, D.C. Our Report, released in October 2003, contains a detailed evaluation of the assumptions and methods used to assess the financial solvency of the current system (see also the annual Trustees Report).

Christian Mortensen

It is often the case that a quantitative social researcher like myself has too little contact with the people who are the subjects of his inquiry. Thanks to good fortune and to some initiative on my part, I had the pleasure of knowing Christian Mortensen — an American man of Danish origin who died in April 1998 at the age of 115 years in San Rafael, California — during the last three years of his life. Christian Mortensen held the title of “oldest man ever” from March 1997 until December 2012.