Robert Mare, a distinguished professor of sociology at UCLA and a global expert on social inequality and demographic trends, died of leukemia in his home in Marina Del Rey, California, on Feb. 1. He was 69.
As an authority in sociological and demographic methods, Mare contributed definitive scholarship on social trends in schooling, marriage and multigenerational processes. Mare’s first major contribution was published in a 1980 article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, in which he convincingly argued that factors influencing educational attainment differed in importance by transition points, such as the transition from high school completion to college.
In doing so, Mare found 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. The novel finding came to be known as the “Mare Model.” To this day the model continues to be used, debated, challenged and improved upon by sociologists and economists studying educational inequality.
Mare’s subsequent work in social inequality and demography addressed how people form marital unions. “Assortative mating” is the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education and earnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them.
In several highly influential articles, Mare examined trends in assortative mating and showed that college goers are more likely to marry other college goers, and that tendency was increasing. For example, in 1960 just 3% of American couples had two college degree earners. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25%. A key implication of an increase in people seeking marital partners who are like themselves is that it can increase inequality in family resources and children’s socioeconomic achievement. The result has been growing equality between husbands and wives alongside growing inequality across households.
In the decade before his retirement in 2015, Mare’s work continued to advance the understanding of fundamental social processes, such as residential segregation by race. He worked extensively with data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey in his study of this.
Until his death, Mare had continued to collaborate with other researchers to model the effects of demographic events on multigenerational inequality.
“Rob Mare was a brilliant scholar who made major contributions to demography, stratification, and methodology,” said Robert Sampson, the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University. “His work on the multi-generational transmission of inequality, for example, was pathbreaking in my view. Rob’s keen insights were essential to the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey wave of data collection and our analysis of persistence and change in spatial inequality over two decades in greater Los Angeles.”
Born in North Vancouver, Canada in 1951 to Helen and Arthur Mare, Rob Mare completed his bachelor’s degree at Reed College in 1973 and his doctorate at the University Michigan in 1977. Between 1977 and 1997, he was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he directed the Center for Demography and Ecology between 1989 and 1994. He joined the faculty at UCLA in sociology and was the founding director of the California Center for Population Research at UCLA beginning in 1998. He also held an appointment in statistics.
Mare’s contributions were widely recognized by social and population scientists. He was elected president of the Population Association of America in 2009, president of the Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility in 2006, and fellow of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences in 2010. For his lifetime contributions to sociological methodology, the methodology section of the American Sociological Association awarded him the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Award for lifetime achievement in 1999. For his career of research on inequality he received the Robert M. Hauser Award from the Inequality, Poverty and Mobility section of the American Sociological Association in 2016.
At both UCLA and the University of Wisconsin, where he was sociology professor prior to coming to UCLA, Mare was legendary in mentoring young scholars.
“Rob offered a road map for the process of research: how to navigate, how to get unstuck, what to do with confusion and despair, and how to find joy and discovery,” said Elizabeth Bruch, one of Mare’s doctoral students and now associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan.
Esther Freidman, another of Mare’s doctoral students and now social and behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, said: “Conversations with Rob were the highlight of graduate school — always intense and electrifying, whether focused on the lofty or the everyday. He managed to instill in his graduate students a sense that we are all part of something special and significant.”
A highly respected and well-liked scholar, Mare will be dearly missed by his UCLA colleagues and a large international community of sociologists and demographers.
“The exceptional level of respect and admiration for Rob among those of us lucky enough to have been his colleague is without comparison,” said Megan Sweeney, UCLA professor of sociology.
His scholarship and mentorship will continue to influence future generations of social scientists who study the intersection of demography, family, and social inequality.
Mare is survived by Judith Seltzer, also recently retired UCLA sociology professor, his spouse and colleague since their graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
Contributions in Robert Mare’s honor may be made to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank or other local foodbanks.
Jennie Brand is a UCLA professor of sociology and director of the California Center for Population Research. Yu Xie is the Bert G. Kerstetter University Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. Michael Hout, is a professor of sociology at NYU. Robert Hauser is the Vilas Research and Samuel F. Stouffer professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.