Society for Biodemography and Social Biology

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The Society for Biodemography and Social Biology
Formerly called
The Society for the Study of Social Biology;[1] The American Eugenics Society[2]

The Society for Biodemography and Social Biology, formerly known as the Society for the Study of Social Biology and before then as the American Eugenics Society,[1] was the society dedicated to "furthering the discussion, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge about biological and sociocultural forces which affect the structure and composition of human populations."[3] The Society was disbanded in 2019.[4]


Initially known as the American Eugenics Society, or AES, the Society formed after the success of the Second International Congress on Eugenics (New York, 1921). AES founders included Madison Grant, Harry H. Laughlin, Irving Fisher, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Charles Davenport and Henry Crampton. The organization started by promoting racial betterment, eugenic health, and genetic education through public lectures, exhibits at county fairs, etc.

The AES primarily used fitter family contests to help promote its mission. These fitter family contests took place in public festivals or fairs. Physical appearance, behavior, intelligence, and health were just a few of the qualities that the AES looks at while determining the fittest family. The AES would give out prizes, trophies, and medals to the winning families. Additionally, the AES would sponsor displays and exhibits that featured statistics on the births of "undesirable" or "desirable" children at the fairs and festivals.[5] An example of such a display from the 1920s and 1930s statistics claimed as follows: Every sixteen seconds a child is born in the United States. Out of those children a capable, desirable child is born every seven and a half minutes, whereas a undesirable, feebleminded child is born every forty-eight seconds, and a future criminal is born every fifty seconds.[6] To conclude, the display would argue that every fifteen seconds, a hundred dollars of taxpayers' money went towards supporting the mentally ill and undesirable.[6]

The AES also sought to promote eugenic policies at the US state and federal level; in particular, Harry H. Laughlin promoted eugenic sterilization in the early twentieth century. By the late 1920s, eugenic sterilization laws were being enforced in multiple states (Sterilization law in the United States). By 1933, California had enforced eugenically sterilization laws on more people than any of the other US states combined, mainly affecting people of color and foreign immigrants. These laws led to court cases and lawsuits, such as, Buck v. Bell,1927, and Skinner v. Oklahoma,1942.  

In 1926, the society published a Eugenics Catechism, arguing that eugenics was supported by the Bible, and therefore ought to be promoted by Christians.[7][8]

During the presidency of Henry Farnham Perkins from 1931 to 1933, the AES worked with the American Birth Control League. Margaret Sanger, a birth control activist, "was a member of the AES in 1956 and established the Birth Control League in 1921".[6]

Under the direction of Frederick Osborn the Society started to place greater focus on issues of population control, genetics, and, later, medical genetics. In 1930, the Society included mostly prominent and wealthy individuals, and membership included many non-scientists. The demographics of the Society gradually changed, and by 1960, members of the Society were almost exclusively scientists and medical professionals. Consequentially, the Society focused more on genetics and less on class-based eugenics.[2]

After the Roe v. Wade decision was released in 1973, the Society was reorganized and renamed The Society for the Study of Social Biology.[2] Osborn said, "[t]he name was changed because it became evident that changes of a eugenic nature would be made for reasons other than eugenics, and that tying a eugenic label on them would more often hinder than help,"[9][10]

The name was most recently changed to Society for Biodemography and Social Biology in 2008.[1] The name inherited the name of two disciplines (biodemography and social biology) as a result of interactions between demography and biology throughout the last half of the twentieth century.[4]


The Society's official journal is Biodemography and Social Biology, which was originally established in 1954 as Eugenics Quarterly. It was renamed to Social Biology in 1969 and to its current title in 2008.[11] The Journal has continued to publish original research articles and short reports from Taylor and Francis.

List of presidents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Eugenics, Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology, (2014, pp 619-626) ISBN 978-1-4614-5583-7
  2. ^ a b c American Eugenics Society, Controlling Heredity.
  3. ^ The Society for Biodemography and Social Biology, Homepage (Last retrieved Nov 26, 2014) Archived 2013-04-14 at
  4. ^ a b Matsuura, H. (2023-04-16). "Overcoming the history of Eugenics in demography call for contributions from historians, ethicists, and human rights scholars". Biodemography and Social Biology. 68 (1): 1–2. doi:10.1080/19485565.2023.2203570. ISSN 1948-5573. PMID 37062056. S2CID 258171239.
  5. ^ Kevles, Daniel J. (1999-08-14). "Eugenics and human rights". BMJ. 319 (7207): 435–438. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7207.435. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 1127045. PMID 10445929.
  6. ^ a b c "American Eugenics Society (1926-1972) | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2022-12-12.
  7. ^ Baker, G. J. (2014-04-08). "Christianity and Eugenics: The Place of Religion in the British Eugenics Education Society and the American Eugenics Society, c.1907-1940". Social History of Medicine. 27 (2): 281–302. doi:10.1093/shm/hku008. ISSN 0951-631X. PMC 4001825. PMID 24778464.
  8. ^ Jackson, John P.; Weidman, Nadine M. (2005). "The Origins of Scientific Racism". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (50): 66–79. ISSN 1077-3711. JSTOR 25073379.
  9. ^ Messall, Rebecca (Fall 2004). "The Long Road of Eugenics: From Rockefeller to Roe v. Wade". The Human Life Review. 30 (4): 33–74, 67. PMID 15856597.
  10. ^ American Eugenics Society, Inc. (1931). Organized eugenics: January 1931. pp. 3, 65.
  11. ^ "List of issues Biodemography and Social Biology".
  12. ^ "Planned Parenthood's Century of Brutality". National Review. 19 June 2017.
  13. ^[bare URL PDF]
  14. ^[bare URL PDF]

External links[edit]