Digital and Computational Demography

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Detailed Description

© RyanJLane

The global spread of Internet, social media, and digital technologies is radically transforming the way we live and communicate, is creating new challenges and opportunities for our societies, and is enabling social scientists to address longstanding demographic research questions in new ways.

The main goal of the Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography is to advance fundamental population science by addressing key questions in demography from the perspective of the digitalization of life. This includes:

  • Complementing digital trace data, innovative forms of data collection and traditional sources to improve our understanding of demographic processes
  • Evaluating the socio-demographic implications of the digital revolution
  • Leveraging statistical, mathematical and computationally-intensive approaches to generate new insights into population dynamics

The laboratory’s main thematic areas of research

1. Migration and Mobility

One of the most important challenges that our societies are facing is how to manage migration flows and the integration of migrants in the context of both slow population aging and sudden crises or shocks. Even though migration is one of the major sources of demographic and social change in our societies, data that are necessary to test migration theories and to develop new ones are often inexistent. When they do exist, they are typically inconsistent across countries or outdated. Evaluating and understanding more complex dynamics, such as integration of immigrants or flows of skills over time and across space, is even more elusive, even though it is necessary for well-functioning societies.

In the context of migration and mobility, researchers in the laboratory among others

a) develop modern statistical methods to combine existing data sources and to predict future migration patterns

b) use digital trace data, including social media, cellphone data, or large-scale bibliometric data, to measure and understand integration processes, sentiment polarity towards immigrants, and flows of scholars and professionals

c) study the impact of digitalization of life on labor markets, the spread of information and migration outcomes.

2. Aging and Generational Processes

Increasing longevity and lower and later fertility are reshaping individual life course trajectories as well as aggregate population composition around the world. As years are added to human lifespan, which stages of the life course would lengthen or shorten? To what extent people will spend a larger or smaller fraction of their life in roles like parents, grandparents, spouses or children? How likely are parents to experience the death of their adult children? How do demographic forces affect family change? How do societies respond to demographic pressure and economic constraints? And how would the system of intergenerational transfers of resources be affected? These are some of the questions that researchers in the laboratory are addressing using a combination of formal demographic methods, simulations, genealogical and register data.

Evaluating how societies provide a context for successful aging is key for gradually adapting to population aging. Against the backdrop of slow demographic change our societies are also experiencing fast technological change, including the rapid adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The rates of adoption of ICTs as well as the benefits and the extent to which they foster connections and a support network vary by demographic characteristics. Researchers in the laboratory are evaluating the differential demographic impact of and adoption of digital technologies.

3. Social and Environmental Dynamics

Demographic behavior, relevant for the well-being of people, is embedded within a broader set of social forces and environmental constraints. For example, ertility decisions affect the way we spend our time, the associated emotional well-being, and our health. New technologies, including the smartphone, are changing the way we spend our time in ways that are difficult to quantify with traditional surveys. This forces us to rethink methods for data collection and experimentation as well as develop new theories to interpret how changing social forces are affecting our lives and our roles in society.

People live within a social environment as well as within the constraints of the natural environment. Natural disasters, for example, have a differential impact on demographic outcomes, e.g. in terms of mortality and migration. On the other hand, demographic features of the population, such as age structure, affect overall levels of energy consumption and ultimately the environment, carbon emissions, and phenomena like climate change.

Researchers in the laboratory use an interdisciplinary perspective and tools from data science and simulation modeling, to understand population dynamics and well-being within the broader set of social, technical and environmental transformations.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.