Laboratory

Digital and Computational Demography

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Detailed Description

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The global spread of the 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 relevant questions for our societies from the scientific perspective of demography and the digitalization of life. Thematically, our primary focus is on understanding the causes and consequences of migration and population aging  and on gaining a deeper understanding of how demographic behavior is interrelated with the social and natural environment.

A key ambition of our Laboratory is to understand demographic change as it relates to technological transformations. The so-called digital revolution has sparked an explosion of heterogeneous data sources; these can dramatically expand our understanding of demographic mechanisms if we develop appropriate methods to take advantage of them. At the same time, the processes and algorithms that produce new data also generate new social environments, with consequences for demographic behavior that require new explanations and theories.

To achieve our objectives, the Laboratory brings together an interdisciplinary group of researchers; it includes demographers, methodologists from statistics, data science and computational sciences, and social and behavioral scientists with deep knowledge in our core substantive research areas.

We approach the growing field of Digital and Computational Demography at various levels. First, we gather data from a large number of heterogeneous sources. These include more established systems of data collection, such as surveys or population registers, and emerging and less structured forms of data, such as Internet and social media data, call detail records, large-scale bibliometric databases, marketing data, and online genealogies. In addition, we develop our own innovative forms of data collection and experimentation, including running surveys where respondents are recruited via social media platforms.

Second, we develop methods to combine traditional and novel data sources within a solid statistical framework. As we often enter uncharted territories, it is necessary to produce rigorous methodologies to correctly interpret all available data sources, to extract useful demographic information, and to assess uncertainty. We also leverage the increasingly available computational power to run simulation models that help us to uncover the social dynamics underlying demographic change.

Third, we classify data sources and digital environments to assess, by comparison, what unique insights different types of data can offer or how population processes are affected by environmental change, broadly defined. We ask questions such as: What explains observed migration patterns? What are the consequences for host and sending regions? What factors facilitate the integration of migrants and their well-being? In what ways can societies favor successful aging within the context of linked lives, demographic inequalities, and shocks or discontinuities? How do demographic forces affect family change? And how will the system of intergenerational resource transfers be affected? What are the consequences of technological transformations for our health and well-being? How do they vary by demographic characteristics, including age, sex, and parental status? What types of inequalities might be driven by technological advances and the increasing presence of automated systems in our lives? In addressing these and related questions, we aim to contribute to the line of demographic theory that has studied population processes in connection with socioeconomic and technological transformations, a line central for the discipline since Malthus. 

As we pursue our aims, we (i) collaborate closely with international organizations and major professional associations devoted to the advancement of demographic research and computational social science, (ii) support our broader scientific communities, and (iii) favor interdisciplinary collaborations that sustain the development of the field of digital and computational demography.

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.