Digital and Computational Demography

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Research Area

Social and Environmental Dynamics

Demographic and social behavior, relevant for the well-being of people, is embedded in a broader set of social forces and environmental constraints. We live within a network structure of social relationships and within the limits set by the physical environment. Conversely, demographic trends and shocks may lead to social change and to environmental consequences. The key ambition of the group in this research area is to understand how demographic processes are interrelated with social and environmental change.

The rapid and widespread use of smartphones and digital technologies is a major social transformation of our times. What are the implications 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? Addressing these questions is important to predict the future of our societies, to anticipate social conflicts or negative consequences on our health, to reap the benefits of the digitalization of our lives, and to devise appropriate policy interventions.

Climate change and disease outbreaks are among the top environmental transformations that are intimately related to demographic processes. Although they manifest themselves on different time scales, they are both fueled by population processes and they both have an unequal impact on different demographic groups. The relationships between population dynamics and the environment are far from being fully theorized, and an improved understanding of these processes is urgently needed.

Economic and demographic transformations may lead to social change. For example, lower fertility and the increased participation of women in the labor force have implications for differences in social status and roles by gender. These, in turn, have consequences for demographic processes by affecting partnership formation and stability. Understanding these dynamics is key to designing effective social policies.

New substantive research questions at the intersection of social and environmental dynamics in a digitized world also force us to rethink strategies for the measurement and modeling of population processes. We combine analyses of existing survey data with our own data collection efforts, and we develop new approaches that include the use of simulations, social media breadcrumbs, and network analysis.

Current projects are organized around three main interrelated clusters:

Social and Behavioral Determinants of Health and Well-Being

We study how the digitalization of life differentially affects social relations, emotional well-being, and the way we spend our time, and how raising children impacts the health and well-being of parents. We assess the health-related effects of social media use and how self-regulation can help people to make healthier choices and change their behavior in ways that lead to better health outcomes.

The Natural Environment

We focus on climate change and disease outbreaks. We develop formal models to understand the consequences of demographic variables on disease dynamics, and we leverage digital technologies to monitor and understand the social and behavioral responses to disease outbreaks. In the context of climate change research, we assess how demographic change affects the demand for energy-intensive goods, with implications for carbon emissions. We also assess the differential demographic impact of climate-induced disasters.

Population Processes and Social Dynamics

We evaluate how economic and demographic transformations are interrelated with social change, and we develop methodological innovations to study population processes. These include the use of agent-based simulation models to study changing social roles in society, the application of Facebook data to measure fertility indicators, and the use of network theory to understand the structure of group dynamics.

Projects of this Research Area

Technology Use and Its Effects on Time-Use Patterns, Social Relationships, and Well-Being Project details
Self-Regulation and Health Behavior: How People Can Successfully Change Their Actions and Live Healthier Project details
Parental Status and Well-Being Project details
Computational, Formal, and Behavioral Modeling of Infectious Disease Dynamics Project details
Demographic Change, Climate Change, and Energy Demand Project details
The Gender Revolution and Its Effects on Family Formation and Stability Project details
Studying the Causes and Consequences of Status Differentiation Project details
Estimating Fertility Indicators Using Facebook Data Project details
Computational Analysis of the Structure and Dynamics in Networks with Negative Ties and Conflicting Relationships Project details
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.