Michael White

Professor Emeritus of Sociology

Research Interests

Demography, Migration, Urban Sociology, Social Policy, Africa


Michael White is the Robert E. Turner Distinguished Professor of Population Studies at Brown University, where he is also Professor of Sociology and Director of the initiative in Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences.  Previously at Brown, he served as Chair of the Sociology Department and as director of the Population Studies and Training Center.  White is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Honorary Research Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.  He currently serves on the advisory boards of the Asian Demographic Research Institute (Shanghai) and the Research Centre on Migration and Mobility at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  He is an associate editor of Demography.  Prior to arriving at Brown in 1989, White taught at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and was a Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

White's research covers a wide array of topics within the broad area of migration and population distribution: from urban residential segregation, to rural-urban migration in developing societies, to contemporary international migration and immigrant assimilation.  White’s publications reflect his combination of sociology, demography, and public policy interests.  He is editor of the International Handbook of Population Distribution and Migration (Springer 2016), a 26 chapter compendium of knowledge on the subject with contributions from leading scholars around the world. Other books include Achieving Anew: How New Immigrants Do in American Schools, Jobs, and Neighborhoods (with J Glick; Russell Sage 2009) and The Dynamics of Migration, Health and Livelihoods (co-edited with M Collinson, K Adazu, and S Findley; Ashgate 2009).   

Current Research:
Migration, Population Distribution, and Development
. White continues an active collaboration involving colleagues at Brown and the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. This project examines the relationships among migration, urbanization, and health outcomes in South Africa.  The project follows both residents and migrants from a rural district in northeastern South Africa.  White and his international, interdisciplinary team aim to understand the individual, household, and village level characteristics that predict migration and the nature of the links between rural original and urban destination.   Many health conditions, such as HIV/AIDS and emerging non-communicable diseases, are influenced by access to care for circulating migrants and the quality of ties between the migrant and the home community.  This work is supported by the US NIH [1R01HD083374-01A1 Migration, Urbanization and Health in a Transition Setting], the Medical Research Council of South Africa, Brown University, and the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Project Website: https://www.brown.edu/research/projects/migration-and-health/migration-and-health-follow-study-mhfus

Research under this topic also looks at the comparative adjustment of internal and international migrants to the Johannesburg region. Related work investigates the changes in residential segregation in South Africa, now 25 years after the end of apartheid. Still other related work turns to Asia, with studies of the impact of China’s extraordinary internal migration on the destination prospects of migrants and on the consequences of being left behind in the rural area. 

Selected Papers and Publications on this topic

Myroniuk, TW; White, MJ; Gross M; Wang; R; Ginsburg C; Collinson M.  2018. "Does It Take a Village? Migration among Rural South African Youth." Population Research and Policy Review: (September):1-30.


Ginsburg C [and others] 2016. “Human Capital on the Move: Education as a Determinant of Internal Migration…” Demographic Research 34:845-884.


Mberu BU; White MJ. 2011.  "Internal migration and health: Premarital sexual initiation in Nigeria" Social Science & Medicine 72(April):1284-1293.


Immigration and Ethnicity. A long-standing interest in United States immigrant adaptation led to the publication (with Jennifer E. Glick) of Achieving Anew: How New Immigrants Do in American Schools, Jobs, and Neighborhoods (Russell Sage Foundation 2009; paperback 2011), which was awarded the 2010 Otis Dudley Duncan (Book) Prize from the Population Section of the American Sociological Association. More information about the book (and an online link to the first chapter) is available at: http://www.russellsage.org/publications/books/090112.908833

White is currently extending this research on immigrant assimilation working with US longitudinal education data (with Zhen Liu, see below) to examine the influence of parent, school and community environments on immigrant achievement.  Other work in this area has examined the case of Italy (International Migration Review 2011, with N Barban), the early 20th Century United States (with E Mullen, below), and with respect to ethnic residential patterns in US cities (with A Kim, AJS, 2010. White continues to work in this topic, developing newer approaches that can reflect the increasing ethnic diversity of contemporary urban areas. 

Selected Papers and Publications on this topic

Liu Z; White MJ. 2017. “Education Outcomes of Immigrant Minority Youth: The Role of Parental Engagement.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  674:27-58


White MJ; Mullen EJ. 2016. “Socioeconomic Attainment in the Ellis Island Era.” Social Science History. 40, Spring 2016:147–181

Prior Research:
Explaining Low Fertility.
 A project led by David Kertzer (Professor of Anthropology), examined the structural and interpersonal determinants of the surprisingly persistent pattern of low birth rates in Italy.  In addition to substantive concerns with what explains low birth rates, the project advanced multi-method inquiry. For instance, project team members used text analysis software to synthesize and interpret many pages of interview transcripts with Italian respondents.  

Population and Environment. For several years White coordinated an interdisciplinary project that examined demographic change, health issues, and water quality along the coast of Ghana. Related interests and investigations are making its way into the current research project in South Africa. 

For undergraduates White has taught courses that cover both methods and substantive topics.  These include, Sociology 1100, Introduction to Socal Statistics, Sociology 0130, American Heritage: Democracy, Inequality, and Public Policy, a sociologically oriented introduction to issues of social policy; and Sociology 187K, Demographics and Development, an upper division empirically oriented seminar on contemporary population issues in both high-income and low-income societies. White’s recent graduate teaching has included Soc 2230 Techniques of Demographic Analysis and Soc 2010 Multivariate Statistics I