Alan Booth, distinguished sociologist, dies at 80

Alan Booth, distinguished professor emeritus of sociology, human development, and demography at Penn State, died Dec. 23 at the age of 80.

Booth grew up in East Aurora, New York and earned his bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in 1958. He went on to earn a master of arts from UCLA in 1960, and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Nebraska in 1966.

He became a member of the sociology faculty at Nebraska and held the position of department chair; he was also director of the Bureau of Sociological Research and played a key role in expanding its reach and visibility. From 1972 to 1974, he was a senior researcher in the Canadian Ministry of State for Urban Affairs.

Booth came to Penn State in 1991 as a professor and was named a distinguished professor in 2000. He authored more than 100 articles and several books during his illustrious career. His most recent book, published by Harvard University Press in 2007, "Alone Together: How Marriage in America is Changing," was co-authored with his friends and colleagues David Johnson, Paul Amato and Stacy Rogers Silver.

“Alan was one of the top family sociologists of his generation,” Amato said. “Among other topics, he made landmark contributions to the study of marital quality and divorce.”

Booth also established and co-organized an annual symposium on the family that continues to attract scholars and policymakers from all over the United States: The Annual Symposium on Family Issues, now funded in part by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is in its 24th year. The edited series of volumes from the previous 23 symposia has been a major contributor to the annals of children, youth, and family research.

Booth co-edited the series with a number of Penn State colleagues, including long-time friend Nan Crouter. Crouter, the Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Shultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, recaled, “Alan was a widely respected expert on families who loved diving into interesting data and exploring new ideas.”

In recent years, Booth turned his attention to bio-social research; his work on the impact of hormones on behavior was particularly influential.  One of his collaborators in this research -- Susan McHale, distinguished professor of human development and family studies and director of the Social Science Research Institute—noted that, “Alan was a pioneer in research aimed at illuminating the role of bio-social processes in family dynamics.  His studies of the role of sex hormones in marital and parenting processes, for example, are some of the first in the field.” 

Some of Booth’s other notable professional accomplishments included serving as editor of the Journal of Marriage and the Family from 1986 to 1991; earning Penn State’s Faculty Scholar Medal in the Social and Behavioral Sciences in 1995; and, receiving the American Sociological Association Family Section Distinguished Career Award in 2002. Booth retired in 2014.

Booth and his wife Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, initiated numerous leadership gifts to the University during Penn State’s For the Future campaign. Their philanthropy established endowments to support current research and professional development activities for graduate students in the liberal arts and for graduate and undergraduate students in sociology.

“Alan was a committed faculty colleague and friend as well as a valued mentor to so many of our students over the years,” said John Iceland, professor and head of the Department of Criminology and Sociology.  “His incredible generosity to the department and the college will support the work and development of our students for years to come. “

Friends, family, and colleagues are invited to a memorial celebration of Booth’s life to be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday Feb. 13, in Robb Hall at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. Memorial contributions to support the Alan Booth Graduate Student Award/ Research Fund in Sociology can be made to 001 Old Main, Penn State, University Park, PA 16802.

Last Updated January 18, 2016