Population Dynamics Branch (PDB)

Demographic graphOverview/Mission

PDB supports research, data collection, and research training in demography, reproductive health, and population health.

In demography, the branch supports research on the scientific study of human populations, including fertility, pregnancy outcomes, mortality and morbidity (especially maternal, infant, child, adolescent, and young adult mortality and morbidity), migration, population distribution, population stratification (including disparities based on race, ethnicity, sex/gender, and age), nuptiality, family demography, population growth and decline, and the causes and consequences of demographic change.

In reproductive health, the branch supports behavioral and social science research on family planning, infertility, and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.

In population health, the branch supports research on how demographic, social, economic, institutional, geographic, and other factors influence human health, productivity, behavior, and development, with an emphasis on research using population-representative data and natural and policy experiments using methods addressing selection and other sources of bias. Research at multiple levels of analysis, involving interdisciplinary perspectives, incorporating social determinants of health, and elucidating mechanisms leading to health disparities are encouraged.

We are interested in applications that align with the following research priorities. For more information about NICHD’s research themes, cross-cutting topics, and aspirational goals, visit the plan’s Scientific Research Themes and Objectives.

Disparities in Maternal and Infant Morbidity and Mortality

Strategic Plan Theme 3: Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness
Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topics: Disease Prevention, Health Disparities

Gap: Maternal and infant morbidity and mortality are higher in the United States than in other economically developed countries. In addition, in the United States, maternal and infant morbidity and mortality differ significantly by maternal race and ethnicity, age, economic status, educational attainment, immigration status, and geographic location. While recent scientific research has uncovered many of the medical conditions associated with maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, significant research gaps remain in understanding the effects of the non-medical factors affecting maternal and infant health.

Priority: Support research on the social determinants of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. PDB encourages research to identify the major social, behavioral, economic, and geographic factors that influence levels, trends, and disparities in maternal and infant health. PDB also encourages research to identify the pathways through which social determinants affect maternal and infant health, such as interactions between social and environmental exposures and maternal genetic characteristics, and the mediating and moderating effects of family and community. In addition to the socioeconomic and geographic factors listed in the preceding “Gap” section, social determinants of interest include family structure and resources, direct and indirect maternal exposure to violence, paternal characteristics and behavior, maternal characteristics and exposures prior to pregnancy, and access to and quality of medical care. 

Interactions Between Biological and Environmental Factors Affecting Human Health and Development

Strategic Plan Theme 3: Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness
Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topics: Disease Prevention, Health Disparities

Gap: There is scarce attention to interactions between biological factors, including genes, and the external environment on later development and health using unbiased, sufficiently powered samples.

Priority: Research focused on the effects of interactions between biological factors, including genetic factors, and environmental exposures on human health and development across the life course and across generations. Environmental exposures include not only the physical environment, but also exposures caused by social, economic, and policy environments. There is a need to study biological/environmental interactions affecting normal and abnormal development, effects of positive and negative exposures during childhood and adolescence, timing of puberty and reproduction, the ability to become pregnant and achieve a successful pregnancy, and maternal health during and after pregnancy.

Health, Disease, and Development Across the Lifespan

Strategic Plan Theme 3: Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness
Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topics: Disease Prevention, Health Disparities

Gap: Although there are several models of how positive and negative exposures affect health and development across the lifespan, there is limited research on critical periods, identifying which exposures are critical at specific points in development and the additive and interactive effects of these exposures. Research that relies on reports of earlier life events from individuals with a given disease or condition is subject to recall bias and fails to provide appropriate comparison groups. The extent to which differences in early exposures explain racial/ethnic and health disparities is currently unknown.

Priority: Prospective, longitudinal data collection and data analysis of population-representative samples based on cohorts starting in pregnancy through the reproductive ages. Research is needed to evaluate how early positive and negative exposures—directly, indirectly, and in interaction with biological factors—affect health and development across the life course. Research should focus on early life factors affecting normal and abnormal development, effects of positive and negative exposures during childhood and adolescence, timing of puberty and reproduction, the ability to become pregnant and achieve a successful pregnancy, and maternal health during and after pregnancy.

Contraceptive Use and Non-Use

Strategic Plan Theme 2: Promoting Gynecologic, Andrologic, and Reproductive Health
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topic: Health Disparities

Gap: In the United States, the proportion of pregnancies that are unintended—either mistimed or unwanted—was 45% in 2011, substantially higher than the rate for other industrialized countries. Most unintended pregnancies in the United States occur because women and their partners either do not use contraception or they use it incorrectly or inconsistently; very few result from contraceptive failure. Despite recent improvements, unintended pregnancy rates are higher among racial and ethnic minorities, low-income women, and women with low levels of education.

Priority: Research that identifies and addresses factors affecting the non-use or ineffective use of contraception among individuals who are sexually active but do not currently desire a pregnancy. A priority is to advance research focusing on understanding and reducing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in unintended pregnancy rates.

  • Rebecca Clark, Branch Chief
    Main Research Areas: Data (data sharing and big data); gene x environment, epigenetics, biomarkers (behavioral); life course health (developmental origins and early predictors of health); migration and immigration, spatial demography, and GIS; training in population dynamics/demography (institutional); centers (research infrastructure for population dynamics/demography); reproductive health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS (behavioral)
  • Regina Bures, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Data (data sharing and big data); family demography, nuptiality (statistical analysis and trends); health economics, population economics, and economic demography; life course health (developmental origins and early predictors of health); migration and immigration, spatial demography, and GIS; training in population dynamics/demography (institutional)
  • Juanita Chinn, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Demography of health and health disparities; mortality, including maternal and infant mortality; causes and consequences of changes in population composition, including changes in the race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, age, and sex structure of populations
  • Dominique Davis, Staff Assistant
  • Tracy Hepburn, Program Analyst
  • Rosalind King, Program Director and NICHD Associate Director for Prevention
    Main Research Areas: Adoption; fertility (statistical analysis of pregnancies and births, trends); gene-environment, epigenetics, biomarkers (behavioral); infertility (statistical analysis and trends); life course health (developmental origins and early predictors of health); reproductive health and STIs including HIV/AIDS (behavioral); career development in population dynamics/demography (individual); centers (research infrastructure for population dynamics/demography)
  • Ronna Popkin, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Sexual and reproductive health (contraception, STIs including HIV/AIDS (behavioral), and public health interventions and programs); sexual behavior; fertility (trends and statistical analyses of pregnancies and births); sex and gender minority health (statistical analyses or behavioral); qualitative research methods

Highlight

News Release: NIH announces winners of data challenge to identify risk factors for first-time pregnancies. Awarded projects of the Decoding Maternal Morbidity Data Challenge seek to reduce pregnancy complications and prevent maternal deaths.

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