Texto do professor Cássio Turra com homenagem a José Alberto Magno de Carvalho publicado no site da International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP)
José Alberto Magno de Carvalho (1940 – 2020)
José Alberto Magno de Carvalho, a beloved Professor of Demography for more than 50 years, who served on the IUSSP Council as Vice President (1994-1998) and President (1998-2001), died on Oct. 27, 2020. He would be 80 on Nov. 15.
José Alberto was born in São Vicente de Minas, a small town of Minas Gerais state in Brazil’s southeast. He was the oldest of eleven surviving children. His father worked for the municipal government, making minimum. Although he faced a wide range of adversities during the first decades of life, he was talented and lucky overcoming the hard times. Born into a feverous catholic family, nephew of the town’s priest, he was admitted to a Catholic Seminary. After concluding secondary education, he migrated to Belo Horizonte, the state’s capital, to pursue his dreams. He was admitted to the School of Economics at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in 1961, one of Brazil’s best. The premature death of his father in 1965 imposed new challenges for him and his family. He became the family breadwinner, a role that he never renounced until the very end of his life. The experiences from the beginning of life shaped José Alberto’s character. He always felt responsible for the wellbeing of family members, students, and colleagues. He was optimistic, enthusiastic, and peaceful, but ever had a firm opinion.
During the 20th century, José Alberto (1940-2020), Elza Berquó (1925-), and Giorgio Mortara (1885-1967) were the most prominent demographers in Brazil. Thanks to them, Brazil has one of the most vibrant and prolific scientific communities of population studies in the world. Among these three notable scientists, José Alberto was the one who taught and mentored the largest number of students. Thousands learned economics, basic and advanced demography by taking his classes. He served as Professor at UFMG for almost 55 years. There was only a brief pause of three years, during which he attended the London School of Economics. Even after compulsory retirement at 70 (by law), he volunteered to work. In 2010, he became Emeritus Professor, teaching until his death. His passion and talent to transform complex models into simple ideas inspired all kinds of students. The quality of José Alberto’s relationships with students inside the classroom promoted curiosity and learning. He enjoyed being called by his nickname – “Zé” – for bonding with students. A day after José Alberto’s death, hundreds of touching testimonials flooded social networks. These messages reminded us of his contributions during his long and happy academic life.
The interregnum of three years in José Alberto’s teaching career was not in vain. In 1973, he became the first Brazilian to get a Ph.D. in demography. At that time, there was growing interest in regional and urban planning. Population dynamics was critical to improving analytical models. The School of Economics at UFMG decided to send José Alberto abroad to study demography. With his wife, Nazaré, and three young children, he disembarked in London in 1970. He used to tell funny stories about his adventures and misadventures as a provincial man in England. Yet, José Alberto’s academic performance at the London School of Economics (LSE) impressed other students and professors. David Glass and William Brass became his mentors. In his dissertation, he applied indirect demographic methods to Brazilian census data. He investigated regional trends in fertility, mortality, and migration between 1940 and 1970. The influence that the LSE had on his academic life was remarkable. Every graduate student of José Alberto learned Brass methods. We all became Brass fans and experts because of his classes. Thanks to the LSE heritage, formal demography has been one of Cedeplar-UFMG’s cornerstones and one of our secrets to success.
José Alberto studied demography amidst the debate about the applicability of demographic transition theory in developing countries. Mortality had started to decline decades before, and the Brazilian population was growing fast. According to the neo-Malthusian view, it was unlikely that the fertility transition would occur in a non-modern and unequal country. Thanks to society’s reaction, the idea of a national policy for controlling population growth never prospered in Brazil. Among demographers, most were fundamentally against coercive measures. However, some of them also claimed that socio-economic development was necessary for the spontaneous decline of fertility. As José Alberto argued, leftist demographers and birth controller advocates unintentionally shared the same belief. For a while, they discredited any empirical evidence that suggested a sustained reduction in the number of children. José Alberto played a crucial role in this debate. Wisely and quietly, he listened more, talked less, gathered more data, and applied demographic methods. He was the first to show that the fertility transition started in the mid-1960s, despite the socio-economic context and ideological resistance. He only regretted that he and Brass missed the boat during his Ph.D. In his dissertation, he used the P/F ratio method. The P/F ratios increased with age for some regions, suggesting a possible recent decline in fertility rates. Still, at that point, they did not believe it was a real change. After the 1970s, José Alberto reexamined fertility trends almost every year, attracting many students to the field. His research team worked on historical, regional, and subgroup analyses of fertility. They helped to show, for example, that fertility decline started as early as the 1930s, but only for some specific urban areas. He collaborated with statistical agencies, governments, and the Brazilian Bureau of Census (IBGE). José Alberto became the foremost expert in fertility measurement in Brazil.
In the 1950-1960s, demographic projections suggested that Brazil’s population growth would remain high. After fertility’s sustained decline was confirmed, future population changes became inevitable. José Alberto and the Cedeplar team worked on different national and local demographic projections. They helped IBGE improve the assumptions adopted in the official estimates. Students learned a lot from his adroit ability to predict the trajectories of the demographic variables. José Alberto never trusted unplausible results. He always demanded a meticulous examination of data and a solid understanding of demographic methods. The use of formal demography has anchored all the research carried out at Cedeplar-UFMG. It also helped to put us at the forefront of discussion on the implications of population changes in Brazil.
The contributions of José Alberto were not restricted to fertility and population changes. He published on several topics, from health and mortality to racial classifications. He engaged with students and colleagues to study migration for many years, breaking new ground in research. In Brazil, the census asks different migration questions, including the last place of residence and previous residence at a fixed date. José Alberto combined them in inventive measures to calculate more accurate migration rates. His work uncovered detailed internal migration patterns that prevailed during the second half of the last century. He also worked on international flows of migrants. In this case, the data were more deficient. José Alberto used contrafactual and reverse projections to estimate them. Among his findings, he showed a net loss of population for some of the decades after 1980. It was a surprising result for a country known for receiving people until the Second World War.
On another front, José Alberto wrote a seminal book with Charles Wood in 1988 entitled The Demography of Inequality in Brazil. The two authors combined their sociology and demography expertise to conduct the study. The book discusses and quantifies different dimensions of population and development using historical and regional perspectives. It includes chapters on population growth, mortality, fertility, urbanization, labor supply, and Amazonia’s frontier expansion. The result is a broad collection of demographic estimates by population subgroups and regions. In each chapter, sociological and historical discussions add significant substance to the statistics. Since the book’s publication, many new studies have examined socio-economic differentials in demography in Brazil. However, none of them have articulated such a vast array of results in a comprehensive and coherent analysis as Zé and Chuck did.
One of José Alberto’s primary achievements during life was to develop stable institutions. Consensus-building and focus on cohesion were his trademarks. In 1967, at the age of 27, he and another five colleagues created Cedeplar at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. The Center was initially conceived to foster research and graduate training in economics, focusing on regional development and planning. In 1975, Cedeplar started to offer a master’s degree in economics with a specialization in economic demography. To strengthen teaching and research on the new field, José Alberto and his associates hired foreign-born faculty. They also stimulated young Brazilians to attend graduate programs in demography abroad. In 1985, there was enough critical mass to offer two new degrees at the Cedeplar: master and Ph.D. in demography. Led by José Alberto, Cedeplar invested continuously in the consolidation of the graduate programs. For example, in 1987, an international meeting was organized to discuss graduate training in demography. Giants of the field attended, including Ansley Coale, William Brass, Etienne Van de Walle, and Jean Bourgeois-Pichat. In 1992, the Demography Department at UFMG was finally created. Today, more than 70 faculty members, including standing, retired members, and visitors, are associated with the Center’s graduate programs in Demography and Economics. It is a case of success in Brazil’s social sciences.
José Alberto planned the future of Cedeplar-UFMG from the very beginning. He is the founding father who stayed longest in the institution. He was director twice, totaling 17 years as the main manager of the Center. Over the years, he was central in raising national and international funding to keep the Center thriving. Also, José Alberto helped many master students get into Ph.D. programs overseas, believing that many would return to Brazil (yes, most of us did return!). He backed any initiative that could help Cedeplar engage in the international community. For example, we have trained several students from other countries in Latin America and Lusophone Africa. Cedeplar training has helped build critical mass in places where human resources were scarce. José Alberto used to say that this was a mission we could never give up.
José Alberto’s leading role in research and tertiary education was not limited to Cedeplar. He was the Dean of the School of Economics at UFMG for two mandates (1986-1990 and 2006-2010). He also served the central administration of the University in different capacities. At the national level, José Alberto created the Brazilian Association of Population Studies (ABEP) with other colleagues in 1977. He fought hard for ABEP over the decades, helping consolidate one of the world’s largest associations on population studies. José Alberto probably attended all ABEP meetings and was famous for his challenging questions and supportive comments during sections. At the closing parties, he was the top dancer. In the international arena, José Alberto participated in numerous IUSSP scientific meetings. He played a leading role in the XXIV International Population Conference organization in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil (18-24 August 2001), and also served IUSSP as a council member, Vice President (1994-1998), and President (1998-2001).
José Alberto used to say that working at Cedeplar-UFMG was vital for his survival. When he was forced to retire in 2010, he was afraid he would not be allowed to stay. However, we all loved the idea of having him in the office every day and teaching classes. He had to quit the administrative duties, which frustrated him a lot, but he adapted to his new life. In March 2020, came the Covid-19 stay-at-home order. The University was closed. He resisted for a while. In the end, after 55 years, he had to stop working in his University’s office. Some of us, including myself, called him at home many times during the quarantine. He participated in online seminars, defenses, and classes. Although he was not a technological person, he found help in his 10-year-old granddaughter, Maria Flor, to stay connected. It seemed he was adapting once again and would surpass this new obstacle in his life. Unfortunately, the quarantine was too long. After seven months, the University campus had not reopened yet. Despite all the love and care he received from his family, José Alberto had an accident at home. He went to the hospital, and after 40 days of fighting, his heart stopped. On Oct. 27, José Alberto made his last trip to his hometown, São Vicente de Minas, where he was buried next to his parents.
Zé Alberto is survived by his wife Nazaré, four children, seven grandchildren, and many generations of students. We are all very thankful for his presence in our lives.
Cássio M. Turra
Demography Department, Cedeplar, UFMG