Zhenchao Qian

Professor of Sociology
Zhenchao Qian
Professor of Sociology
Photo: Mike Cohea/Brown University
Zhenchao Qian studies social demography, family structure, and the dynamics of social change. China, which is in the midst of generational changes that challenge many traditions and structures, is a prominent case study.

Demography was a natural career choice for Zhenchao Qian. He’s enjoyed studying and analyzing data on individuals and society since he worked at a local census bureau in his native China as well as with international organizations that took surveys on women’s fertility behaviors and intentions during enforcement of one-child-per-family policy in China. It was through this work that Qian became deeply interested in data analysis and what data can reveal about individuals, families, and society.

He realized that he could put his interests to use as a demographer and sociologist and moved to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Ph.D. in sociology and demography.

Qian has spent the past 20 years doing research in social demography. He’s published dozens of articles and book chapters, with much of his work focused on family structure.

“I try to look into families to understand society,” Qian says.

Some of his more recent research has focused on increases in interracial marriage and what that structure might say about changes in racial dynamics in the United States. He’s also looked at how couples pair off by education level and how pairing preferences and partner availabilities by education level might inform broader social stratification.

Inequality is another research topic of Qian’s and one that he believes is particularly relevant.

“I think a lot of inequalities start in families. There are differences between those with resources and those without resources and, with structural opportunities and constraints, you can start to see how kids are shaped into different social statuses that lead to the differences we see as they become adults.”

Qian, an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the Sociological Research Association, comes to Brown from the Ohio State University, where he was chair of the Department of Sociology. He begins work at Brown this fall as a professor of sociology and will also have an affiliation with the Population Studies and Training Center, where he’s looking forward to working with the faculty and graduate students.

“I enjoy working with students and it is really one of the motivations for me to come here to Brown,” Qian says.

Qian will also work with undergraduate students in the classes on interracial marriage and immigration that he’s scheduled to teach this year. In the fall, he’ll also lead a graduate-level course on causal analysis.

Qian is also visiting scholar at Fudan University in China, and he will continue to do research after beginning work at Brown. China is undergoing a major generational shift in marriage preferences, with many men marrying women of a higher educational status than their parents’ generation would have chosen, making it a particularly exciting time for demographers to study in China, Qian says.

“There’s a collision of tradition versus rapid change. You have their parents who still have their old way of thinking versus today’s younger generation that is immersed with technology and ideas that affect the marriage markets. That’s really interesting to see two segments of the population with that tension.”