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Karen Woodrow-Lafield Ph.D.

Karen Woodrow-Lafield, Ph.D.

Independent Researcher

Maryland Population Research Center
2105 Morrill Hall
College Park , MD 20742


  1. 1984 Ph.D., Sociology, The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dissertation: “Fertility and Marital Dissolution Among Young American Women” (Chairman: Robert Schoen)
  2. 1976 M.A., Sociology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Rural and Urban Patterns of Marriage, Divorce, and Mortality: Tennessee, 1970” (Chairman: Donald W. Hastings)
  3. 1972 B.A., Administration of Criminal Justice, University of Illinois, Chicago. Honors in Liberal Arts and Sciences


Karen Woodrow-Lafield, Faculty Affiliate in the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland College Park, is an American sociologist who has served on the faculties of Mississippi State University and the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests are international migration, immigrant integration and the transition to naturalized citizenship, population and immigration policy, and survey approaches in studying migration. She was previously a principal immigration demographer on the Population Analysis Staff of the U.S. Census Bureau. During 1995-1997, she was a member of the Quantification Team on the Mexico-United States Binational Migration Study for the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. In 2010-2011, she served among distinguished economists, actuaries, and demographers appointed by the Social Security Advisory Board for the 2011 Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods, the fourth expert Panel since 1999. She is a member of the Population Association of America, past president of the Southern Demographic Association, and past elected member to the Council for the International Migration section of the American Sociological Association.


For three decades, Woodrow-Lafield has published on the quantification of U.S. immigration—lawful immigration, net unauthorized migration, and emigration. With J.G. Robinson, B. Ahmed, and P. Das Gupta, she coauthored the demographic analysis of 1990 census coverage by age, sex, and race (Journal of the American Statistical Association 1993), in addition to authoring three reports in the 1990 Census Preliminary Research and Evaluation Memoranda series. She coauthored (with J.S. Passel) two often-cited articles on the geographic distribution of unauthorized residents counted in the 1980 Census and net population change in the 1980s (International Migration Review 1984, 1987), and a chapter in Undocumented Migration to the United States: IRCA and the Experience of the 1980s (F.D. Bean, B. Edmonston, and J.S. Passel, eds., 1990). Her research has addressed the consequences of legalization policies for transitions to lawful status (Population Research and Policy Review 1992) and family reunification (U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform 1994). With F.D. Bean, R. Corona, R.R. Tuirán, and J. van Hook, she coauthored an article arguing there were likely 8 to 9 million unauthorized residents in 2000-2001 (Demography 2001). She published another on implications for post-2000 congressional apportionment of higher net immigration, likely higher net unauthorized immigration, than allowed in census population programs (Population Research and Policy Review 2001).

For a chapter in Hidden Lives and Human Rights in the United States (L. A. Lorentzen, ed., 2014), she reviewed recent estimates of unauthorized residents and contrasted with estimates as of 1980, noting more settled, older, and more dispersed characteristics recently. She coauthored the 2011 Technical Panel Report to the Social Security Advisory Board, contributing the chapter on assumptions and methods related to future immigration in the actuarial population projections. The recommendations were that net immigration should be linked to population size and the intermediate ultimate assumption should be at a more moderate level than the higher immigration implied by the 2007 Technical Panel’s recommendation. Such a change would still allow for higher immigration beyond 2025 than the Social Security Trustees Reports based on steadily declining unauthorized migration. The 2011 TPAM recommendations as to immigration assumptions were incorporated for the National Academy of Sciences panel report (2012) Aging and the Macroeconomy: Long-Term Implications of an Older Population. She reviewed census analysis of migration for her chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Migration Studies, Second Edition (S.J. Gold and S.J. Nawyn eds., 2019). With Arnold Dashefsky, Woodrow-Lafield coauthored Americans Abroad: A Comparative Study of Emigrants from the United States, Second Edition, 2020, Springer, and the introductory chapter “A Twenty-First Century Introduction to Americans Abroad.”
Woodrow-Lafield was Principal Investigator on an NICHD-funded project (1998-2003) to examine the timing of immigrant naturalization with multi-cohort linked immigrant and naturalization records. She published an article that analyzed origin differentials as to incorporation as citizens by admission category as indicative of human capital and social capital (Population Research and Policy Review 2004). That project serves as an example for a comprehensive immigration-naturalization data archive. Woodrow-Lafield has continuing research interests in immigrant naturalization, the dynamics of return migration and emigrant populations, assessing net unauthorized migration, survey research in minority and immigrant communities, and modeling the contribution of immigration to U.S. population growth and impacts upon financing social security programs.