Peter J. Donaldson

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Peter J. Donaldson
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New York City
CitizenshipUnited States Of America
Alma mater
  • Fordham University
  • Mahidol University

Peter J. Donaldson, (born 1944) is an American demographer whose research and institutional leadership in contraceptive use and fertility has made a significant contribution to global family planning policy, girls’ education, and HIV prevention, especially in developing countries. Donaldson served as president of two major population organizations – Population Reference Bureau and Population Council – in addition to several posts at research institutions in the United States and abroad. In his book, Nature Against Us: the United States and the world population crisis, 1965-1980[1], Donaldson probes the efforts of American institutions, both public and private, to slow population growth that was contributing to poverty, disease, and the continued secondary status for women and girls in the developing world. These efforts started a contraceptive revolution that has provided women across the developing world more control over their reproductive choices, and which had the effect of reducing birth rates, resulting in the economic benefit known as the demographic dividend. In a 1991 article in Contemporary Sociology[2], Kurt W. Back wrote “Donaldson makes an important contribution to the history of population problems as well as examining the political process, domestic as well as worldwide."

With an early education in the Jesuit tradition, in a paper published in Population Studies, American Catholicism and the International Family Planning Movement,[3] Donaldson also explores the American Catholic Church’s role in the international family planning movement including the Church’s theological positions as well as its jurisdictional dispute over how and by whom family life is to be governed.

Education and early career

Donaldson was born 1944 in New York City. Donaldson grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s Degree in Sociology at Fordham University and in 1972 was awarded his doctoral degree from Brown University also in Sociology. In 1971, as a Fredrickson Overseas Population Fellow (funded by the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) Donaldson began work at the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR) at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. His work there focused on increasing access to family planning services in Thailand. (Donaldson was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mahidol University in 2010.) [4] In 1973, Donaldson joined the Population Council in Bangkok and was assigned to the Family Health Division of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, and in 1975 was transferred by the Council to Soul Korea to conduct research at the Korea Institute for Family Planning (now the Ministry of Health and Welfare (South Korea)). In a move that would expand Donaldson’s international experience, in 1977 he accepted a position with the International Fertility Research Program (now FHI 360) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where he ultimately was appointed to have oversight for coordination of FHI’s international fertility and family planning research activities. His work there also included development and funding activities in support of the research.

Leadership in research and policy development

In 1985, Donaldson moved to the National Academies’ National Research Council in Washington D.C. to assume directorship of the Committee on Population. A critical outcome of this Committee was an influential work on the social and health consequences of high fertility rates in developing countries, Contraception and Reproduction: Health Consequences for Women and Children in the Developing World. [5]. Returning to the Population Council in Bangkok in 1989 as regional director, Donaldson oversaw a substantial growth in Council projects in Indonesia and Vietnam, and the establishment of new offices in the Philippines, India and Pakistan. Donaldson’s next leadership opportunity came in 1994 when he returned to Washington D.C. to accept the presidency of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) where he served until 2003 when he returned to the Population Council as director of the International Programs Division, and, in 2005, was appointed the Council’s president. Throughout it’s almost seventy year history, The Population Council has conducted research in family planning, women’s reproductive health, fertility and contraception with the goal of partnering with the institutions of developing countries to apply research findings to health policies. During Peter Donaldson’s presidency, research continued to focus on reproductive health, as well as the related areas of adolescent health and development, and the prevention of transmission of the HIV virus. Critical achievements of the Population Council under Donaldson’s leadership included: 1) edited and made significant contributions to Growing up Global [6], a publication focused on the transition to adulthood; 2) completion of a Phase 3 clinical trial of a 1-year contraceptive vaginal system (now marketed in the US under the brand name Annovera) that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of this novel contraceptive [7] 3) contributions to national HIV/AIDS strategies in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia on the health needs of men who have sex with men; 4) implementation of a model birth-spacing project in Pakistan demonstrating significant reductions in maternal and infant mortality; 5) the adoption of magnesium sulfate by the government of Nigeria for the treatment of deadly eclampsia in pregnant women; 6) demonstration of an evidence-based approach to delaying the age of child marriage in Ethiopia showing that girls ages 15-17 were 2/3 less likely to be married at the endline of the project vs. girls at the baseline [8]; 7) the publication of It’s All in One Curriculum, a resource that puts gender and power at the center of sexuality education now in use by over 150 organizations world-wide; 8) development of an antiretroviral gel designed to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV. [9] Clinical trials were conducted on the antiretroviral gel, Population Council in 2007. Although the results of the trials did not show that the Population Council was effective against the HIV virus, they did confirm that the gel was safe, and much was learned about product development, the design of the clinical trial, and participants’ willingness to use a gel for this purpose. [10]

Peter Donaldson retired from the Population Council in 2014.

Donaldson served on the Boards of the Population Reference Bureau Population Council, the Population Association of America,[11] and Humentum. ([12]12)

Personal Life

Donaldson, an only child, is married to Nancy Donaldson, with whom he has three children, Jeanne, John, and Marie. He is currently retired, living in Virginia.


  • Peter J. Donaldson (1988) American Catholicism and the International Family Planning Movement, Population Studies, 42:3, 367-373, DOI: 10.1080/0032472031000143526
  • Peter J. Donaldson (1990) On the Origins of the United States Government's International Population Policy,Population Studies, 44:3, 385-399, DOI: 10.1080/0032472031000144816
  • Mastroianni, Luigi; Donaldson, Peter J.; Kane, Thomas T. (15 February 1990). "Development of Contraceptives — Obstacles and Opportunities". New England Journal of Medicine. pp. 482–484. doi:10.1056/NEJM199002153220732.</ref>
  • Donaldson, Peter J., and Charles B. Keely. “Population and Family Planning: An International Perspective.” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 20, no. 6, 1988, pp. 307–320. JSTOR, Accessed 4 June 2020.
  • Donaldson, P. and G. McNicoll (2012), "Repositioning population research and policy in Asia: New issues and new opportunities", Asia-Pacific Population Journal, vol. 27/1,
  • Donaldson, P.J. Modernizing family planning. Society 25, 11–17 (1988).


  1. Donaldson, Peter J. (1990). Nature Against Us: The United States and the World Population Crisis, 1965-1980. University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC).
  2. Black, Kurt W. (July 1991). "Review of Nature Against Us: The United States and the World Population Crisis, 1965-1980". Contemporary Sociology. July 1991: 588–589.
  3. Donaldson, Peter J. "American Catholicism and the International Family Planning Movement". Population Studies. Vol. 42, No. 3: 367–373. {{cite journal}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. "Congratualtions". Mahidol.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. National Research Council (US), Committee on Population (1989). "Contraception and Reproduction: Health Consequences for Women and Children in the Developing World". National Academies Press (US).{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. "Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries". National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2005 – via National Academies Press.
  7. "FDA approves new vaginal ring for one year birth control". August 10, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. "New research from the Population Council shows child marriage can be delayed". Population Council.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. Population Council/About/Timeline. "Population Council". Population Council.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. "Cream to prevent HIV safe, but not effective: study". Reuters. February 18, 2008.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. "Peter J. Donaldson". Population Association of America.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. "Peter J. Donaldson". Humentum.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)


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