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Karen Guzzo
Ph.D., Professor, Sociology
Director, Carolina Population Center
Curriculum Vitae
Google Scholar Profile

As a family demographer, I study family formation behaviors in the United States. Much of my work examines trends and patterns in childbearing goals and behaviors, primarily using survey data. I'm interested in whether and when people have children and under what circumstances - and the factors that influences childbearing attitudes, preferences, and behaviors. I also study changes in relationship formation and stability - why people do, or do not, date, live with a partner, or get married, and the stability of relationships among individuals and across cohorts over time.

Dr. Guzzo is an expert on trends and differentials in U.S. fertility preferences and fertility behaviors, such as delayed childbearing and childlessness, fertility intentions, nonmarital fertility, and childbearing across partnerships. Using survey data and vital statistics data, her work takes a reproductive career approach, which grounds childbearing behaviors both in the larger life course and in relation to individuals’ past and future childbearing goals and behaviors. For instance, her work shows that women with one unintended birth are more likely to experience subsequent unintended births, that an unintended birth is linked to later contraceptive behaviors, and that having an unintended birth increases the chances of having births with more than one partner.

Much of her work focuses on the challenges of measurement of family behaviors. Surveys typically include questions that ask individuals about their past childbearing, cohabitation, and marriage behaviors and their future plans, yet issues of question wording, respondent recall, and social desirability may influence the reliability and accuracy of people’s reports. Dr. Guzzo’s work has delved extensively into how demographers measure concepts such intended fertility or identify different family forms such as stepfamilies or families that span households.

Other work links fertility behaviors to relationship stability; for instance, her research shows couples who have an unintended birth have a higher risk of breaking up. Dr. Guzzo’s work linking childbearing to relationships is part of her broader attention to trends in union formation and stability as well as research on how individuals across the life course think about relationships. Delays in marriage and the rise in nonmarriage, along with the high prevalence of cohabitation and new relationship types such as “living apart together,” mean that the landscape of how individuals engage in intimate relationships in contemporary societies is constantly involving. 

Dr. Guzzo’s journey to becoming a population scientist began here at UNC. She received her PhD in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill and was a predoctoral trainee at CPC. After finishing her PhD, she did postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to returning to UNC in '22, she spent several years at Bowling Green State University, where she served as the Director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research. Guzzo is an active member of the family and demography scholarly communities. She currently serves on the Population Association of America's Board of Director and as a Deputy Editor for Demography. She is on the American Sociological Association’s council for the Sociology of the Family section and, beginning in fall '24, will serve as the Chair for the Population section council. She previously served on the Board of Directors for the National Council on Family Relations. Dr. Guzzo is also on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Marriage and Family, the Journal of Family Theory & Review, and Family Transitions as well as the American Sociological Association's Rose Series in Sociology. 

Associated Projects

Associated Research Themes