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Stephan Thernstrom (born November 5, 1934) is the Winthrop Research Professor of History at Harvard University. and was the editor of the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups.
Thernstrom was born and raised in Port Huron, Michigan. His father was the son of a Swedish-born immigrant laborer. His family later moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. Thernstrom received his bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Thernstom held faculty appointments at Harvard University, Brandeis University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He returned to Harvard with an appointment as full professor in 1973. From 1978 to 1979 Thernstrom was Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge.
He is the author of several books including Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in the 19th Century. He also co-authored with his wife Abigail Thernstrom No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. Their writings have been awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History, Waldo G. Leland Prize, R.R. Hawkins Award, 2004 Peter Shaw Memorial Award given by National Association of Scholars, and the Fordham Foundation Prize and 2997 Bradley Foundation prizes for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement.
Thernstrom is a neoconservative thinker. He was raised in a strong liberal tradition, as was his wife, Abigail. They argue that the left, not they, changed. They reject the policies of race preferences and argue that such policies mainly lead to higher dropout rates among African Americans in colleges.
Thernstrom married Abigail in 1958. They have two children, one of whom is Melanie Thernstrom.