This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Can Movies and TV Programs Lower Egypt's Fertility?

Fertility has been going up, not down, in Egypt over the past few years, as I have blogged about twice over the past two years (here and here). A paper just published in Demographic Research by researchers at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna analyzes the available data--especially from the Demographic and Health Surveys--and comes to the following conclusion:
We find that well-educated women between 20 and 29 years lack labour market opportunities. They may have preponed their fertility. Fertility could start declining again once the labour market situation for women has improved. On the other hand, the family model of three children is still widespread in the country.
I admit that I have never used the word "prepone", but it is the opposite of "postpone" and it makes sense in this usage. In a footnote in the paper, the authors indicate that the Egyptian government was trying to figure out what to do in order to lower the birth rate. My thanks to Abu Daoud who found a story about one of the things being tried--movies and TV programs.
In announcing the results of Egypt's 2017 census on Sept. 30, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also identified major issues surrounding the population that has grown past 100 million: early marriage, insufficient housing and, most important, overpopulation. He said, “We must face these flaws in society in collaboration with civil society and media.” His reference to the media gave newspapers and websites the green light to analyze the potential of the media as well as the film industry in confronting overpopulation in the country.
Overpopulation and problems associated with it, such as higher costs of living and uncontrolled urbanization, have long been on the agenda of the Egyptian cinema, along with issues that are hampering the lowering of birth rates, such as a rejection of birth control.
One of the challenges here is that the government has to back up any influence that the media might have by making family planning programs readily available to couples. And, of course, there has to be recognition that getting women back to work is a key element in lowering fertility. Even in urban areas, fertility remains higher than one might expect. More than a decade ago, my colleagues and I published an article on fertility in Cairo, in which we noted that:
Fertility transitions are historically thought to have started in cities and then spread to the rest of the country. This would suggest that in Egypt we would find that Cairo was well ahead of the rest of the nation in its fertility transition. The data suggest otherwise and highlight the fact that many parts of Cairo are still experiencing high levels of fertility.
There is still a long way to go to lower fertility in Egypt, but the country desperately needs to slow that pace as soon as possible--since it is, among other things, a nation facing potential water scarcity and the dangers associated with that. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Demographics of Water Scarcity

Many thanks to the folks at Population Matters for pointing to a report detailing the impact of water scarcity on youth unemployment and migration. The story comes from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and refers to analyses recently undertaken by UNESCO's World Water Assessment Program.
It finds close links between the impacts of water scarcity and migration patterns in regional hotspots including in the African, Mediterranean, South Asian and East Asian regions. The report also shows that water availability and quality impacts both youth employment and social stability.
The publication finds that growing climate variability affects water resources and the availability of jobs for youth, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. While the jobs most affected by water scarcity are in agriculture, other affected sectors include animal husbandry and fisheries. Populations migrate as a way of adapting to the lack of both water and employment opportunities.
The story has a link to a downloadable version of the report, which seems well-researched and referenced. Although it is not emphasized in the report, we know that the underlying problem here is population growth. With respect to Northern Africa, for example, the report highlights the propensity for conflict in places like MENA (see the map below) where water scarcity is combined with rapid population growth:
The figure also shows the hotspots of water-related disputes in the Mediterranean and North Africa (MENA) region, e.g. Jordan River, the control of the water resources of the Golan Heights or of the Litany River (Chazournes et al., 2013). Other conflicts among riparian countries are related to the allocation of the water from the Nile (Veilleux, 2015) and the downstream impacts of the Turkish Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) (Hommes et al., 2016). Often, these conflicts are caused by the high and intensive use of water in agriculture (in 2000, amounting to 63-79% of total water usage in North Africa) in a context of endemic water scarcity, which leaves other sectors and household water scarce. Notwithstanding, food security is in peril as population growth – coupled with constantly decreasing water flows since the 1960s – has in fact required an ever growing water usage in agriculture. The current situation is symptomatic of a low-adaptive capacity to climate change (Brauch, 2011).

Keep in mind that people have been thinking about these connections for a long time. In particular, I have mentioned in Chapter 1 of my book, as well as in blog posts, that Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes has linked water scarcity and population growth to the civil war still going on in Syria.