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:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why are People Left Behind in Modern Society?

The general sentiment that I have seen regarding Donald Trump's election is that many people in America are feeling left behind and felt as though nobody in the current government was doing anything about that. Part of the explanation for people being left behind is, indeed, because many manufacturing jobs have been sent off to developing countries where wages are much lower and where, in general, environmental regulations and other worker and consumer protections are not built into the cost of manufacturing. The result is actually good for people because the increased availability of affordable consumer goods in this and other countries essentially raises everyone's standard of living since things are cheaper to purchase than they used to be. The availability of these cheap imported goods is the secret behind the amazing success of the Walton family--Wal-Mart opened its first store in 1962, shortly before the globalization of the labor market really took off. 

At the same time, however, manufacturing actually continued unabated in the U.S., but automation is replacing workers, as demonstrated by a Washington Post article intriguingly headlined "A single chart everybody needs to look at before Trump's big fight over bringing back American jobs..." The graph is from a report by researchers at the Brookings Institution and makes the point that "U.S. factories now manufacture twice as much as they did in 1984, with one-third fewer workers." Here's the graph:

The workplace is different than it used to be and people (including society in general) have to respond. But it is hard when there are obstacles to social mobility and employment success. The biggest obstacle, according to two new studies (adding fuel to a long-running hypothesis) is the family into which a child is born. A report out from the National Academy of Sciences concludes that "Parenting Matters."
From birth, children are learning and rely on parents and the other caregivers in their lives to protect and care for them. The impact of parents may never be greater than during the earliest years of life, when a child’s brain is rapidly developing and when nearly all of her or his experiences are created and shaped by parents and the family environment.
And a study out of Stanford University's Center on Poverty and Inequality shows that the U.S. and U.K. lag behind other culturally similar countries in ways that limit a child's chances of social mobility. The Financial Times summarizes the situation as follows:
Median family income was higher for rich families and lower for poor ones in the US and the UK than in Australia and Canada. In low-income families, the proportion where the mother was in poor health was far higher in the UK and US. 
The percentage of children born to a teenage mother was strikingly higher in poorer families in the US and significantly higher in the UK than in Canada or Australia.
In other words, we start out with too much income inequality (exactly as Thomas Picketty has famously talked about), but then compound that with high levels of out-of-wedlock births which lead to limited means available for children's development, not to mention the limitations that this places on the mother herself. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Many of China's Missing Girls May Not be Missing After All

A widely researched aspect of China's one-child policy, implemented back in 1979, was the rise in the sex ratio at birth. Census data revealed that there were far fewer girls at the youngest ages than you would have otherwise expected. The likely explanation seemed to be that millions of female fetuses had been aborted, or even that female infanticide was being practiced. While some of that probably did happen, a paper just published in the journal China Quarterly, suggests that many of these girls were in fact born, but were not registered until later--often years later. This was made possible largely through the complicity of local officials, largely in rural areas of China. The Washington Post has a summary, quoting John Kennedy at the University of Kansas, one of the study's authors:
“Most people are using a demographic explanation to say that abortion or infanticide are the reasons they don't show up in the census and that they don't exist. But we find there is a political explanation.” Local officials, they argue, were complicit in the concealment to retain support from villagers, and maintain social stability. “There is no coordination between cadres saying 'we're all in agreement,'” Kennedy said. “Actually it's just very local. The people who are implementing these policies work for the government in a sense. They are officials, but they are also villagers, and they have to live in the village where they are implementing policies.”
The authors first formed this idea back in 1996, but since one of the authors (Yaojiang Shi) is at a university in China, it was politically too risky until very recently to broach the subject publicly. The authors analyze age cohort data for older ages to show that, after accounting for probabilities of death, the sex ratios at older ages are closer than would be expected based on the highly skewed sex ratios at birth based on registered births. Parents were eventually paying the fine for the child so that she could attend school and eventually marry. Without her hukou registration, these things would not be possible.

These practices shed sad light on gender inequality in China. As the authors note in their paper: "This is associated with the virilocal marriage system whereby girls are raised by their natal family but then live with their husband’s family after marriage. Traditionally, daughters are considered to be 'born into another’s family.' As a result, there is no social or economic incentive for families, especially in the countryside, to have daughters." On the other hand, the acknowledgement that many of these missing girls aren't actually missing is good news for a government that has effectively ended the one-child policy in order to boost the age structure at the younger ages. And it means that the marriage for Chinese men may not be as bad as had been perceived, at least not in rural areas.