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:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Was Queen Victoria a Malthusian?

If you are a fan of PBS's "Masterpiece Theater," as my wife and I are, then you have probably already seen the first episode of the second season of "Victoria." This series has thus far brought us into the early days of Queen Victoria's nearly 64-year reign, starting in 1837. Charles Dickens was just gaining fame, and Thomas Robert Malthus had recently died. I mention these two people because they both show up in Season 2, Episode 1, which starts in 1840 after the birth of her first child. The ladies of the court are very complimentary of Dickens' new story, "The Old Curiosity Shop." Dickens was decidedly not a Malthusian, in the sense that he did not agree with the way in which Malthus's ideas had been politicized to suggest that the government should not encourage the poor to have children. Indeed, there is a lot of discussion on the internet that Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" was deliberately anti-Malthusian and that Scrooge was Dickens' representation of Malthus.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a little later in the episode we see Queen Victoria reading aloud from Malthus' "Essay on Population," referencing the geometric growth of populations. She seems in agreement with these sentiments in the TV program, and that squares with comments by a British Historian, Stephanie Polsky, in her book "Ignoble Displacement: Dispossessed Capital in NeoDickensian London." Indeed, in one page about Victoria, Polsky brings in Malthus, Darwin, and Marx--along with Dickens. Although I don't talk about Dickens in my book, you can get more on the connections between Malthus, Darwin, and Marx in Chapter 3.

Keep in mind that one motivation of the writer(s) of "Victoria" to introduce Malthus might be that Victoria herself had children at what seems like a geometric pace--9 children in the 21 years that she and Albert were married before he died of typhoid fever. They were all married off to various European royalty and Victoria was dubbed "the grandmother of Europe." We could probably have a long discussion about whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Brazil Has Shifted Rather Dramatically to an Aging Population

Thanks to Duane Miller for linking me to a very interesting story on WorldCrunch about the way in which Brazil has quite dramatically become an aging population. This is a very predictable consequence of a rapid increase in life expectancy accompanied by a rapid decline in fertility--one that has sent birth rates below replacement level. 
While demographic trends indicate an aging population worldwide, Brazil's rate is outstanding for its speed. Countries like France, the United Kingdom and Spain, which are already known for their inhabitants' longevity, needed three times as long as Brazil to double their percentage of older population. By 2040, older people are expected to constitute one-fifth of Brazil's population, up from 10% in 2010.
Among traditional reasons given for demographic changes (fertility, mortality, migration, wars, epidemics), it is the basic fall in fertility rates and rise in life expectancy that best explain the widening of the Brazilian population pyramid. The number of children per woman has dropped significantly in recent years. In 2015 the figure was 1.7, which is considerably less than the average number of children for grandmothers two generations earlier (6.3 per woman).
Now, to be sure, the dramatic drop in fertility in Brazil has been known about for some time. I blogged about it back in 2011, for example. But, it takes any society some time to adjust to the reality of this dramatic demographic shift, and Brazil has had a variety of political and economic crises that tend to drain national attention away from the less obvious, even if dramatic, demographic trends taking place.
The demographic change is among the biggest challenges of modern Brazilian history, alongside such phenomena as accelerated urbanization and the push for universal healthcare and education. The challenge is multiplied by the fact that no government targets can alter its progression. The country needs to design appropriate public policies and create institutions and infrastructures to meet the needs of a growing number of "grandparents" populating the country's cities and countryside. These are long-term challenges that require a serious and rapid response from both the political class and society as a whole.
Every society undergoing a rapid decline in fertility needs to know these things, but most seem to ignore them until the demographic transition becomes the demographic crisis.