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:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Birth Rate is Up in Switzerland; Down in the U.S.

It's not every day that the news from Switzerland is that the birth rate is going up. But, thanks to my son, John Weeks, for linking me to a story from there showing that there were more births in Switzerland last year than in any year since 1972!
The FSO said the increase was due to the growing number of babies born to foreign parents. However, it said it would be wrong to speak of a baby boom. Rather it was connected to the increase in the number of women of childbearing age in the country. The average number of children per woman was unchanged at 1.5 while the average age for giving birth for the first time was slightly higher than in 2015, at 30.8 years.
In fact, the total fertility rate in Switzerland has hovered right around 1.5 children per woman since the mid-1970s, according to UN data, so this is interesting news, but not too breathtaking.

Meanwhile, back here in the U.S., Justin Stoler sent me a link to a Washington Post story decrying the decline in the number of births in the U.S. 
According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1 percent from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The trend is being driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings. The birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased — but not enough to make up for the lower numbers in their younger peers.
Now, the headline for this story indicates that "some demographers are freaking out." The reporter interviews only two demographers, however, and neither is freaking out. Donna M. Strobino, a professor of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health notes that the drop in births to younger women is a good thing, not a bad thing, as I have noted before.

The other person quoted in the story is William Frey from the Brookings Institution:
William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, points out that despite the recent decline, the U.S. fertility rate still remains relatively high compared to many other developed countries like Germany and Italy. The United States also still has more births than deaths. And we still have a growing labor force. All these things mean, he said, “I don’t think that’s cause for alarm.” 
Frey attributed the decline in birthrates to a women's “lifestyle” choice as well as the fact the economy has been in a funk. Times of economic downturn or uncertainty tend to cause a drop in birthrates, but when things turn around they tend to bounce back in a kind of catch-up period. 
“Every year I say when the economy is getting better then we’ll start having more children,” he said, “and I'm still expecting that to happen.”
So, the bottom line is that Switzerland's birth rate remains well below replacement level despite this recent rise, and the American birth rate remains just slightly below replacement level despite this recent drop. Everybody take a deep breath...

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Consequences of More People Living Later into Old Age

For the past week there has been an emphasis on aging in this blog--not necessarily related to the fact that I recently had a birthday! The Smithsonian article I mentioned three days ago included results from a Pew Research survey finding that most people are actually a bit cautious about wanting to live too long. We want to be healthy, but living a lot more years beyond 100 isn't necessarily the thing that most people are thinking about. 
When the Pew Research Center asked Americans in 2013 whether they would use technologies that allowed them to live to 120 or beyond, 56 percent said no. Two-thirds of respondents believed that radically longer life spans would strain natural resources, and that these treatments would only ever be available to the wealthy.
But if these treatments were more widely available, there would be severe economic consequences. A recent report from the Social Security Administration suggests that too many people aged 65 and older in the U.S. are too reliant on Social Security for their income.

This note examines reliance on Social Security bene ts among people aged 65 or older as mea- sured by the 2015 CPS and two other major surveys. All three surveys report that roughly half of the aged popu- lation live in households that receive at least 50 percent of total family income from Social Security and about one-quarter of the aged live in households that receive at least 90 percent of family income from Social Security.
The problem, of course, is that many people aren't saving enough for their own retirement (as I discuss periodically), but even if they are, that savings plan is based on an expected number of years lived that is well below even 122, much less something beyond that number. And why aren't we saving enough? There are many answers to this question, but a big one revolves around the fact that we live in a society whose economy is based on consumption, not production. Today's Economist Espresso has a short piece on the American economy with the following comment: "Consumers are responsible for almost 70 cents of every dollar spent in America. So when consumption grew only slowly at the start of 2017, growth sagged to 1.4%."

We consume instead of produce in part because lower wages in developing countries (especially China) have made goods cheaper than they were when we were producing them at a higher cost. That seems like a rise in our standard of living, but that is ephemeral. We can buy more, but since we're not producing like we used to, we go into debt more. This is not a sustainable model. As I discuss in the book, in the long run we need to come to grips with the fact that a planet with finite resources cannot tolerate growth forever. That might have seemed possible when we had many fewer billions of people, but it certainly is not now true. 

So, the consequences of more people living later into old age will almost certainly be economically catastrophic if we don't dramatically change our way of thinking about the economy in general. On that note, have a good weekend...