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, August 24, 2016

Zika Does More Brain Damage Than Previously Thought

Even as the U.S. Congress sits on its hands with respect to funding an anti-Zika virus program, the news just keeps getting worse. We heard last week that the virus has the potential to harm the brains of adults, not just babies in utero. Now we are learning that the damage to babies' brains is even more dire than originally believed. The Guardian notes that:
A new report shows in graphic detail the kind of damage Zika infections can do to the developing brain – damage that goes well beyond microcephaly, a birth defect in which
the baby’s head is much smaller than normal.

“From an imaging standpoint, the abnormalities in the brain are very severe when compared to other congenital infections,” said the study’s co-author Dr Deborah Levine of Beth Israel Deaconess medical centre and a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School.

As with other reports, the paper suggests that Zika does the most harm in the first trimester of pregnancy. The researchers plan to keep following the cases to see what impact prenatal Zika infections have on future brain development.
Keep in mind that this study was conducted among infants born in the Brazilian state of ParaĆ­ba in north-eastern Brazil, where the most severe cases have been found, as I noted a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, it is a scary result and will likely continue to fuel the increased demand for abortion in the region.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Female Mortality in the U.S. Varies by State: Context Matters

Despite the high cost of health care in the U.S., life expectancy lags behind almost all other rich nations. Two key trends are embedded in this, however: (1) there is considerable variability from state to state; and (2) women are lagging more than men. A new paper published in the on-line open access journal Social Science and Medicine-Population Health sheds some new and interesting light on what's going on. Today's New York Times summarizes the findings.
A team of researchers has now come up with an important clue: Where women live matters just as much as who they are. In fact, in a study to be published this week in SSM Population Health, they found that many common demographic traits — whether a woman is rich, poor, unemployed, working, single or married — might not be as important as the state in which she lives.
Using new state-by-state data collected by the federal government, researchers found that a state’s economic and social environment — from its welfare policy and tobacco tax rate, to the strength of social ties through sports clubs and churchgoing, to the level of economic inequality — had a significant effect on women’s life spans.
Here is what the state level variability looks like:

The single most important characteristic of a state was what the authors call "social cohesion":
This factor describes the level of social and economic integration and equality within a state. It is comprised of four variables: (1) Gini coefficient of income inequality, (2) unemployment rate, (3) violent crime rate, and (4) the state-level social capital index developed by Putnam (2000). The index includes 14 components such as involvement in community organizations and social trust. The fact that income inequality and unemployment cluster with crime and social capital more so than with the variables in the economic environment latent factor indicates that these measures capture social and economic integration, and relative well-being, more so than absolute economic well-being.
Higher levels of social cohesion in a state were more important than individual-level characteristics such as education. "Our findings imply that divergent social and economic policies across states have played an important role in shaping the inequalities in women's mortality." Context matters when it comes to health, just as it does in most other things in life.