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: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Continued Pressure on Immigrants in Europe

Germany has continued struggling with the integration of immigrants, especially those from Turkey. The latest push is a proposed law to make forced marriages a crime. In most instances, the forced marriages are marriages arranged by parents, rather than by the marriage partners, and this is culturally a difficult row to how. The United Kingdom tried to do this a couple of years ago, but largely with a view to giving young women a chance to legally object to the arrangement. In Germany, the objective seems to go further than that.
The bill, which the German cabinet approved on Wednesday, would make it a felony to force someone to marry. Forced marriage had already been ruled illegal under federal statutes barring aggravated coercion, but the new legislation, which would provide for sentences of up to five years in prison, would make the prohibition more specific.
It would also significantly lengthen the time period in which women who have lived in Germany, but were then taken abroad to enter into forced marriages, woulld have to lodge complaints with German authorities, in order to regain their right to residence in Germany. Up until now, women affected by the practice could lose their right to live in Germany after six months. Under the new law they would have 10 years to seek legal recourse.
In the meantime, France reaffirmed its commitment to its ban on the public wearing of burqa-like veils, even (or, especially) in the face of threats of revenge on French citizens from Osama Bin Laden.


Keep in mind that France is not the only country that is worried about women being veiled in public. Turkey is another such place, as noted in this week's Economist:
The headscarf remains at the core of the continuing battle between overtly pious and pro-secular Turks. The former insist it is an expression of faith. The latter retort that it is a symbol of political Islam, a stab in the heart of Ataturk’s republic. More than half of Turkish women cover their heads in some way, and the number is growing. Yet the garment has long been barred from schools and universities. Headscarved women cannot work in state institutions or run for parliament. When the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party tweaked the constitution in order to ease the headscarf ban soon after being re-elected in 2007, it was threatened with closure by a prosecutor and only narrowly survived.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Demographics of the Midterm Election

As we approach the November 2nd midterm elections in the United States, demographics has popped up as an issue in a variety of places, and not all of them in the expected places. One of the big issues this year has been the quality of opinion polling. The Economist reports that the rapid increase in cell phone use has confounded the traditional random-digit-dailing phone surveys for several reasons.
The immediate problem is the rapid growth in the number of people who have only a mobile phone, and are thus excluded from surveys conducted by landline. About a quarter of Americans are now “cellphone-onlys” (CPOs) in the industry jargon, and this poses both practical and statistical difficulties. They are less likely to answer their phones, and less likely to participate in a survey when they do, says Frank Newport of Gallup, another polling firm. They often retain their telephone numbers, including the area code, when they move from state to state, so it is hard to know where they are. And it costs more to call a mobile phone in the first place.
Pollsters try to get around some of these issues by weighting the responses to reflect the demographics of the population likely to vote. But that requires a lot of research, a bunch of assumptions, and unknown error built into the results.
But even if fears of a systematic bias prove unfounded, the fuss about CPOs points to a broader problem for pollsters: the ever-increasing difficulty of persuading Americans to take part in political polls. The proportion of those called who end up taking part in a survey has fallen steadily, from 35% or so in the 1990s to 15% or less now. Reaching young people is especially difficult. Only old ladies answer the phone, complains Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.
Another election issue is that because this was a census year, the state legislatures (or their designees) voted into office on Tuesday will be the ones redrawing congressional boundaries in each state in time for the next round of elections. Thus, the get-out-the-vote campaign is more important than usual in this midterm election because the political party that controls the legislature can control the redistricting, at least in most states. In California, Proposition 20 aims to have this done by a citizens' committee, not the legislature, so that will be another vote to keep track of on election night.


Finally, we can note that the candidates themselves are not a demographically random sample of the eligible-voter population. In particular, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox have updated their analysis of "potential candidates" for political office and conclude that:
women, even in the highest tiers of professional accomplishment, are substantially less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to seek elective office. Women are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. They are less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office. And they are less likely than men to express a willingness to run for office in the future. This gender gap in political ambition persists across generations and over time. Despite cultural evolution and society’s changing attitudes toward women in politics, running for public office remains a much less attractive and feasible endeavor for women than men.

Census Day in Argentina

Thursday, October 27th, was census day in Argentina. The entire country essentially came to a standstill so that everyone could be counted.

Only essential services are allowed to remain open while an army of questioners covers the country, including shanty towns, prisons, homes for the elderly and psychiatric hospitals.
Argentina has many remote regions and some surveyors started work early to reach indigenous communities high in the Andes mountains and took boats to some of the countless islands in the River Plate delta.
The census is being carried out by the National Statistics Office, known as Indec by its Spanish initials, which critics have accused of publishing misleading inflation and poverty figures that favour the government.
Although we know that people are routinely suspicious of censuses, there is no evidence that former President Kirchner's death the day before the census was in any way connected to the census.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Which Came First--Low Fertility or Women in the Labor Force?

This week's Economist has an interesting article that is of relevance to any and every modern society--getting women into the paid labor force as a way of generating additional economic productivity and a higher overall standard of living. As is true in most societies, gender equity still has a ways to go in South Korea, and women routinely earn less than men and there are very few women in senior level positions. However, the educational system is based on merit, not gender, so the level of education among women equals that of men, leading to a situation in which foreign companies are reportedly recruiting educated Korean women who cannot find a job in their own country. Up to this point, the story makes sense. Then, the Economist concludes with the following set of observations:
Only 60% of female South Korean graduates aged between 25 and 64 are in work—making educated South Korean women the most underemployed in OECD countries. That may change, however. Marriage and fertility rates have plunged. There were 10.6 marriages per 1,000 people in 1980, but only 6.2 last year. South Korean women have an average of only 1.15 children, one of the lowest rates anywhere. That has troubling implications for the country, but should help women in the workplace. Firms will have to use all the talent they can find. If they don’t, their rivals will.
The story clearly implies that having low fertility will free up women to work--either in Korea or elsewhere. The reality, though, is that Korean women are delaying marriage and having only one child for precisely the same reasons that women in Southern and Eastern Europe are doing the same--traditional family values dictate that when a woman marries and has a child she is expected to leave the labor force and stay home. While it may be true that some women want to work, but can't find a job, it is more likely the case that women want to work, but can't find good day care.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Populations at Risk in Indonesia

This week's combination of earthquake, tsunami, and volcano eruption in Indonesia killed at least 400 people (with another 160 still unaccounted for--including people who were out fishing at the time and had no clue what was happening, or people along the shore who were swept out to sea), and displaced tens of thousands. That is clearly less bad than the hundreds of thousands who were wiped out by the tsunami of 2004, but it is a terrible tragedy nonetheless. 
Much of Indonesia lies in the seismically active Pacific “ring of fire,” a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia. Experts said that the earthquake was not big enough to have disturbed the volcano, and that the two events were most likely not related.
Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous nation, so living in an ecologically dangerous zone has not hobbled its population growth; rather, the latter has meant that over time an increasingly large number of people have found themselves somewhat inadvertently placed in harm's way.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Migration as the Sign Post of the Economy

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, announced recently that the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants along the border with Mexico dropped by 17 percent in 2010 compared to 2009. She noted that the poor economy was a factor, as was the Obama administration's stepped-up level of enforcement against employers hiring undocumented immigrants. But she seemed mainly to credit the beefed-up patrols along the border, "including bringing the Border Patrol to an all-time high of 20,500 agents and dispatching 1,200 National Guard troops."
"The manpower, the technology, the infrastructure all has enabled us to be able to really slow that flow of illegal immigrant traffic," she said at a news conference at the San Ysidro border crossing with Tijuana, Mexico.
Now, maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems that more border patrol agents and the National Group would lead to an increase in arrests, not a decline. Napolitano's theory will be put to the test over the next couple of years as the economy slowly improves. The Migration Information Source notes that American Community Survey data point to a slight increase last year in the number of immigrants living in the United States, and there is preliminary evidence that remittances from Mexicans in the US back to Mexico have stopped declining and may be on the verge of going up again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Child Policy Abuse in China

The one child policy is still firmly in place in China, as a new video and story illustrate. An Al Jazeera reporter in Xiamen, China, interviewed a woman who reportedly was dragged from her home and taken to a hospital for a forced abortion because she was eight months pregnant but already had a ten-year daughter. The desire for a son was probably a motivating factor for the couple.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A New Twist on Immigrant Integration

In an era of nearly constant vitriol about the place and role of immigrants in the US and other rich countries, it is refreshing to see a different take on their role within specific communities. I refer specifically to Portland, Maine, which has a ballot initiative for next Tuesday's election which, if passed, would allow legal immigrants who are not US citizens to vote in local elections.
Portland residents will vote Nov. 2 on a proposal to give legal residents who are not U.S. citizens the right to vote in local elections, joining places like San Francisco and Chicago that have already loosened the rules or are considering it.
In San Francisco, a ballot question Nov. 2 will ask voters whether they want to allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections if they are the parents, legal guardians or caregivers of children in the school system.
Noncitizens are allowed to vote in school board elections in Chicago and in municipal elections in half a dozen towns in Maryland, said Ron Hayduk, a professor at the City University of New York and author of "Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the United States."

"We have immigrants who are playing key roles in different issues of this country, but they don't get the right to vote," said Rwaganje, 40, who moved to the U.S. because of political strife in his native Congo and runs a nonprofit that offers financial advice to immigrants. Noncitizens hold down jobs, pay taxes, own businesses, volunteer in the community and serve in the military, and it's only fair they be allowed to vote, Rwaganje said.
The obvious objection to this is why someone who wishes to participate fully in the local community does not choose to become a US citizen. The answer provided by supporters of the Portland, Maine, measure is that:
To become a citizen, immigrants must be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years, pass tests on English and U.S. history and government, and swear allegiance to the United States.
Supporters of Portland's ballot measure say the process is cumbersome, time-consuming and costly. The filing fee and fingerprinting costs alone are $675, and many immigrants spend hundreds of dollars more on English and civics classes and for a lawyer to help them through the process.
Is that enough of a justification? The voters will tell us--stay tuned.

UPDATE: On November 2nd, the voters of Portland, Maine, rejected this measure by a 52-48 margin

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cholera Adds to Haiti's Woes

In some ways it is surprising that cholera is only now emerging as an issue in Haiti, several months after the disastrous earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince and left a large segment of the population as virtual refugees in their own country. But emerging it is, thus far only in one rural area, but of course the fear is that it will spread.

Cholera was not present in Haiti before the earthquake, but experts had warned that conditions were ripe for disease to strike in areas with limited access to clean water.
"You cannot say it is because of the earthquake, but because of the earthquake the situation here requires a high level of attention in case the epidemic extends," said Michel Thieren, a program officer for the Pan-American Health Organization.
Cholera is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours.
Larsen, the health minister, urged anyone suffering diarrhea to make their own rehydration serum out of salt, sugar and water to drink on the way to a hospital.
The number of cases will continue to grow because Haitians do not have any built-up immunity to cholera, said Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization's Regional Office for the Americas, which is sending medical teams to the neighboring Dominican Republic as a preventive measure.
UPDATE: Although it has not yet been confirmed, there is suspicion that cholera was brought to Haiti by Nepalese peace-keepers working with the United Nations. All cases have occurred downstream from the camp in which they are based and it is believed that human excrement (the mode of transmission) has been dumped in the nearby river.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Deaths Give a Little and Take a Little

As we move through the health and mortality transition, we find that some groups gain and some lose in the process. There was good news this week from the US Centers for Disease Control that the number of teenage fatalities from car crashes have declined by about a third over the past five years. This is attributed to safer cars, better highways, and the high cost of gasoline that may keep some teenagers off the streets, but not to any improvement in the quality of driving among teenagers.


At the same time, however, the CDC is worried that the current increase in obesity could lead to a situation by 2050 in which one in three adults could have diabetes. To be sure, medical treatment has lowered the fatality rate from diabetes, but the cost of providing that treatment, not to mention the diminution of the quality of life associated with any major degenerative disease, does not bode well for the future.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Immigrant Integration (or Perceived Lack Thereof) in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the news this week with her comments about the situation of Turkish immigrants in Germany--comments made a few days after she had met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to discuss the situation of the Turkish-origin population in Germany.

"Multikulti", the concept that "we are now living side by side and are happy about it," does not work, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam near Berlin.
"This approach has failed, totally," she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values.
"We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here," said the chancellor.
"Subsidising immigrants" isn't sufficient, Germany has the right to "make demands" on them, she added, such as mastering the language of Goethe and abandoning practices such as forced marriages.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in a weekend interview, also urged the Turkish community living in Germany to master the language of their adopted country.
How to incorporate immigrants into society is a hot button issue in virtually every human society, so Germany is not unique in this regard. Historically, the United States, as a nation built from successive waves of immigration, has done that largely by the expectation that the children of immigrants, if not the immigrants themselves, will "melt" into the mainstream. This is also what France has been pushing of late, and Chancellor Merkel's fear that multi-culturalism simply isn't working for Germany may carry some weight outside of Germany, as well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Babies, oui; Boardroom, non

The New York Times recently profiled the status of women in France, the country with Europe's highest birth rate (even if still not too high), but with one of the lowest gender equity scores in the developed world, according to a study by the World Economic Forum:
Eighty-two percent of French women aged 25-49 work, many of them full-time, but 82 percent of parliamentary seats are occupied by men. 
French women earn 26 percent less than men but spend twice as much time on domestic tasks. They have the most babies in Europe, but are also the biggest consumers of anti-depressants.
If we accept this analysis, we are led to the somewhat dismal conclusion that higher than expected fertility in France is associated with a more traditional attitude toward gender roles--not a model that most other countries are likely to want to follow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Angst of an Aging France

In response to the aging of the French population, President Sarkozy has proposed raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. The result, of course, has been massive public outrage accompanied by union-organized strikes and disruption especially of fuel supplies. I do not pretend to fully understand the French pension system, which appears to be different from the US plan in several ways, particularly in the number of years that a person must work before qualifying for a pension (40 years in France, proposed to rise to 42), compared to 10 in the US. Nonetheless, like most countries, it is a pay-as-you-go plan and that is the rub--too few young workers relative to retirees equals not enough money to go around, especially when those retirees are living longer than ever, and especially when the French have the highest percentage of young retirees in Europe. The French Parliament will vote on the extended retirement age this week, and it is expected to pass, despite the outcry against it.


UPDATE: The French Parliament did sign the legislation on October 27th, although President Sarkozy has yet to sign it, so more demonstrations are planned in the meantime...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Buy in the Bust, Sell in the Boom

The Economist noted in this week's issue that a private equity firm is going to purchase the Gymboree Corporation for $1.8 billion. If you have kids, you know about Gymboree, which sells children's clothes and operates centers where "where children can play noisy games on brightly coloured soft mats." Why would someone want to buy a business oriented toward children when the birth rate in America is so low? The answer comes from Peter Francese, former founder and publisher of American Demographics magazine (now folded into Advertising Age magazine), who is currently an independent consultant doing work for the advertising agency of Ogilvy & Mather (a firm that could have been a model for the highly popular "Mad Men" series).

The birth rate in America has dipped to its lowest point in at least a century. Young couples are putting off having babies because they doubt they can afford it.
But the chances are that they still want children. Once the economy improves, the people who put off parenthood will get down to it. Mr Francese projects that in 2014 there will be 4.4m births, a record high. “That’s a lot of demand for Gymboree’s products,” he says. What’s more, the women who give birth to these post-recession babies will be better educated than any previous generation of mothers, and slightly older too. Many will earn enough to splurge on pricey accoutrements for their offspring.
And don’t forget the grandparents. America’s overall population is expected to grow by less than 1% a year for the next few years, but the number of people aged 65 to 74 will grow at a rate of 5%. Boomer grandparents will spoil their children’s children as eagerly as they once spoiled themselves.
This is exactly what is meant by the saying that “demography plays” on Wall Street.
 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Which Came First--Globalization or Aging?

Ted Fishman is a journalist and former commodities trader with an expertise related to China. He has a new book coming out called “Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival and Nation Against Nation,” and he has drawn from that book for a piece that appeared today in the New York Times. He pulls his data especially from the United Nations Population Division, and that is fine. What is puzzling is his thesis that globalization is a result of the aging of the richer countries. In his view, it is the cost of health care and pensions for the elderly that has driven jobs "off-shore" to developing countries. That is akin to walking into the middle of a movie and ignoring everything that happened before you came in. He is looking at the world now and seeing that the richer countries are older and that the developing countries are younger and drawing a cause-and-effect relationship (that an aging world has shifted its jobs to the younger world because of the fact that it is aging), where one almost certainly does not exist. 


Reality is more complex than that. Globalization began with the drop in the death rates all over the globe after World War II that led in the 1970s and 1980s to huge youth bulges in the developing world. Companies looked at that growing young labor force and contrasted the wages that could be paid to them with the union-driven wages in the richer countries and made the choice to exploit the cheaper labor force (Marx could not have written that script any better). At the same time, but largely unrelated to that, the richer countries were lowering their fertility and eventually reducing their own supply of young people. But, it wouldn't have mattered even if fertility had been higher. Those jobs were still going to be transferred to the rapidly growing lower wage countries. The richer countries, in the meantime, fill in the lower end of the domestic labor force (jobs that can't be sent out of the country) with exploited immigrant labor.


All the same, Fishman is right that the world will be dramatically transformed by the aging first of the richer countries, and then by the successive aging of the emerging economies. We are in the midst of a global Ponzi scheme right now, with each successively aging country looking for cheaper labor elsewhere. That pool will eventually run out, and then what?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Do We Mean by Urban Sustainability?

Everyone wants and, indeed, loves to talk about sustainability, but it is a maddeningly difficult concept to nail down. This seemed to be the overall conclusion of a new National Research Council report on "Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Research and Development on Urban Systems." 

Workshop participants did not set out to uncover a precise definition of a sustainable city. Rather, their discussions emphasized the fluid nature of urban sustainability both as an intellectual concept and a strategic building block for policies designed to improve living and working conditions―for today's citizens and future generations. It was this sense of how difficult it is to make sense of urban parameters in the metropolitan expanses of 21st century America that both guided and constrained conversations at the workshop.

There were at least two important shortcomings of this panel. First, it focused only on the United States--a country with the resources to make a lot of mistakes and get away with them, at least for awhile. The real issue of sustainability lies in the cities of developing countries, where population growth routinely overruns local infrastructure. Secondly, there were no demographers or other social scientists on the panel or among the participants. Someone needed to be at the meeting to respond appropriately to the comment of Adolfo Carrion, appointed by President Obama as the first Director of the nation’s Office of Urban Affairs, who noted in his talk: “The United States is becoming more urbanized and the current trend is unsustainable.” That is pure nonsense. The populations of the US and of the world are continuing to grow and people have to be put in urban places, which are almost certainly more sustainable than rural places. This pattern will have to be made sustainable, or else our standard of living will drop precipitously, the death rate will rise, and we will discover that we are in overshoot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Latino Life Expectancy Exceeds That of White Non-Hispanics in US

Even though non-Hispanic whites are the dominant economic and political group in the United States, as a group their life expectancy is lower than for Latinos and Asians. These patterns have been evident for some time, and discussed widely in the demographic literature, but the higher life expectancy of Latinos was given an official imprimatur this week by the first government report to actually calculate life tables for Hispanics compared to non-Hispanics. The National Center for Health Statistics, located within the Centers for Disease Control, has published "United States Life Tables by Hispanic Origin," with the following overall results:


Life expectancy at birth for the total population in 2006 was 77.7 years; 80.6 years for the Hispanic population, 78.1 years for the non-Hispanic white population, and 72.9 years for the non-Hispanic black population. The Hispanic population has a life expectancy advantage at birth of 2.5 years over the non-Hispanic white population and 7.7 years over the non-Hispanic black population.
This publication does not address the Asian population, but age-adjusted death rates for Asians have consistently been higher than for all other groups in the US for some time now. Thus, we see that groups dominated by immigrants have higher life expectancy than non-Hispanic whites or blacks. Some of this is almost certainly due to migration selectivity of healthier people, and some of it may be due to the less healthy returning to their country of origin to die, and thus not being picked up US vital statistics. There is concern, of course, that for the children of immigrants Americanization may be bad for their health and the life expectancy advantage will erode due to a fast food diet combined with a sedentary lifestyle. At the other end of the spectrum, the results highlight the continuing health disadvantage of blacks in America, and there is an emerging literature linking this to the stress associated with discrimination.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Ancients Knew About Cancer Even if They Couldn't Cure It

For the most part you have to live long enough to die from cancer, and for most of human history people died at a young age from infectious diseases and so didn't live to die from cancer. But that doesn't mean that cancer didn't exist. A new paper by researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK and Villanova University in the US reviews the evidence of what the ancients knew about cancer. Only one mummy out of hundreds examined showed any sign of cancer (and it was colorectal cancer), but Egyptian writings suggest that they knew about the disease:
The ancient Egyptians wrote about many magical spells they used to treat cancer-like illnesses, a few of which are described in papyri. Here's one particularly gruesome remedy for what may have been cancer of the uterus: Break up a stone in water, leave it overnight, and then pour it into the vagina. Another treatment described was fumigation: The patient would sit over something that was burning. 
I suspect that the patient died of the treatment, if not the disease, but that is a common story in the history of medicine. The Greeks, coming after and presumably building on the knowledge of the Egyptians, knew a bit more:

Ancient Greeks knew that a mastectomy would help a patient with a lump in her breast, but they also recognized that cancer can recur and spread to other parts of the body.
"They recommended an unbelievable variety of potions, and plant extracts, and combinations to see if they couldn’t kill the cancer in other places," Olson said. "None of those worked."
Our own treatments for cancer will likely seem primitive when compared to future methods. These are the things that will push life expectancy closer and closer to the known human lifespan.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Early Marriage Still an Issue in India

Fertility is declining in India, but women still marry at a much earlier age than in China--the country with which India is most often compared. According to an analysis just published in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health "as recently as 2005–2006, almost half (47%) of a nationally representative sample of women aged 20–24 reported having married before age 18.The proportion is between 50% and 70% in several states." Moreover, early marriage not only leads to higher than average fertility, it also leads to a generally worse life for women. In a survey of 8,314 married women aged 20-24 living in five Indian states, K.G. Santhya and her associates found that:
Young women who had married at age 18 or older were more likely than those who had married before age 18 to have been involved in planning their marriage (odds ratio, 1.4), to reject wife beating (1.2), to have used contraceptives to delay their first pregnancy (1.4) and to have had their first birth in a health facility (1.4). They were less likely than women who had married early to have experienced physical violence (0.6) or sexual violence (0.7) in their marriage or to have had a miscarriage or stillbirth (0.6). 
Policy planners in India understand the importance of delaying marriage, but deeply entrenched cultural attitudes among parents about their daughters are not easy to change.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where the Hungry Are

There was a considerable amount of attention given to issues like poverty and hunger in the run-up to the recent United Nations summit on progress toward the MDGs. As usual, the talk dies down after the big meeting is over. However, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC, has kept the issue on the table with a new report detailing where the hungry nations are. The list is predictable, because it is the same group of countries with high mortality and high fertility. Nonetheless, it is instructive to be reminded:
The 10 countries with the worst levels of hunger -- all "extremely alarming" or "alarming" -- starting with the worst off, were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Comoros, Madagascar, and the Central African Republic.

In South Asia, the low nutritional, educational and social status of women leads to a higher number of underweight children, the report states.
In sub-Saharan Africa, war and instability and high rates of HIV and AIDS are cited as leading to high child mortality.
The IFPRI website has excellent map visualization resources to allow you see where the hungry nations are, based on their global hunger index (GHI).

Monday, October 11, 2010

How Important is Religion?

Religion is nearly an ascribed characteristic, since relatively few of us change the religious affiliation into which we were born, except when one group (e.g., Europeans) takes over an area (e.g., Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa) and pushes a new religion onto the population. Most of the changing mix of people by religion is due to the differential rates of population growth by group. The importance of religious differences is a common theme in the news and in the social sciences. However, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that most people in the United States are not all that familiar with the beliefs of their own religion:

Previous surveys by the Pew Research Center have shown that America is among the most religious of the world's developed nations. Nearly six-in-ten U.S. adults say that religion is "very important" in their lives, and roughly four-in-ten say they attend worship services at least once a week.
But the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey shows that large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions -- including their own. Many people also think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are stricter than they really are.
You can test yourself on the questions asked in the Pew Survey, and also try the special quiz on religion put together by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff. As you look at these results and see your own scores, contemplate the fact that religious knowledge probably tells us more about culture than it does about religion per se.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Bad Economy is a Good Deterrent to Migration

The global recession has had the global effect of slowing down the pace of South to North migration, and migrant workers in their adopted home appear to be among the hardest hit by the recession. These are among the findings of a report recently completed for BBC News by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC.

"Overall immigration to developed countries has slowed sharply as a result of the economic crisis, bringing to a virtual halt the rapid growth in foreign-born populations over the past three decades," the report says.
This has caused a notable decline in illegal immigration. The number of foreign workers caught trying to enter the EU illegally by sea fell by more than 40% from 2008 to 2009 and is still falling.
At the same time, the number of illegal migrants from Mexico stopped at the US border went down by roughly the same amount.
However, legal migration has also been hard hit. Immigration to the Irish Republic from new EU member states in Eastern and Central Europe fell by 60% from 2008 to 2009.
Over the same period, the US saw a 50% drop in the number of visas issued to low-skilled seasonal workers, such as fruit and vegetable pickers.
But those migrants who are already established in developed countries are having a tough time.
One aspect of the tough times has been the tougher tone that the Obama administration has taken toward the deportation of undocumented immigrants compared to policies under the Bush administration. This may have the unintended effect of dampening Hispanic support for candidates from the Democratic party in the upcoming election.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More on the Postponement of Marriage in the US

A few days ago I commented on new data from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) showing that Americans were postponing marriage, almost certainly in response to bad economic times. Today the Pew Research Center released a report based on data from the 2008 ACS, and earlier decennial census data, that provide a twist on the postponement story--people without a college degree have been delaying marriage more than the college-educated. The upshot of this is that among 30-year-olds in 2008, the percentage of college-educated people who were married or had been married was slightly higher (62 percent) than among those without a college degree (60 percent). This is a brand new phenomenon. Note, however, that this does not mean that the people without a degree are not forming families, but they are more likely to be doing it through informal means. It used to be that cohabitation was derisively called the "poor man's marriage." Over the past few decades the rapid rise in cohabitation at nearly all adult ages seemed to put the lie to that idea, but this new Pew analysis might resurrect that notion.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Will Hispanics Swing the Vote in November in the US?

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released results from a nationwide telephone survey of Hispanics 18 and older conducted during August and September of this year. According to these data, Hispanic registered voters are solidly (65 percent) supportive of candidates from the Democratic party--that's the good news for Democrats. The not-so-good news for Democrats is that scarcely half (51 percent) of those registered Hispanic voters expect to vote, which is considerably lower than the 70 percent among all registered voters.

Midterm elections typically have lower voter turnout than Presidential year elections, but if only 51 percent of Hispanics show up to vote, it will represent a very significant decline from the 2008 election. Data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) show that 84 percent of registered Hispanic voters went to the polls in 2008, although that was lower than 90 percent among whites and 92 percent among blacks. At the same time, only 59 percent of Hispanic US citizens aged 18 and older are registered to vote, according to the CPS, well below the 74 percent among non-Hispanic whites and 69 percent among non-Hispanic blacks. Asians, however, have an even lower percent of citizens (55) registered to vote.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are India's Demographics Better Than China's?

The Economist this week leads with a story that India's demographics are better than China's for the foreseeable future and therefore investors ought to line up their money accordingly. The Economist is one of the fairest news sources that I know, but this article pushes that envelope. 
Several factors weigh in India’s favour. The first is demography. Indians are young (see chart 1). “An ageing world needs workers; a young country has workers,” says Mr Nilekani [of the investment banking firm Morgan Stanley]. Previous Asian booms have been powered by a surge in the working-age population. Now it is India’s turn. The proportion of Indians aged under 15 or over 64 has declined from 69% in 1995 to 56% this year, says the UN. India’s working-age population will increase by 136m by 2020; China’s will grow by a mere 23m, says Morgan Stanley.
The first problem with the article is that the demographic data, drawn originally from the United Nations Population Division, have been interpreted not by demographers, but by investment bankers, who are likely to have a vested (if not invested) interest in their interpretation. It is true that fertility is declining in India and that the age structure is more favorable to economic development than it used to be. But that decline in fertility is MUCH slower than in China (which almost certainly would have had a rapid fertility decline even without the one-child policy), and so the demographic dividend is not going to be anything like that experienced by China.


The second problem relates to the interpretation of the demographic dividend. The Economist seems to think that any improvement in the ratio of workers to non-workers will produce a demographic dividend. Perhaps, but a very modest demographic dividend, as we can project for India, will likely produce very modest economic gains for the average Indian (three-fourths of whom currently live on less than $2/day). And even the Economist has to admit that improving the daily life of Indians is not going to be easy or cheap:



Indian businesses face several bottlenecks on the uneven road to growth. The most obvious of these bottlenecks is lousy infrastructure. Indian roads are awful. Potholes gape; traffic lights don’t work. Rural roads are largely unpaved; in cities traffic often snarls to a halt. Cyrus Guzder, who runs a distribution business, complains that long-distance trucks average only about 20kph (12mph). Crossing the border between two Indian states can be more troublesome than crossing an international boundary. Between Kolkata and Mumbai (a distance of 2,000km), a truck must negotiate a couple of dozen checkpoints. Delays and shakedowns by grasping officials add 30% to the cost of road freight, estimates Mr Guzder.
The other worrying bottleneck is a shortage of skills. The workforce may be young and growing, but 40% are illiterate and another 40% failed to complete school. The Boston Consulting Group sees a shortfall of 200,000 engineers, 400,000 other graduates and 150,000 vocationally trained workers in the coming years. Meanwhile, there are 62m surplus workers in agriculture, most of them barely skilled.

And the third problem with the overall analysis is that the demographic dividend is a temporary phenomenon--an artifact of the age transition. If you use it well to invest in the future, you can string out its impact, as China seems now to be doing by investing its money in other developing nations, on top of owning much of the debt of the richer countries. But the bigger the dividend, the more there will be to invest in the future, and India has a lot of catching up to do precisely because its fertility has been declining slowly, rather than rapidly.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What is the Differential Undercount in the Census of Marine Life?

The first ever census of marine life has recently been completed, more than a decade after it was first conceptualized, and after the expenditure of $600 million and the participation of nearly 3,000 scientists. 
With sound, satellites, and electronics, some- times carried by marine life itself, the Census tracking of thousands of animals mapped migratory routes of scores of species and charted their meeting places and blue highways across the interconnected ocean. The tracking measured animals’ surroundings as they swam and dove and revealed where they succeed and where they die. The Census found temperature zones favored by animals and saw the immigration into new conditions such as melting ice.
The results remind us that we are not that dramatically different from other animals in many respects. Two things stand out among the findings. The first is that marine species have migrated all over the global waterways, and have populated all corners of the sea, just as humans have spread around to find the habitable portions of land. Indeed, some species are very nomadic:
The census also highlighted marine life that makes commutes that put a suburban worker's daily grind to shame. Before the census started, the migration of the Pacific bluefin tuna had not been monitored much. But by tagging a 33-pound tuna, scientists found that it crossed the Pacific three times in just 600 days, according to Stanford University's Barbara Block. A different species of tuna, the Atlantic bluefin, migrates about 3,700 miles between North America and Europe. Humpback whales do a nearly 5,000 mile north-south migration.
The second really interesting finding has to do with the genetic similarity of marine life:
The census found another more basic connection in the genetic blueprint of life. Just as chimps and humans share more than 95 percent of their DNA, the species of the oceans have most of their DNA in common, too. Among fish in general, the snippets of genetic code that scientists have analyzed suggest only about a 2 to 15 percent difference, said Dirk Steinke, lead scientist for marine barcoding at the University of Guelph in Canada.
As is true with censuses of humans, not every marine creature could be counted:


After all its work, the Census still could not reli- ably estimate the total number of species, the kinds of life, known and unknown, in the ocean. 
But that is hardly a criticism of an effort that has generated so much new information:
Now anyone can see the distribution of a species by entering its name at iobis.org, a Web site that accesses the names and “addresses” of species compiled in the Census’s global marine life database.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Calorie Restriction: Prescription for a Long Life or a Short One?

The idea that restricting your calories will lengthen your life is an increasingly popular one--unless of course you are among the one billion people who go to bed hungry every night and can look forward to a shortened life expectancy as a consequence. The research on caloric restriction is taking place in the richer countries with high life expectancy, and so ignores the fact that for most of human history people were struggling to increase their caloric intake. Indeed, the evidence suggests that improved diets (more calories) helped Europeans to lead the way to lower mortality because better nutrition increases the body's chances of fending off disease. However, the nutrition transition, first put forward by Barry Popkin of UNC Chapel Hill, suggest that as societies modernize, their diet and exercise patterns change and we become prone to obesity as a result of, among other things, excessive caloric intake:
Citizens of the world's richest countries are getting fatter and fatter and the United States is leading the charge, an organization of leading economies said Thursday in its first ever obesity forecast.
Three out of four Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020, and disease rates and health care spending will balloon, unless governments, individuals and industry cooperate on a comprehensive strategy to combat the epidemic, the study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.
The Paris-based organization, which brings together 33 of the world's leading economies, is better known for forecasting deficit and employment levels than for measuring waistlines. But the economic cost of excess weight — in health care, and in lives cut short and resources wasted — is a growing concern for many governments.
In my view, this is where the value of caloric restriction comes in. Rather than concerning ourselves with a few months of extra life that might be possible with severe caloric restriction (and never mind the potentially diminished quality of life that might accompany that lifestyle), we should be more concerned with everyday limitation of calories and with everyday exercise as a way of trying to keep evolution and modernization in balance.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Waiting for Superman, or Should it be Superwoman?

The movie "Waiting for Superman" has stirred up the debate about how to improve the quality of education. Almost completely lost in the discussion has been the impact of the changing demographics of both teachers and students on the American educational system. For several decades in the twentieth century--up until about the 1970s--school districts were able to hire the best and the brightest among women because there were relatively few other really attractive career options (one of the other being nursing--which as also been dramatically affected by changing demographics). As labor force discrimination eased (even if we still have a long way to go), many of those women who previously would have become teachers have gone on to be physicians, lawyers, college professors, and CEOs. But, because we had it in our collective minds that we could get good teachers without having to pay them much, the public has not stepped up to change the system in order to recruit those highest quality people in the face of stiff competition from other jobs.


At quite literally the same time, the demographics of the "public" have changed. Beginning with the loosening in the mid-1960s of the restrictive immigration laws, we have witnessed an increasing fraction of students who are children of immigrants and whose parents are not in a good position to help their children with school because they themselves do not know much about the US educational system and are unaware of how important the role of parents is in the educational success of children. This is compounded by the increasing family and household diversity which has raised the fraction of young Americans who are not growing up in a two-parent family and for that reason may have a diminished support system for their schooling.


Unless we own up to the demographically more complex society that now exists--a complexity that almost certainly raises the overall cost of education--we stand no chance anytime soon of improving our educational system.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Recession Has Not Improved Job Discrimination Against Women

The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) has analyzed the American Community Survey data for 2000 through 2007 to see if there was any noticeable effect from the recession on gender inequity in the labor market. Several conclusions emerge from this analysis: (1) women continue to be paid less than men for doing the same work, but the recession did not seem to affect this one way or the other; (2) women continue to be less likely than men to be in management positions than men, but the recession did not seem to affect this one or another; (3) children are "to blame" for some, but not most, of the disadvantage of women in the labor force, but the recession did not seem to affect this one way or the other; and (4) the recession hit men harder than women, so the income of women in households has been disproportionately important during the recession. It seems obvious that the recession hit men harder than women precisely because they make more money than women. Thus, the discrimination (largely by men) against women in the labor force turns out to lead to an implicit discrimination (probably also by men) against men when it comes time for layoffs.