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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Soccer as a Metaphor for Racism in Europe

My older son, John, is Professor of Organizational Behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and has been attentively following the European Soccer Championship. A couple of days ago, as the Germany-Italy game was about to start in Warsaw, he tweeted that "the teams walked out on the field carrying big flags saying 'Respect Diversity' (in English) and representatives from each team read a statement about why we should respect diversity." As I have noted here several times before, Europe has had an uncomfortable time integrating its increasingly large immigrant population and racism is a big issue in the region. Soccer games have, unfortunately, been scenes of racism and xenophobia and so it was encouraging to see this plea for restraint on the part of the players.


In case you missed the score, Italy beat favored Germany 2-0, and both goals for Italy were scored by Mario Balotelli. He sounds pretty Italian, right? The New York Times brings us the story:

Born in Palermo from Ghanaian parents but raised by an Italian family in Brescia who legally adopted him when he was 18, Balotelli has become an icon of a country still struggling with notions of citizenship and legal rights.
Even as fans and commentators have cited Balotelli as a symbol of Italy’s new multiethnic society, there are some Italians who still believe that nationality is a question of color.
 Yet while he was still playing in Italy, Mr. Balotelli, like other black athletes who play here, was subject to racist episodes. When newspapers reported that he had revealed in June after a visit to Auschwitz that one of his adoptive parents was of Jewish heritage, an Italian extreme right group posted unprintable slurs on its Web site.
“This past year there were 59 racial incidents during the Italian soccer championship, almost all of them linked to color,” said Mauro Valeri, a sociologist and expert in racism in sport. Fines of more than €400,000 were issued, he said. “Even though measures have been implemented to halt the violence, the fact racism persists should make you think.”
Equally telling of Italy’s unresolved issues with immigration has been the resistance among lawmakers to change citizenship legislation, which currently confers birthright citizenship to the children of Italian citizens and not to children born in Italy of foreign parents.

Since Europeans had historically seen much more emigration than immigration until just a few short decades ago, dealing with "strangers" in their midst has proven to be a very hard adjustment, but we can hope that soccer may move things forward. Italy plays Spain tomorrow in Kiev for the championship. Stay tuned--update: Spain won 4-0 and Balotelli thus did not score.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Contraception is Not Controversial

As I have noted before, on 11 July 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is helping to organize a Family Planning Summit in London. This is really important, in my opinion. Melinda Gates is an obviously very influential person in the world, and as a Catholic, her views on contraception are bound to sway opinions. She clearly understands this and has made available on the internet a lecture that she gave in April in Berlin at the TEDxChange. Here is her setup for the talk:

My argument is simple:
1. Birth control is an uncontroversial idea (practiced by a billion people) that has unfortunately become controversial.
2. As a result, hundreds of millions of the poorest families in developing countries don’t have access to contraceptives that can change their lives—and their children’s lives.
3. If we all start talking about how transformative birth control can be—and how important it has been in our own lives—we can help poor women and men empower themselves and spur large-scale economic development.
I loved getting ready for the talk over the past several months, reading up on the literature and talking to experts from several continents. It was a thrill to deliver it, finally, after so much preparation.
Keep in mind that the talk is 25 minutes in length, so if you are using this in class, you will essentially have Melinda Gates as a guest lecturer!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Show Me the Generation Me

As a colleague of mine here at SDSU regularly reminds us, Generation Me is usually thought of as referring to people born in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and among their key characteristics is a concern for themselves, perhaps at the expense of others. David Frum, however, a columnist and novelist, has implicitly called the elderly to task for this same set of attitudes. In essence, he is blaming the older American population for the problems that younger people are having finding a job and getting ahead in life.

In 2011 Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan proposed a plan to balance the U.S. federal budget over the next two decades. House Republicans adopted a version of the plan as their budget, and it has since been (nervously) endorsed by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The essence of the plan? A gigantic off-loading of budget pain from old to young. Medicare and Social Security will be protected exactly as they are for Americans now over age 55. Younger Americans, on the other hand, will find Medicare progressively less generous, with the heaviest burden of adjustment falling on the youngest of all.
In the past, such pay-it-forward economics could be justified on the premise that—thanks to economic growth—the next generation would be richer than its predecessors. But that assumption has been breaking down as the benefits of economic growth have been claimed by fewer and fewer Americans. Virtually all of the productivity gains since 1979 have flowed to the top 1 percent of income earners. As a result, today’s 20-somethings face a future in which most of them may well fail to attain the living standards of their parents.
Is it fair to blame the older population for the economic straits of the young? Not really. What is conspicuously missing from Frum's discussion is the role played by population growth in the rest of the world. Young people in America and Europe no longer have access to well-paying manufacturing jobs because those jobs are in less developed countries (China's economy is big because of this, but the average worker in China is vastly less well off than workers in America or Europe). At the same time, we have to remember that if everything we consumed was manufactured in the rich countries by well-paid workers, we could afford a lot less stuff. In essence, our standard of living would be considerably lower. So, the aging of the populations in rich countries is a problem, to be sure, but let's not blame that on the older population itself.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

US Supreme Court Rules on the Arizona Immigration Law

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the Arizona Immigration Law. If you saw nothing more than the headline in the New York Times, you might agree with the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that this was a victory for Arizona.
The court unanimously sustained the law’s centerpiece, the one critics have called its “show me your papers” provision, though they left the door open to further challenges. The provision requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they have reason to suspect that the individual might be in the country illegally.
However, on issues like this I defer to my son, Greg, who had a slightly different take on the ruling in his blog today:
So expect more lawsuits. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer calls that victory, but I doubt she really believes that. Despite all the rumors that the court seemed sympathetic to Arizona, this decision says that Arizona overstepped its constitutional bounds by a lot. Every state that copied SB 1070 will have to go back to the drawing board.
For North Carolina, where I live, I would guess this means the legislature will not move forward because the legislative leadership was waiting for a SCOTUS ruling before doing anything.
There are many other lawsuits against this Arizona law, and against similar laws in other states, that are still in the legal pipeline, so yesterday's ruling is not even close to being the last word.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Population "Fun" at Nigeria's Expense

If you read The Onion even occasionally, as I do, you know that the insight and wit is wicked--on a par  with John Stewart's "The Daily Show" or the "Colbert Report." Rarely, however, does population growth emerge as a topic to be played with. Earlier this month, however, The Onion did just that, taking on Lagos, Nigeria in a piece called "Thousands Feared Born in Nigerian Population Explosion." You have to read the whole thing to appreciate it, but here's a taste:

Nigeria's population, already the highest in Africa, is believed to have increased by eight percent in the wake of the explosion. With hundreds still clinging to life, that number is only expected to rise.
UN officials remain unsure what caused the population explosion, but point out that border disputes with neighboring Chad and Niger have temporarily cooled heroin and cocaine trafficking, and mass slaughter at the hands of a traditionally military government has fallen to its lowest levels in 18 years.
The tragedy, of course, is there is nothing funny at all in this. It is, rather, a witty way to bring these issues back to our attention.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Two Centuries of Disease and Death in America

The latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine turns out to be its 200th anniversary volume. Our understanding of diseases and how to deal with them has evolved enormously over those 200 years. Indeed, the life of the New England Journal of Medicine spans quite literally the entire history of modern public health and medicine. In honor of this event, the Journal has published an essay by researchers at Harvard University detailing the changes between 1900 and 2010 in the things that kill us. These are not new to you if you have read Chapter 5 of my text, but it is always useful to be reminded of this history, and to remember how genuinely recent and thus potentially fragile our high life expectancy is.
By examining the many new diseases that have appeared over the past two centuries, historians have categorized the ways in which diseases emerge. New causes (e.g., severe acute respiratory syndrome, motor vehicle accidents, radiation poisoning), new behaviors (cigarette smoking, intravenous drug use), and even the consequences of new therapies (insulin transforming the course and manifestations of diabetes) can produce new diseases. Changing environmental and social conditions can increase the prevalence of once-obscure ailments (myocardial infarction, lung cancer, kuru, and “mad cow” disease). New diagnostic technologies and therapeutic capacity can unmask previously unrecognized conditions (hypertension). New diagnostic criteria can expand a disease's boundaries (hypercholesterolemia, depression). Changing social mores can redefine what is or is not a disease (homosexuality, alcoholism, masturbation). New diseases can emerge as the result of conscious advocacy by interested parties (chronic fatigue syndrome, sick building syndrome). HIV–AIDS alone demonstrates many of these modes of emergence. The emergence, recognition, and impact of disease are never just a bioscientific process; the advent of a new disease always involves social, economic, and political processes that shape its epidemiology and influence our understanding and response.
Even as prevailing diseases have changed, health disparities have endured. Inequalities in health status have always existed, regardless of how health has been measured or populations defined. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they witnessed stark disparities in the fates of European, American, and African populations. During the ravages of 19th-century industrialization, physicians grew familiar with health disparities between rich and poor. Health inequalities remain ubiquitous, not just among races and ethnic groups but also according to geography, sex, educational level, occupation, income, and other gradients of wealth and power.
And there's lots more in this essay, which is accompanied by a very nice interactive graph showing the change over time in the major causes of death in the US. That graph alone is worth the trip to this online article. 


If you'd like to experience a century of change in medical practice through literature (beyond the New England Journal of Medicine, that is), I encourage you to read The Bone Garden, by Tess Garritsen, who is a physician turned novelist.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Election Demographics Are Heating Up

Nate Silver made a name for himself during the 2008 election with his 538 blog, named for the number of electoral votes there are in the United States, of which one more than half is required to win the presidency. Under his banner, the New York Times has inaugurated a blog in which the electoral demographics of each state will be analyzed. They started this week with New Mexico. In 2000, Gore squeaked out a narrow win, and then in 2004 Bush squeaked out a narrow win. But in 2008 Obama took it by a wide margin.

New Mexico has grown more Democratic as its Hispanic population has increased. Hispanics make up 46 percent of the state’s population. Mr. Bush was competitive there partly because he did well among Hispanic voters, winning 44 percent in 2004. In 2008, by contrast, Senator John McCain of Arizona won just 30 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Spanish-speaking enclaves in northern New Mexico trace their heritage back to the Spanish explorers of the 1500s, and many families have been American citizens for generations. As a result, Hispanic turnout tends to be higher in the north than in southwest New Mexico, where recent immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America are more common.
Beyond the growing Latino population, Mr. Obama’s margin in New Mexico was helped by the state’s large American Indian presence, which is 10 percentof New Mexico’s population and which was determinedly courted by the Obama campaign in 2008.
New Mexico might be even more Democratic if not for idiosyncratic Albuquerque, the state’s only real metropolis. One reason Albuquerque might be more politically competitive than other big cities, Ms. Sierra said, is that nearly one-fourth of its workers are employed by the government, and many of those jobs are defense-related. Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base are both in Albuquerque.
I would argue that government workers are likely to have a vested interest in the current administration, which was Bush in 2004 (and he won) and Obama in 2012, whereas in 2000 and 2008 neither candidate was an incumbent, and in both instances a Democrat won the state. So, it may be that government workers are the true swing voters in New Mexico.
The Bottom Line
Mr. Obama is a 92 percent favorite in New Mexico, according to the current FiveThirtyEight forecast. The model projects the president will receive 55 percent to Mr. Romney’s 44 percent, an 11-point margin. That would be a closer race — if not exactly close — compared to 2008.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Can You Live On Only Food Stamps?

It came to my attention today that Al Sharpton reported today on his MSNBC program that 6 million Americans had food stamps as their only source of income. The number was apparently drawn from a new book by Georgetown University law professor Peter Edeleman. This struck me as fundamentally impossible. Food stamps are officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program run by the US Department of Agriculture, in a joint venture with each state. The program provides recipients with a debit card that be used only for food and beverages. There's no wiggle room there for shelter or clothing or transportation, or anything else. Yet, I did find a table on the Census Bureau website showing that, based on sample data, an estimated 2.6 million households receiving food stamps reported that they had no source of income. If you multiply that by an average household size of 2.3 people (typically a mother and her young child/children), you could come up with the 6 million figure. They must be receiving assistance in some way, perhaps a combination of shelters and remittances or handouts from friends/relatives, or income earned "under the table." Regardless, that is not a very good life for a lot of people in this country.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Asians Surpass Latinos Among New US Immigrants

A new report released today by the Pew Research Center shows that Asians now outnumber Latinos as immigrants and thus are the largest group of newcomers to the US. This is partly because the number of  Asian immigrants has been rising steadily on an annual basis, but more importantly because the number of migrants from Mexico has dropped off precipitously. There are, of course, two important differences between the average migrant from Mexico (who dominate the Latino immigration numbers) and those from Asia--the latter are much more educated and are much more likely to be legal immigrants. 
More than six-in-ten (61%) adults ages 25 to 64 who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is double the share among recent non-Asian arrivals, and almost surely makes the recent Asian arrivals the most highly educated cohort of immigrants in U.S. history.
Furthermore, Asians have overcome incredible cultural obstacles in terms of adapting to life in the US:
A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines. When newly minted medical school graduate Priscilla Chan married Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last month, she joined the 37% of all recent Asian-American brides who wed a non-Asian groom.
In the end, this is what assimilation is all about. Robert Mare at UCLA has written for years about the trend towards educational homogamy in marriage--people are increasingly attracted to those of the same educational level, rather than by the former markers of religion or race/ethnicity. Thus, a migrant to the US has an obvious vastly superior chance of assimilating if they are legal and better educated. Now, if only the labor market wanted only those kinds of immigrants...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Women's Rights in Iran

Fertility levels that are close to replacement almost always signal that rights have been won by women for participation in the world beyond the confines of the home. So, if you know that the total fertility rate in Iran has dropped in one generation from more than six children per woman to the current level of less than two, you know that women have experienced a dramatic shift in their lives. This point was made in a story in the New York Times about the increasing acceptance in Tehran of single women living apart from their families.

There are no official statistics on the number of women living by themselves in big cities in Iran. But university professors, real estate agents, families and many young women all say that a phenomenon extremely rare just 10 years ago is becoming commonplace, propelled by a continuous wave of female students entering universities and a staggering rise in divorces.
The shift has left clerics and politicians struggling to deal with a generation of young women carving out independent lives in a tradition-bound society, away from the guidance of fathers and husbands. Desperate to stop the trend, the government introduced a campaign to promote quick and cheap marriages — but it backfired, experts said, by cheapening an institution deeply anchored in Iran’s ancient culture.
That has left the young women to develop strategies to fend for themselves in a society where social codes are often based on deep suspicion of female sexuality. Shoukoufeh, who would not give her full name for fear of losing her lease, said that prying eyes often peek through the cracks of doors whenever she walks down the hallway. But she said she draws strength from her parents, who support her choice to live alone.
“They know I want to be independent,” she said decisively. “They understand times have changed.”
Education, urbanization, delayed marriage (and of course delayed childbearing) are the themes here, pushed forward by the parental generation it seems, which suggests that this is more than a symptom of rebellious youth. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kids Are Expensive

If you are a parent you already know this--it costs a lot to raise a child in the modern world. The US Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion this week came out with its latest calculation that the average child in this country costs its parents $235,000 in today's dollars to be raised from birth through age 17. NPR covered the story:

Families living in the urban Northeast tend to have the highest child-rearing expenses, followed by those in the urban West and the urban Midwest. Those living in the urban South and rural areas face the lowest costs.
The estimate also includes the cost of transportation, child care, education, food, clothing, health care and miscellaneous expenses.
The USDA has issued the report every year since 1960, when it estimated the cost of raising a child was just over $25,000 for middle-income families. That would be $191,720 today when adjusted for inflation.
Housing was also the largest expense in raising a child back in 1960. But the cost of child care for young children — negligible 50 years ago — is now the second largest expense as more moms work outside the home.

Children are an economic investment for the community since they will be future wage-earners and taxpayers, but for parents those benefits are pretty diffuse. Rather, children are a social and psychological investment, and as this reason for having children becomes more prominent, the amount we spend on our children seems to go up. This feeds into the idea of the "economics of happiness" put forward by Richard Easterlin, Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California, and a Past President of the Population Association of America.

Most people could increase their happiness by devoting less time to making money, and more to nonpecuniary goals such as family life and health.
Let's drink to that here on Father's Day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Temporary Relief for Younger Undocumented Immigrants to the US

The news today was all about the Obama administration's decision to provide at least some temporary relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the US before the age of 16 (and thus presumably against their will). The New York Times summarizes the main points:
Under the change, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer initiate the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing. The immigrants must also be under 30 and have clean criminal records.
The policy, while not granting any permanent legal status, clears the way for young illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally and obtain driver’s licenses and many other documents they have lacked.
“They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” President Obama said in announcing the new policy in the White House Rose Garden on Friday. He said he was taking “a temporary stopgap measure” that would “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people” and make immigration policy “more fair, more efficient and more just.”

This is sort of a "Dream Act Lite" in that it is temporary and does not offer a path to citizenship, but the criteria for inclusion are essentially the same. The Migration Information Source had calculated that the Dream Act could affect as many as 1.3 million young people currently living in the US.
The move was seen by many as simply a political ploy for President Obama to hang onto the Latino vote in the upcoming election, combatting the fact that his administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than almost all previous administrations. Since this is an executive order, not a result of legislation, there is a clear incentive for everyone in favor of this move to get out the vote in November to make sure that the same executive is in office for a while longer. In the meantime, the logistics of handling things on a case-by-case basis would seem to suggest that a relatively small number of people will really be affected between now and the November election.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

America By The Numbers

This is pretty cool. It turns out that every Friday morning is "America By The Numbers" time on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. This features people from different branches of the government--but especially the Census Bureau--who keep track of America by way of the federal statistical system. This week the guest is Marc Perry, Chief of the Census Bureau's Population Distribution Branch, discussing "Who Lives in America's Largest Cities." The Census Bureau website lists all of their people who have been on the program, including links to PDF files of tables and charts, and a link to the video of the program on C-SPAN.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yet More Evidence of the Impact of Population Growth

This story will not surprise anyone who has read Chapter 11 of my Population text, but it is nonetheless important that researchers continue to examine the role that population growth plays in the degradation of the environment. We have to collectively wake up to this fact and start seriously doing something about it. The latest research is by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University and Eugene Rosa of Washington State University, in a paper just published in the journal Nature Climate Change, and reported by futurity.org.
“How does population growth influence greenhouse gas emissions?” Dietz asks. “Well, in looking at most nations of the world during the last few decades we find that for each 1 percent increase in population, we get a bit more than a 1 percent increase in emissions.”
And with the Earth’s population projected to reach 10 billion by the end of this century, “it unquestionably will add to the stress we place on the planet,” Dietz says.
Dietz and Rosa write that they are not optimistic about the future, calling the paper they wrote “sobering.”
“The population and economic growth that can be anticipated in coming decades will tend to push emissions substantially upward,” they write.
The only possible saving grace, they say, is improved technology and changes in the way humans use resources.
“However, these changes will need to be huge because they must counter substantial increases in scale coming from population growth and especially increasing affluence.”

Sobering, indeed...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Help Save the Census!

You may recall that the US House of Representatives recently passed a budget bill that would severely curtail funding for the Census Bureau, along with a provision that would allow people to choose not to participate in the American Community Survey (from which we derive the detailed census data). The Senate is about to take up discussion of this bill, and a reminder email went out today from the Population Association of America (PAA) to contact your Senator and urge a NO vote on these budget provisions.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives debated its version of a bill to fund the Census Bureau and other federal agencies in Fiscal Year 2013. During the debate, Congressman Webster (R-FL) offered an amendment to ELIMINATE funding for the American Community Survey (ACS), which the House passed by a vote of 232-190. The House also accepted via a voice vote an amendment offered by Representative Lankford (R-OK) to make participation in the ACS voluntary.
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to debate its version of the same funding bill, S. 3232, beginning as early as this month. Although no amendments have been formally introduced yet, census observers believe some Senators are contemplating amendments that would either make participation in the ACS voluntary and/or eliminate its funding altogether. It is important the U.S. Senate NOT follow the House by adopting similar amendments in its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill. If the Senate does not adopt similar amendments, it increases the likelihood that the final negotiated version of the funding bill will be stripped of these House-passed provisions. 
The PAA has made it easy for you to contact your senators:

1. locate your two U.S. Senators:

2. Send them this message (edited as you see fit):
As your constituent, I am asking you to support the U.S. Census Bureau and, in particular, the American Community Survey (ACS). When the Senate debates its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, S. 2323, this summer, I urge you to vote NO on any amendments that would do any of the following:
  Cut or eliminate funding for the Census Bureau
  Cut or eliminate funding for the ACS
  Make participation in the ACS voluntary The ACS, which replaced the decennial census long form nationwide in 2005, is an invaluable source of information about the U.S. population. In fact, it is the ONLY source of representative, timely, and objective information about the nation's social, economic, housing and demographics characteristics down to the neighborhood level.
Thousands of ACS data users, including American businesses, state and local governments, researchers, and educators, rely on this survey to make critical decisions, including where to locate factories and stores, build roads, schools, and community centers and direct services to children, the elderly and veterans.  Tests conducted by the Census Bureau, at the request of Congress, proved that making participation in the ACS voluntary would decrease response rates by as much as 20 percent and increase the survey's annual costs by 30 percent, or $60 million a year.
Cutting funding to the ACS or making it a voluntary will achieve the same goal: render the nation's seminal source of reliable, timely and accurate social, economic, housing and demographic data useless. Thank you for considering my views.


Monday, June 11, 2012

How Does One Count the Refugees?

I noted recently that the number of displaced persons is on the rise globally, mainly in developing countries. But that raises a question about how do we know this number? Particularly in parts of Africa, where informal refugee camps have arisen, the task has been taken up by analyzing satellite imagery. The Office of the Geographer at the US Department of State has been instrumental in this kind of work, and examples are provided by a blog hosted by Joshua Campbell. This is a visual, so you need to check it out.


Full disclosure: One of my former PhD students and co-author, Dr. Debbie Fugate, works for the Office of the Geographer at the State Department, and I am especially fascinated by this use of imagery in demographic analysis.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Family Planning Summit to Address Huge Unmet Need

Unmet need for family planning services is an important idea that was conceptualized many years ago by Charles Westoff at Princeton's Office of Population Research. It builds on Ansley Coale's three preconditions for a fertility decline: (1) accepting the idea that you can control your own reproduction; (2) having a motivation to do so; and (3) having the means available to do so. If you check yes on 1 and 2, but no on 3, then you have an unmet need for family planning. At the moment the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there more than 200 million such women in the world, and they are trying to do something about it, as reported in The Guardian.
Next month in London an initiative will be launched to meet this unfilled need for modern family planning in developing countries by tackling the estimated $3.6bn (£2.3bn) annual shortfall in investment. The family planning summit is being co-hosted by the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting the initiative so that it can gain traction and support among other donors and UN member countries.
The summit's aim is to mobilise the political will and extra resources needed to give 120 million more women access to family planning by 2020.
It is noteworthy that the Gates Foundation is moving in this direction, since at one time they were interested in promoting health (as they still are), but chose to avoid the more controversial issues surrounding reproduction. The problem, of course, is that as more children survive, it becomes even more important to provide mothers with the ability to limit the number that they have.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Displaced Persons on the Rise Globally

Population growth in developing countries, especially in the face of regional conflict and resource issues, means that increasing numbers of people are finding it necessary to go somewhere else. These are among the not-so-happy conclusions from the recently released "State of the World's Refugees 2012" from the United National High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). CBS News reported on the report:
The number of people fleeing their homes and becoming refugees or displaced in their own countries will increase in the next 10 years as a result of a host of intertwined causes ranging from conflict and climate change to population growth and food shortages, according to a report Thursday by the U.N. refugee agency.
"The State of the World's Refugees," covering the period 2006-2011, said a key change and dominant challenge is the increasing number of internally displaced people — some 26 million globally compared to around 15-16 million refugees who have crossed borders to another country and a further one million asylum seekers.
It said helping the internally displaced is becoming more costly and dangerous, citing Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq where access is difficult and conflict or criminality can present deadly risk.The 266-page report said experts predict that natural disasters, which are already displacing millions of people, will increase in number and intensity. And it said climate change is likely to increase conflict over scarce resources which could lead to an increase in internal displacement and refugees.
"Global trends suggest that displacement will not only continue in the future but will take different forms," the report said, citing predictions that global population will increase from 7 billion today to over 10 billion by 2100, with most of the increase in Africa and Asia where increased poverty is likely to squeeze resources and send young people from rural areas to cities.
At a news conference launching the report, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said "a multiplication of new crises ... led to the fact that last year, we had the highest number of new refugees in the last decade."
Unfortunately, we don't really have a global plan for dealing with this. No matter the reason for moving, the arrival of migrants creates problems for local communities, and these problems are increasingly occurring in the Global South. The UN Population Division reports that between 1990 and 2010 "the increase in the migrant stock in the South was entirely fuelled by migrants from the South. In the past 20 years, the foreign-born population in the less developed regions increased by 13 million (18 per cent), all of whom originated in the South."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Latinos and the Presidential Race as Playing Out in North Carolina

The demographics of this year's presidential race in the US have focused especially on race and ethnicity. Since Latinos are swelling the population ranks in the "New South," the question naturally turns to how they might influence elections in that part of the nation. A reporter for Channel 14 in Charlotte asked my son those questions and the video of the segment on last night's news can be seen here.
"The Hispanic vote is going to be a big part of the key to sending President Obama back to the White House," said Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
A Latino name on the Republican ticket might help win over some of those voters. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval are all being mentioned as possible VP candidates.
"Symbolically, it would be important, because it would show the Republican party is at least interested in trying to include Latinos," said UNC Charlotte Political Science Professor Greg Weeks.
In swing states, like North Carolina and Virginia, the Hispanic population has doubled in the past decade. Weeks, however, said influence remains limited.
"In North Carolina, you have a growing Latino population, but the percentage of Latinos that are registered to vote is very low," said Weeks.
Still, the Latino vote is emerging as important enough that it could swing the state.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gonorrhea Is on the Rise Again--Send in the Condoms

We have had a wonderful half-century treating diseases with penicillin and related antibiotics. But, as evolutionary theory would predict, those diseases have been evolving in order to quite literally fight for their survival. New evidence suggests that gonorrhea has done exactly this, as a new drug-resistant strain of this sexually-transmitted disease has emerged and is spreading around the globe. MSNBC has the report from the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we've thrown at it," said Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a scientist in the agency's department of sexually transmitted diseases. This includes a group of antibiotics called cephalosporins currently considered the last line of treatment.
"In a couple of years it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now," she told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of WHO's public announcement on its 'global action plan' to combat the disease.
The WHO said those fears are now reality with many more countries, including Australia, France, Norway, Sweden and Britain, reporting cases of the sexually transmitted disease resistant to cephalosporin antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection which, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirths, severe eye infections in babies, and infertility in both men and women.
Once considered a scourge of sailors and soldiers, gonorrhea — known colloquially as the clap — became easily treatable with the discovery of penicillin. Now, it is again the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia. The global health body estimates that of the 498 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections worldwide, gonorrhea is responsible for some 106 million infections annually. It also increases the chances of infection with other diseases, such as HIV.

Frustratingly, nowhere in this article is there mention of the effective means for eliminating sexually transmitted diseases--using condoms during intercourse. By allowing the disease to spread, on the assumption that it can treated, we humans are the ones whose lack of vigilance permits the disease to remain alive on the planet. The old idea of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" seems all but forgotten--at least for the moment.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Demographics of the 2012 Presidential Election

The 2010 Census confirmed that the demographics of the US continue to change in rather dramatic ways. This is not the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) country of the 1950s. Immigration has changed that, although since many immigrants are not citizens, and their children may not yet be of voting age, the electorate is less demographically different from the past than is the population at large. These and other demographic issues related to the upcoming Presidential Election are the topics of an Opinion piece in today's New York Times by Thomas Edsall, a Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and author of “ The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics.”   The politics of race/ethnicity and religion are of particular interest to Edsall:
In a study published in February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Lifefound that mainline Protestants, once the dominant force not only in politics but in the national culture, had fallen to 18.1 percent of the electorate, behind both Protestant evangelicals and Catholics – and barely ahead of the fast-growing category of “unaffiliated,” which reached 16.1 percent.
But, here's the demographically most interesting bit, and I have underlined the punch line:
As presently constituted, the Republicans have become the party of the married white Christian past. This stance proved effective in the 1970s and 1980s, and again in 1994 and 2010, but time is running out. Will the party, of necessity, become more amenable to religious diversity? Will conservatives embrace immigration reform? Will Republicans try to drive a wedge between Hispanic and black voters in an effort to fracture the Democratic coalition? And will Republicans look to a more subdued form of capitalist competition?
 How will the Democratic Party cope with the fast approaching moment when non-Hispanic whites become a minority of its voters? Will Democratic presidential nominating contests become explicitly racial and ethnic? Will religious non-observance and a larger role for the state in the economy become explicit hallmarks of the center-left?
Edsall does not claim to have answers to those questions, but we should all give them some serious thought.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Children are the Future--Chinese Version

There is a large urban core of Chinese who have grown up being considerably better educated than their parents, and who are driving China forward. However, this week's Economist reports that there are still a lot of Chinese children being left behind.

THE greatest wave of voluntary migration in human history transformed China’s cities, and the global economy, in a single generation. It has also created a huge task for those cities, by raising the expectations of the next generation of migrants from the countryside, and of second-generation migrant children. They have grown up in cities in which neither the jobs nor the education offered them have improved much.
This matters because the next generation of migrants has already arrived in staggering numbers. Shanghai’s migrant population almost trebled between 2000 and 2010, to 9m of the municipality’s 23m people. Nearly 60% of Shanghai’s 7.5m or so 20-to-34-year-olds are migrants.
The problem lies with the hokou family registration system, which means that people whose families are registered as rural are considered rural, even if they were born in a city. This effectively shuts them out of the same educational benefits provided to children whose families are registered as urban.
In 2010 Shanghai was home to 390,000 children under the age of six who were officially classified as “migrants”.
They are fated to grow up on a separate path from children of Shanghainese parents. Migrant children are eligible to attend local primary and middle schools, but barred from Shanghai’s high schools. They receive better schooling and social benefits than their parents did, and some pursue different types of work (see next story), but their status and their education are still more likely to lead to an assembly line than a university classroom.
For years reformers have called for changes in the hukou system. Children with a rural hukou want to lead a better life than their parents did. Many have never worked on the farm, but the system denies them a fair chance to move up the ladder.
This is unlikely to change soon. First, China’s factories still need large numbers of migrants, and the system now in place ensures that many of them will seek work there. Second, Chinese cities have welcomed migrants without a coherent plan to educate them. Shanghai had 170,000 students enrolled in high school in 2010, but there were 570,000 migrant children aged 15 to 19 living in the city who were unable to attend those schools. “The Shanghai government needs to provide its educational resources to the locals first,” says Xu Benliang, deputy director of the Shanghai Charity Education and Training Centre, which teaches young migrants how to get on in life. Mr Xu says the centre tries to tell migrants: “Don’t complain about things that you can’t change.”
This doesn't bode well for the future of China, unless the goal of this nominally communist country is to heighten the already growing inequality in its younger generation.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Maximizing the Potential of Children

It's a cliché that children are the future, yet adults are often so wrapped up in themselves that they don't pay attention to the truth of that simple idea. Two stories this week made me think about this. The first is a report just issued by UNICEF suggesting that in relative terms, children in the US are very nearly the poorest and most deprived among all of the developed countries, with only Romanian children being in less good shape. As the Huffington Post notes, there are a variety of methodological issues in the analysis, but the overall lessons are probably pretty solid.
Sheldon Danziger, the director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, said the report does a good job of summing up what many economists have believed for a long time. "Among rich countries, the U.S. is exceptional," he said. "We are exceptional in our tolerance of poverty."
Danziger said he was especially impressed by a figure showing Canada and the U.S. have the same relative child poverty rate -- 25.1 The chart also showed that after government taxes, benefits and other social programs, Canada's child poverty rate drops to 13.1, while America's barely budges, hovering above 23.1 percent.
"Basically, other countries do more," he said. "They tend to have minimum wages that are higher than ours. The children would be covered universally by health insurance. Other countries provide more child care."
The second story comes from The National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. Researchers there note that according to data from the US National Surveys of Family Growth, men with the lowest levels of education are most likely to have become a father prior to their first marriage. This is an interesting topic in and of itself since premarital childbearing is almost always discussed in terms of mothers, not fathers. But, with rare exceptions, all of those babies have a father and without the support of both parents the odds of the child's success in life diminishes. Discouragingly, even among the most educated, there has been an increase in premarital fatherhood in the US.
Regardless of whether men first married in the 1990s or in the 2000s, the percentage who enter a first marriage with children declines with increased levels of educational attainment. Men with less than a high school education were the most likely to enter a first marriage with at least 1 child (41%) followed by men with a high school degree (34%) and men with some college (28%). Men with at least a Bachelor's degree were the least likely at only 6%. The greatest change occurred among men with at least some college--the percentage of fathers entering marriage with children doubled among those with some college (13% vs. 28%) and those with a Bachelor's degree (3% vs. 6%). 

None of these trends bodes particularly well for children in the US.