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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mediterranean Diet Gets a Boost from Science

A Mediterranean climate is indisputably one of the best in the world. Mediterranean diets have frequently claimed to be equally good, and today there was some published evidence in the New England Journal of Medicine supporting that idea. The essence of the Mediterranean diet is that it "is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals." It turns out that for many people this kind of a diet can lower your risk of heart disease. The New York Times summarizes the research.
The findings...were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.
Heart disease experts said the study was a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods. Scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.
The participants stayed with the Mediterranean diet, the investigators reported. But those assigned to a low-fat diet did not lower their fat intake very much. So the study wound up comparing the usual modern diet, with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods, with a diet that shunned all that.
A key caveat noted by the researchers is that the study focused on high-risk people, and so it cannot show that low-risk people will necessarily have similar dramatic results. But, hey, why take a chance? This is so closely connected to all aspects of the nutrition transition (and how humans have strayed into bad diets) that we have to pay attention.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Climate Change and Agriculture: New Bad News

As global climate change came into sharper focus in the 1990s, many people thought that this might actually work to the advantage of agriculture--leading to longer growing seasons at the same time that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might actually help to fertilize plants and heighten productivity. However, a report just released by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University offers little enthusiasm for that positive view of the effects of climate change.
First, newer experimental studies have sharply reduced older estimates of carbon fertilization effects. Second, the effect of temperature on many crops has been found to involve thresholds, above which yields rapidly decline; the number of hours above the threshold is typically more important than the average temperature. Third, climate change will bring significant changes in precipitation; in a number of important areas, decreases in precipitation may cause declines in agricultural production. Simple,
aggregated economic analyses of climate change have often omitted these crucial effects of precipitation.
The report is especially critical of economists (e.g, Julian Simon, although he is not mentioned by name) who have believed that technology will always lead to the substitution of expensive inputs for less expensive ones.
It should not be surprising that even a little climate change is bad for agriculture. The standard models and intuition of economic theory emphasize options for substitution in production – less steel can be used in making cars, if it is replaced by aluminum or plastic – but agriculture is fundamentally different. It involves natural processes that frequently require fixed proportions of nutrients, temperatures,  precipitation, and other conditions. Ecosystems don’t make bargains with their suppliers, and don’t generally switch to making the same plants out of different inputs.
The bottom line is that as population continues to grow, it is going to be increasingly difficult to grow the food we need. Sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen isn't going to cut it.
Global warming is now causing unprecedentedly rapid changes in the climate conditions that affect agriculture – much faster than crops can evolve on their own, and probably too fast for the traditional processes of trial-and-error adaptation by farmers. At the same time, the world’s population will continue to grow through mid-century or later, increasing the demand for food just as climate change begins to depress yields. To adapt to the inescapable early states of climate change, it is essential to apply the rapidly developing resources of plant genetics and biotechnology to the creation of new heat resistant, and perhaps drought-resistant, crops and cultivars.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The New Middle East?

The cover story in this week's Economist is about the death of Syria as we know it. The country has a complex history and incorporates considerable demographic diversity, at least in terms of ethnicity and religious differences. But it does seem that the current conflagration was largely unexpected and the world is pretty much sitting around watching it happen. The problem, of course, is that Syria's neighbors don't have that luxury. A story in today's New York Times details the incredible flood of refugees that Lebanon (whose government has been trying to keep a low profile) is trying to cope with.
Lebanon’s refugee crisis does not match the familiar image of vast, centralized tent camps and armies of foreign aid organizations. It is nowhere, and everywhere. Displaced Syrians seem to fill every nook and cranny: half-finished cinder block houses, stables, crowded apartments.
What really makes refugees politically radioactive is a painful national memory. Palestinians poured into Lebanon in 1948 and 1967, fleeing conflicts with Israel. Their arrival stoked sectarian divisions that helped ignite civil war. More than 400,000 Palestinians still live here, in camps with pockets of poverty and extremism where violence periodically erupts.
The Economist has the following assessment about the demographic impact thus far:
So far the fighting has claimed 70,000 or more lives; tens of thousands are missing. The regime has locked up 150,000-200,000 people. More than 2m are homeless inside Syria, struggling to find food and shelter. Almost 1m more are living in squalor over the border.
At this point it is impossible to tell how this will play out, but it seems reasonable to expect that the demographics of the region, not just the politics, will be permanently altered by all of this.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More People at Risk of Death from Earthquakes

Time flies, and it has been six years now since the National Research Council committee on which I served issued its report on populations at risk, but the issue is of course a huge and growing one. Every year more people are likely to be killed by earthquakes and the problem isn't earthquakes--it is population growth. This is a point made today in a science piece by Becky Oskin on NBC News, building on an article published in this month's issue of the journal Earthquake Spectra.
With the planet's growing population crowding more and more into these earthquake-prone regions, a new study predicts that 3.5 million people will have died in catastrophic earthquakes between 2001 and 2100. The toll will add additional stress to strapped aid agencies, said study author Tom Holzer, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif.
"The more people (there are) on the planet, the higher the probability of more catastrophic earthquakes," Holzer told OurAmazingPlanet. "Most earthquakes don't actually kill anybody. What is required is a concentration of people in harm's way."
Four catastrophic quakes (those that kill 50,000 or more people) have already hit since 2001. There was only one per century before 1900, and seven between 1900 and 2000. The total death toll from temblors so far this century is more than 700,000.
I happen to be one of those people living in an earthquake-prone region of the world (California), so I do pay attention to this. You probably should, as well, no matter where you live. The better prepared you are, the greater your resilience to any kind of disaster.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Insect Repellent No Longer so Repellent

Insecticides such as DEET have been important in protecting humans from potentially deadly insect bites, especially those from mosquitos. However, BBCNews reports on a paper just published by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggesting that mosquitos are getting used to DEET.
They say more research is needed to find alternatives to Deet, which was first developed by the US military.
Deet - or N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide - is one of the most widely used active ingredients in insect repellents. It was developed by the US military, following its experience of jungle warfare during World War II. 
The research was carried out on Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that spreads dengue and yellow fever. [The anopheles mosquito is the primary carrier of the malaria parasite.]
One of the interesting things about recent research has been the discovery of how DEET really works. The mosquitos don't like it's smell. Who knew! Unfortunately, it seems as though they are able to get past their initial repulsion to the smell, so the effect of DEET may be more limited than it used to be. This is not good news, of course.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Switzerland's Health Care Model for the US

Per person expenditures on health care in the US are essentially off the chart higher than any other country in the world, yet the US is down there at 23rd on the list in terms of overall life expectancy, according to data from the Paris-based think-tank OECD. The Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") was meant to close this gap a little bit, but in fact it may be that with a little work, it could transformed into the Swiss model of health care, according to a story in Slate. And this is worth paying attention to, since Switzerland has the second highest life expectancy in the world (after Japan) at a fraction of what the average American pays on an annual basis. The Swiss model seems ripe for copying by conservatives, according to Slate.
At the highest level of abstraction, the idea of the Affordable Care Act is that over time Americans should be transitioned out of a blend of employer-provided insurance and lack of insurance and into a system of regulated, subsidized, individual plans. The model is Switzerland. And in an informative Reuters piece, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy—two of the most important conservative health policy thinkers around—propose that Republicans embrace a system whose goal is to transition Americans into a system of regulated, subsidized, individual plans modeled on the Switzerland approach.
In other words, they want Republicans to surrender.
No repeal of Obamacare, no denouncing the individual mandate as unconstitutional, no insistence that the uninsured can just go to the emergency room. Surrender.
This is actually the kind of idea that is so crazy it could work. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More Angst About Aging in Asia

Mark Frazier, a professor of politics at the New School who has written a book about the topic, has an Op-Ed in today's NY Times discussing the way in which China is very hastily trying to organize pensions for its older population, especially in rural areas. These peasants, who were presumably the focus of the original Communist Revolution, have been almost systematically left out of the picture until very recently.
Most urban dwellers have been eligible for pensions since 1951, but rural pensions weren’t enacted until much later; as in all developing countries, rural families lived off the land and were supported by relatives.
But rapid urbanization and rural land grabs have jeopardized the retirement security of elderly Chinese in the countryside. The share of China’s population over the age of 60 is now 185 million, and will nearly double by 2030. A recent study estimated that over the next 20 years, the government will have accumulated $10.9 trillion in pension liabilities.
The problem is large, but so is China's economy and the Chinese have been expanding their economic influence in developing countries throughout the world, presumably to earn income to help pay some of these age-structure related costs. It was the advantageous age structure that helped the economy, and now the economy has to come to the rescue of the elderly who worked hard and had small families. One solution, resisted everywhere of course, is to raise the retirement age, which is currently 55 for women and 60 for men (well younger than in the US). But, as Frazier notes, another huge issue is the set of inequalities deeply entrenched in the country.
An enduring source of inequality in China has been the curse of geography: where you were born, lived and worked has largely determined the level and even existence of your retirement benefits. Reducing the urban-rural gap — as China this month announced a plan to do — is essential, as is saving elderly citizens from poverty.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Singaporeans Protest Plan to Bring in Immigrants

The city-state of Singapore, tucked into the end of the Malaysian Peninsula, had a baby boom after World War II, but the total fertility rate dropped below replacement in the 1970s and has stayed low since. To be sure, at the moment it is about 1.2, one of the lowest rates in the world--lower than China, but about the same as South Korea. For years the government of Singapore has tried everything it could think of to increase the birth rate among the population, but to no avail. So, the latest answer is to bring in immigrants and not everyone is happy about this plan, as NBC News reports:
Nearly 3,000 people held a rare rally in Singapore on Saturday to protest a government plan to increase the city-state's population by admitting more foreigners, voicing concerns that it will worsen already strained public services and push up the cost of living.
According to the plan, the government will bolster infrastructure and social programs to accommodate a projected population of 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030 — a marked increase from the current population of 5.3 million. Of the projected 2030 population, non-foreigners would form between 3.6 and 3.8 million, slightly more than half of the total.
The plan to admit more new citizens comes amid government concerns that the current population will not help ensure the economy remains robust, as Singapore grapples with a falling birthrate and aging baby boomers.
"In my view in 2030, I think 6 million will not be enough to meet Singaporeans' needs as our population ages because of this problem of the baby boomers and bulge of aging people," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in parliament on Feb. 8, adding that 6.9 million was not a target but a number to be used to help plan for infrastructure.
Although Singapore continues to bring in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from countries such as Indonesia and China to work as maids and construction workers, it also attracts thousands of higher-income foreigners who find the country's high standard of living and stability appealing.
The circumstances are obviously familiar--this is what the US, Canada, Australia, and most European countries have been dealing with. And, of course, the negative reaction is also a familiar one. We seem always to come back to the issue of xenophobia.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Filial Piety Takes a Hit in South Korea

A story in today's New York Times focuses on a growing trend of suicides among the elderly in South Korea, leading with the case of a 78 year old woman whose suicide was quite public and thus received a lot of publicity.
The woman’s death is part of one of South Korea’s grimmest statistics: the number of people 65 and older committing suicide, which has nearly quadrupled in recent years, making the country’s rate of such deaths among the highest in the developed world. The epidemic is the counterpoint to the nation’s runaway economic success, which has worn away at the Confucian social contract that formed the bedrock of Korean culture for centuries.
That contract was built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children — in recent times, depleting their life savings to pay for a good education — and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No Social Security system was needed. Nursing homes were rare.
If you have read my book, you know that these two paragraphs could well have described the United States in the 1930s, when older people were being left behind in rural areas as their children went to the cities for better jobs. Rising poverty among the elderly was indeed among the motivations for the US Social Security system. Furthermore, for many decades the suicide rate among the elderly in the US was higher than for all other ages except teenagers--only recently have the rates dropped below the 25-64 age group. 

The problem, of course, is not simply industrialization and urbanization but also the increased life expectancy that goes along with that. In 1950 in South Korea, for example, life expectancy at birth was only 50 and at that level only 45 percent of people born were likely to reach age 65. With higher fertility then than now the likelihood that any single younger person would ever have to care for his or her parent was quite low. Now, however, life expectancy in South Korea is 84 years and at this level, 95 percent of all people can expect still to be alive at age 65. Combined with smaller family size (which of course has allowed South Korea to become rich), the odds of a younger person having an older parent to care for have skyrocketed. It isn't that society is falling apart socially--it's really that society is no longer falling apart demographically, and that requires new ways of thinking about the older population.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Alabama Revisited--After the "Self-Deportations"

I'm here in Atlanta at a meeting at Emory University. Since Atlanta is close to Alabama (the freeway road signs point to Birmingham and Auburn, for example), I was taken by the immediacy of a report forwarded to me by Ruben Rumbaut at UC-Irvine. He describes the story as a bridging of  Irresistible Forces and Immigrant America (shameless plugs for our books, but there it is). This follows up on the incredibly restrictive laws against undocumented immigrants passes in Alabama a couple of years and subsequently upheld by the courts, as I noted at the time.  The story is lengthy and detailed and worth the effort to read--and I need to catch a taxi to the airport...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Abortion Setback in US

It turns out that the new Affordable Health Care Act ("ObamaCare") has a poison pill hidden in it that is allowing states to deny paying for abortions for women in those states, if the states so choose. NBC News has the story:
Abortion opponents are making use of a new way to restrict access to abortion – by using the authority states have over the new health insurance exchanges, which will be up and running in a year.
At least 21 states have legislation in place or in the works that will stop health insurance companies from paying for abortions for women. Arkansas governor Mike Beebe signed the latest piece on Monday.
Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the moves to block coverage on the exchanges were part of a larger anti-abortion strategy that relies on state law. “Our opponents have not seen much success at the federal level and they are turning to the state legislatures as an alternative strategy,” Singiser said in a telephone interview.
People who believe that women should have ready access to this kind of reproductive care are working hard to at least keep other states from passing similarly restrictive legislation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Europe Faces Some New Immigration Issues

President Obama's State of the Union Address last night touched fairly lightly on immigration reform, although my son, Greg Weeks, blogged today that some people think the window for getting something done will stay open longer on immigration issues than on other things that Obama mentioned. But, even as the US continues to dither on immigration reform, the issue of immigration is taking a new turn in Western Europe, especially the UK, where the concern is growing about the number of migrants from Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria and Romania. The Economist this week discusses the issue:
No European Union (EU) country is as worried as Britain about the uncontrolled mass immigration that a few predict could be unleashed next year when all 25 EU countries are obliged to open their labour markets fully to Bulgarians and Romanians who joined the union in 2007. This has to do with the country’s Eurosceptic mood, its experience of a big increase in immigration from Poland and other Eastern European countries in 2004—and general ill will towards immigration.
Yet Britain is not the only EU country with these concerns. German cities are on high alert due to the increased numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians migrants. “The social balance and social peace is extremely endangered,” says a recent internal paper of the German Association of Cities, according to Der Spiegel, a German weekly. They are especially worried about so-called poverty migration and the influx of Roma as “they often end up living in desolate conditions in houses only fit for demolition”, the document says.
A quick glance at World Bank data on per person GDP shows the potential problem. In Germany it is $44,606, and in the UK it is $39,036. By contrast, in Romania the figure is $7,158 and in Bulgaria it is $7,158. These ratios of per person GDP in the receiving countries to the sending countries in Europe are very comparable to the US/Mexico comparison, which is $48,112 to $10,047. Indeed, you can see that the average person in Mexico is better off than the average person in either Bulgaria or Romania.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Putting Cactus Back into our Diet

Increasing obesity is a global problem, although some populations struggle with it more than others. A researcher in Georgia has suggested that part of the problem is that the older generation has stopped passing down knowledge of local foods once the staple of indigenous populations. 
A growing generational disconnect between adults and children is putting thousands of years of cultural tradition and culinary knowledge in southern Arizona in jeopardy, according to a recent study by a researcher in the University of Georgia College of Public Health. The impact of this "knowledge gap" could help to explain the rise of childhood obesity, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Native American and Mexican-American populations in Arizona.
The Tohono O'odham, a Native American population native to the area, have a rich heritage of specializing in ethnobotany, using native plants for food and medicinal purposes. "One of the more interesting things regarding these wild foods was how effective they were in protecting against many of the diseases in question," Cherry said. "We can say they're healthy because they're high in fiber and low in sugar but also because they contain mucilaginous substances which actually regulate the release of sugar into the bloodstream."
These are not really new ideas. Rather, they just revisit the theory of the Nutrition Transition put together many years ago by Barry Popkin and his associates, as I discuss in Chapter 5. The problem here is that the older generation understood that the old diet--indeed all of the old ways--did not prevent early deaths and a low life expectancy. Public health measures and modern medicine have done that but, in the process of westernization, diets have changed and not necessarily for the better. We are now at the point where a return to at least some of the old dietary practices almost certainly would improve our health. In Mexico, for example, the prickly pear is a potential source of food that, as a dietary supplement, may prevent diabetes. If the miracles of modern public health and medicine are to be maintained, we almost certainly must rethink our dietary practices, whether it be eating cactus or something else that is similarly beneficial to your health. And, of course, remember that moderation in everything is likely to be good for you. The ancient Greeks understood that, even if it didn't do much for their low life expectancy.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Catholic Demographics

The world was surprised today by Pope Benedict's announcement that he would be stepping down, or retiring, or resigning as of 28 February. It's a bit difficult to know what to call the action since no one has done this for 719 years. At age 85, he is certainly not the oldest Pope, and other Popes have served until their death despite poor health. A quick Google search yielded a set of data about ages at death of 88 Popes, ranging back in time to the 12th century. Assuming these data are correct, the oldest age at death among Popes since the 12th century was Leo XIII who died at age 93 in 1903. Two other Popes had died in their 90s, and Pope Benedict, if he had died today instead of announcing that he was stepping down, would be eighth on the list of oldest Popes at the time of death. In general, Popes are a highly selective group with respect to mortality, because they are generally older when elected and installed, so they have demonstrated their survivability. In the period between 1200 and 1599 the average age at death of Popes was 67.2; between 1600 and 1799 it was 76.1; and since 1800 it has been 78.9.

The question of who will be the next leader of the Church has opened up a great deal of demographically-related speculation because the Catholic Church as become increasingly diverse over time. In the US, the Latino population has replaced the Irish and then Italian immigrant groups as the largest group of adherents. Globally, the number of Catholics has growing most rapidly in what might be thought of as the former Catholic-dominated European colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France, including most of Latin America, parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia--especially the Philippines. Will the Cardinals nonetheless select another European to lead this diverse post-colonial group?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Defining Race and Ethnicity in the US

Several months ago I commented on the fact that the Census Bureau was contemplating a change to the way in which it asks questions about race and Hispanic identity, molding the two questions into one category, consistent with the way most of us use the data by combining the two categories into "Hispanic Exclusive" categories. This week's Economist revives the issue, apparently because it fits in with the current debate about immigration reform. The article is especially worth reading because of the comments by my good friend, Rubén Rumbaut at UC, Irvine.
Some are sceptical about the proposal. Rubén Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, accepts the need for good data but says the bureau is thinking about race in 18th-century terms. Hispanic identity in America, he adds, is a “Frankenstein’s monster” that has taken on a life of its own.
The ethnic origins of some previous waves of immigrants have evaporated over time: Italians, Germans and Russians, dismissed by Benjamin Franklin in 1751 as of “swarthy Complexion”, are now, for the most part, just white. Similar forces may be at play today: last year the Pew Hispanic Centre found that among Hispanics of the third generation or above, almost half preferred to call themselves “American”. 
The point here, which is a very good one, is why we even use the concept of "race" at all anymore. The collection of data like this derive from our collective desire to measure inequalities, which are often driven by discrimination. But, as Rumbaut has famously said on other occasions, "race is a pigment of your imagination". So, we need to be more inventive about the ways in which we identify people, if we are really going to use these data for the improvement of society.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Children of Immigrants Are Doing OK in the US

Here's good news from the Pew Hispanic Research Center for everyone who is worried about the fact that the Baby Boom generation is not replacing itself demographically--the children of immigrants are doing quite well, thank you very much. The story is from the New York Times:
Americans who were born to immigrant parents, many of them the adult children of an enormous wave of immigrants who began arriving in the 1960s, are doing better than the foreign born on important measures of socioeconomic success, and in at least one area — education — have outperformed the population as a whole.
Given current immigration trends and birthrates, virtually all of the growth in the nation’s working-age population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants and their children.
The Pew report also offers some insight on the social integration of immigrant families. For example, overwhelmingly, adult children of immigrants Americans speak English, Pew found.
Hispanics and Asian-Americans, who make up about half of that group, place more importance on hard work and career success than the general public, according to the report. And they are also likely to consider themselves a “typical American.”
This is, in fact, the story of America. If there is such a thing as American "exceptionalism" this is it. Immigrants themselves may come in with fewer qualifications than the average native American, but their children build and rebuild the country.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Syrian Refugee Situation Just Keeps Getting Worse

As the civil war in Syria drags on, its neighbors are coping however they can with what has become a flood of refugees. This week's Economist summarizes data from the UN and adds some analysis of its own:
The office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously said it reckoned 1m people would have fled Syria by June. But already more than 700,000 have done so—and that includes only those who have been registered. The UNHCR will have to reassess an already dire situation.
Note that the UN also estimates that at least 2 million people are displaced within Syria and that overall the UN refugee agency is helping about one in five Syrians (out of 23 million) who are either in or out of the country.
Western governments are still loth to arm the rebels. Meanwhile, a sea of tents is growing on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, where refugee camps are already bursting. And Jordan is turning back Palestinians fleeing from Syria, fearing lest they brew trouble among Jordan’s own disgruntled Palestinian people. The Jordanian government has threatened to shut the borders completely if the rate of incoming refugees gets even bigger.
On January 29th around 80 male corpses, their hands bound and heads holed with gunshot wounds, were pulled out of a river near Aleppo. Mr Assad is pummelling rebel-held areas such as the Damascus suburb of Daraya into rubble in his determination to keep them under his control. In such circumstances, the incentive to leave is plainly growing. Syria’s refugee crisis is out of hand.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Spatial Political Demography of Immigration Reform

Although nearly half of all unauthorized immigrants are visa overstayers, not border crossers, it is the latter group that seems to catch the attention of the press and politicians. I mention this largely because a big deal has been made about securing the border as a prerequisite to allowing current unauthorized immigrants to begin a path toward citizenship. No matter how they came to the US, however, the distribution of unauthorized immigrants is not spatially random. The Pew Hispanic Research Center regularly estimates the size and distribution of this population using data from the annual Current Population Survey. Slate has posted a very nice state-by-state map on its website that gives you a  picture of how each state compares to the others. Clearly, there are parts of the US where the size of the population may produce a greater local demand to do something. Still, it is interesting to me that Pew's studies consistently show that immigration reform is not very high on the list of important issues in the minds of the average American voter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Can Boyz II Men Boost the Russian Birth Rate?

Thanks to Marta Jankowska for pointing me to one of the most ridiculous pronatalist schemes that I have seen in a long time. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (again), has long worried about the low birth rate in his country, which is estimated by the Population Reference Bureau to be 1.6 children per woman. Note, by the way, that this is one of the higher rates in Eastern and Southern Europe, so Russian women are not below average in the region as a whole, but they are still well below replacement level, especially since Russia's life expectancy of 69 lags behind the region. Now comes Putin's latest bright idea for boosting the birth rate:
Putin apparently hopes to harness the all-American boyband's raw romantic charm through a gig in Moscow to encourage their legions of Russian fans to reproduce ahead of Valentine's Day to songs such as I'll Make Love To You and On Bended Knee.
As Russia's population continues to fall to record lows, Putin's continuing PR campaign to persuade the population to have more children appears to have stalled. Until now.
Despite being the worlds largest country at over 6.5million square miles, high rates of smoking, alcoholism, pollution and poverty, together with falling rates, mean Russia's population will shrink to 116 million by 2050 from 142million last year.
Russia also has the world's third-largest heroin abuse rate and accounts for a third of all heroin deaths worldwide.
President Putin wants to boost the nation's birth rate by 25 per cent in the next three years to counteract the predicted decline.
We might safely say that the country needs a demographic do-over, and it needs more boys (and girls) to grow into men  (and women) if it is to even slow down population loss, despite being attractive to a lot immigrants (including reports of Chinese moving to Russia). Will Boyz II Men make the demographic difference? This will good a good field experiment. Let's remember to check on the country's birth rate next year at this time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vegetarians Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease

The eve of the Super Bowl is a good time to contemplate healthy and not-so-healthy dietary choices. For some reason, chicken wings seem to be the food of choice for a lot of Super Bowl watchers (run, chickens!), but the chips and guacamole are likely to be better for you. Researchers from the University of Oxford recently published a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with results from a longitudinal study carried out since the 1990s:
The risk of hospitalisation or death from heart disease is 32% lower in vegetarians than people who eat meat and fish, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.
This is the largest study ever conducted in the UK comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
The analysis looked at almost 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study, of whom 34% were vegetarian. Such a significant representation of vegetarians is rare in studies of this type, and allowed researchers to make more precise estimates of the relative risks between the two groups.
'Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease,' explains Dr Francesca Crowe, lead author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford.
My wife and I have been pescatarian (albeit not strictly vegetarian) for more than two decades, but for animal rights reasons, not specifically for health reasons. Still, it is good to know that saving the lives of animals might help to save your own life as well.

Friday, February 1, 2013

America's Changing Demographics

The latest effort to get immigration reform going in Congress is, by all media accounts, a reflection of the changing demographics of the US. Of course, those changing demographics are themselves a result of immigration to the US, so there is an interesting circularity here. The demographic fit in the respective age structures especially of the US and Mexico has been economically beneficial to both countries. But the rise in the undocumented population has also been a result of the increased border enforcement that essentially traps people in the US because they can no longer go back and forth as the economy ebbs and flows. All of these things have meant that the Latino population, which is younger (i.e., more likely to be of reproductive age) than average, is growing quickly. Indeed, quickly enough that new population projections out for the State of California suggest that in a year from now (2014) Hispanics will surpass non-Hispanic whites in California, such that neither group will be a majority, but overall it will be a minority-majority state. 

There are some exceptions in the state, however. In San Diego, where I live, it will be another 20-25 years before that numeric equality of Latinos and non-Hispanic whites occurs, as I noted in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. San Diego County has always been a demographic outlier along the US-Mexico border, where every other county has had a Latino majority for many years now.