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:

Friday, May 31, 2013

German Census 2011 Results Are Out

Germany today revealed the results of its 2011 census of population, the first complete enumeration in the country since reunification. Because of concerns over privacy, Germans had been relying since 1987 on population registers and sample surveys instead of censuses, as have several other European countries, but the European Union adopted a policy encouraging all member states to conduct censuses of population and housing in 2011 and Germany stepped up to do that. Even before the census, German officials were concerned that they were overestimating Germany's population, and the census data confirmed that fact, as noted in today's New York Times:
Germany, a country already deeply concerned about its rapidly dwindling population, released the results of its first census in nearly a quarter of a century and found 1.5 million fewer inhabitants than previously assumed.
German officials believed that the registries kept by all municipalities gave them a good idea how many residents they had. But foreigners who registered when they moved in, as required, apparently were leaving the country without ever unregistering from their apartments. In the process they created what statisticians here call “card-index corpses,” phantom residents who lived on in the records long after having departed the country.
Of course, the census was conducted in 2011, and since then there have been issues in southern Europe (as well as in North Africa) that have led some to believe that a lot immigrants might be headed to Germany, as reported by the Telegraph last December. Indeed, instead of the population "shortfall," today's Telegraph was more interested in the continuing demographic divide between east and west Germany:
The census figures underlined the extent to which young people have deserted east Germany. The country’s eastern states have a higher share of over-65s, ranging from 22.1 per cent in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, to nearly a quarter of the population in Saxony. In the west, the proportion of over-65s in the population ranges from 19.4 per cent to 22.1 per cent. Many of those who have left the east in the past decades are young women of childbearing age. Germany as a whole has an ageing population; there are 17 million people over 65 compared with just 12.6 million children, according to the census gathered in May 2011.
Nearly one in five of the German population has a migrant background, according to the census, despite the fact that until recently politicians have insisted that Germany is “not a country of immigration”. The east is far less racially diverse than the west, reflecting the fact that economic opportunity is concentrated in the south and west.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Women Do More Breadwinning; Probably Less Bread-making

Pew Research yesterday issued a new report on American families, based on American Community Survey data, supplemented with their own phone interviews. The conclusion: An unprecedented 40 percent of US households with children have a mother as a breadwinner, either solely or jointly. In 1960, the figure was 11 percent. CBS News reported on the story:
Demographers say the change is all but irreversible and is likely to bring added attention to child-care policies as well as government safety nets for vulnerable families. Still, the general public is not at all sure that having more working mothers is a good thing.
While roughly 79 percent of Americans reject the notion that women should return to their traditional roles, only 21 percent of those polled said the trend of more mothers of young children working outside the home is a good thing for society, according to the Pew survey."This change is just another milestone in the dramatic transformation we have seen in family structure and family dynamics over the past 50 years or so," said Kim Parker, associate director with the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project. "Women's roles have changed, marriage rates have declined -- the family looks a lot different than it used to. The rise of breadwinner moms highlights the fact that, not only are more mothers balancing work and family these days, but the economic contributions mothers are making to their households have grown immensely."
To be sure, a majority of families, albeit a slim majority, are more "traditional," but keep in mind that the "traditional" male breadwinner system was created fairly recently by the rise of urbanization. In farm families in the past, everyone contributed to the family economy. It was only in urban areas that women were relegated to the economic back seat. Now, as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What If Replacement Level Fertility is Not the Norm?

In Chapter 3 of my book I discuss the fact that population stability--births equaling deaths--has rarely been achieved in known human societies and so it might be better to think that change, rather than stability, is the demographic norm. Nonetheless, there has been a tendency among demographers to project populations into the future on the assumption that replacement level fertility (the number of children that produces population stability given a certain death rate) is the norm. To be sure, a decade ago the UN Population Division did deviate from that a bit by projecting the world's population out to 2300 with a range of TFRs from 1.85 (clearly below replacement) to 2.35 (above replacement given current life expectancy). Just today, three prominent demographers--Stuart Basten, Wolfgang Lutz, and Sergei Scherbov--have published a new set of population projections out to 2300 that take a much wider view of the future, including the possibility that low fertility norms may have settled in for the long term.
There is little doubt that from an evolutionary perspective our sex drive has been the main mechanism assuring the reproduction of the human species and that modern contraception has radically changed this pattern (e.g. Frejka 2008b). In this context, individual desires, ideals, and social norms are paramount for the decision to have a child. Indeed, fertility ideals and intentions have been described as powerful predictors of future fertility behaviour (e.g. Morgan and Rackin 2010).
They go on to show that a slight majority of European couples, for example, think that two children is the ideal family size, but they also review research suggesting that declining fertility itself leads to lower ideal family size among couples. In other words, the causal connection here is a bit weak, suggesting that we should be cautious in assuming that fertility will rise just because the reported ideal family size is higher than the current level of fertility.
If, however, global fertility in the long run converged to a level of 1.5 – which is slightly below the 2009 average level in the European Union of 1.59 (Eurostat 2012) – then, after peaking around the middle of the century, the world population would return to the current level of seven billion people by 2100. By the end of the 22nd century it would then fall below three billion even though under this scenario, life expectancies would continue to increase until they reach 100 years in all parts of the world.
Is a future with long term global fertility below two and, hence, long term population decline something to be concerned about? Ecologists have long demanded a smaller world population size with a lighter ecological footprint and assumed, in the spirit of Malthus, that this will come naturally as a consequence of higher mortality caused by overpopulation and the resulting disasters. Our calculations clearly demonstrate that this desired decline can be reached even under conditions of further increasing life expectancy.
Keep in mind that only two hundred years the world's population was scarcely one billion, so the population growth we're in right now may just be a bubble, and we may be much better off down the road with a smaller, but better educated and more ecologically-conscious group of humans. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Commencement Speech II

A few days ago I mentioned my commencement address and that more would be coming. Today is the time for that. Here is what I hoped people would pay most attention to (and many clearly did):
Here’s my number 1 lesson in life—the more you give, the more you get. I didn’t grow up knowing this, but I learned this lesson from my wife (who is my high school sweetheart and marrying her is the most important thing that ever happened to me), and from her lifelong friend (an SDSU alum, by the way) who has based her life on her grandmother’s simple premise: cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back sandwiches. The more you do for others, the richer your life will be.
But, in fact, I think I got more comments on this "lesson":
You may know the old Zen saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. What is also true is that teachers sometimes come in unexpected packages. For example, I love my dog and I find that I learn important things about life from him, reminding me of what the writers Matt Weinstein and Luke Barber think you would learn if a dog were your teacher. We would learn to be a better, happier person if:

1. When loved ones come home, you always run to greet them;
2. Avoid biting, when a simple growl will do;
3. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk; and
4. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it, wherever that leads you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Yet Another Chapter in Europe's Struggle With Immigrants

Christopher Caldwell's book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, came out four years ago, but the theme remains important. As tolerant as Europeans generally are toward immigration, their historical lack of experience with immigration has created a variety of problems. Often the problem is a backlash from the native population that resents the immigrants, but there is also backlash from the immigrants over their perception of how they are being treated. This latter issue popped up in Sweden a few days ago, according to the New York Times.
In Stockholm and other towns and cities last week, bands made up mostly of young immigrants set buildings and cars ablaze in a spasm of destructive rage rarely seen in a country proud of its normally tranquil, law-abiding ways.
The disturbances, with echoes of urban eruptions in France in 2005 and Britain in 2011, have pushed Sweden to the center of a heated debate across Europe about immigration and the tensions it causes in a time of deep economic malaise.
You can appreciate that in a country that has been unusually accepting of and generous toward immigrants, especially those from troubled middle eastern countries, there is genuine puzzlement about this.
“I don’t know why anybody would want to burn our school,” Ms. Bromster [school principal] said. “I can’t understand it. Maybe they are not so happy with life.”
The most often asserted explanation is the relatively high unemployment rate among younger immigrants, but as I have noted before, the biggest issue is xenophobia--it just takes time for people to get used to one another. And by "time" I mean perhaps a generation or more. This is unlikely to be easy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Demographic Bumps Along Myanmar's Road to Democracy

This week's Economist has a special report on what they call Myanmar's "Burmese Spring," the rather sudden and unexpected--albeit certainly welcome--transition to democracy after decades of military dictatorship (during which time the country's name was changed from Burma to Myanmar). So important is this top-down transformation that the new leader was in Washington, DC, this week to meet with President Obama. But, there are some obstacles to progress, and the Economist notes that ethnic strife is one of the biggest.
The murderous attacks by Buddhists on Muslims in Rakhine state in June and October last year, which spread to central Myanmar this year, reflect a hatred of non-Burman incomers of a different faith dating back to early colonial times.
If these outbursts of racially and religiously motivated killing are not dealt with they could spiral out of control. An archaic law passed in 1982 denies any form of citizenship to the Muslim Rohingya, the victims in Rakhine state, on the ground that they are not an “indigenous race” like the Kachin, Karen and others. The other ethnic minorities have suffered the same sort of discrimination at the hands of Buddhist Burmans for being Christians as the Rohingya have for being Muslims, but in practice the Rohingyas are in the worst plight because as non-citizens they have no rights at all.
In what can only be seen as a step back, authorities in Rahkhine state this week passed a law imposing a two-child limit on Muslim families. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that:
Local officials said Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95 percent Muslim.
The unusual order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group, and is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new program was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.
Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.
Stay tuned--this seems like a recipe for even more disaster.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Restoring Some Rights in Arizona

Arizona is a state that has been a leader in restricting the rights of Latinos and of women. But this week there has been some push-back from the Federal Courts. First came a ruling striking down the overly restrictive abortion policy.
A federal appellate panel struck down Arizona’s abortion law on Tuesday, saying it was unconstitutional “under a long line of invariant Supreme Court precedents” that guarantee a woman’s right to end a pregnancy any time before a fetus is deemed viable outside her womb — generally at 24 weeks.
The law, enacted in April 2012 despite vociferous protest by women’s and civil rights groups, made abortions illegal if performed 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, or roughly 18 weeks after fertilization, even if the woman learned that the fetus had no chance of surviving after birth. At 18 weeks, many fetal abnormalities can be detected through sonograms.
The 20 week timing, also introduced in other states, is based on a theory (and only a theory) that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. A woman, of course, can feel pain at any time, but these people don't seem to care about that.

Then came the ruling on arresting someone on suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant just because they were Latino, as discussed by Lawrence Downes in the New York Times.
How do we know that Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., is a racial profiler, an abuser of power who has subjected Latinos for years to unconstitutional arrests, detention and harassment?
We know, because a federal court says so — Judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court in Phoenix, in a 142-page opinion released on Friday, excoriated the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office for violating the Fourth and 14th Amendment rights of Latinos by illegally using race as a factor in questioning people in neighborhood sweeps and traffic stops.The sheriff acknowledged his lawlessness by stating, over and over, his intention to go after “the illegals” without ever answering the unanswerable question: What does an illegal immigrant look like?
These cases may be appealed to the Supreme Court for final adjudication, but at least things are moving in the right direction.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Teen Pregnancies Continue to Drop in US

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in the US (I'll bet you didn't know that), and the Centers for Disease Control have highlighted data showing that the teen birth rate continues to drop in this country. CBS News had coverage of the story.
The nation's record-low teen birth rate stems from robust declines in nearly every state, but most dramatically in several Mountain States and among Hispanics, according to a new government report. 
All states but West Virginia and North Dakota showed significant drops over five years. But the Mountain States of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah saw rates fall by 30 percent or more.
In 22 states, teen Hispanic birth rates plunged at least 40 percent, which was described as "just amazing," by the report's lead author, Brady Hamilton of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No one is certain of the reasons for the continued decline, but one can hope that it is related to the realization among girls that their life will be a lot better off (and their children will be better off) if they can postpone having a child. Although the overall rate is declining, it is still the case that less than one-fourth of babies born to teen moms are intended, clearly suggesting the need to continue spreading the word about birth control, as I mentioned almost three years ago on this same topic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Irish Potato Famine Pathogen Identified (revised)

Although it came too late to help the Irish of the 19th century, British scientists have sequenced DNA from potato leaves in museums to identify the pathogen that caused the blight that became the Irish Potato Famine. It's name? Phytophthora infestans-HERB 1. According to the report in the BBCNews, the researchers think that this strain has probably disappeared as a result of potato breeding. However, that doesn't mean that potatoes are home free.
The researchers believe the strain - HERB-1 - emerged in the early 1800s and continued to spread globally throughout the 19th Century.
Only in the 20th Century, after new potato varieties were introduced, was it replaced by another Phytophthora infestans strain, US-1, which is now dominant around the world.
Although the story for a long time was that the blight originated in the US and crossed the Atlantic on a trading ship, NBCNews reports that these researchers believe the DNA traces the blight to Mexico:
By mapping the genetic differences between the 19th-century samples and 15 modern-day strains of blight, the scientists could reconstruct the pathogen's evolution over the centuries. They determined that the blight originated in Mexico's Toluca Valley. The species' genetic diversity increased markedly in the 16th century, around the time that Spanish explorers settled the New World. That era marked the wider spread of potato varieties, and probably hastened the evolution of Phytophthora infestans as well.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Americanization is Bad for Your Health, Part II

Not long ago, I discussed an article in the Chronicle of Social Change featuring my colleague, RubĂ©n Rumbaut, on the topic of Americanization being bad for your health. A couple of days ago, a now widely circulated article appeared in the New York Times under the title "The Health Toll of Immigration." The author talked to a lot of people who have done research in this area (albeit for some reason not Professor Rumbaut). As I mentioned earlier, the idea that American is not good for you is really not a new topic, but presumably these things resurface as the immigration bill gets closer to being passed. 

While the story makes some good points, the author does venture into space in the final paragraphs:
In the De Angeles [Brownsville, Texas] snack bar, a favorite meeting place for elderly Brownsvillians, one regular who is 101 still walks across the bridge to Mexico. Maria De La Cruz, a 73-year-old who immigrated to the United States in her 40s, says her secret is raw garlic, cooked cactus and exercise, all habits she acquired from her father, a tailor who died at 98.
“He had very pretty legs, like mine,” she said, laughing. “You want to see them?”
These stories of people living to old age because of one strange habit or another is largely the stuff of urban (or more accurately, rural) legend, but there is the implication in this article that life expectancy is higher in Mexico than in the US and that the health of immigrants is threatened by coming to the US. Indeed, at one point, the comment is made that:
And health habits in Mexico are starting to look a lot like those in the United States. Researchers are beginning to wonder how long better numbers for the foreign-born will last. Up to 40 percent of the diet of rural Mexicans now comes from packaged foods, according to Professor Valdez [Robert O. Valdez, a professor of family and community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico].
This is happening in many countries, not just Mexico, of course and it is, to be sure, a global concern. However, life expectancy is not now, nor has it ever been, higher in Mexico than in the US. To be sure, the gap is narrowing. Fifty years, life expectancy for women in Mexico was 61 years, compared to 74 for US women. Now, the life expectancy for Mexican women is 79. whereas it is 81 for US women. Much, if not most, of that difference is explained by the improving health of children in Mexico.

Overall, then, immigrants bring better diets, less smoking, less use of drugs, and a package of cultural protections (especially the family) that combine to translate into lower death rates in the US than if they had stayed home in Mexico. It is the second generation that slips away from those patterns of the immigrants. Thus, the health toll is really not on the immigrants, but on their children and grandchildren.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Syrian Diagnosis: Too Many People and Too Little Water

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is in Syria right now and his column yesterday laid out a more nuanced view of what's going on there than I had previously seen. The population of Syria has been doubling about every 20 years since the end of World War II, as death rates have dropped faster than fertility rates, as I have discussed before. This geometric increase has taken a serious toll on the country's resources, especially agriculture. This was exacerbated in 2000 when Assad took over the country from his father.
...he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.
Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized.
Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.
 As Friedman notes, this relatively simple prescription for revolution is not, unfortunately, associated with an equally simple prescription for fixing the problem:
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.
And he didn't even mention the Russians... 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why Let a Good Commencement Speech Go To Waste?

I was asked this year to be the commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Letters here at SDSU. Besides keeping it short, there were no rules about what I should say, and of course that opened the door for comments about population. There is nothing new here to anyone who has my book, but I figured that most of the several thousand people in the audience have not done so. Thus, the following comments seemed appropriate. I took them back to my own undergraduate days at Berkeley in the early 60s when I first discovered demography working for Kingsley Davis...
...In population studies back then, everyone was concerned about high birth rates. To be sure, this was the era of Paul Ehrlich and the population bomb. But, actually, the more dramatic change quietly taking place all over the world was the decline in mortality.
We didn’t go from just one billion people alive only two hundred years ago (a mere blink of an historical eye) to more than seven billion people now just because of high fertility. Rather, it was the decline of death rates that produced population growth, since people don’t immediately stop having kids when they realize that their children are going to survive, rather than die early.
And why do you care about that? Because this dramatic improvement in life expectancy over the last century has transformed our lives in immeasurable ways. A century ago in this country, life expectancy was in the 40s, and less than a third of babies born survived to age 65. Now, life expectancy for females is 81 years, and nearly everyone survives to age 65.
We don’t have to give much thought to death until we get older, and that has given us “scope” in our lives that was unthinkable in human history until—actually--about the time i was born. It may seem as though this makes us the luckiest people ever born, but it isn’t luck. It all comes back to the unprecedented increase in education that has been taking place ever since the enlightenment took root in Europe in the 17th century--getting more and more people to understand the classics, philosophy, history and geography, and especially overcoming tradition and superstition in order to expand scientific endeavors (including the sciences that have allowed us to control death and live these long lives).
OK. So, you’ve got a longer life ahead of you than anyone who came before. And, by the way, an even longer life because you’re well educated, than if you had failed to get the degree you’re being awarded today. Each year of education turns out to add to your life expectancy.
What are you going to do with these bonus years? Well, here is where an old-timer like me comes in handy because i’ve been around the block—i know what’s out there. I promise not to quiz you on this, but you might want to pay attention anyway.
And what are those lessons? Watch this space for Commencement Speech 2. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

New Stuff from UN Population Division

The United Nations Population Division has just released two new data products of interest to all demographers. The first of these is a wallchart (like the PRB's Population Data Sheet) of abortion policies in countries of the world as of 2013. Most striking to me is the very clear divide on abortion on demand between the richer countries (where abortion is generally available), and less developed countries (where abortion is generally less available).

The second new item is the World Population Policies 2011 report, including country profiles with policy information on population growth, age structure, fertility, reproductive health and family planning, health and mortality, spatial distribution and internal migration, and international migration for all countries dating back to the mid-1970s. Abortion policies are obviously a part of the overall population policy package, but in this package of data the key item over time, in my opinion, is the attitude of governments toward population growth in general, as well as specific aspects of demographic change. For example, among the 49 least developed countries in the world, not a single one thinks its population growth is too slow, whereas among the 49 more developed nations, 26 think that population growth is too low.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Republicans vs. Latinos

If one can "re-tweet" then certainly one can "re-blog," and that is what I am doing today. This is from my son's daily blog devoted largely to Latin American issues:
Thanks to a student for pointing this out to me via Twitter. The Republican National Committee's director in charge of Florida's Latino outreach just announced he's switching to the Democratic Party. Holy cow. Here is an excerpt from an open letter he published.
"It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them."
That pretty much sums up the serious long-term problem the Republican Party has. Being openly hostile to a very large and growing group of people--especially after already having alienated African Americans--is self-destructive. Nonetheless, a vocal part of the party is doubling down on racism.
Demography is unforgiving. The slope to minority status is not steep but it is relentless.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Environmental Change and Migration Revisited

As it has become increasingly apparent that global climate change will have very specific local effects in various parts of the world, concern has risen about the impact on current residents of those places that are most affected. The initial ideas were relatively simple: people are going to be forced to migrate elsewhere and this may spawn of host of unintended consequences. A new report from the Migration Policy Institute's Europe office provides a more nuanced view. The initial concern in Europe was whether or not Europe might be inundated by climate change refugees. The authors think not.
That evidence suggests that:

► Increased migration to Europe as a direct result of environmental change is unlikely.

► Those affected by environmental change are more likely to migrate to urban areas where economic opportunities are greater but where there are increased risks of negative climate or environmental change.

► Some populations affected by environmental change may find it difficult to move (and may become, in effect, trapped) even though migration is their best strategy to improve their life chances.

► The increased risk of conflict as a result of environmental change is unproven. In fact, the reverse may be the case (where conflict over scarce resources could be increased by an inability to migrate).
Although the report is a policy brief and is designed to help plan for the future, the above points strike me as a realistic set of testable hypotheses that researchers should be working on, even as policy-planners are thinking of defensive strategies.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Size of the Labor Force and Demographic Dividends in India

One of the more popular stories in this week's Economist is one about "Angry Young Indians: What a Waste." The issue is that India is not creating good jobs for its labor force in the same way that China has done.
IN THE past 35 years, hundreds of millions of Chinese have found productive, if often exhausting, work in the country’s growing cities. This extraordinary mobilisation of labour is the biggest economic event of the past half-century. The world has seen nothing on such scale before. Will it see anything like it again? The answer lies across the Himalayas in India.
India is an ancient civilisation but a youthful country. Its working-age population is rising by about 12m people a year, even as China’s shrank last year by 3m. Within a decade India will have the biggest potential workforce in the world.
This is a bit of demographic sleight-of-hand on the part of the Economist. According the medium-variant projections of the UN Population Division, China's population aged 20-59 (the prime labor force years) in 2020 ("within the decade") will account for 20.2 percent of all people in the world of that age, whereas India's population of that age will account for "only" 18.3 percent. In other words, Chinese labor force is not yet on the verge of being overtaken by India's.

However, the qualifier "potential workforce" is where the rub lies. In 2020, China's population aged 5-19 will be only 13.0 percent of all people that age, whereas in India, youth aged 5-19 will account for 20.0 percent of all humans that age. This, however, undermines the next paragraph in the Economist's story:
Optimists look forward to a bumper “demographic dividend”, the result of more workers per dependant and more saving out of income. This combination accounted for perhaps a third of the East Asian miracle. India “has time on its side, literally,” boasted one prominent politician, Kamal Nath, in a 2008 book entitled “India’s Century”.
This is just wrong. The "demographic dividend" occurs when fertility falls dramatically prior to the aging of the population. This happened in China, but it is not happening in India. India is NOT on the verge of a demographic dividend. It is, however, on the verge of a continuing large number of young people which its economy probably won't be able to handle.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Census and Insanity--Is This Nuts, or What?

This month marks the publication by the American Psychiatric Association of the latest version of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5(TM))." This is a particularly controversial revision because, among other things, it will no longer treat Asperger's as a distinct diagnosis, but rather will push it into autism spectrum disorder. But what do mental health diagnoses have to do with the census? Well you might ask, and a book review in the Smithsonian magazine this month offered a clue. Even before that new manual has been published, a critique of it has been put out by Gary Greenberg. Full disclosure--I have not yet read the book, but the Smithsonian (May 2013 issue, page 99--not available for free on the internet) reports that "the manual originated in the 19th-century needs of the U.S. Census--the government wanted to know just how many people were 'insane.'" 

Now, this comment seemed to me to be a bit slanderous toward the census which, in and of itself, does not need to know about insanity. However, a quick check of the US Census Bureau's website turned up a page of history in which they report the following with respect to the 1900 Census:
In the act authorizing the 1900 census, Congress limited census content to questions dealing with population, mortality, agriculture, and manufacturing. Reports on these topics, called "Census Reports," were to be published by June 30, 1902. The act also authorized special census agents to collect statistics relating to incidents of deafness, blindness, insanity, juvenile delinquency, and the like; as well as on religious bodies; utilities; mining; and transportation, among others. These statistics were to be collected following the completion of the regular census. The preparation of the special reports developed from these statistics was to be accomplished in such a way so as to not interfere with the completion of the Census Reports.
So, we can see that the census itself was not concerned about insanity. Rather, it was Congress that was pushing its agenda through the census survey. This is, of course, a familiar enough story...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reproductive Battles in Israel

I have mentioned before that the ultra-orthodox population of Israel is creating a new internal demographic revolution within that country. The Israeli Parliament is currently trying to address some of these issues, and it has brought gender segregation and high fertility to the front burner, as reported in  yesterday's New York Times.
The showdown on Friday came two days after Israel’s attorney general ordered government ministries to end gender segregation in buses, cemeteries, health clinics and radio airwaves, and as Parliament is drafting sweeping legislation to integrate the swelling ultra-Orthodox minority into the army and work force, while cutting back the subsidies their large families rely on. Following decades in which ultra-Orthodox politicians provided critical swing votes in exchange for control over religious institutions, they were shut out of the governing coalition that formed this spring and have become an increasingly shrill part of the opposition.
The demographic concern is that the much higher fertility of the ultra-orthodox population will dramatically shift the nature of Israeli society. And, indeed, one of the group's leaders expressed this as a goal:
But Rabbi Israel Eichler, an ultra-Orthodox member of Parliament, warned that “if the state of Israel fights” the ultra-Orthodox, in Hebrew called Haredim, “it may win, but it will be erased from the face of the Earth.”
“There were thousands of seminary girls there today,” he said. “Each one of them will have 10 children. That is our victory.”
Many years ago, Yasser Arafat called on Palestinian women to defeat Israel through a high birth rate. Now, it seems that the threat is from within, not just from the outside.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Election Demographics Revealed

There was no question that demographics drove the most recent presidential election here in the US, as I discussed several times last November. Every March the Current Population Survey includes sociodemographic questions beyond the usual monthly labor force issues, and after each national election, respondents are asked about how they voted in that election. The Census Bureau just today released those results, with the major headline that "Blacks Voted at a Higher Rate than Whites in 2012 Election — A First, Census Bureau Reports." However, the data are a little more nuanced than that, since there were regional differences. For example:
Although blacks voted at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites nationally in 2012, this result was not uniform across the country. In the East North Central, East South Central, Middle Atlantic, and South Atlantic divisions, blacks voted at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites. In the Mountain and Pacific divisions, non-Hispanic whites voted at higher rates than blacks. In the New England, West North Central and West South Central divisions, voting rates for the two groups were not significantly different from each other.
Beyond the increase in voting among blacks, the increasing diversity of the US population is reflected in the increasing diversity of the electorate:
"Blacks have been voting at higher rates, and the Hispanic and Asian populations are growing rapidly, yielding a more diverse electorate," said Thom File, a sociologist in the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch and the report's author. "Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over one in six in 1996 to more than one in four in 2012."
Two disturbing trends in the data are that men are falling behind women in terms of turning out to vote, and younger people are less likely to vote than used to be the case, especially young men.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Immigration Reform Opponents Get Ugly

A couple of days ago, David Brooks of the New York Times had a very reasoned article focusing on what the opponents of immigration reform would actually accomplish by defeating the current immigration reform bill being considered in Congress. Toward the end he addresses the demographic realities of the US:
Finally, opponents of reform are trying to hold back the inevitable. Whether immigration reform passes or not, the United States is going to become a much more cosmopolitan country than it is now. The country will look more like the faces you see at college commencement exercises and less like the faces you see in senior citizen homes.
One crucial question is whether America will be better off in that future with today’s dysfunctional immigration laws or something else? Another interesting question is whether a major political party is going to consign itself to permanent irrelevance. If conservatives defeat immigration reform, the Republicans will definitely lose control of one thing for years to come: political power.
This article provided a good set of counter-arguments to the genuinely ugly report on immigration that came out that same day from the Heritage Foundation. Their report, innocuously titled "The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the US Taxpayer," claims that providing amnesty to the current undocumented immigrants would ultimately cost the US taxpayer $6.3 trillion dollars. This is based on the assumption that all such people will receive far more in government benefits than they pay in taxes. In other words, they and their children are and will forever be a poor and useless subset of the population. 

However, as the Huffington Post pointed out today, immigration supporters were ready for this:
Six years ago, the Heritage Foundation helped kill immigration reform. Now the conservative think tank is on the defensive, fielding attacks from left and right over its claim that reform would cost trillions. The change is a sign of why reform is far more likely to survive this time around.
In 2007, senior research fellow Robert Rector wrote two reports that helped kill immigration reform the following year — one predicting a flood of 100 million new legal immigrants over the next 20 years, the other again finding that reform would swell the welfare ranks. Senators referenced it during debates; Rush Limbaugh caught then-Vice President Cheney off-guard by asking about the findings in an interview.
A Heritage report co-authored by Rector released this week made similar claims. But this time reform supporters were ready — and coming from the right.
We can hope that the analysis is correct that this time the pieces really are in place to pass the legislation, despite the negative knee-jerk reactions to it on the part of some people.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Save the Children

The non-governmental organization Save the Children has just released its "State of the World's Mothers-2013" that includes a foreword by Melinda Gates (whose foundation helped support the effort), adding to its gravitas. There are at least three important themes in the report: (1) children and their mothers are still at higher risk of death than they should be, given what we know about saving lives; (2) there is nonetheless global progress being made, and we have to continue to push that agenda; and (3) the US does worse on this than virtually any other developed nation. Messages 1 and 2 were drowned out in the media by message 3, which was sensationalized a bit on NBC News:
The U.S. is a worse place for newborns than 68 other countries, including Egypt, Turkey and Peru, according to a report released Tuesday by Save the Children.
A million babies die every year globally on the same day they were born, including more than 11,000 American newborns, the report estimates. Most of them could be saved with fairly cheap interventions, the group says.
That first point is simply not true. It distorts the facts. The US is doing less well than it should, but newborns are not at higher risk of death than are babies in Egypt, Turkey, or Peru. The report calculates rates of mortality on the first day of life per 1,000 live births and on that very specific rate, the US is, to be sure, tied with Egypt, Turkey, and Peru at 3 per 1,000. But, if you then look at neonatal mortality rates (deaths in the first month of life per 1,000 live births), the US rate is 4, compared to 7 in Egypt, 9 in Turkey, and 9 in Peru. For most countries, the first day mortality rates are based on simulation models, not on real data, so it is not clear to me why they would emphasize this so much, except for the sake of getting attention.

Still, it is worth emphasizing that infant mortality rates in the US are among the highest in developed nations. This is not news, as I have noted it before, and the main culprit is pre-term births. Data from the Centers for Disease Control consistently point out that pre-term births are highest among non-Hispanic Blacks, the majority of whom are born to unmarried mothers, and a disproportionate share of whom are teenagers. There's work to do here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Census Bureau Contemplates Dropping ACS Question on Number of Marriages

An email message went out today from Professor Steven Ruggles at the Minnesota Population Center that the Census Bureau is thinking about dropping the question on the number of times respondents have been married. Here is the complete text of the message:
I am writing to alert you that the Census Bureau is planning to drop the question on "number of times married" from the American Community Survey. For those of us who study family demography, this change would be a major loss. The times married question is not only vital for understanding blended families, it is also necessary for basic studies of nuptiality and marital instability. A recent working paper by Sheela Kennedy and myself demonstrated that the ACS is the only reliable source currently available for national divorce statistics. Without the number of times married, however, the divorce data will be badly compromised; for example, it will be impossible to construct a life table for first marriages, or to estimate the percentage of people who have ever divorced.

The news of this plan appears in the Federal Register in a single sentence at the end of an otherwise harmless notice of request for comments. If you believe as I do that this change would significantly harm the nation's statistical infrastructure, you should make your feelings known to the responsible OMB desk officer, Dr. Brian Harris-Kojetin. He can be reached at (202) 395-7245 or by email at The deadline for comments is May 16.

Thank you,

Steven Ruggles
Regents Professor
Director, Minnesota Population Center
Since I recently commented on the problematic nature of divorce data in this country, you can appreciate that dropping this question from the ACS would be a serious blow to our knowledge base.

I assume that the decision is not a scientifically-based one, but rather a budget-based one. How can we trim costs in an era when Congress is constantly trying to cut the budget of the Census Bureau, as I recently noted. The answer here is that we must contact our Members of Congress and try to do a better job of convincing them that all of these data collection efforts are vital to our understanding of how America works, and this is important for the economy in thousands of ways. This is not a waste of money, and not an invasion of privacy. It is a source of information that helps drive businesses to be more profitable, and the government to be more efficient.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Another Twist to Immigration Reform

The principal focus of the immigration bill now being discussed in Congress is to deal with undocumented immigration (e.g., secure the border) and undocumented immigrants (e.g., a path to citizenship). But it turns out that there is another component to the bill that is related to high-tech guest worker programs and the New York Times reports that there is now some big money pushing the immigration bill precisely of this.
What emerged was a Senate measure that allows American technology companies to procure many more skilled guest worker visas, raising the limit to 110,000 a year from 65,000 under current law, along with a provision to expand it further based on market demand. The bill would also allow these companies to move workers on guest visas more easily to permanent resident visas, freeing up more temporary visas for these companies.
But it requires them to pay higher wages for guest workers and to post job openings on a Web site, so Americans can have a chance at them. And it draws a line in the sand between these technology firms and the mostly Indian companies that supply computer workers on H-1B visas for short-term jobs at companies in the United States.
“This provision accomplishes the goal of discouraging abuse of the program while providing an important incentive for companies to bring top talent to work in the United States for the long-term, where they will contribute to our economy,” said Mr. Kaplan, the former Republican White House aide who is now the vice president for United States public policy at Facebook.
The bill has a good chance of winning passage in the Senate. The hardest sell will come in the House, where many conservative Republicans see the deal as too generous to immigrants who came to this nation illegally.
With any luck, this angle to promote the economic advancement of technology firms with more H-1B visas will be the antidote to the poison pills that seem to exist in the bill at the moment. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Has the Birth Rate Really Risen in Egypt?

Today's New York Times carried a story indicating that the "birth rate" in Egypt had risen in 2012 to 32 per 1,000 population, "a rate not seen since 1991". Now, it may be that this has happened, but the story does not include a source for the information. The website for CAPMAS (The Central Agency for Population Mobilization and Statistics--the government statistical office) does not include birth data more recent than 2011--at least not that I could find in English. In 2011, the crude birth rate was 30.4, up from 27.9 in 2010, which was higher than the rate of 24.3 in 2005. So, if we track only the crude birth rate, its rise predates the collapse of the Mubarak government.

What we really need to track, of course, is the total fertility rate (TFR), which has been slowly but steadily declining over time. In 2005, the TFR was 3.13 births per woman, and that had declined to 3.02 by 2010, even though the crude birth rate had risen between those two dates, according to data from the UN Population Division, drawing upon data from the Egypt Demographic and Health Surveys.

Why is the crude birth rate rising while the TFR is declining? The answer lies in the age structure. Although fertility has been declining in Egypt, it is still well above replacement level, as noted above. With the average woman having three children, there is an ever larger number of young women coming of age to have children. This drives up the annual number of births and thus the crude birth rate.

Even if the NY Times is a bit alarmist, it is nonetheless very problematic if the current government of Morsi has gutted the family planning program or intends to do that. Even under Mubarak, the program had not been able to bring down the birth rate to a level commensurate with the growth (or lack thereof) of the Egyptian economy. The country remains a place where continued population growth threatens the well-being of the average Egyptian family. One way in which we will know how the government feels about the birth rate will be whether or not the next round of the Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey is actually implemented. The surveys have been conducted every 3-5 years since 1988, so by that schedule, the next one should be this year.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ignorant Members of Congress Seek to Limit Census Bureau Data Collection

Congressman Jeff Duncan (Republican from South Carolina) has introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would:
"repeal the authority to conduct certain censuses." Among other things, it would effectively repeal the Census of Agriculture, the Economic Census, the Census of Governments, and American Communities Survey, and largely limit the function of the Census Bureau to conducting the "short form" decennial census once every ten years.
The exact language is available here, where it is noted that the bill has other sponsors, including Mr. Chaffetz (R-Utah), Mr. Harris (R-Maryland), Mr. Jones (R-North Carolina), Mr. Pearce (R-New Mexico), Mr. Ribble (R-Wisconsin), and Mr. Southerland (R-Florida).

A Huffington Post article on this bill includes a good quote from the former Director of the Census, Kenneth Prewitt:
"It's so unimaginable. It would be like saying we don't need policemen anymore, we don't need firemen anymore," said Prewitt. "To say suddenly we don't need statistical information about the American economy, or American society, or American demography, or American trade, or whatever -- it's an Alice in Wonderland moment."
Mr. Duncan's office claims that his main concern is that these surveys are an invasion of privacy (despite the layers of protection built into them), but it is more likely that this is just gross ignorance of how important these data are to the workings of the economy and other sectors of society. Mr. Duncan is, after all, the same person who once compared undocumented immigrants to vagrants and animals.

Ignorance of this kind is not bliss; it is very dangerous, especially when associated with elected officials who might be able to inflict real damage on American society. As the Huffington Post notes:
...supporters of the Census Bureau and of government-backed science are acutely aware that pieces of such measures have a way of getting attached to higher-priority legislation. In March, a measure from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that bars the National Science Foundation from doing political science research this year slid through the Senate attached to legislation to keep the government running.
And Duncan's bill comes as Congress has already proposed slashing the Census budget 13 percent below the president's request, and the bureau lacks a director to complain. There is also no secretary or deputy secretary at the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau and would generally advocate its cause in Congress.
Unfortunately, it seems that the blame for the lack of an appointed director of the Census (Thomas Mesenbourg is the Acting Director) lies with the Obama Administration for not having made an appointment.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Internally Displaced Persons: The Winner Again is Colombia

BBC News discusses a recent Norwegian Refugee Council report showing that, yet again, Colombia leads the world in the number of internally displaced persons. Although the civil war in Syria has caused a spike in the global number of IDPs, now estimated to be 29 million, 4.9 - 5.5 million of those are in Colombia, a country of about 47 million (more than twice the population of Syria).
Colombia has suffered from almost five decades of civil conflict with both left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries fighting each other, and the security forces.
Sadly, on top of this is layered the activities of criminal gangs:
Both the Colombian Red Cross and the IDMC have warned that the victims of criminal gangs in Colombia do not receive the same official recognition as those victimised by the Farc or ELN rebel groups.
Police say the Urabenos have more than 2,000 members and operate in major cities such as Medellin, as well as rural areas, where they engage in drug and arms trafficking and extortion.
Although Colombia gets top IDP "honors" at the country level, regionally it is still Sub-Saharan Africa that is most affected. A third of all IDPs are in that part of the world.