This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Language Still Divides Canada

It has now been almost two decades since a referendum on secession from Canada was held in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec. As I note in Chapter 10, this was narrowly defeated, largely because of English-speaking immigrants into the province. I note on page 431 that:
"the controversy over language in Canada underscores the power of society to turn any population characteristic into a sign of difference, from which prejudice and discrimination often follow." This week the Economist reminded us of the truth in this statement:
Quebec has strict language laws, zealously enforced by the OQLF [Office québecoise de la langue française0. One statute makes French the "normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business". It also authorises the OQLF to "act on its own initiative or following the filing of a complaint".
In other words, the OQLF is the language police. 
Just ask Xavier Ménard. Mr Ménard wanted to list his firm with the province's company registrar but was rejected. The reason? His company's name, Wellarc, sounds too English. Mr Menard's protestations that it is a portmanteau of the French words web, langage, logo,artistique and compagnie fell on deaf ears. Such misplaced verbal intransigence last week prompted Mr Ménard to vent his frustration on YouTube (in French). The video has gone viral.
This issue has come to the forefront because the current ruling party in Quebec is the Parti Québécois (PQ):
In 1976, when the PQ, which is responsible for the linguistic legislation, first came to power, around 800,000 of Quebec's 6.2m people were English-speakers. By 2011 that fell to fewer than 600,000, even as the province's population rose to 8m.
This is very reminiscent of the insidious ways by which Latinos are being intimidated in North Carolina, as my son, Greg Weeks, noted a few days ago in his blog.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Can We Learn From Geographic Variation in Health Costs in the US?

Last year I commented on a website that has county-level data on health outcomes for the entire US. A couple of years I commented on the spatial variability in the US in life expectancy at the county level. Another set of spatial analyses has been ongoing for a couple of decades--the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. It has focused especially on regional differences in the cost of health care, based on Medicare and Medicaid data, and this spatial variation led people to raise important policy questions. In particular, since the assumption is that Medicare and Medicaid patients are getting essentially the same care anywhere in the country, why are some regions of the country able to deliver that care at lower cost than other regions? Can we use these geographic variations to figure out how to lower health care costs in the higher cost regions since, after all, Americans pay more per person for health care than anyone else on earth.

The National Institute of Medicine created a committee to try to answer this question, and their report was just made available today at the National Academies Press website. It is titled "Variation in Health Care Spending." It turns out that it wasn't easy to track down data to answer this question, since Medicare and Medicaid services are provided in the context of a wider commercial health market. But the committee pulled together a lot of data and concluded that:
(1) Geographic variation in spending and utilization is real, and not an artifact reflecting random noise; and
(2) Variation in spending in the commercial insurance market is due mainly to differences in price markups by providers rather than to differences in the utilization of health care services.
Overall, then, the committee could not determine anything within the regional differences that could lead to policies that could lower costs in some places without harming the care provided. The lack of conclusiveness of the findings, however, is bound to lead to more research and more policy analysis. The fact that key regional differences really do exist is too striking a finding for this new report to put the issue to rest.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Africa Rising

Last month I commented on the new population projections recently released by the UN Population Division. They suggested more growth in population than had the previous set of projections, and that has gotten a lot of media attention, including a genuinely excellent blog post by Max Fisher of the Washington Post (and thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing me to this). Fisher was as struck as I was by the fact that the major shift is in the growth in Africa, and he has put together nine killer graphs to illustrate how Africa is projected to compare to the rest of the world over the coming decades. You will have to go to his blog to see the charts, but here are a few of his comments:
If these numbers turn out to be right – they’re just projections and could change significantly under unforeseen circumstances – the world of 2100 will look very different than the world of today, with implications for everyone. It will be a place where today’s dominant, developed economies are increasingly focused on supporting the elderly, where the least developed countries are transformed by population booms and where Africa, for better or worse, is more important than ever.
Nigeria, currently Africa’s most populous country, is poised for one of the world’s most rapid population booms ever. In just 100 years, maybe two or three generations, the population is expected to increase by a mind-boggling factor of eight. The country is already troubled by corruption, poverty and religious conflict. It’s difficult to imagine how a government that can barely serve its population right now will respond when the demand on resources, social services, schools and roads increases by a factor of eight. Still, if they pull it off – the country’s vast oil reserves could certainly help – the rapidly growing workforce could theoretically deliver an African miracle akin to, say, China’s.
Right now, many African countries aren’t particularly adept at either governance or resource management. If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition – and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity – which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.
With any luck, the spread of this kind of information will help to create more attention on the world stage for what is happening in Africa, so that the global community can respond in a way that will be beneficial to Africans and the rest of the world--beyond the current pattern of China looking to exploit the continent's resources...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Demography and the Throne--the Wait is Getting Longer

The Economist had exactly the same thought that I did when George Alexander Louis, the Prince of Cambridge, was born a few days ago--he may be heir to the British throne, but it's going to be a long wait, barring some horrible tragedy. Life expectancy is decades longer than it used to be, and not even the infant's grandfather has yet to assume the crown, much less his father. His great-grandmother is a still spry 87 years old and has queen since 1952. Scarcely more than one in five Brits could possibly remember the United Kingdom with any other monarch. And she shows no signs either of dying or abdicating. It is the latter that the Economist thinks might be the way to go. If monarchs won't die, then maybe they should call it quits.
As is often the case, the solution to Britain’s royal problems lies in Europe. In the past, when Britain was short of royals, it used to import a continental prince. Now it has a surplus of them, it needs to import a continental practice. The Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix (aged 75) and Belgium’s King Albert (79) recently announced their abdications. Even Pope Benedict (85) quit. Britain’s monarchs need a way to start doing the same.
Might a sliding scale combine royal dignity with management theory? When the queen (61 years on the throne) is 90, she will have beaten the previous record-holder, Queen Victoria (63 years). At that point, she should bow out. Prince Charles should do so at 80, Prince William at 70. At some point the falling royal retirement age will meet the rising national pensionable age, monarch and subjects will be in synch and George Alexander Louis will claim his crown before his bus pass.
Granted that I am generally in favor of rising ages at retirement, I agree with the Economist that this might be the occupational exception to that rule.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is "Leaning In" the Key to Increasing Gender Equality?

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and author of the best-selling book "Lean In," which encourages women to increase their level of self-empowerment in order to close the gender gap in power and pay, especially at the top of the corporate ladder, but in more ordinary ways, as well. The popularity of this book, which seems very common-sensical in its approach, has surprised a lot of people, mostly in a good way, and has encouraged a great deal of comment because the root issue here is the gender structure of society and the families that make up society. One of the better written commentaries is by Stephen Marche in this month's online The Atlantic. Just as Sandberg brings a lot of her personal history to bear, so does Marche, trying to bring men more squarely into the conversation.
In 2007, my life was right where I wanted it to be. After the lean misery of graduate school at the University of Toronto, I had, at 31, landed a job on the tenure track at City College in Harlem, as a professor of Shakespeare. My second novel was in the windows of appealing independent bookstores in Brooklyn, it had a good review in The New York Times, and the lead singer of the Decemberists was recommending it in interviews. This was basically all I had ever hoped for. Then I gave it up. My wife was offered her dream job as the editor in chief of Toronto Life magazine (roughly speaking, the New York of Canada), and we returned home.
You could see our departure as the triumph of egalitarianism, and in a way it was. I don’t think my father would have given up a tenure-track job for my mother. But in my marriage, the decision came down to brute economics: My wife was going to make double what I made. Good schools and good hospitals are free in Toronto. These are the reasons we moved. And if I were offered a job where I would make double what she does, we would move again. Gender politics has nothing to do with it.
These comments illustrate two important things: (1) it is smart economically to defer to whichever spouse makes the most money; and (2) as I emphasize in Chapter 10 of my book, child care is really critical for a young two-earner family. At the same time, Marche probably makes too much of the economic argument when he suggests that:
The rise of women is not the result of any ideology or political movement; it is a result of the widespread realization, sometime after the Second World War, that families in which women work are families that prosper. And countries in which women work are countries that prosper. In 2006, a database created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development demonstrated what common sense tells us: with few exceptions, countries in which women have more economic and political power are richer than countries where women are relatively powerless. Patriarchy is damn expensive. That’s why it’s doomed.
This idea is way too simplistic. There is a huge cultural shift going on here that has much less to do with economics than with the very way that both men and women visualize their respective roles in society. Only within the last century in the US have women had the right to vote, and divorce their husbands, and gain some control over their reproduction. We are only a few decades away from an America in which women would not be hired for many jobs, especially if they were married. We still have not recovered societally from the fact that only a few decades ago the major professional jobs for women were school teacher and nurse. The persistent gender gap in pay, despite the higher educational achievement of women over men in recent years, is evidence of the strength of these cultural issues. The struggle is bigger than just a simple economic one and that is probably why Sandberg's book is so popular.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Can Vietnam Hold Back the Tide of Urbanization?

It turns out that Vietnam has a household registration system (ho khau) borrowed directly from China (where it is called hukou) to keep track of people by keeping them in their place. Lien Hoang has an article in today's New York Times describing this system and digging into its history and, even more importantly, its current policy implications.
Although the country no longer rations food, it has kept ho khau in place, in the hopes of staving off a population explosion in the cities. Not only has the policy failed to accomplish that, but it has created, in a country that professes classlessness, a group of second-class citizens.
In the controlled free market that has now largely supplanted the subsidy system, Vietnamese rely less on the state for basic goods and services and so have much more incentive to go where the jobs are. Many private businesses don’t ask for ho khau when hiring.
There are no statistics on the number of undocumented migrants, according to Nguyen Thi Hong-Xoan, dean of sociology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. But Hong-Xoan, who wrote her doctoral thesis on ho khau, told me that most people don’t change their paperwork when they move. And according to the 2009 census net migration from the countryside to the cities was 1.4 million people between 2004 and 2008. The figure was 770,000 people for the five years leading up to the 1999 census.
The government has just cracked down on these "illegal migrants" in Hanoi, and the fear is that this will spread to other cities, as well, deepening the divide between those who can legally live in cities and those who cannot. As Lien Hoang points out, this has created a class system in Vietnam (as it did in China) in a supposedly classless society, because economic opportunity is much greater in cities than in the countryside ("How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, After they've seen Paree'?)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Give Congress a Push to Save NIH Funding

The Population Association of America (PAA) has issued an Action Alert that needs a response from all us. Whether or not you personally have ever or in the future expect to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, NIH funding has been critical to bolstering scientific research in population studies. There are many members of Congress who want to slash anything and everything, especially scientific research, and we need to support those members of Congress who are trying to stem that tide.
Today, July 24, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to the members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The letter, which is addressed to Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH), reinforces that NIH support of behavioral and social science, especially economics research, is a key component of the agency's mission.
At a time when some members of Congress may be questioning NIH support of these disciplines, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard wants Dr. Collins to know that many members understand and support the agency's investment in these areas.
We need you to tell your U.S. Representative to sign the letter.
This link will take you to the PAA website for detailed instructions about how to respond to this--30 July is the deadline for getting our letters in.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Female Genital Mutilation Still High in Africa, But Declining

UNICEF just released a new report on female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). The New York Times spun the story in a positive light, emphasizing that the practice has witnessed a decline:
Teenage girls are now less likely to have been cut than older women in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated, according to the assessment by the United Nations Children’s Fund. In Egypt, for example, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, survey data showed that 81 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds had undergone the practice, compared with 96 percent of women in their late 40s.
By contrast, BBC News emphasized the fact that the level remains high, despite the observed decline:
More than 30 million girls are at risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) over the next decade, a study by Unicef has found.
It said more than 125 million girls and women alive today had undergone a procedure now opposed by the majority in countries where it was practised.
Ritual cutting of girls' genitals is practised by some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities in the belief it protects a woman's virginity.
Unicef wants action to end FGM.
Most striking to me was the map of the countries in which FGM/C is prevalent. You must take a look at this either on the UNICEF site or the BBC site (The New York Times cuts the map off and so it is not so dramatic). If there was ever a case to be made for spatial demography, this would be it. Despite different languages, different ethnic groups, and different religions (albeit with Islam predominating), there is a nearly contiguous string of countries spreading down from Egypt and then spreading east and west across the Sahel. This is a regional cultural issue which, one can hope, will make it is easier for the spread of resistance to the practice to spread pretty quickly in the future.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Coming Soon--Soap to Help Protect You From Malaria

Among the many public health measures that have helped to lower disease and death rates over the past two hundred years, soap is one of the important, and regularly underestimated, ones. It's not just washing, but washing with soap that helps to kill bacteria and thus stops their spread. Now, two young researchers from Sub-Saharan Africa have devised a soap that they think will repel mosquitos, thus protecting you from its bite, and potentially from the malaria parasite. Malaria Nexus has the story:
Moctar Dembele, from Burkina Faso, and Gerard Niyondiko, from Burundi, were awarded last April the $25,000 Grand Prize of the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) for their “Faso soap” which they claim can prevent malaria by repelling mosquitoes. The soap contains locally sourced herbs and natural ingredients which include shea butter, essential lemongrass oil and other ingredients that are still a secret. According to the inventors, whom are both students at the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the soap would leave on the skin a scent that repels mosquitoes. Dembele and Niyondiko hope to officially launch their “Faso soap” by 2015. Proper testing to show that the soap can successfully prevent malaria infection still needs to be conducted.
Launched by the University of California, Berkeley, the GSVC is an international competition which aims at helping starting entrepreneurs transform their ideas into products that will generate a positive impact on society. This year’s competition had 650 competitors from nearly 40 countries.
This is, quite literally, a feel good story of the very best kind. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Crime is Falling--Demography is Implicated

The cover story in this week's Economist is about the fall in crime in the rich world, despite economic troubles and higher-than-average unemployment among young men--the usual suspects when crimes are committed.
Both police records (which underestimate some types of crime) and surveys of victims (which should not, but are not as regularly available a source of data) show crime against the person and against property falling over the past ten years in most rich countries. In America the fall began around 1991; in Britain it began around 1995, though the murder rate followed only in the mid-2000s. In France, property crime rose until 2001—but it has fallen by a third since. Some crimes are all but disappearing. In 1997, some 400,000 cars were reported stolen in England and Wales: in 2012, just 86,000.
What's going on here? The first and most obvious answer is that all of the rich countries are getting older and so the young male population is generally going down as a fraction of the population. However, as I noted a couple of years ago, and as the Economist points out, the age structure--while helpful--cannot be the sole direct explanation. Nor can country-specific explanations such as the idea put forward by Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) that the legalization of abortion in the US in the 1970s prevented the births of would-be criminals.

The most likely explanation has, in my mind, two parts: (1) while the trends in the age structure cannot be a strong direct influence on crime rates, the continuation of an older age structure changes the way younger people are viewed and how they view themselves, and this may generate a situation in which there is less overall societal tolerance for crime among its youth; and (2) there has been an incredible rise in technology allowing criminals to be identified and thus apprehended. The Boston Marathon bombers story comes immediately to mind. The combination of security cameras and smart phones with GPS and cars with GPS, among many other things, have increased the odds of getting caught and that almost certainly deters crime (and much more so, I would estimate, than an increase in people running around with guns).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Race is a Pigment of Your Imagination

My long-time friend and colleague, Rubén Rumbaut, of UC-Irvine, has been saying this for a long-time, and the subject came up again in today's Sunday New York Times. The Sunday Dialogue's topic is the meaning of race, and Professor Rumbaut used the phrase to emphasize that race is a social status, not a zoological one. All contributors seem to share this view, yet we are stuck with the concept of "race" (deliberately put in quotes, as does the original writer of the Dialogue) as a way of differentiating ourselves from other people. Note, by the way, that this is the second time in a few months that the phrase has come up in the media, with Professor Rumbaut having been quoted in the Economist in February on the same topic, as I commented at the time.

The topic seemed especially newsworthy this week, as people throughout the US debated the role of racism in the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman (ultimately found not guilty of second-degree murder), who is described by The Economist as an Hispanic who, in fact, took a black date to his high school prom. Is "race" then a more discriminatory concept than "ethnicity"? Only if you believe that one is somehow biological and the other is "only" cultural.

The idea that we are all just human is biologically correct, but humans have a hard time dealing with equality. As I've noted often before, the concept of xenophobia is an ancient one, expressing human fear of strangers (until they are no longer strangers). Furthermore, societies use almost any characteristic to differentiate one person or group from another, typically in order for one group to gain more control or power than would otherwise be the case. Sex (biological), sexual orientation (biological), religion (cultural), national origin (cultural) have all been employed frequently and violently as markers of superiority or inferiority. Indeed, within the social sciences it has become commonplace to use the term "racism" to describe almost any type of arbitrary discrimination. While I don't know of any easy solutions to this problem, the first step is always to get the issue out into public for discussion, and today's Sunday Dialogue helps to do that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cartograms and Demography Go Together Nicely

A cartogram is a map in which each area is sized proportionately according to some particular characteristic. Slate has a blog called "The Vault" by Rebecca Onion, which focuses on historical things, and today she highlighted some cartograms ("distorted" maps as they were called) related to population topics in 1930.
The first map (seen here in zoomable format) sizes states according to total population and colors cities with more than 50,000 residents a bright kelly green. The second sizes states in proportion to the number of residents who reported living in an urban area.
The maps show how Americans clustered in the north and the east, even after the storied westward expansion of the 19th century. New York and New Jersey bulge into the ocean, while Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan take up their share of real estate. Depicted before its wartime and postwar population boom, California appears surprisingly small, and the Mountain West and the Sun Belt barely register.
Ah, how times change! 

Of course, if you've looked at the cover of my book, you know that I like cartograms. Ever since the first edition came out 35 years ago, the cover has been a cartogram in which each country of the world is sized according to its total population, with each square on the map equal originally to one million people, but now 2 million because the population of the world has increased by 60 percent since the first edition came out (no causal connection!). Although there are now computer programs that can create cartograms, I  have always done it by hand on graph paper in order to get exactly the shapes that I want (well, full disclosure, I now pay a graduate student to do it under my supervision).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stay or Move--the Dilemma for Mexican Children

Yesterday I commented on new research worrying about the situation of children left behind in Mexico by migrating parents. Today we were reminded yet again (deja vu all over again!) that the health of migrant children, especially those from Mexico, may be worse in the US than it might have been back in Mexico. The latest report comes from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, and was written by three well-qualified demographers from Penn State--Jennifer Van Hook, Nancy Landale, and Marianne M. Hillemeier. The report represents a good review of the literature on migration and health, along with an analysis of ACS data emphasizing the vulnerabilities of Mexican immigrant children. All of the detail in the report leads the authors to these conclusions:
...the children of immigrants, particularly of Mexican immigrants, stand at a crossroads. Their path going forward could depend on how well US policies and programs respond to their needs. In particular, it will be crucial to resolve the problems related to immigrants’ legal status. This would involve new immigration reform legislation providing a pathway to legal status for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the United States and addressing future demand for low-skilled labor migration.
...immigrants are dispersing to new US destinations, where they tend to encounter greater barriers to quality health care than in traditional destinations. Attention to these problems will ultimately benefit the full US population. Nearly one in every four US children has an immigrant parent; promoting the health of children in immigrant families will maximize the long-term well-being and productivity of tomorrow’s adults.
In the end, then, their policy analysis is speculative, just as was true for the situation of children left behind in Mexico--we really aren't sure what the future might hold here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Impact of Migration on Families in Mexico

Throughout the world, people are leaving one place and going to another in search of a better job. This has been happening forever, but there has been one important change that has occurred over the past few years--the rapid rise in the ability to send electronic transfers of money back home. This has shifted the nature of migration from single young men (and women, too, but men have historically predominated) who leave home because there are no jobs, to married men who seek a temporary job elsewhere because wages are higher and they can send money back to the family and thus increase the family's overall well-being. Or does it? That's the question asked by Jenna Nobles of the University of Wisconsin in a paper just published in the journal Demography titled "Migration and Father Absence: Shifting Family Structure in Mexico." She pulled together several sets of surveys in Mexico to show that the rise in migration from Mexico to the United States has coincided with a huge increase in the number of children in Mexico who are being raised without their father being present.
The results here indicate that at least 4 % of children under 15 in Mexico—1.3 million children—have fathers living in the United States at present; twice that many are expected to experience father’s departure to the United States at some point before age 15. More than 6 million children will experience a father’s domestic migration by age 15. Given the well-documented effects of family stability for children’s later-life out- comes, one link between migration and socioeconomic change in origin communities will operate through the parenting investments made in the next generation.
The study is largely descriptive, in terms of defining this emerging change in family structure. It is too soon to know for sure whether the remittances from an absent father will offset the personal cost to children of not having a father around. Nonetheless, it is an important trend that bears close scrutiny as we head into this new territory of married migrants leaving their families behind.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Moroccans Applaud Their Fertility Decline

My thanks to Zia Salim for pointing me to a story from Morocco World News about a new study documenting fertility levels in that country.
Fertility levels in Morocco are falling dramatically. While in 1960 a Moroccan couple had 7 children on average, in 2011 this figure has shrunk to reach nearly two children and the trend is down. This is what the Ministry of Public Health concluded after an analysis of the demographic transition in Morocco to define the nature and the needs of health services in the years to come. The shift from traditional large families to nuclear families that have has been observed almost worldwide has, thus, been remarkably rapid in Morocco.
The strategic document released by the Ministry of Public Health shows that the age pyramid in Morocco is currently undergoing a great and profound change as a result of the drastic demographic transition. Experts attribute Morocco’s fertility decline to several reasons above which is women’s average age at marriage and married women’s contraceptive use. Also, Morocco’s family planning policy that started since 1966 has a key role in making these changes.
The study itself is similar to the Demographic and Health Surveys, although in this case technical assistance was provided by the Pan Arab Project for the Promotion of the Family (PAPFAM). The total fertility rate for the country as a whole was estimated to be 2.6, which is very similar to the figure of 2.5 found in the 2004 Morocco Demographic and Health Survey. From that perspective, the story is actually that the fertility decline--which is very real, to be sure, over the long term--may have stalled at about 2.5 children. This is largely because rural women are having about three children each, whereas urban women have reached replacement level of about 2.0.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Very Focused US Perspective on World Population Day

I noted earlier that the "official" UN focus for World Population Day this year was adolescent pregnancy. It has been pointed out to me that the US State Department actually has a related, but much broader and politically more important message about World Population Day on its website, under the signature of Secretary of State Kerry.
As the international community commemorates World Population Day, the current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase another 1 billion by 2025 and reach 9.6 billion by 2050.
Continued population growth in many countries, as well as population aging, urbanization, and migration will have a profound impact on social and economic development and the environment in the years to come.
Increasingly complex and interconnected population and demographic dynamics impact access to health, education, housing, sanitation, water, food, and energy, and influence the livelihoods of people and stability of nations around the world.
Today's generation of 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 is the largest the world has ever seen, and will shape the future of the world we live in.
They will drive the economic, political, social, and cultural development of their countries and will need greater and more equitable access to education, employment, and health information and services, including sexual and reproductive health services.
Whether it’s across the Greater Middle East or Africa, the sheer number of young people is striking, and demands leadership capable of meeting their demands for dignity and opportunity in addition to basic necessities.
This is obviously related to adolescent pregnancy, because in fact the world needs fewer adolescent pregnancies, but the bigger issue is indeed this unprecedentedly large cohort of young people--a youth bulge of historic importance.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spatial Inequalities

A tweet from Springer Publishing Company yesterday let people know that our new book on spatial inequalities in Accra, Ghana is now out. In case you missed the tweet, here is the blurb about the book:
This book provides a fresh analysis of the demography, health and well-being of a major African city. It brings a range of disciplinary approaches to bear on the pressing topics of urban poverty, urban health inequalities and urban growth. The approach is primarily spatial and includes the integration of environmental information from satellites and other geospatial sources with social science and health survey data. The authors, Ghanaians and outsiders, have worked to understand the urban dynamics in this burgeoning West African metropolis, with an emphasis on urban disparities in health and living standards. Few cities in the global South have been examined from so many different perspectives. Our analysis employs a wide range of GIScience methods, including analysis of remotely sensed imagery and spatial statistical analysis, applied to a wide range of data, including census, survey and health clinic data, all of which are supplemented by field work, including systematic social observation, focus groups, and key informant interviews. This book aims to explain and highlight the mix of methods, and the important findings that have been emerging from this research, with the goal of providing guidance and inspiration for others doing similar work in cities of other developing nations.
Naturally, my view is that this should be on everyone's summer reading list :) 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

World's Hottest and Most Populated Decade in History

Earlier this month the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report suggesting that we have recently been experiencing the hottest several years in recorded history, with the caveat of course that scientific recordings of weather go back only to the mid-19th century and are associated with the scientific advances brought about by the Enlightenment. Reuters picked up the story:
Every year of the decade except 2008 was among the 10 warmest since records began in the 1850s, with 2010 the hottest, according to the study by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The number of daily heat records far outstripped lows.
It said many extremes could be explained by natural variations - freak storms and droughts have happened throughout history - but that rising emissions of man-made greenhouse gases also played a role.
"Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far-reaching implications for our environment and our oceans, which are absorbing both carbon dioxide and heat," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement.
You can see the interlinkages here. The very same scientific advances that have allowed us to control death and thus explode from one billion people alive two hundred years to more than seven billion alive now, have allowed us to exploit resources on the planet in ways that pollute the atmosphere (not to mention the lithosphere and hydrosphere). And that same science has brought us technology to monitor these changes. The challenge is whether science can save us from our pollution of the environment before we find that, like the Mayans hundreds of years ago, our way of life is unsustainable.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

World Population Day 2013

Tomorrow is the 11th of July and that means "World Population Day" as decreed by the United Nations Population Fund. This year's theme is adolescent pregnancy.
About 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, and complications from pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death among girls in this age group, especially in developing countries.
Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights. To bring these issues to global attention, this year’s World Population Day is focusing on adolescent pregnancy.
This topic takes me back to my doctoral dissertation, which was on teenage marriages (the consequence almost always of a teenage pregnancy), except that back then we were worried more about the US (California in my case), rather than developing countries. I hope that signals progress.

Monday, July 8, 2013

PRB Webinar on Education and Mortality in the US--Save the Date

The Population Reference Bureau announced today that next Tuesday, 16 July, their Center for Public Information on Population Research will be holding a webinar on the topic of educational attainment and mortality in the US.
In the United States, there is a growing gap in the mortality and life expectancy of people with different levels of education. For example, from age 25 on, people who have completed college will live about a decade longer than those without a high school degree. A growing body of evidence suggests that investments in education may also double as investments in the long-term health and longevity of the population.
In this webinar, Robert Hummer, Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts at the Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin; and Elaine Hernandez, a postdoctoral fellow at the Population Research Center, will discuss educational differences in U.S. adult mortality and implications for policymakers. The discussion will be followed by 10-15 minutes of Q&A.
Bob Hummer is one of the world's foremost authorities on mortality, and this promises to be an excellent educational opportunity. 

To participate, go to

If you are reading this after 16 July 2013, the webinar should be available on the PRB website at

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What Does the Term "Caucasian" Connote?

Shaila Dewan, a reporter for the New York Times, has picked up on an interesting tidbit from a recent US Supreme Court ruling:
AS a racial classification, the term Caucasian has many flaws, dating as it does from a time when the study of race was based on skull measurements and travel diaries. It has long been entirely unmoored from its geographical reference point, the Caucasus region. Its equivalents from that era are obsolete — nobody refers to Asians as “Mongolian” or blacks as “Negroid.”
And yet, there it was in the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. The plaintiff, noted Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his majority opinion, was Caucasian.
My own view, echoing that of my long-time colleague Rubén Rumbaut of UC-Irvine, is that "race is a pigment of your imagination." It is culture that matters when it comes to interpersonal relationships and the color of one's skin or shape of one's skull might be used as a hint about that person's cultural background (which is captured by the concept of "ethnicity"), but it shouldn't be. Dewan provides an interesting historical factoid about the origin of the term Caucasian:
The use of Caucasian to mean white was popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologist, who decreed that it encompassed Europeans and the inhabitants of a region reaching from the Obi River in Russia to the Ganges to the Caspian Sea, plus northern Africans. He chose it because the Caucasus was home to “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgians,” and because among his collection of 245 human skulls, the Georgian one was his favorite wrote Nell Irvin Painter, a historian who explored the term’s origins in her book “The History of White People.”
In 1889, the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary noted that the term Caucasian had been “practically discarded.” But they spoke too soon. Blumenbach’s authority had given the word a pseudoscientific sheen that preserved its appeal.
The term "Caucasian" does not appear in my book, and it is not on any US Census form. It is long past time that it disappears from the nation's vocabulary altogether.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Filial Piety on the Ropes Again in China

As I discuss in Chapter 8, filial piety is an important element of Chinese society, drawing especially from the teachings of Confucius. However, it is much harder to put into practice when the probability is high that a parent will survive to an old age than when the probability is fairly low--as it has been for most of human history (and certainly as it was in Confucius' day). So, a declining death rate eventually catches up with filial piety, as does declining fertility--especially when it drops below replacement level, leaving a smaller pool of children to help out the aged parent. This week's Economist adds a third demographic dimension to the problem--migration of children away from their parents.
CONFUCIUS said that while a man’s parents were alive, he should not travel far afield. Recent economic opportunities have been straining such norms as much as iconoclastic Maoism ever did. So the Communist Party, now more interested in social harmony than revolution, is weighing in. On July 1st it introduced a law to require children to visit or keep in touch with their elderly parents. On the same day, a court in the eastern city of Wuxi ruled in the case of a 77-year-old mother who had sued her daughter for not visiting her and for failing to help her financially. The court ordered the daughter to do both, or face fines or even detention.
The story notes that the law is going to be extremely difficult to enforce, and is probably just a symbolic gesture unless, as one person noted, the government is going to pay for vacations and travel back to the parental home. In the end, demography is likely to trump filial piety (but don't tell my children I said that).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Will Egyptians Get Back on Track for Better Lives?

The removal of Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt by that country's military is an historic rarity, in my view; more of a "popular recall" than a military coup, even though the military carried it out. More than two years ago, after the ouster of Mubarak but prior to the election that brought Morsi to power, I blogged about the likely frustration that a large population of well-educated young Egyptians felt as they try to get ahead in life. Updating those numbers from the World Bank, we can see that as the earlier protests were taking shape in Egypt, only 15 percent of Egyptians lived on less than $2/day, compared to 30 percent in China, and 69 percent in India. Yet, the average income (GNI in PPP--no data on the GPI are available for Egypt) was $6,640 in Egypt compared to $9,210 in China and $3,840 in India. The numbers show that income in Egypt was only halfway between India and China despite the fact that poverty levels were well below either of those countries. We don't have new numbers from the World Bank that reflect any changes that might have occurred during the past year, but it is almost certain that no changes were occurring. More importantly, it seemed unlikely to a lot of people "in the street" that any changes were in the works. Violence continues in the country at the moment, but with any luck a new election, held without delay, will finally allow the country to move ahead, especially in a way that will provide real opportunity to the nation's 15 million young people aged 15-24.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How Are We Doing Globally? Not So Well...

As I discuss in Chapter 11, the standard measure of how well an economy is doing (and, thus, presumably how well off the people living in that society are) is gross domestic product (GDP). There are many problems that have been noted with this measure for a long time, but it is relatively easy to estimate, so it keeps being used, and people keep thinking that it measures something really meaningful. Well, not everyone. Robert Constanza and his ecological economics colleagues have for a long time now been thinking differently about how to measure economic well-being, and their most recent effort has just been published online (with a September 2013 publication date) in the journal Ecological Economics. Unfortunately, the article is not available without a subscription, but I will hit the highlights, which are based on a measure called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).
GPI starts with Personal Consumption Expenditures (a major component of GDP) but adjusts them using 24 different components, including income distribution, environmental costs, and negative activities like crime and pollution, among others. GPI also adds positive components left out of GDP, including the benefits of volunteering and household work....GPI is not meant to be an indicator of sustainability. It is a measure of economic welfare that needs to be viewed alongside biophysical and other indicators. In the end, since one only knows if a system is sustainable after the fact, there can be no direct indicators of sustainability, only predictors.
They discuss the strengths and limitations of the GPI, and make a convincing case that, despite its weaknesses, it is clearly superior to GDP in terms of capturing the economic context of people's lives. Then, as they say succinctly in their conclusion:
By assembling GPI estimates and other indicators for 17 countries representing 53% of the global population, we have been able to show significant trends and differences, and to estimate a global GPI. By this measure, economic welfare at the global scale has not been improving since 1978. If we hope to achieve a sustainable and desirable future, we need to rapidly shift our policy focus away from maximizing production and consumption (GDP) and towards improving genuine human well-being (GPI or something similar). This is a shift that will require far more attention to be paid to environmental protection, full employment, social equity, better product quality and durability, and greater resource use efficiently (i.e., reducing the resource intensity per dollar of GDP). These changes are clearly within our grasp, and are underway in several countries and regions. Alternative measures of progress, like GPI, are useful to help chart and guide the course if appropriately used and understood.
We have had a lot of wake-up calls besides this one over time about where the world is headed, including the fairly recent re-analysis of the Limits to Growth study. I guess that for the most part we like living the dream...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Demographics of Africa from President Obama's Perspective

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for pointing me to the White House website and the transcript of the speech that President Obama gave a couple of days ago at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa. Here we see recognition that President Obama is aware that the demographic transition has a ways to go in this region, and that it will spell the difference for the future.
Many of the fastest-growing economies in the world are here in Africa, where there is an historic shift taking place from poverty to a growing, nascent middle class. Fewer people are dying of preventable disease. More people have access to health care. More farmers are getting their products to market at fair prices. From micro-finance projects in Kampala, to stock traders in Lagos, to cell phone entrepreneurs in Nairobi, there is an energy here that can't be denied -- Africa rising.
We know this progress, though, rests on a fragile foundation. We know that progress is uneven. Across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption. The same technology that enables record profits sometimes means widening a canyon of inequality. The same interconnection that binds our fates makes all of Africa vulnerable to the undertow of conflict.
So there is no question that Africa is on the move, but it's not moving fast enough for the child still languishing in poverty in forgotten townships. It's not moving fast enough for the protester who is beaten in Harare, or the woman who is raped in Eastern Congo. We've got more work to do, because these Africans must not be left behind.
And that’s where you come in –- the young people of Africa. Just like previous generations, you've got choices to make. You get to decide where the future lies. Think about it -- over 60 percent of Africans are under 35 years old. So demographics means young people are going to be determining the fate of this continent and this country. You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene.
There's much more in here of demographic relevance, from inequality to religion to the status of women, but the key message is that the young people of Africa must decide what to do with their future.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Stories of the End of the Demographic Transition Are Probably Premature

Chris Wilson, a highly accomplished demographer at the University of St. Andrews, has just published a paper in Demographic Research that probably unintentionally follows up on another paper published in that open source journal, which I discussed almost exactly a month ago, that a two-child norm is not necessarily the end-game of the demographic transition. But, the focus of Wilson's "reflective essay" is the idea that the demographic transition is ending, and then what? My answer, which you know if you've read my book, is that you could only think such a thought if you believed that the demographic transition is only about births and deaths--and even then we aren't really very close to the end of the transition--sub-Saharan Africa is a HUGE item on the future agenda, as the recent revisions of the UN population projections make clear.

It seems very unlikely historically that populations ever routinely had a steady state (a demographic regime) of births and deaths. Variability, especially in deaths, almost certainly characterized the world from time immemorial until the late 19th century. Fertility control, to the extent that it existed, was mainly "family control," which included a large dose of "intentional" mortality, including especially infanticide (and probably abortion, as well), not to mention maternal mortality, which took young women out of the picture before they could have large families. That really only began to change in earnest in the twentieth century. And variability is almost certainly what we face in the future because the age transition, the migration transition, the urban transition, and the family and household transition--all of the suites associated with the demographic transition, as I discuss in detail in Chapter 3--are in flux, and will likely be for the foreseeable future.

One of the things that I did appreciate about Wilson's paper was his point that the driver of the demographic transition is mortality, not fertility, per se (which just reacts to changes in mortality). In the first six editions of my text, I discussed fertility before mortality, but from the seventh edition (which came out in 1999--the twentieth anniversary of the first edition), I started discussing mortality first. While this idea was the underlying theme of Kingsley Davis's seminal 1963 article on the demographic change and response, I need to acknowledge Ted Groat, of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who first convinced me that mortality really needs to be the lead story in demography. He was dead right about that.