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, November 29, 2013

25 Memorable Maps

Circulating on the web right now is a link to a really cool set of maps--"Top 25 Informative Maps That Teach Us Something Uniquely Different About the World." Not surprisingly, a majority of them have a demographic theme of one kind or another. Indeed, the very first map highlights a segment of East and Southeast Asia with the notation that there are more people living within the circle than there are people living outside of the circle. 

The creator of the map indicates that she confirmed the numbers, although I have not personally checked them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Changing American Family

The NY Times has a special online issue of Science Times in which writer Natalie Angier discusses the diversity of American families and households. I could scarcely ask for a better set of "further readings" for my discussion in Chapter 10 on the family and household transition, and in Chapter 12 on the Family and Household evolution. She lays out the many dimensions of diversity, and has a nice quote from the go-to person on the American family.
“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change. We are still very much in the midst of it.”
At the same time, the story does little to explore the roots of these changes, with only the drop in fertility being mentioned. Readers of my book know the fuller story, of course. The diversity (which is not unique to America) is a reasonably predictable consequence of the drop in mortality, which keeps kids alive and allows fertility to drop while at the same time allowing people to live to older ages. As fertility drops, younger and older people are living many more years without children, and they are doing so in an increasingly urban, well-educated, gender equal world that is full of vastly more opportunity and alternatives than ever before in human history. It's a good path, but change like this always produces anxiety.

Monday, November 25, 2013

US Public Supports Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

Although the House Republicans have blocked immigration reform for the time being, one of the key legislative elements that right-wing Republicans are most opposed to--a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants--appears to have strong public support, according to a story in today's NY Times:
A consistent and solid majority of Americans — 63 percent — crossing party and religious lines favors legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally, while only 14 percent support legal residency with no option for citizenship, according a report published Monday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.
Sixty percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship, according to the report. Majorities of Protestants, Catholics and Americans with no religious affiliation also support that plan.
The report is based on results from four national surveys, one in Ohio and focus groups in Arizona, Florida and Ohio. It compares results from a national poll in March with a similar bilingual telephone survey that was conducted nationwide in English and Spanish from Nov. 6 to 10 among 1,005 adults, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The nonprofit research institute conducts surveys on public policy issues and religious values.
The group drilled down into that issue, creating subgroups for the November survey who were asked questions with differing levels of detail about the requirements immigrants should have to meet to become citizens. When there was no mention of requirements, 59 percent supported an option for citizenship. When the question specified that immigrants would have to pay back taxes, learn English and pass background checks, support increased to 71 percent.
The requirements are important, of course, because many undocumented immigrants will be unable to fulfill them, and thus will remain undocumented unless granted some form of legal status that does not lead to citizenship. This latter option, however, is the only one that House Republicans currently seem to favor, and it is clear that they are out of step with the public on this issue.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Some Simple Solutions for Controlling Malaria

An incredible amount of money and energy goes into controlling malaria, and all of it is worthwhile if we can bring this dreadful disease under control. But it seems that simple solutions help out. Economics Professor Ross McKitrick at the University of Guelph in Canada and two Finnish colleagues have analyzed data showing that, after controlling for a host of other factors, sleeping arrangements make a difference in malaria rates.
"Malaria-bearing mosquitoes mainly feed at night, and tend to return to the same location for blood meals. The more people who sleep in one area, the greater the likelihood of an infected mosquito spreading the parasite to a new, uninfected victim." 
"It is a common misconception that malaria is a tropical disease, and with 90 per cent of malaria deaths taking place in Africa, it is easy to see why people believe this," said McKitrick.
"But historically, malaria has occurred in all climate zones including the Arctic, and was endemic in North America and Europe a hundred years ago. In many cases, the disease disappeared even in countries that made no efforts to fight it, while others that tried to eradicate it failed. We found declining average household size key to explaining this pattern. "
As household size continues to decline, said McKitrick, malaria should gradually disappear. But countries need not wait for that to happen. "The key factor is segmenting sleeping quarters and greater use of bed nets in those countries where malaria is still prevalent," he said.
A related story reveals that malaria would be essentially non-existent in the US if people didn't contract it outside the country and then bring it back with them. And why does that happen? "Travelers can protect themselves by taking malaria drugs before and during a trip. Only a fraction of the 2011 cases took the right drugs." A sad commentary on the sanity of travelers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Suzanne Bianchi, Former PAA President, Dead at Age 61

We received the terrible news this week that Professor Suzanne Bianchi of UCLA, Past President of the Population Association of America (among innumerable academic accomplishments) died earlier this month of pancreatic cancer. She was only 61. Although I will quote from the UCLA website, her obituary was printed in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post and many other places, highlighting her contributions to family demography and gender equality in particular--the latter being central to modern demographic thinking, due in many ways to her scholarly contributions.
Bianchi, the first holder of UCLA's Dorothy Meier Chair in Social Equities and a distinguished professor of sociology, was former president of the Population Association of America, editor of the well-respected journal Demography, past chair of the executive committee of the California Center for Population Research at UCLA and former director of the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The author of numerous award-winning books and articles, Bianchi is best known for investigating the rapidly evolving ways in which contemporary American women and men juggle the demands of their work and family lives. She studied women's employment, how wives and husbands divide housework and time with children, and how women take care of their children and aging parents.
Until Bianchi's research, social scientists assumed that mothers' involvement in the workplace kept them from home, and that the loss of time with their mother harmed children. Bianchi found that even though mothers' labor-force participation had increased, the time they spent with their children had changed very little. In an attention-grabbing address that she delivered to the Population Association of America in 2000 and in the books and articles she wrote afterwards, Bianchi showed that employed mothers adjusted their work hours, did less housework, slept less and partook in fewer leisure activities in order to be able to spend more time with their children.
At the same time, children's lives also changed, with fewer siblings and more time away from home in preschool and other child-centered activities, so that even mothers who were not employed outside the home spent less time with children because children were busy elsewhere. Bianchi eyed the widespread impact of her findings with a measure of ambivalence.
"My one concern is that I have given the impression that women have found it quite easy to balance increased labor force participation with child rearing, to reduce hours of employment so as to juggle childcare, and to get their husbands more involved in child rearing; and that fathers have found it easy to add more hours with children to those they already commit to supporting children financially," she once said. "I do not think these changes have been easy for American families, particularly for American women.
Although the National Cancer Institute has statistics showing that pancreatic cancer is relatively rare in the US, it has the striking property of a very short period of time between diagnosis and death. She will be missed by all of us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Status of State Immigration "Reform"

Speaker of the House John Boehner has declared immigration reform to be officially "dead" for 2013, but things are moving slowly in the favor of immigrants at the state level, at least in terms of legislative assaults against undocumented immigrants. The Migration Policy Institute recently posted a report summarizing, in particular, the settlement of a lawsuit in Alabama that effectively shuts down that state's extreme attempt to legislate against undocumented immigrants.
The Alabama settlement last month, which ends a lawsuit that has been moving through the courts since enactment of HB 56 in 2011, can be seen, at least for now, as the final blow to a breed of multi-pronged state laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. The critical blow clearly came in June 2012 when the Supreme Court, in Arizona v. United States, struck down most provisions of Arizona's SB 1070, a precursor to HB 56 and similar legislation by several other states.
 Most provisions of HB 56 never went into effect because they were blocked by federal courts. The law was almost entirely enjoined by the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in August 2012 in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States. In April 2013, the Supreme Court declined to hear the state's appeal, effectively leaving intact the lower court's decision.
Alabama on October 29 settled the lawsuit brought by immigrant and civil-rights advocates, as it became clear that the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit rulings would prevent most of the law's components from ever being enforced.
As state activism on immigration enforcement has reached a near halt, momentum in 2013 has swung in the other direction — to laws expanding benefits to unauthorized immigrants and to noncitizens more generally.
There seems to be a widespread belief (hope?) that immigration reform will pass the House next year, so the momentum does seem to have shifted toward a more rational and humane approach to the role of immigrants in American society.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Girl Babies at Highest Risk in the Philippines

The recent typhoon in the Philippines generated thousands of victims, but Justin Stoler just sent me a link to a disturbing finding--girl babies are significantly more victimized by typhoons in that country than are boy babies. The story is based on a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
While officials report roughly 740 deaths on average every year due to typhoon exposure in the Philippines, post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is approximately 15 times higher than that, likely due to the storm’s indirect poverty-worsening effects.
The risk of a baby girl dying after a typhoon doubles if she has older sisters in the home, and the risk doubles again if she has older brothers—suggesting that the competition for resources among siblings may play a key role in these deaths.
The researchers did not find a spike in the mortality rates for baby boys, but they uncovered an elevated mortality risk among baby girls that lasts up to two years after a typhoon.
Note that the research is based on a series of typhoons. While the most recent one was much worse than normal, disastrous typhoons are not uncommon in the Philippines. That raises the other disturbing question, mentioned in the article, about the general lack of readiness within the country for disasters of this kind.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is Slow Population Growth the Cause of the Weak Economy in the US?

Paul Krugman published an Op-Ed recently in the New York Times in which he suggested that the slow job growth in the US might be a long-term trend, not just a blip, and that one cause might be the slowing of population growth in this country that has lowered demand for consumer goods. His column generated a string of generally well-thought-out responses, none of which exactly disputed his thesis about population growth, but nearly all of which pointed the finger at the increasing income inequality in the US as the major cause of slow job creation--rich people are increasingly richer and are sitting on their money instead of creating jobs--no sign of trickle-down.

But let me address the issue of slow population growth. If that really were the cause, then the economic theory behind it would simply be that the population has to grow for the economy to grow, without any regard for the increase in the standard of living. It is the latter that people seek, of course.  If population growth were required for an improving economy, then we are in serious trouble because that is clearly not sustainable. The same economy with slowing population growth should be equal to a higher standard of living per person, not higher unemployment. What the economy needs is higher productivity per person, not more people. This brings us back to the growing income inequality as the real issue here. Population growth in countries like China, India, and elsewhere has attracted manufacturing jobs that used to be located in the US. Those jobs are probably gone for a long time--until the wage gap is reduced significantly. Finance has replaced manufacturing as a source of income for the elites of society, but on its own that does not create much in the way of jobs for the middle class. What to do? Several of those commenting on Krugman's had the same answer--some form of "redistribution" that puts the wealth of the nation to work for everyone, not just an elite few.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dan Brown's "Inferno" Has Helped to Stimulate Thinking About Population Growth

It was inevitable that when an author as popular as Dan Brown (and I mean the novelist, not the geographer at the University of Michigan) put population growth front and center in his latest book "Inferno"people were going to pay attention. Journalist Sam Kornell was inspired to get on a plane and fly to a huge slum (Mukuru) in Nairobi, Kenya to see for himself what all this fuss is about, and then to report back to us in a column in Slate. His conclusion is that consumption is the problem, rather than population growth. Poor people do not make the same demands on the earth as do the rich, so if there were fewer rich people, we would not be having this discussion. 

Not so fast! The problem is the COMBINATION of population growth and increasing consumption. It is our growing scientific knowledge and use of resources over the past two hundred years, especially since the end of WWII, that has allowed the world to bring down death rates and, at the same time, increase the food supply. Yes, the birth rate is declining (thanks to scientific knowledge applied to the issue of reproduction), but in much of the world births still vastly outnumber deaths. Now, if we all were willing to live at the same level as residents of slums in Nairobi, the world could support a larger population, but I have never talked to anyone who preferred that to a standard level of living. People everywhere aspire to the level of living that implies a higher per-person use of resources (with the accompanying piling up of waste in the air, ground, and water). The more of us there are who want a higher level of living, the sooner will we overshoot our sustainability (if we haven't already).

It is true that Malthus was wrong in almost all of the details of his theory, as I discuss in detail in Chapter 3, but we still talk about Malthus because the big idea of his is still a real possibility--there is a real chance that we will overrun our resources. It hasn't happened in the way that Malthus worried about, nor as Paul Ehrlich worried about 150 years later, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

China to Ease One-Child Policy--Baby Boom NOT imminent [Updated]

There has been speculation for several months that the new leaders in China would ease restrictions on the birth rate and, as I noted a few days ago, this is indeed the new policy. Although the New York Times story seems to see this as a major breakthrough, the new policy is an expansion of the rules that had been in place in a China the past few years which allowed couples who are both only children to have more than one child. The new rules allow a second child if either one of the prospective parents is an only child. Thus far, only a small fraction of couples have taken advantage of the first round of relaxed rules. Thus, Professor Wang Feng of UC Irvine does not expect a big impact from this national easing of the one-child policy, as noted by The Globe and Mail:
Some 15 million to 20 million Chinese parents will be allowed to have a second child after the government announced Friday that couples where one partner has no siblings can have two children. But the easing of the policy is so incremental that demographers and policymakers are not anticipating an influx of newborn babies at a time when young Chinese couples are already opting for smaller families, driving the country’s fertility rate down to 1.5-1.6 births per woman. 
“A baby boom can be safely ruled out,” said Wang Feng, professor of sociology at the University of California Irvine. 
Wang noted that although Chinese couples where both parents have no siblings have for some time been allowed to have a second child, many have elected to have only one. “Young people’s reproductive desires have changed,” he said.
Whether or not the change in policy has an impact on China's demographics, it is a very positive sign that the human rights issues surrounding the one-child policy are easing. China's leaders understand that the country still cannot afford a huge population boom, but it is a good sign that they believe that the birth rate will stay low without government pressure. 

Update: A story in today's New York Times suggests that it may be too early to believe that the human rights issues with respect to reproductive decisions in China are behind us:
The Chinese state-run news media have celebrated the shift as demonstrating that Mr. Xi’s government is willing to make changes that have been debated, and delayed, for many years. But over the weekend, a senior official in the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that provincial-level governments would decide when to carry out the new policy, and he stressed that the government had no plans to further relax family size restrictions. 
“There will not be a uniform nationwide timetable for starting implementation,” Wang Pei’an, a vice minister of the commission, said in a question-and-answer transcript issued by Xinhua, the state-run news agency. “But it would be inadvisable for the lag in timing of implementation between each area to be too long.”  Provincial-level governments include large municipalities, like Beijing and Shanghai, which answer directly to the central government.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reading (or Misreading) Demographic Tea Leaves in Chile

Any reader of this blog knows that politics and demographics are a heady brew, mixed up together all the time, and I like to encourage that kind of thinking. But sometimes people get things wrong (hey, I do too occasionally). A good example of misreading the demographic tea leaves is an article in discussing this weekend's presidential election in Chile.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet of the center-left Concertacion coalition seems poised to win the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for Nov. 17. She will supersede Sebastian Pinera who replaced her in March 2010; Chile's constitution forbids consecutive terms.
Pinera entered office at a time of change in Chile. The country has a comparatively young representative government, having moved out of dictatorship and into a democratic system in 1990. In the wake of the dictatorship, there was a small population boom, the outcome of which was an upsurge of people who are now between the ages of 15 and 30. This new generation is composed of Chileans who have no living memory of the dictatorial regime of Chilean President Augusto Pinochet and grew up in an increasingly open social environment that permitted the development of a protest culture. This, combined with the economic challenges facing society, has produced a sustained period of public unrest that began under Bachelet's last administration and has intensified under Pinera.
I underlined the demographic component that seems to underly the analysis of what Bachelet will face when she takes office. A population pyramid of Chile, based upon UN estimates for 2015, even accompanies the story--very nice. The only problem is that there wasn't actually a population boom, small or otherwise, in the wake of the dictatorship. There will be a bulge of people aged 20-29 in 2015 (not 15-30). Those aged 20-24 were born right after the return to democracy, whereas those 25-29 were  born in the last years of the Pinochet dictatorship. So, we are on shaky ground attributing either one to the kind of government in place when they were born. In fact, during this entire time, the average woman in Chile was having fewer and fewer children. If anything, the decline in fertility accelerated after the return to civilian rule, and is now below replacement level--consistent with the demographic trends in the European countries from which most Chileans can trace their roots. That boom came about entirely because 1985-1995 represented the peak years for the absolute number of women of reproductive age in Chile--a legacy of higher birth rates in the pre-Pinochet years. This created an unusual bulge in births between 1985-1995, but it had nothing to do with the desire for more children, nor seemingly anything to do with politics more generally.

If anything, the age structure of Chile is poised to be economically advantageous--a potential demographic dividend. The bulge of young workers, less burdened with children than previous generations, can and should be the cornerstone of new economic policies in Chile. This is a fleeting moment in Chile's demographic history--they have to use it or lose it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mapping Americans on the Move

I was very happy this past Spring when a group of demographers as the University of Wisconsin made available a set of data on county-level migration rates by age and sex and race/ethnicity for the US from 1950 to 2010. This is an incredibly rich source of data and my son, Greg, and I immediately latched onto them to help us put together population projections for Latinos and non-Latinos in the South for a chapter that will be out next year (more on that later). But, lo and behold, they also created some very nice maps, and the website io9 has put them together in a way that nicely visualizes migration patterns over time in the country. Here is an example:

You can see that a lot of the counties shaded in blue (higher in-migration rates) are in the south. This is partly a function of the Great Remigration of Blacks out of the north and back to the south (with the notable exceptions of Alabama and Mississippi), and partly a consequence of a huge increase in the number of Latinos (many of them undocumented immigrants) moving to these states. Over time, of course, this will almost certainly change the demographic and political landscape of the south.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Origins of "Demography is Destiny" Revealed

A couple of weeks ago I posed the question about who originated the popular notion that "demography is destiny." I am very grateful to my SDSU colleague Shoshana Grossbard who immediately contacted Olivier Thévenon and François Héran at INED in Paris. Dr. Héran had, in fact, already looked into this question and had the probable answer. It is very likely that the term was first used--or certainly first popularized--in the 1970 book "The Real Majority," by Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg (New York: Coward-McCann). The book was about electoral politics and the role played by the changing demographics of the US. Chapter 4 is titled "Demography is Destiny--Unyoung, Unpoor, and Unblack," while Chapter 5 is titled "Middle-Aged, Middle Class White." The title of Chapter 4 was very politically incorrect and apparently received a lot of comment at the time. Of considerable interest given the current political climate in the US is the review of the book at the time by Ruth Silva, a political scientist at Penn State:
If The Real Majority has a thesis, it is that the American electorate is centerist, so that victory lies with the party or candidate of the center--the only extreme that is attractive to a real majority of the electorate is the extreme center. In short, The Real Majority is "must" reading for Kevin Phillips, Barry Goldwater, "Lemming Left" Democrats, "Lemming Right" Republicans, and every thoughtful citizen. (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol 395, May 1971)
Richard Scammon had been Director of the US Census Bureau from 1961 to 1965, having been appointed by President Kennedy and then serving under President Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. Wattenberg was a speechwriter for President Johnson, although he became politically more conservative over time, cutting his teeth demographically by famously challenging Paul Ehrlich about the Population Bomb on some of Ehrlich's many visits to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Mara Hvistendahl recounts those stories in her book "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men" (New York: Perseus, 2012).

As I suspected, there is simply no evidence that Auguste Comte ever said anything even remotely close to "demography is destiny," whereas we know for certain that Scammon and Wattenberg used it several times. Furthermore, there is no sign of the phrase having been in circulation prior to the publication of their book, whereas it has gained enough currency since then that most people, including me until the email from Dr. Héran, had no clue about its origins.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chinese May be Encouraging Higher Birth Rate as a Way Out of the Demographic Conundrum

Thanks to William Dobbins for pointing me to an article today in speculating on the outcome of the current leadership meetings in China--the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee--which ended today. 
According to the communique broadcast by state mouthpiece China Central Television, important policy changes include the establishment of a committee to guide the country’s comprehensive reform agenda, the establishment of an integrated National Security Committee responsible for coordinating public safety and national strategy, and the easing of the country's 33-year-old family planning policy to allow more couples to have a second child.
In light of China's imminent demographic imbalance, the changes to family planning were expected. The country's massive pool of cheap labor previously underpinned its economic and social transformation, but as China prepares to transition toward a consumer-based economy, its aging population is a problem.
Admittedly, China has moved well beyond the massive economic mismanagement and social disorder of the post-Cultural Revolution period. However, the inevitable loss of the demographic advantages that sustained the country's economic miracle, combined with the prevailing social inequality and regional disparities as well as the rising political awareness of the middle class, mean the new leadership is facing even greater challenges to preserve its legitimacy. Doing so requires a constant commitment by political leaders to respond to China's changing internal and external environments. It also requires a path toward reform that meets public expectations while overcoming anti-reform elements.
The problem, as I have noted before, is that it is not clear that Chinese couples are interested in having more children. I discuss in Chapter 6 the fact that Chinese fertility was already declining before the One-Child Policy implemented--meaning that low fertility was not a response to government policy--and the government may have little influence on raising fertility either.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Climate Change and the Typhoon in the Philippines

As aid begins to flow into the Philippines, the huge typhoon that caused the damage is being put into perspective. Over just the past two decades, we have had a big increase in the size and severity of climate-related disasters, as noted in today's New York Times:
The world has already seen a sharp increase in such “natural” disasters – from about 100 per year in the early 1960’s to as many as 500 per year by the early 2000’s, said Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of science and society at Arizona State University.
But it is not that earthquakes and tsunamis and other such calamities have become stronger or more frequent. What has changed is where people live and how they live there, say many experts who study the physics of such events or the human responses to their aftermath.
So, from this perspective, the problem is largely a matter of population growth and distribution. But along with population growth has come an ever-increasing burden on the environment, bringing about changes in the climate. The Guardian notes that:
The appearance that these storms are getting bigger and more damaging reflects rapidly deteriorating climatic trends. The five most devastating typhoons ever recorded in the Philippines have occurred since 1990, affecting 23 million people. Four of the costliest typhoons anywhere occurred in the same period, according to Oxfam.
The inter-governmental panel on climate change says mean temperatures in the Philippines are rising by 0.14C a decade. Scientists are also registering steadily rising sea levels around the Philippines, and a falling water table. All of this appears to increase the likelihood and incidence of extreme weather events, analysts say.
And Chris Hayes on MSNBC had a segment today in which a guest tied the two together--demographic trends and climate change are almost certainly jointly behind the rising power and devastation of these storms.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Populations at Risk in the Philippines

The big story internationally this weekend was the monster typhoon that swept through a section of the Philippines and then headed on to Vietnam. In the Philippines it apparently leveled everything in its path, as reported by the BBC:
The head of the Red Cross in the Philippines has described the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan as "absolute bedlam".
Up to 10,000 people are believed to have died in Tacloban city and hundreds elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced.
Four million people have been affected in the Philippines, and many are now struggling to survive without food, shelter or clean drinking water.
A huge international relief effort is underway, but rescue workers have struggled to reach some towns and villages cut off since the storm.
"There's an awful lot of casualties, a lot of people dead all over the place, a lot of destruction," Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, told the BBC.
These kinds of events are a constant reminder of the fragility of both human life and human social organization. Despite the popularity on American TV of "extreme" events, human society revolves around stability, including that in the weather and other aspects of the environment.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Geopolitics of Aging Populations in East Asia

The Shadow Government blog of Foreign Policy had a very interesting article this week discussing the demographic background of the current battle between China and Japan about who has sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea:
The Sino-Japanese dispute is coming perilously close to conflict, as China finds in Shinzo Abe's government a wall of resistance to its recent pattern of aggression in its near seas. Abe has ambitious plans for reviving both the Japanese economy and its national security institutions to deal with dual threats from China and North Korea.
The thrust of the article, however, is that this conflict is between two rapidly aging populations ("grumpy old men") and it is not clear how that will play out.
Never before have we seen a strategic rivalry in which the opposing sides are getting so old. While both countries are using the tools of traditional statecraft -- rising military budgets, high-stakes diplomacy, economic leverage -- to gain strategic advantage, they are rapidly losing the actual people to sustain this great game.
According to Chinese statistics, the 15-64 age-group cohort, the most productive age group, shrank by 3.45 million last year. Meanwhile, the China Research Center on Aging announced that there are now 202 million elderly in China -- the size of a large country.
As for Japan, more than 23 percent of the population is already 65 or older. Over the next few decades the proportion of elderly in Japan could grow to one-third of the total population Already, the total population is shrinking and not being replaced through either birth or immigration. Over the next two decades, the working-age population will decline by about 17 percent from 81 million to 67 million.
The costs of the coming old-age tsunami are mind-boggling. China is relatively poor and has no national pension system and a limited patchwork of locally run systems. Japan is far wealthier but deeply indebted. Neither country has enough kids to support aging parents.
As the article implies, we are genuinely in uncharted territory here. We have never had a large older population in the world--rich or poor--and so it is impossible to know how this will turn out. We're going to have to take the traditional grumpy old men approach of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Election Demographics

This week's elections in the US showed, among other things, that voters in Virginia were not interested in electing as governor a person whose major campaign issues centered around restricting women's reproductive rights, harassing immigrants, and discriminating agains gays. In general, the data suggest that the political momentum may be swinging back toward Democrats. Part of that momentum lies with the children of immigrants, as my son, Greg, pointed out in his blog today--check it out:

Above the fold on the front page of today's Charlotte Observer (yes, I actually get a paper paper) was the headline "Can Charlotte Republicans Regain Mayor's Office" (accompanied by a quote by my political science colleague Eric Heberlig). I used it in my Politics of Latino Immigration class today because it fit so well with our ongoing discussions of political demography. The article's point was that demographics are favoring the Democratic Party in Charlotte. It has this very nice map comparison between the 2007 and 2013 mayoral elections.

You can see how the red is concentrated heavily in south Charlotte, and is shrinking. What the article unfortunately doesn't do, however, is integrate that analysis with the growth of the Latino population, which is a pretty glaring omission.

In work I've done with my dad, we got data on births in Mecklenburg County, then mapped them. Here is what you get:

What you can see is that the Latino population is dispersed across Charlotte, though less so in south Charlotte (which is more wealthy and white). If you combine it with the mayoral map, you end up with a city and county that will become bluer and bluer because of course Latinos support the Democratic Party by a very large margin. The children being born will not be voters for at least 18 years, but our map can also be viewed as a proxy for Latino families. Some are already citizens and non-citizens will slowly naturalize, faster if immigration reform with some sort of amnesty with path of citizenship is passed (which, naturally, is one reason many Republicans oppose it).

Thus, in Charlotte it will be really, really hard for Republicans to win mayoral elections. And by the way, in the future it may well get more difficult to win County Commissioner seats as well, if you look at the data for Hispanic births by county commission district.

As I keep repeating to my class, it doesn't matter if you like or dislike this. It's just the way things are, and demographic shifts are going to have major political impacts.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who Is Poor in the US? It Depends...

The US Census Bureau today released its latest estimates of what it calls the "Supplemental Measure of Poverty." This is a substantial alteration of the original--and still official--poverty line which is based on three times the cost of a minimally nutritious diet, varied according to family structure and age. Actually, the overall level of poverty is very similar using the official poverty measure (15.1 percent of the population) and the supplemental poverty measure (SPM = 16.0 percent of the population). But the SPM is more nuanced because it accounts for government transfers (inflows) and things like taxes paid (outflows), and it takes regional costs of living into account, while not thinking that age should matter when it comes to poverty. Thus, the overall mix of people in poverty turns out to be different between the two measures. Here are three differences that jumped out at me:

1. The official poverty measure indicates that 9.1 percent of the population aged 65 and older is at or below the poverty line, whereas the SPM puts the figure at 14.8. This is entirely the result of the official poverty measure making the ageist assumption that older people have a lower level of need than do younger people.

2.  The official poverty measure indicates that 22.3 percent of children under 18 are in poverty, whereas the SPM puts the figure at 18.1. The SPM takes into account that government programs are helping to alleviate poverty, which is obviously a good thing and needs to be acknowledged.

3. The official poverty measure indicates that the poverty level in California is 16.5, which is slightly above the national level of 15.1, but still below the worst state--Mississippi--which has 20.7 percent at or below poverty. However, the SPM has California at 23.8--the worst in the nation. Why? Two factors seem to play a role: (1) the SPM takes housing costs into account, and housing is very expensive in California, and (2) non-citizens have a higher poverty rate than do citizens in the SPM, and California has a lot of immigrants who are non-citizens. Despite having the highest level of poverty according to the SPM, California's median household income is 16th in the nation, which probably indicates a fair amount of income inequality in the state.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mapping Births and Deaths

The Atlantic puts out a lot of things online that are clearly demographic in nature, but I have to thank the SDSU Geography Facebook page for pointing me to the latest item--a real-time simulation of births and deaths in the world.
In 1950, there were 2.5 billion humans. Today there are just over 7 billion. In another 30 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, there will be more than 9 billion.
Brad Lyon has a doctoral degree in mathematics and does software development. He wanted to make those numbers visual. Last year he and designer Bill Snebold made a hugely popular interactive simulation map of births and deaths in the U.S. alone—the population of which is on pace to increase 44 percent by 2050. Now, Lyon takes on the world.
Yes, it s a simulation because of course we really don't have that kind of detailed data, but just the concept is a visualization that makes you think seriously about what's happening in the rest of the world outside your own door.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Climate Change LIkely to Lower Food Supply

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is working on its latest report, to be published in March. However, a blogster apparently opposed to the work of the IPCC has obtained and leaked a copy of the current draft, according to the New York Times. The news is not good, whether or not you like the IPCC. 
Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.
In a departure from an earlier assessment, the scientists concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production over all by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century, compared with what it would be without climate change.
Here are the key numbers: (1) "global warming could reduce agricultural production by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century;" and (2) "...demand is expected to rise as much as 14 percent each the world population is projected to grow to 9.6 billion in 2050, from 7.2 billion today, according to the United Nations, and as many of those people in developing countries acquire the money to eat richer diets."

Obviously, declining supply in the face of increasing demand is a recipe for disaster. Reducing emissions to try to limit the impact of climate change is already under way, although the US, in particular, has been dragging its feet on this. Improving food distribution systems is also a possibility, moving clearly away from the unrealistic notion that every nation must be food self-sufficient. And, the idea of a "richer diet" probably also needs to go into the scrap heap. What we need is a better diet, not a richer one. In particular, if meat were a declining share of diets we would help both the problems of agricultural productivity and climate change, as I've noted before.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Delay in Marriage a Key to Fertility Decline in Arab Societies

Thanks to Zia Salim for pointing me to an article in today's Los Angeles Times commenting on the role of marriage postponement as a factor in fertility levels in Arab societies.
Rising expectations of newlyweds living in their own homes and broader use of family planning in certain parts of the Arab world have drastically changed population dynamics in the region, with women marrying later and having few children, the statistics firm Gapminder reported Friday.
In a series of graphics compiled and posted on the company website, the sharp demographic trends in Tunisia and Libyaare offered as examples of the shift away from early marriage and frequent childbirth in Arab nations.
This is entirely consistent with what I and my colleagues found in Cairo in a paper published almost ten years ago:
...variability in the delay in marriage is 20 times more important a predictor of fertility levels than is contraceptive utilization, which, in fact, was not a statistically significant predictor. We mentioned above that the delay in marriage has regularly been cited as an important factor in the Arab fertility transition (see also Rashad 2000), and these findings are consistent with that conclusion.