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

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Look Who's Crossing the Border Now

A few years ago, I and my colleagues Justin Stoler and Piotr Jankowski published an article titled "Who’s Crossing the Border: New Data on Undocumented Immigrants to the United States." Under an agreement with the Border Patrol, we had been provided access to data that allowed us to calculate the number of unduplicated persons being apprehended at the US-Mexico border, so that we could analyze the origins in Mexico of those crossing the border. Indeed, 92% of the apprehensions in our data covering the 1999-2006 period were from Mexico. That picture is very different now than it was then. Data just released by the Department of Homeland Security and reviewed by the Pew Research Center for Fiscal year 2014 (remember that the government fiscal year goes from 1 October through 30 September), show that for the first time ever since numbers have been kept, Mexicans are not the majority among those being apprehended. More than half (53%) were from somewhere else, largely from Central America. To be sure, a plurality were from Mexico, but if data from FY 2013 are an indication, the leading other sending countries are, in order, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.



For the past several years, the proportion of apprehensions that were not from Mexico has been steadily increasing, while at the same time the number of apprehensions (and presumably then the number of undocumented border crossers) has been steadily declining. Some of this is certainly due to tighter border security. The indirect evidence for this is that over the years, as border security has tightened in each successive place from west to east, the number of apprehensions has increased in the adjacent areas. Thus, tightening in San Diego pushed up apprehensions in Arizona. Then, tightening in Arizona pushed up apprehensions in south Texas. But the shift in origin is almost certainly due to factors taking place in the sending countries. Mexico's birth rate has declined steadily and its economy has improved (and those two things probably go together), while the increasing violence in Central America--associated especially with drug and gang violence--has sent an increasing number of people north. Of course, it doesn't help that birth rates are still fairly high in those countries and their economies are not very good (and those two things probably go together).


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Populations at Risk as 2014 Comes to an End

Several years ago I was part of a National Research Council committee that authored a report on populations at risk, providing input especially to the U.S. Census Bureau's International Programs and the U.S. State Department Geographer's office in terms of how to assess the number and characteristics of people at risk of injury from disasters of any particular kind. As the year ends, I was interested to see a report from CoreLogic in Irvine, California, summarizing natural disasters in the US and the rest of the world. [The report is available for free download after you register.] CoreLogic is a corporate data analysis firm and, full disclosure, I pay attention to it because my son-in-law is Senior VP of Finance and I know that he knows what he's doing. The report notes that the U.S. had fewer natural disasters last year than the year before, but the global picture is more complicated:

The year 2014 is trending towards becoming the warmest year on record, with the temperatures through the first 10 months of 2014 being the warmest yet...Examining international hazards such as the typhoons that occurred in the western Pacific and earthquake activity around the world, it is clear that the reduction in natural hazard damage that the U.S. is currently experiencing is not the same worldwide. The temperature distribution on the planet is not uniform either, and much of the U.S. experienced extreme cold while temperatures in the remainder of the world balanced out. Australia did not experience any extreme bushfires, however, the Pacific experienced average to above- average cyclonic activity, and the normally benign Northern Indian Ocean basin experienced two intense cyclones. Additionally, extreme convective storm losses in Germany and Australia are a reminder of the loss potential of these powerful perils.
This past year also saw the civil war in Syria escalate into the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Millions of people are at risk there and in the surrounding region. The tragedy is that we can better prepare for natural disasters than we can for human-made disaster. At the same time, natural disasters have a bigger impact as population growth entices people to move into ever more risky environments, and human disasters are more likely as populations grow quickly in areas that don't really have the resources to support those numbers.

Monday, December 29, 2014

German Xenophobia

While the current xenophobia in Germany is not an exploitation of the holiday season, it is nonetheless about religion. As the Economist explains, the current backlash against immigrants who are  Muslim is coming especially from the eastern part of Germany, which has only a very small immigrant population.
CALLING themselves Pegida, or “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, since October they have marched through Dresden every Monday. Their numbers are growing: on December 15th 15,000 protested. Their slogans of xenophobic paranoia (“No sharia in Europe!”) seem bizarre in Saxony, where only 2% of the population is foreign and fewer than 1% are Muslim.
Germany remains a tolerant place, one reason why some 465,000 migrants arrived last year, making it the world’s second most popular destination after America. But Pegida is a reminder that many, especially in eastern Germany, harbour resentments that can be exploited. “We are the people,” the marchers in Dresden shouted. It was the phrase East Germans used in 1989 in protest against their communist overlords. To outsiders, the cry now sounds chilling.
This is not new to Germany, of course. I blogged about German xenophobia (aimed specifically at immigrants from Turkey) more than four years ago. Religion is always an issue. We only have to think back to the backlash against eastern and southern European immigrants to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20h centuries who were predominantly Catholic--from Ireland and Italy, in particular. This led to the country's very restrictive immigration laws between 1929 and 1965. Indeed, when John F. Kennedy ran for President, there were people who were convinced that a Catholic could not and should not be President, for fear that he would answer to the Pope, not to the American public. You might say to yourself, well, we're beyond that, but on the other hand, JFK is the only Catholic president that the US has ever had.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Religious Intolerance Marks and Mars the Holidays

Religion is a characteristic that influences how people behave socially, economically, and demographically. Technically, it is an "achieved" characteristic, because we can theoretically change our religion any time we want, but in the real world it is largely an ascribed characteristic--being given to us at birth by our parents. It is closely related to ethnicity and because people often dress or behave differently based on their religion, it is something that can be used against us--an inspiration for xenophobia. Thus, it was sad, but not surprising, that the Christian-based holiday season was marred by a mosque being burned in Sweden, and by Christian churches being demolished in China. The Swedish case seems like pure xenophobia (Muslims encroaching on a predominantly society), whereas the Chinese case seems more complicated than simply Christians encroaching on a predominantly non-Christian society):
Many Christians say their faith has been singled out because authorities, wary of its rapid growth, are seeking to curb its spread in a campaign that has targeted China’s most thriving Christian communities.
Estimates for the number of Christians in China range from the conservative official figure of 23 million to as many as 100 million by independent scholars, raising the possibility that Christians may rival in size the 85 million members of the ruling Communist Party.
Of course, it could be argued that both acts are similar--it is just that in Sweden the attacks are attributable to extremists who think the government is too lax regarding immigrants of a different religious group, whereas in China the attacks come straight from the government. On the other hand, if one were to try to promote any religion other than Islam in a country like Saudi Arabia, they would likely end up immediately in jail.

Is there any chance that such intolerance will abate in the future? An interesting article at BBC News suggests not. Sociologists see religion as a form of social control practiced in some way or another by every society (even atheism is a religion of a sort--the belief that there is no God is still a religious-type belief). Psychologists see religion as filling in the gaps of our understanding of the world around us, and there is no likelihood that we will ever know everything, so religion is likely to be with us forever (whatever that means!).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Bit of Red Wine is Good for the Holidays and Your Health

For many years now, scientists have been pretty sure that red wine is good for you--that's not just the French talking. Results of a study conducted at Scripps Research Institute here in San Diego has just been published in Nature that help us to understand what's going on, as summarized in Medical Daily:
Over the years, wine lovers and more than a few scientists have claimed red wine not only extends the lifespan, but it protects the heart and offers anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects. Quite a drink! Now, a new study has found that resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, activates an evolutionarily ancient stress response in human cells, which may be key to increasing longevity and protecting against disease. "With these findings we have a new, fundamental mechanism for the known beneficial effects of resveratrol," said Dr. Mathew Sajish, a senior research associate at the Scripps Research Institute.
Placing TyrRS and resveratrol together, the researchers showed that resveratrol does indeed mimic tyrosine, which means TyrRS does not perform its usual role in the nucleus — instead, it is steered to a new function. Tracking the resveratrol-bound TyrRS, the researchers discovered that it activates the protein, PARP-1, a major stress response and DNA-repair factor thought to have a significance influence on lifespan. In turn, this activation stimulates a host of protective genes, including a tumor-suppressor gene and longevity genes.
“Based on these results, it is conceivable that moderate consumption of a couple glasses of red wine (rich in resveratrol) would give a person enough resveratrol to evoke a protective effect via this pathway,” Sajish said.
For those of us who like to have a glass a wine with dinner, this is truly excellent news. Of course, as with almost everything in life, it is best to drink even your red wine in moderation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cuban Demographics

If you happened to watch the "60 Minutes" segment on Cuba last night, you might well have come away with the impression that Cubans are starving to death and that is one reason why new connections to the U.S. can be beneficial--let's feed these people! Well, I don't claim to have nutritional details for Cuba, but data from the World Health Organization suggest that life expectancy in Cuba is nearly identical to that in the United States. Now, keep in mind that the U.S. and Cuba have lower life expectancy than all Western European countries so maybe the U.S. is overfed and Cuba is underfed, but the mortality statistics are very similar. At the same time, fertility has been lower in Cuba than in the U.S. since the 1980s, and that has created the massive age structure change that my son, Greg, and I outlined in the Washington Post a few days ago. 

Here are some of the details that we didn't have room to put in that piece, based on data from the UN Population Division. At the time of the Cuban Revolution, the population was young, with 45% under 20 and only 7% 60+. The rapid drop in fertility--from 4.7 children per woman in 1960 to 1.7 in 1990, accompanied by declining mortality, meant that by 1990, 34% were under 20 and 12% were 60+. By 2015, it is estimated that this combination of low fertility and mortality will have produced a population that is almost exactly the same size as in 1990 (11 million), but now the percent under 20 is down to 22, and percent 60+ is up to 20. At current trends, the UN projects that by 2040 only 16 percent will be under 20 and a whopping 38 percent will be 60+. This is a demographic disaster scenario--few economies could go on for long like that--and even though Fidel and Raul will be long gone by then, their Revolution could not withstand that kind of demographic regime and they almost certainly are aware of that fact. This is at least part of the explanation for their welcoming the Obama Administration's overtures.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Business Demographics--Good for All Seasons

As we approach Christmas, the push by retailers to sell us stuff is coming to a climax. Getting an edge in the market has always been what people want and it has been known for a long time that the spatial clustering of people with similar demographics can help target your products, if you know where they are. The PRIZM system of Claritas, now part of Nielsen, was the first such product on the market. Recently, I commented in the Census Bureau's Dwellr app, which does some of the same thing, but only for one area at a time (but then it's free). My son, John, who is Professor of Organizational Behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, pointed me today to a new product form ESRI. I use ESRI's ARCGIS software all the time, but for whatever reason I had missed their product announcement for Tapestry. This appears to me to be a direct competitor to PRIZM, but like PRIZM, they let you try it our for free for a few zip codes. If you want the full-blown product you will need to subscribe, but you can play around with the data at no cost. If you weren't sure what to do with your Christmas break, now you know how to spend your time!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Political Demography of U.S.-Cuba Relations

My son, Greg Weeks, and I just published a piece at the Washington Post with our take on the political demography of U.S.-Cuba Relations as reflected in this week's announcement by President Obama that we are establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba that will almost certainly have far-reaching consequences, especially for Cuba, as we note:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/18/the-political-demography-of-u-s-cuba-relations/


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Demographics of Declining Oil Prices and Job Growth in the US

The average consumer in the U.S. sees a decline in oil prices, and thus gasoline prices, as something akin to a tax cut. More money is left over to spend on other stuff. But John Mauldin, in his Thoughts From the Frontline newsletter (a free subscription), notes that it also means that jobs will be lost in those companies hurt by the drop in oil prices. Will this lead to higher unemployment and potential trouble for the U.S. economy down the road? The answer is not necessarily, because the demographics of the U.S. suggest that a relatively low level of job growth should accommodate future labor needs. In essence, population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that we may need fewer jobs in the future than in the past. Here's the line of thinking on this:
Job growth is a function of both the supply of and demand for labor. With labor force participation having fallen sharply since the Great Recession and growth in the working-age population slowing, growth in the supply of labor, measured by labor force growth, looks to have downshifted in recent years. As a result, the number of new jobs needed each month to keep the unemployment rate steady has also declined. We estimate that from 2015 to 2020, payroll growth of around 65,000 jobs per month should be sufficient to absorb new entrants into the labor force and to exert neutral pressure on the unemployment rate. This marks a notable downshift from a trend of around 150,000 in the 1980s and 1990s, and even the early 2000s when trend employment growth slowed to around 120,000.
An immediate takeaway from this analysis is that if job growth continues to bump along in the 200,000 range, it will not be too long before there is wage pressure, especially in skilled jobs. That would be good news for workers. If we couple that pressure with a change in the silly rule that says that anyone working more than 30 hours is considered to be full-time and move the number of hours considered to be full-time work to 40 (I think that has a good possibility of passing next year), it will mean that workers (especially those who are younger) get more hours, more income, and better jobs. It will also mean that the unemployment rate will trend down, even if employment growth is not up to historical standards.
This reasonably rosy scenario will be good news to the increasingly larger older population that will be depending on these younger people to keep the economy humming along to pay their pensions and health care--that generational bond that is so important because those young people will someday be older themselves, if they are lucky. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Good News on the Malaria Front

Malaria has existed forever--in human terms--and continues to kill millions. But it is now killing fewer than before, and that is the good news reported this week by the World Health Organization:
Between 2000 and 2013, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47% worldwide and by 54% in the WHO African Region - where about 90% of malaria deaths occur.
New analysis across sub-Saharan Africa reveals that despite a 43% population increase, fewer people are infected or carry asymptomatic malaria infections every year: the number of people infected fell from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013.
Between 2000 and 2013, access to insecticide-treated bed nets increased substantially. In 2013, almost half of all people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated net, a marked increase from just 3% in 2004. And this trend is set to continue, with a record 214 million bed nets scheduled for delivery to endemic countries in Africa by year-end.
Gains are, however, fragile, as the WHO notes:
In 2013, one third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa did not have a single insecticide treated net. Indoor residual spraying, another key vector control intervention, has decreased in recent years, and insecticide resistance has been reported in 49 countries around the world.
Still, the general direction is toward reducing deaths from malaria, and that means that globally we must also ratchet up our attention to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies because the side-effect, so to speak, of lower mortality rates from malaria is a higher rate of population growth. Fortunately, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has helped to fund many of the anti-malaria efforts, has seen the light on this issue is now funding some research related to fertility control.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Suburbanization is the World's Future

If you've read my book, you know that the urban transition has evolved over time into the suburban transition. A majority of the world's population lives is urban places, but these are more likely to be suburbs than inner cities, no matter where you go. Certainly in Accra, the capital city of Ghana in West Africa, where much of my research is currently focused, the highest rate of growth between the 2000 and 2010 censuses was in the peri-urban areas beyond the urban city limits. The Economist has taken this issue up in some detail, partly because it is based in London where, as in other parts of England, the 1930s invention of the green belt tries to prevent suburbanization by putting a physical edge on urban expansion. The Economist notes that what that means these days is that the 20% of people who work in London but live beyond the green belt just have a longer commute than might otherwise be the case. No matter how many people criticize the suburbs (and many have over the decades), they provide a type of classic "Goldilocks solution" for people--not too far from the stimulation and opportunities of the city, but not so close that you have to be crammed in with everyone else. People like to live near a city, but not too near.

Like most Americans, I was raised in, and still live in, the suburbs. But its popularity does not mean that there aren't issues. The Economist notes correctly that in the United States all ethnic/racial groups have participated in suburbanization and that has the potential to reduce the risk of residential segregation based on ethnicity/race. However, as John Logan at Brown University has noted in a Census Brief for Project2010 and in an interview with the Washington Post:
"Suburban diversity," writes Brown's John R. Logan, "does not mean that neighborhoods within suburbia are diverse."
Blacks and Hispanics have moved into the suburbs, but they're still likely to live in neighborhoods there where they're isolated from whites, regardless of income. And those neighborhoods are likely to have more poverty and lower-performing public schools than the suburban neighborhoods where whites live, suggesting that old urban forms of inequality are replicating themselves in the suburbs. 
These patterns have earned national attention in Ferguson. But Logan's recent analysis of national Census data underscores the broad reality that the suburban dream has come to mean something very different for minorities than for whites.
Suburbs have thus begun to replicate some of the same strains of separation that were previously confined to the city core, except that now people are spatially more spread out than they used to be. This may alter some of the perception of society's differences, but it doesn't get rid of them.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

California's Population is Growing a Bit Faster--It's All About the Economy

California's 38 million people make it the most populous state in the nation, well ahead of #2 Texas. California's population is larger than Canada's and if it were an independent country, it would be tied with Poland for 35th most populous in the world. So, the demographics of California matter, and every year the California Department of Finance produces its estimates of population growth in each county of the state. This year's report came out yesterday and revealed, in particular, that net domestic migration out of California had slowed down, thereby increasing the rate of population growth in the state as a whole, and in many key counties, including San Diego County. I was asked to comment on this for the San Diego Union-Tribune, in what turned out to be a front page story:
California added 335,000 people over the past year, including more than 35,500 in San Diego County, the report showed. Those numbers are up from previous years because losses due to migration to other states dropped dramatically both statewide and in the San Diego region.
Job and housing growth are key reasons people are staying put, said John Weeks, a demographer and professor of geography at San Diego State University.
“The incentives for staying are better than they have been recently,” Weeks added. “Once you’re here, you want to stay. Of course, I’m biased. But there isn’t a better place to live.”
In San Diego, as throughout California, a large share of growth is driven by international migration (both legal and undocumented) and a major fraction of all births are to immigrants. At the same time, the pattern has shifted in recent years:
With foreign immigrants arriving in growing numbers in the Midwest, South and East Coast, however, California “is no longer the major destination” that it used to be for people from Mexico and Central America, Weeks, the San Diego State professor noted.
He and others said the lower costs of living and expanded immigrant networks in other parts of the country are convincing new arrivals to bypass California.
This is all very different from the 1950s through the 1970s, when domestic in-migration, in particular, was driving the demography of the state.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Census-Taking in Afghanistan Sounds Like Anthropological Research

Today's NYTimes has a fascinating article on the population census that is currently underway in Afghanistan. The last census was taken in 1979 and counted 14.6 million people. UN demographers estimate that the current population is about 32 million, as do demographers at the U.S. Census Bureau's International Program. Afghanistan is a very poor country, with high fertility and high mortality, complicated by the very low status of women.
The census teams generally include a man and a woman who often spend considerable time waiting in front of doors that never open, often because of purdah, the custom of sequestering women indoors away from men not their husbands or relatives and requiring a burqa when outside.
Of some interest is that the government's goal is not just to collect information about the population, but actually to register the people themselves--not unlike the purpose of ancient Roman censuses. In the process, people are encouraged to choose a surname (most don't have one) and to pick a birthday (many people do not possess a birth certificate and so they may be unsure about their birthday).
Each Afghan will also receive a new identification card, complete with a chip containing biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints. Many worry that the new cards may upset the country’s delicate ethnic balance. Afghanistan is ethnically diverse, with Pashtuns, the largest group, across the south and east, and a sizable Tajik minority in the nation’s north. There are also Hazaras, an oft-persecuted Shiite minority, not to mention ethnic Uzbeks, and others.
It is estimated that it will take five years or more to complete the census. Of course, during the next five years, it is projected that Afghanistan will add another 3.7 million people, so this could be a never-ending project! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Couples Cohabiting in Iran--Is Women's Liberation Next?

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for pointing me to an article yesterday on BBC News about the rise in cohabitation among young couples in....Iran. This seems like a classic clash of tradition and the modern world, in which we can only hope that the modern world prevails.
In a country where strict Islamic laws mean shaking hands with the opposite sex is illegal, cohabitation is a crime that risks severe punishment.

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of unmarried couples are now choosing to live together.

There are no official statistics, but it has become common enough for a popular women's magazine, Zanan, to devote a special issue to the subject recently.
Needless to say, the government is not happy about this. Indeed, no government that I have ever heard of was strongly in favor of cohabitation. But, as western nations have discovered, it is symptomatic of other changes taking place that cannot be crunched by government enforcement. In Iran, as in the U.S. and much of Europe a few decades ago, the problem is that it is not easy--and especially it is expensive--to get a divorce. And that refers to men--it is almost impossible if you are a woman. In a society where a man may marry as many as four wives at a time and has greater freedom to divorce any of them than they have to divorce him, the unequal status of women relative to men is bound to cause problems as both men and women become better educated and see the world in a less traditional light. Fortunately, the availability of contraceptives means that cohabitation does not necessarily mean that children will be born into this situation--which seems the greatest fear of government officials. To be sure, the fact that the TFR in Iran is currently estimated to be 1.9 children per woman (below replacement) tells us about the effectiveness of contraception and the ineffectiveness of the government to control the desire of young men and women to have a more equal relationship. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Modify Nature a Bit--And Save Humans

Humans have spent much of the past 10,000 years modifying various aspects of nature. That was what the Agricultural (aka Neolithic) Revolution was all about. We moved from taking what nature gives us, to modifying what nature can do. We bred new plants, and figured out how to get water  and fertilizer to them (plants need food and water, just as do humans). We have also made enormous alterations in nature to provide ourselves with a longer life expectancy--thereby increasing the demand for food beyond anything people in the past could ever have imagined. Yet, many people have the attitude that we shouldn't be doing these things. The anti-GMO lobby in Europe has been particularly vociferous, but a few days ago there was a mild breakthrough, as reported by Nature:
In the late hours of 3 December, representatives of member states and the EU Parliament hashed out an agreement to waive the principle that every member state honour EU approvals of GM crops. Instead, each member state will have the power to overrule EU approvals in their country. This means that EU approval of several GM crops that have been in limbo for years is now likely to now move forward.
“It means that those who don’t want to ignore the science can go ahead and use the science more easily” despite the opposition of GM-sceptic countries, says Jonathan Jones, a plant researcher at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK.
The EU commissioner of health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said in a statement that the deal was “a significant step forward, after 4 years of intense debates”. It would, he said, “give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment”.
Obviously, there are good genetic modifications and bad ones, but we need to allow ourselves the ability to choose the good and move on. Think of it this way: if we just let nature take its course on all issues related to food, water, and health, there would be fewer than 1 billion of us on the planet and we would all have a very low life expectancy. We would still be living in the demographic hell that has consumed most of human existence up until very recently. I doubt that very many of us long for that existence...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Save the Planet--Eat Less Meat

When human societies become better off economically, one of the consequences has been a rise in the demand for meat in the diet. We humans are omnivores, of course, not carnivores, so we don't really need a lot of meat, but it is seen somehow as a luxury good that confirms to ourselves that we are better off than we used to be. The Guardian, however, reports on a new study showing that growing animals for slaughter may be worse for the environment than driving a car. 
Curbing the world’s huge and increasing appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change, according to a new report. But governments and green campaigners are doing nothing to tackle the issue due to fears of a consumer backlash, warns the analysis from the thinktank Chatham House.

The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in the report finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming.

“Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little,” said Rob Bailey, the report’s lead author. “A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector. There is a deep reluctance to engage because of the received wisdom that it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”
This does not mean that everyone has to become vegetarian, just as curbing emissions from cars does not mean that everyone has to stop driving. But the problem is that meat consumption is going up, when environmentally it should not be. The graph below shows the biggest meat consuming regions of the world. Not surprisingly, China is first on the list, with the Euro zone and the U.S. next on the list. We need to do something about this, and if you think that you just couldn't stand a world without meat, I recommend that you have dinner at Candle 79 in NYC (Lexington at 79th). Try it, you'll like it.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Men Who Smoke Lose Their Y Chromosome

Women have two X-chromosomes, whereas men have one X and one Y chromosome. So, it was very intriguing when scientists in Sweden found that male smokers are much more likely not to have a Y-chromosome in their blood than are non-smokers. The findings were published this week in Science and NBC News covered the story.
The team of Finnish researchers had already shown that men who are missing the Y chromosome from their red blood cells have a higher risk of cancer. They're not sure why. For the latest study, published in Science, they looked at blood samples from about 6,000 men taking part in other health studies and looked at their blood samples and lifestyle factors including age, blood pressure, diabetes and drinking.

The more the men smoked, the more likely they were to be missing the Y chromosome in blood cells. But men who had quit smoking seemed to get the Y chromosome back, they found.
I grew up in an era when the Marlboro Man was supposed to epitomize manliness. It turns out that smoking has exactly the opposite effect.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Will Become of Syria's Refugees?

Amnesty International has just released a report detailing the incredibly bad refugee situation for Syria as the country implodes.

In total, more than 10 million Syrians, or 45% of the country’s population are believed to have been forced out of their homes due to the conflict. Of those, 6.5 million are displaced within Syria and approximately 4 million people have sought refuge in other countries. Of this 4 million, 3.8 million - or 95% - are now in just five host countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. 
The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - have pledged 0 resettlement places. Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 countries in the European Union (EU) have pledged a total of 6,305 places – which amounts to just 0.17% of the number of refugees currently living in the main host countries. Russia and China have not offered to resettle any Syrian refugees. In total, 63,170 resettlement places have been offered globally, equal to a mere 1.7% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.
Amnesty International believes that a much larger fraction of Syrian refugees need to be relocated to other countries beyond the near neighbors. This is obviously not an easy thing to do, given the inherent human predilection for xenophobia. This is exemplified by a story on NPR about the growing issue in Sweden about its acceptance already of a large number of immigrants, including Syrian refugees. 
Sweden's migration board projects that 95,000 people, many of them refugees from Syria, are expected to arrive next year. That would be a record in this country of 10 million people that's already taken in more refugees, relative to its population, than any other country in Europe. But the arrival of so many refugees is testing the country's famously tolerant identity. Swedes voted out centrist Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt this September after he gave a speech asking people to "open their hearts" to those fleeing war. Instead, an anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, won seats in parliament and helped bring down the center-left government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven earlier this week.
 The story focuses especially on the small city of Sodertalje, just outside of Stockholm.
Even by Swedish standards, Sodertalje has been exceptionally welcoming to refugees. Most are Syrian Christians. Assyrians — or Christians from Iraq, Turkey and Syria — have been moving to the city since the first wave of refugees began coming to Sweden in the 1970s.Sodertalje now has five Syrian Orthodox churches, two professional soccer teams, and a TV channel that broadcasts in Neo-Aramaic, Arabic and English to eighty countries. One third of the population — 30,000 out of 90,00 people — now hails from all around the Middle East, says city manager Martin Andreae.
If you've read either the 11th or 12th edition of my text, you'll recognize the similarities with El Cajon, California, which has a large population of predominantly Christian refugees from Iraq. Population movements are rarely easy for anyone involved. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Webinar on Population Data and Mapping

Thanks to Debbie Fugate at the State Department for linking me to the registration for an upcoming webinar on population data and mapping that is to be held on Wednesday, 10 December at 10AM Eastern time (albeit 7AM my time!). This is being put on by the World Wide Human Geography Data Working Group Community:  https://wwhgd.org 

Here's the program for the webinar:
Please join the WWHGD Working Group for a thoughtful discussion on population data and mapping on Wednesday, 10 December, at 10am Eastern/7am Pacific.

Invited speakers include:
- The UN Population Division in New York on the 2014 State of the World Population Report
- The US Census Bureau on Population Databases and Modeling
- Oak Ridge National Laboratories on Population Distribution and Mapping
- CIESIN at Columbia University on Gridded Population of the World
- ESRI on the Global Population Map project
- University of Southampton on WorldPop, Flowminder, and the Population Dynamics of Africa

Our Working Group is a global voluntary partnership united around mapping and data. We have more than 2,300 members from over 80 countries, and we help ensure the exchange of free and open data for all aspects of human security.

These webinars are held monthly on a wide range of interesting topics (most recently, for example, Central American immigration and the mapping needs in the Ebola outbreak). These events are an opportunity to grow and strengthen the WWHGD community, to share information and data from excellent speakers about new research and new resources, and to distribute interesting datasets within the Working Group.
You must “Create a New Account” or have an existing account to register for the webinar.   
Go to https://wwhgd.org to get set up. I'll "see" you there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Marriage Matters in China

As I noted yesterday, the divorce rate in the U.S. depends very much on who is getting married--if you don't get married, you won't be at risk of getting a divorce. So, it was with considerable interest that I read a paper just published online today in the journal Demographic Research. The authors are sociologists at The Ohio State University and their research focuses on the lower than average marriage rates among well-educated urban women in China.
In China, college education has expanded rapidly since 1999. Women have since then surpassed men in college enrollment and graduation. More young women with college education are seen to have challenged mate selection patterns in urban China. College-educated women who have not yet married by their late 20s are portrayed as having extreme difficulties finding a marital partner. Chinese media uses a derogative term, “shengnü” (“leftover ladies”), to describe these urban, highly educated, single women. While stigmatizing these single women, this term reveals public and family anxiety about their marriage prospects.
And, indeed, their marriage prospects are compromised, due largely to traditional gender role attitudes that persist in China. The authors use data from Chinese General Social Surveys to study these trends, noting first that gender equality was rising during the early socialist years of Maoist China, but they argue that the move toward a market economy has allowed traditional gender roles to re-emerge.
Relatedly, the breadwinner role of the husband and the homemaker role of the wife remain firmly in place in Chinese families. Strikingly, since the 2000s, there has been a growing emphasis on traditional gender roles among Chinese men and women. Urban women‟s domestic responsibilities are further reinforced by the unequal role given to mothers to raise the perfect child under the one-child family policy. Indeed, career-oriented women are commonly criticized as “selfish,” “nonfeminine,” and “irresponsible to household needs,” whereas husbands‟ failure to fulfill the provider role is often the primary source of marital conflict. This suggests that women value economic prospects in a potential mate, and that women with high earning potentials and career aspirations may not find marriage beneficial, due to clashes between career and family. Thus, we hypothesize that educational attainment is positively associated with men‟s but negatively associated with women‟s likelihood of marriage in urban China.
And, to be sure, the results confirm that hypothesis. Indeed, these data are consistent with the idea that in any society, whether it be China or Taiwan or Italy or Spain, the lower status of women in the eyes of society is a major contributor to below-replacement fertility. You do not need an official one-child policy to have very low fertility--you just need to allow women access to education and the labor force, while still forcing them into the traditional familial roles. It seems to work every time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Divorce Rate is NOT Rising in the US

If you've read my book, you already know that the divorce rate in the U.S. (and in Europe) rose steadily after 1970, peaked just about as we hit the millennium, and seems to have leveled off since then. Not everyone has gotten the news, however, and I appreciate Professor Rumbaut having pointed me to an Upshot post today that tries to keep it real.
When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” this year, ABC News said it was the latest example of the out-of-control divorce rate, “50 percent and climbing.”
When Fox News anchors were recently lamenting high poverty levels, one of them blamed the fact that “the divorce rate is going up.”
And when Bravo introduced its divorce reality show, “Untying the Knot,” this summer, an executive at the network called it “a way to look at a situation that 50 percent of married couples unfortunately end up in.”
Now, the reality is that the divorce rate does not seem to be rising, but it is not yet clear that it is declining, and it still may be that close to 50 percent of marriages will wind up ending in divorce. One of the real problems we have is that marriage and divorce data are no longer collected as vital statistics in the way they used to be, and so we rely on surveys. Note, for example, that the graph below of marriages ending in divorce came from data in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. These data need to be cross-checked with other surveys. This is why it is so important to let the Census Bureau know that we do not want questions about marital status deleted from the much larger American Community Survey. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Florida is Going the Wrong Way on Energy Efficiency

I don't always watch the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, but when I do I usually learn something new. She does, after all, have a PhD in Political Science from Oxford and her staff seems good about fact-checking. So, I was truly brought up short by a piece tonight on her show about a vote by the Public Services Commission in Florida to dramatically lower the energy efficiency goals of power companies in that state, and more specifically to eliminate incentives for customers to switch to solar energy.
State regulators on Tuesday approved proposals to gut Florida’s energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and to terminate solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, giving the investor-owned utilities virtually everything they wanted.
After almost two hours of debate, members of the state Public Service Commission voted 3-2 in support of staff recommendations that backed the proposals of Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light.
In other words, when it comes to energy efficiency, Florida’s new goal is to move backwards – because that’s what the power companies want.
In practical terms, consumers who might receive rebates on the home installation of solar panels and/or energy-efficient appliances will suddenly see those offers disappear. And in the larger context, as the Tampa Tribune report explained, there’s a “growing perception that Florida’s government has stacked the deck in favor of old guard utilities.”
The on-air segment indicated that this is similar to changes made in Arizona, as well. In other words, two of the sunniest states in the U.S., who should be drawing a majority of energy from sunshine, are trying to go in the opposite direction. And don't forget that Duke Energy is one of the utility companies doing business in Florida and of course one of its former employees is now governor of North Carolina and helping there to reduce penalties for environmental degradation by power companies.

The problem is simple economics. In almost every community of the country, utility companies have a monopoly, or near monopoly, on the supply of energy. If there is one thing that monopolies don't like, it's competition, and that solar panel on your roof is competition. Something about this needs to change, and slowing down the purchase of solar panels is not it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Using Nighttime Lights Satellite Imagery to Track the Syrian War

It has been well established that nighttime lights derived from satellite imagery can be used to provide estimates of population settlements and to estimate the socioeconomic status of such places. The data come from NOAA's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Linescan System and one of the more innovative uses has been to sort out the spatial nature of the conflict in Syria. Two Chinese researchers have just published a paper in the International Journal of Remote Sensing in which they are able to conclude that:
This study provides a primary analysis on the response of night-time light to the Syrian Crisis. For the country and all provinces, the night-time light experienced a sharp decline as the crisis broke out. We found that most of the provinces lost >60% of the night-time lights and the lit areas because of the war, and the amount of the night-time light loss is correlated to the number of IDPs. We also find that the international border of Syria is a boundary to the night-time light variation patterns, reproving that the administrative border has the effect of socioeconomic discontinuity.
As this research only provides a primary evaluation of the night-time light data for the Syrian crisis, more information can be discovered by the use of night-time light images in future studies. For example, night-time light variations in control zones of different groups, including the Assad regime, Free Syrian Army, Kurds, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams, can be investigated to evaluate humanitarian situations in these regions. Additionally, by the use of night-time light images, we can also study how the Syrian Civil War has spread to Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams is now the global focus.
In Lebanon, we might expect that the lights are a bit brighter now than before, as Syrians cram into refugee camps that previously had been largely occupied by Palestinians. Unfortunately, even assuming some change in lights, it seems that misery is simply being compounded as Syrians flee the fighting--with no obvious end in sight.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ebola May Be Out of Our Sight, But It's Not Gone

If you read Dr. Pollock's comment on one of my posts last week, you'll already know what I'm talking about here. While we in the US were enjoying our Ebola-free Thanksgiving, West Africa--especially Sierra Leone--was struggling with an increasing number of deaths.
While health officials say they are making headway against the Ebola epidemic in neighboring Liberia, the disease is still raging in Sierra Leone, despite the big international push. In November alone, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,800 new cases in this country, about three times as many as in Liberia, which until recently had been the center of the outbreak.
More than six weeks ago, international health officials conceded that they were overwhelmed in Sierra Leone and reluctantly announced a Plan B. Until enough hospital beds could be built here, they pledged to at least help families tend to their sick loved ones at home.
As the New York Times reports, however, the problem is not just one of getting enough health resources into the country. Like the problem of domestic violence, it involves deeply held cultural beliefs.
Public health professionals are beginning to look harder at Sierra Leone’s culture, which is dominated by secret men’s and women’s societies that have certain rituals, especially around burials. Many people here — just like in other cultures — believe that the afterlife is more important than this one. A proper burial, in which the body is touched and carefully washed, is the best way to ensure a soul reaches its destination.
It is not pure altruism, either. If burial traditions are not followed, people worry they may be haunted by a restless soul. But in a time of Ebola, handling corpses is extremely risky because they are highly infectious. Seventy percent of new cases here, Western officials said, are directly linked to traditional burials.

Neighboring Liberia has many of the same secret societies, but some anthropologists said that the Liberian government may have done a better job working with the leaders of secret societies to change burial practices, one possible reason Liberia’s Ebola crisis has been stabilizing.
The only long-term solution is the development of a vaccine, and there is at least promising news on that front, as a new trial just completed on humans in the U.S. was successful. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Violence Against Women

Equal status for women in society is, in my view, a key to the successful demographic future of the world. So we need to pay tribute over the next 16 days (really, only 16 days??) to activism against gender violence. Violence obviously represents the extreme example of the subjugation of women by men (not to mention by other women who buy into the idea of male superiority). Female genital mutilaton (FGM) is one of these acts of violence and only a few days ago an Egyptian court rendered a not guilty verdict against a doctor who had performed FGM on a 12-year girl who died as a result of the operation, as reported by the Guardian:
The first doctor to be brought to trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been acquitted, crushing hopes that the landmark verdict would discourage Egyptian doctors from conducting the endemic practice. 
Raslan Fadl, a doctor and Islamic preacher in the village of Agga, northern Egypt, was acquitted of mutilating Sohair al-Bata’a in June 2013. The 12-year-old died during the alleged procedure, but Fadl was also acquitted of her manslaughter. 
No reason was given by the judge, with the verdict being simply scrawled in a court ledger, rather than being announced in the Agga courtroom. 
Sohair’s father, Mohamed al-Bata’a, was also acquitted of responsibility. Police and health officials testified that the child’s parents had admitted taking their daughter to Fadl’s clinic for the procedure. 
Despite his acquittal, the doctor was ordered to pay 5,001 Egyptian pounds (about £450) to Sohair’s mother for her daughter’s manslaughter, after the pair reached an out-of-court settlement.
The idea behind this is that since it reduces the pleasure from intercourse, it also reduces the risk of adultery. 
According to surveys by Unicef, an estimated 91% of married Egyptian women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, 72% of them by doctors. Unicef’s research suggests support for the practice is gradually falling: 63% of women in the same age bracket supported it in 2008, compared with 82% in 1995.
This practice has nothing to do with Islam, per se. Rather, it is a cultural practice that continues to emphasize the lower status and "fallibility" of women compared to men. There is a world-wide movement against it and we all need to support that however we can. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Harvest of Shame

In 1960, CBS News broadcast the now iconic program, Harvest of Shame, in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the disgusting way in which migrant farm workers were being treated in this country. They aired the program the day after Thanksgiving. For years, I showed it to my classes right before Thanksgiving, to encourage them to think critically about the meal they were about to enjoy. It is out there on YouTube and I hope that you will repeat my practice, because the situation of farm workers is different, but not really better than it was more than a half century ago. A very large share of the nation's food is dependent upon the work of undocumented immigrants, and their plight is obviously a current political controversy

But the issue of food and politics goes even beyond the situation of people who get our food to us. A blog post today by chef Tom Colicchio reminds us that politicians in the U.S. have been favoring the rich over the poor in terms of taking away food stamps, and have been favoring agribusiness instead of the consumer in terms of what gets produced, and how, and at what price. 
It’s harder to see, maybe, how policy can make us fat or sick, make the price of a head of broccoli more expensive than a hamburger. But the time has come to acknowledge that food policy plays a huge role in our everyday lives — from what’s on the table every day (or what isn’t) to the health of our kids and communities.
So, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we need to give some thought to why we are eating what we're eating, and about the real situation of those absolutely necessary undocumented immigrants and other exploited workers who make Thanksgiving feasts possible. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will Obama's Executive Action Make Any Difference in Immigration Reform? Part II

President Obama's executive orders regarding temporary relief for undocumented immigrants has created a great deal of controversy, but I have been trying to figure out what difference it might make demographically, as I noted yesterday. Pew Research Center estimates that we have a large (11.2 million) unauthorized immigrant population, and their research and that of others suggests that there are two main reasons: (1) the economy demands more workers than are being supplied by children currently being born in the US (although that may well change in the future as children of immigrants fill in the gaps); and (2) the tighter border security since 9/11 has essentially trapped unauthorized immigrants here because it is much harder than it used to be for people to cross the border back and forth as the economy and/or their family circumstances change. That may well account for the rise in the number of unaccompanied minor children coming to the US--parents do not have the freedom to go back to Mexico or El Salvador to either be with children who were left behind, nor to run the risk of accompanying them back to the U.S.

But, the point is that we need immigrants who are here to work. Most people who are "in line" to enter the country legally are dependents of current U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and are unlikely to contribute much to the U.S. economy. Given the current structure of immigration laws in the U.S., there is no way to meet the economic demands of the country--that is one of the many reasons why immigration reform is necessary. Since the legal structure doesn't meet the country's needs, the undocumented immigrants are essentially "invited" to come and fill in the gaps. But the consequence is something very close to slavery, where people have no rights and no recourse to justice when they are exploited. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) anticipated this, in a way, by requiring that employers only hire workers who could prove their legal status. It turned out, however, that employers were not happy with this arrangement and so, outside of government, there is very little scrutiny of a potential worker's legal status--thus continuing the status quo of inviting people in to work--while saying we don't want them, even though we really do--and then continuing to exploit them.

Rubén Rumbaut just sent a link to a great op-ed piece in yesterday's Houston Chronicle by a law professor at the University of Houston that helps to sort out some of the legal issues that have led us to the current situation. 
With his executive action, Obama has finally called the bluff of the critics, who now have the burden of persuasion in undertaking immigration reform. They can start by adopting the terms of the original Dream Act legislation offered by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch over a decade ago, giving "Dreamers" a pathway to permanent, legal residence.
We have invested in these children due to the requirements of Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 Supreme Court decision that allowed children who are in the U.S. without documents to attend free public schools irrespective of their immigration status. Who seriously wants to remove the students and lose the investment we have made in them?
And we can thoroughly vet the arriving Central American children to see if their claims are credible. At the least, we should provide them with advocates and lawyers. That would be a down payment on immigration reform, perhaps leading to a more comprehensive version.
At the end of the day, executive actions are only temporary and cannot change the legal status of an unauthorized immigrant. That can only be done by Congress, and we all have to push our Members of Congress to push John Boehner to put the Senate-passed immigration reform bill up for a House vote, so we can move past this horrible moment in history. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Will Obama's Executive Action Make Any Difference in Immigration Reform? Part I

I listened to President Obama's speech about immigration reform and his intended executive actions while driving home in the car from the vet, after seeing X-rays showing that our 9-year old German Shepherd has cancer that has metastasized and so he isn't expected to live long. I offer that information only to suggest that my cynicism toward the speech may have been driven by my depression. As Reuters reported, the main thrust of this actions are as follows:
With 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Obama's plan would let some 4.4 million who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation. 
Those undocumented residents could apply legally for jobs and join American society, but not vote or qualify for insurance under the president's healthcare law. The measure would apply to those who have been in the United States for at last five years.

An additional 270,000 people would be eligible for relief under the expansion of a 2012 move by Obama to stop deporting people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents.
Will this really matter? The Economist correctly notes that this won't really change things in any measurable way, because undocumented immigrants already can get jobs and typically have "joined American society" in some way or another because the record-keeping in this country is very loosy-goosy.
As well as its land border with Mexico, one of the reasons that America is so attractive to illegal immigrants in the first place is that it is so easy to build a life here without proper paperwork. The only identification most employers ask for is a social security number, which is easily borrowed. It is perfectly possible to open a bank account—or to survive without one—to rent a home and to pay bills without much identification at all (your correspondent speaks from experience). In many states, it is now even possible to get a temporary driving licence. Large numbers of established migrants mean that there are plenty of people from the same cultural background to help new arrivals find work, housing, wives and husbands...America is arguably uniquely open to people who want to live here. Not just legally, but also culturally and economically. And thank goodness, in your correspondent’s opinion. But Mr Obama’s speech is an inevitable consequence of this. If you make it easy for people who come to America to overstay their visas, find friends and get jobs, then it is inevitable that some will build lives. And then it will be impossible, both practically and morally, to deport them. Thus America will always have illegal immigrants—and nearly every president, eventually, will have to make this sort of speech. All the more reason to make it uplifting then.
Furthermore, as we just saw in the most recent national election, the vast majority of people who could vote, do not, so that's not a big deal, it would seem. And most Americans do not qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, so that may not be such a huge deal, either. In other words, the problem is us, not the migrants. But it is very complicated nonetheless, and I'll continue this thought tomorrow. 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tell the Census Bureau NOT to Drop Marital Status Questions from the ACS

A few days ago, the U.S. Census Bureau surprised the demographic world by announcing that they were thinking of dropping several questions about marital status from the American Community Survey (ACS). Are they nuts? Families and households are key elements of every society, and we need to have these data. It was bad enough that the Centers for Disease Control stopped tabulating data on marriages and divorces years ago. This has left the American Community Survey as the major source of demographic data on the changing patterns of marriage, divorce, and widowhood. They propose to delete the following questions:
Person Question No. 21a—Get Married—In the past 12 months did this person get—Married?
Person Question No. 21b—Get Widowed—In the past 12 months did this person get—Widowed?
Person Question No. 21c—Get Divorced—In the past 12 months did this person get—Divorced?Show citation box
Person Question No. 22—Times Married—How many times has this person been married?
Person Question No. 23—Year Last Married —In what year did this person last get married?
They also want to drop the question about the undergraduate field of study:
Person Question No. 12—Undergraduate Field of Degree—This question focuses on this person's Bachelor's Degree. Please print below the specific major(s) of any Bachelor's Degrees this person has received.
This is ridiculous. Let your voice be heard by sending a note to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce: jjessup@doc.gov

If you aren't quite sure what to say, Steve Ruggles (incoming President of the Population Association of America) has some talking points on the website of the Minnesota Population Center: https://www.pop.umn.edu/acs.

To their list you might add the fact that the purpose of dropping these questions from the ACS is to save paperwork. Yet, the Census Bureau is already advertising on its website the fact that respondents to the ACS can respond online--that should already have taken care of a lot of paperwork issues.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Demography of Inequality in the United States

Back in September, I provided a link to some very nice maps that the Population Reference Bureau posted of poverty in America--ahead of the report on the topic. That report by Mark Mather and Beth Jarosz is now completed and they held a webinar yesterday to discuss the results. Unfortunately, I had meetings all day and missed the webinar, but it is available here along with other materials from this important analysis. To get you going on this, here's part of the setup in their introduction:
High levels of inequality have been linked to a greater likelihood of economic boom and bust cycles, deeper recessions, and a slowdown in overall economic growth. Evidence from the current economic slowdown suggests that the United States is approaching, and may already have reached, a tipping point where inequality is limiting social mobility, consumer spending, educational attainment, and the ability of the United States to compete in the global economy. Unemployment peaked at 10 percent in October 2009 and still exceeds prerecession levels. Many discouraged workers have left the labor force, and young adults—especially those without college degrees—have a hard time finding secure, full-time work. Today, about 45 percent of adults are dissatisfied with "Americans' opportunities to get ahead by working hard," compared with just 22 percent in 2001.
Inequality is not just an abstract concept. It risks undermining what we think of as the core values of America. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1.8 Billion Young People in the World--Challenge or Opportunity?

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today released its State of World Population 2014 report. [Note: This is not to be confused with the regular World Population Prospects issued by the UN Population Division when it revises its population projections.] The report highlights the fact that the population aged 10-24 is 1.8 billion people--the largest number the word has ever seen in this age range. Is this a challenge or opportunity? The New York Times covered the story:
The majority is concentrated in the poor countries of the global south, and there are more than 350 million in India alone. India is also among several countries where the shape of the population is changing profoundly: Fertility rates are dropping, which means a growing share of working-age men and women and a diminishing share of children to care for. That shift, the report asserts, is “opening a window for a demographic dividend,” but not without significant investments in preparing its young people to join the work force.
“The emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country,” the report concludes. “Whether that effect is positive or negative depends largely on how well governments respond to young people’s needs and enable them to engage fully and meaningfully in civic and economic affairs.”
The emphasis on the demographic dividend possibilities (the "opportunities") is not surprising since the research adviser for the report was David Bloom at Harvard, who helped to popularize the concept. And, of course, the point is well taken that the key to the future is what a society can do with its youth--if it can educate them at the same time that it facilitates a quick drop in the birth rate, you have China (and India has moved in that direction, but not as effectively on either score as China). If you ignore the youth bulge, you have ISIS in the Middle East. It seems like an easy choice, but it turns out that governments tend to lean toward ignoring the problem--challenging the rest of us in the process.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Feeding the World Also Demands Water--Will We Have Enough?

Yesterday, as I was commenting on Mark Bittman's article about feeding the world, I had the nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. It didn't take long for that forgotten factor to wash over me, so to speak, as I sat down to watch "60 Minutes" on CBS. The very first story was on depleting the water supply. The initial focus was on the Central Valley of California which, according to the story, is the source of 25% of the nation's food supply. The drought in California has led farmers to start pumping groundwater to irrigate crops and the groundwater level has been steadily dropping, leading not just to depleted underground aquifers, but also to land subsidence--the surface is dropping.

But California is not the only story. By means of NASA's GRACE satellite, it is actually possible to indirectly measure the loss of groundwater throughout the world. In northern India, for example, the researcher interviewed on 60 Minutes published an article in Nature back in 2009 in which he and his collaborators concluded that:
...the available evidence suggests that unsustainable consumption of groundwater for irrigation and other anthropogenic uses is likely to be the cause. If measures are not taken soon to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114,000,000 residents of the region may include a reduction of agricultural output and shortages of potable water, leading to extensive socioeconomic stresses.
Last night's story updated the map, and since 2009 the situation in India has only gotten worse.

Another key region in which this is happening is in the already volatile Middle East--which is already parched enough as it is. 
Jay Famiglietti: Turkey's built a bunch of dams. Stored a bunch of water upstream. That forces the downstream neighbors to use more groundwater and the groundwater's being depleted.
Lesley Stahl: Oh my.
Jay Famiglietti: We're seeing this water loss spread literally right across Iran, Iraq and into Syria and down.
It is not clear at this point whether there is any clear solution to this problem...this is not good. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can We Feed 9 Billion--or More?

If you don't know who Mark Bittman is, then you should check out his cookbooks and blog. My view is that every home should have a copy of his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Earlier this week he posted a piece on the NYTimes titled "Don't Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion" that deserves comment. It is both insightful and naive at the same time, but could help move the world food agenda forward. The first criticism is, of course, that the UN demographers think we are headed closer to 10.5 billion this century, rather than just 9 billion--so the problem we face seems to be getting bigger, not smaller.

But his point is straightforward and would seemingly apply to 10.5 billion, just as it would to 9 billion. The problem, he argues, is not food production, per se, but poverty. If we reduce poverty, then we can reduce hunger--not just in developing countries, but also here in the U.S. You will recognize this as a classic neo-Marxian perspective, although I don't know anything about Bittman's politics (being a good cook doesn't necessarily put you in one political camp or another). The idea that we actually already grow enough food globally is one that Vaclav Smil has made repeatedly. Bittman, however, rejects Smil's view that maldistribution of food is a major issue--although Bittman does not really justify that position. There are, however, several other points that Bittman makes with which I am wholly in agreement:
There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted.
 We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.
And, although Bittman does not mention it, we need to be dealing immediately with the long-term effects of climate change, because that promises to change a lot in terms of what kinds of  food can be grown and where.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pretty Cool App from the Census Bureau

Today I wound up spending a half hour at my cable company store in order to replace my old worn out cable box/DVR. I used the time messing around with a new phone app that I recently downloaded from the U.S. Census Bureau call "dweller." It turns out to be the kind of thing you might expect from a geodemographics company like Nielsen Claritas. You enter your geographic and demographic preferences for a place and the app returns the top 25 communities in the U.S. that fill the bill. It also knows where you are (if you allow your phone to reveal that information) and so you can compare the top 25 with where you are at the moment. Ostensibly, the idea is that can help you find where you want to live. At the same time, you actually could use it for targeting your product, in the same way that geodemographics firms do. The latter have more sophisticated statistical routines, but you can't argue with dwellr's cost--free!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

India's Family Planning Program Needs an Overhaul

You may already have heard the news that 13 women died in India a few days ago after attending a government organized sterilization camp. A BBC News team went to the area and found a health clinic "full of cobwebs and dust."
Laparoscopic tubectomy, the operation the women had, takes only about five minutes, but preparing the patient before the surgery and administering anaesthesia means that it should take at least 25 minutes per person, says Dr Ramneesh Murthy, the medical superintendent at the Chhattisgarh hospital." According to government rules, a surgeon should perform at the most 35 surgeries in a day and most doctors do follow this," he adds. In Pendari though, 83 operations were conducted by a single doctor and his assistant, and villagers allege it was all done in just six hours. The place where the operations were done is a big white building in an empty patch of land. It looks desolate, with overgrown grass and bushes all around it.
The problem is that tubal ligation is the dominant theme of India's official family planning program, as the graph below shows.
Mass sterilisation camps are held frequently in India to try to control the burgeoning population of the country. While they are voluntary, campaign groups like Human Rights Watch point out that since health workers are given incentives by the government to bring in more women for surgery, they are often indirectly pressurised into doing so.
Besides these health risks--which shouldn't exist because tubal ligation is not complex--the focus on female sterilization in India means that Indian women still marry young, have children, and only after having children undergo sterilization. This bunches up the generations and actually causes the Indian population to grow more quickly than would otherwise be the case and, of course, this pattern also holds back the emancipation of women from early marriage, early motherhood, and domination by her husband and mother-in-law. 

India needs to be part of a new program announced just today in which Pfizer Inc., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) will expand access to Pfizer’s injectable contraceptive, Sayana® Press (medroxyprogesterone acetate), for women most in need in 69 of the world’s poorest countries. India's young women will hopefully be part of this effort.