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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Time to be Born Varies by Latitude

What's your latitude? It turns out the answer to that question will influence the likelihood of when babies will be born in your area. Boer Deng of Slate discusses an article published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (which is behind a paid subscription). 
A comprehensive analysis of when people give birth was recently published in theProceedings of the Royal Society B. Micaela Martinez-Bakker and Kevin Bakker, both of the University of Michigan, and their colleagues observed a previously unnoticed phenomenon: Peak months for births change with latitude. The most popular month for birthdays occurs earlier and earlier in the year the farther north you travel from the equator.
For the United States, the researchers looked at birth records by state from the Census Bureau dating back to 1931. They found that a surge in births happens at the same time every year for particular locations. Before the baby boom era, November was the most common month to be born in Florida. In Ohio, it was June. More recently, the top birth times for each state have shifted. Peak months in the United States are now later in the year and occur closer together, but the pattern has remained, with northern states having slightly earlier peak birth months than southern states.
The new analysis of births covers 118 countries, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. It revealed that this pattern holds true outside the United States...Doing the math, this means that people in more northern latitudes are conceiving successful pregnancies more often in autumn, and those farther south are doing so in winter.
Deng notes that we aren't sure why these patterns exist, but they obviously are related to patterns of sexual activity nine months earlier. Nonetheless, the knowledge of seasonal clusters has useful health policy implications, in terms of knowing, for example, when to set up the most effective immunization campaigns.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Economics of Aging

I am just finishing up the 12th edition of Population (it's already in production), and recently I analyzed the data from the latest Forbes list of the richest 400 Americans. Although people aged 65 and older comprise only 14 percent of the US population, they account for 60 percent of the richest Americans. The richest person in the world, Bill Gates, is only 58, but #2 in the world, Carlos Slim of Mexico, is 74, and #3, Warren Buffet, is 83. It is the latter who caught the eye of editors at The Economist and this week's cover story reflects on the potential economic effects of an aging, well-off older group of people. And they also give some thought to those who aren't going to be so well-off. 
The experience of the 20th century, when greater longevity translated into more years in retirement rather than more years at work, has persuaded many observers that this shift will lead to slower economic growth and “secular stagnation”, while the swelling ranks of pensioners will bust government budgets.
But the notion of a sharp division between the working young and the idle old misses a new trend, the growing gap between the skilled and the unskilled. Employment rates are falling among younger unskilled people, whereas older skilled folk are working longer. The divide is most extreme in America, where well-educated baby-boomers are putting off retirement while many less-skilled younger people have dropped out of the workforce.
These are important issues that I have been talking about for a long time. The better educated you are, the more money you make, and save (building your wealth), and the more you enjoy your work, which keeps you at it longer, benefitting you and the wider economy. At the same time, it seems to me that economists worry that as people get older and start spending their savings, the amount of capital in the system will diminish and the economy will suffer. This seems at odds with the idea that people need to spend money in order to stimulate the economy. In all events, I'm on board with the basic policy ideas floated in the main article about aging and the economy--push retirement age to older ages, and provide lifelong learning programs in order to promote the skills needed by the economy that will also provide the kind of work that will keep people productively in the labor force. This, of course, requires substantially more public investment in education. We need fewer student loans and more public investment, in my opinion.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Does Christianity Reduce Societal Corruption?

Over the years, Abu Daoud's comments on this blog have led to me to some interesting places demographically and I thank him for that. His latest suggestion is that maybe Christianity is associated with less corruption in the world. This is reportedly based on some work by Bob Woodberry, an American sociologist who teaches at the National University of Singapore. Woodberry received his doctorate in sociology at Chapel Hill under Ken Bollen, a world-famous social researcher. In a 2012 paper published in the American Political Science Review, Woodberry thanks two former Presidents of the Population Association of America--Barbara Entwisle of UNC-Chapel Hill (and spouse of Ken Bollen), and Bob Hummer of UT-Austin (site of Woodberry's first academic appointment). I provide this background only to suggest that Woodberry has the credentials to be listened to. His basic argument is that proselytizing Christians laid the foundation for liberal democracies in many of today's developed nations. His statistical analysis of that idea notwithstanding, I cannot help thinking about Chinua Achebe's unflattering characterization of the arrival of the missionaries in Nigeria as depicted in his classic "Things Fall Apart," and I laugh at my memories of twice having seen "Book of Mormon" on Broadway. 

It strikes me, however, as a bit of a leap to go from missionaries laying the groundwork for liberal democracy to the idea that Christianity per se is associated with low levels of corruption. That idea does seem to lie behind a set of graphs that Abu Daoud directs us to at this site. Indeed, the creator of the graph goes only so far as to conclude that: 
Does the Christian faith transform societies? The analysis of this chart would give a mixed report. Clearly, there is some influence on corruption: rare is the country that is both less corrupt and less Christian (and those that are, are either small populations or rigidly controlled). Nevertheless many nations claim a high affiliation with Christianity, yet rank among the most corrupt. Some variations of Christian practice have yet to transform society. Still, we should note that with few exceptions church growth is fastest where corruption is highest: it seems light burns brightest in the darkest places.
My interpretation of the data is a bit different. You know from my book that my perspective is that religious preference is far less important a predictor of human behavior than is religiosity (the degree to which a religion is practiced). I look at the least corrupt countries in the world and see nations that are heavily secular, whether they be ethnically Christian, ethnically Muslim, ethnically Shinto, or whatever. The most corrupt societies are those that are most heavily religious, whether that religion be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or something else. Indeed, I would argue that the "light burns brightest in the darkest places" precisely because the most religious places tend to be the most corrupt. That was what the Enlightenment was/is all about, after all.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

American Middle Class No Longer on Top

Income inequality has been a hot agenda item recently, as I've noted before, and yesterday's New York Times inserted a study into the discussion that reveals the way in which the middle class in the U.S. has fallen behind middle classes in other rich countries.
The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.
While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.
After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

What happened in Canada, eh? The NYTimes piece has some insights, but so did Stephen Colbert--"All Canada has is universal health care, subsidized child care, and higher taxes on the rich." Of course, his answer for regaining America's place as having the richest middle class is...even lower taxes on the rich.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don't Be a Teenage Mom

Now, I don't expect that any potential teenage moms will ever read my blog, but anyone who is in contact with teenagers needs to keep in mind that one of, if not the, most tragic things a teenage girl can do is to get pregnant, especially if she decides to have the baby. My first book, based on my doctoral dissertation, was on teenage marriages, which were almost always inspired by a teenage pregnancy. Times have changed. A smaller fraction of teenagers in the U.S. now get pregnant than at any time since at least the 1970s, and when they do get pregnant they almost never marry. But, the sad tale is that when they do pregnant and have that baby, their life chances are pretty dismal--maybe even worse than ever, according to a new study just published in Demographic Research. Anne Driscoll of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (part of the US Centers for Disease Control), used data from the National Surveys of Family Growth to examine the outcomes of women who bore children as a teenager compared to women who waited to have children. This is an article with a lot of good material, but let me highlight her main findings:
Comparisons between teen mothers and both young adult and all adult mothers within cohorts suggest that gaps in single motherhood and poverty between teen and adult mothers have widened over time, to the detriment of teen mothers. Teen mothers have become more likely to be single and poor than in the past and compared to older mothers....The findings of this study suggest that women in more recent cohorts who became teen mothers as it is becoming less common will experience greater hardships as adults in a time of greater economic inequality and greater emphasis on education as a means of economic mobility.
This is not an outcome that we should wish on anyone, which is why sex education for teenagers, and the availability of birth control to teenagers needs to be even more widespread than it is today--along with more education about how a poor education can ruin your life. 
 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day and China's Urban Future

Yesterday I noted the stark realities of pollution in China, especially in its rapidly growing cities. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times has a closely related item in today's paper, summarizing an event he organized on "Cities for Tomorrow" which was apparently focused mainly on China. Topics ranged from air pollution to social infrastructure (referring presumably to things like getting rid of the hukou household registration system that creates "illegal" immigrants in China's cities, as I've discussed before). But a key take-away was the set of comments by Karen Seto of Yale University:
Karen C. Seto, a professor of geography and urbanization at Yale University, warned against too much of a focus on China’s marquis “eco cities” and megacities, given that the greatest migrations — and greatest prospect for change lay in a constellation of small cities far from the central government and media spotlight.
Indeed, this is true throughout the Indian subcontinent and also in Africa--people are piling into cities that most of us have never heard of it, but how they use resources in those places will affect us as much or more as the big cities that get all of the publicity. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Earth Day 2014

April 22nd is Earth Day--a time to contemplate whether we can sustain population growth and an increase in the level of living for everyone, given the limited resources on the planet. I gave a talk at the very first one in 1970, as I've noted before. Looking at any of the world population clocks that exist on the internet, like Worldometers, you can see that in 1970 we had not yet reached the 4 billion mark in terms of population. Now we exceed 7 billion and we are using resources at an even higher rate per person than we were doing back then. 

Whether or not by coincidence, this week's Economist has a story about urbanization in China that speaks to the heart of earth day concerns.
Within China, public resentment of its deteriorating environment, particularly the noxious haze over its cities, is growing, and abroad the country is being criticised for its contribution to global warming. In 2006 China became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon from energy, overtaking America; it is now spewing out nearly double America’s level (see chart 5). The spread of Chinese smog across the region is worrying neighbours such as South Korea and Japan.


That chart is global wake-up call in my mind--as worrying as anything I've seen since the very first Earth Day... and there are a LOT of worrying things in the world when it comes to sustainability.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tragedies of Unaccompanied Minor Children

Rubén Rumbaut alerted me yesterday to a story that appeared in today's NYTimes about the death of a 12-year unaccompanied minor trying to get to New York to join her undocumented immigrant parents who live in the Bronx. I read the story late last night and couldn't sleep afterwards. The layers of tragedy in this story are almost beyond belief. The young victim is from Ecuador, but died in Ciudad Juarez, on the US-Mexico border, still 3500 km away from her parents.
Noemi was part of a human flood tide that has swelled since 2011: The United States resettlement agency expects to care for nine times as many unaccompanied migrant children in 2014 as it did three years ago.
For these children wandering thousands of miles, it is a grueling journey, filled with dangers. The vast majority come from Central America. Noemi’s trip was about twice as long. She had already tried once, leaving home last May, but was detained long before she even made it halfway.
“I went with a coyote and spent two months in Nicaragua and came back from there,” she wrote in a school information sheet.
She got a little closer this year. In March, a month after she left home, the police picked up Noemi and a coyote in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The authorities took her to a children’s shelter. She was described as crying inconsolably after being questioned by a prosecutor. A few days later, she was found hanged from a shower curtain rod in a bathroom at the shelter. Her death, ruled a suicide by Mexican authorities, remains under investigation by a human rights commission there.
The issue is that parents head to the U.S. for a job, leaving their children behind with grandparents (in this case) or even friends. They typically send money back to help pay the expenses of the children, but in this case the parents (both of whom are working without papers in New York) sent money back to the grandparents to pay coyotes to get this 12-year old girl to the US to join them. To be honest, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine putting a child or grandchild of mine in that position, but then I am not an undocumented immigrant...
The number of unaccompanied minors caught entering the United States and then referred for placement is expected to reach 60,000 in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, said Lisa Raffonelli, a spokeswoman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an increase from 6,560 in 2011. In Mexico, the number has more than doubled.
My PhD student, Liz Kennedy, is in El Salvador on a Fulbright Fellowship trying to understand this phenomenon from the Central American perspective. You can be sure that there are no easy answers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cuba's Response to Low Fertility

Cuba currently has a population of just under 12 million people. Demographers at the UN project that this is the peak of Cuban population size and their projections show a decline to 9 million by the middle of this century. This is largely due to the fact that fertility has been below replacement level in Cuba since the 1980s. It seems that the government is finally figuring out a way to deal with this, as noted by my son, Greg Weeks, in his blog (which I reproduce here):
I took this directly from Patrick Oppmann, a CNN reporter in Havana, so I can't claim originality but this is a great juxtaposition. On the one hand, the Cuban government is concerned about the low birth rate in the country:

According to experts, the decreasing fertility trend in Cuba, low mortality rate, and negative results from external migrations (-4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants according to the 2012 Statistical Yearbook) has caused a low population growth in Cuba for many years, and is the lowest one in Latin America when compared at the regional level.

Hence, the Ministry of Public Health has already implemented certain policies to encourage fertility and ensure safe gestation, providing attention to women before, during and after pregnancy, as well as encouraging reproduction among women from 30 to 39 years old, and carrying out other actions to increase medical assistance for infertile couples.

On the other hand , condoms are suddenly and mysteriously in short supply.

The Communist Party’s newspaper in the province of Villa Clara, Vanguardia, tried to explain the reasons for the condom shortage in an April 3 report, and all but drowned in a sea of unanswered questions and typically complex acronyms for government agencies.

Coincidence?
Here are some ways other countries have dealt with low fertility. Do it for Denmark!
You gotta love the Danes! (and their total fertility rate is already higher than in Cuba...)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bloomberg on Death in America

I wouldn't necessarily think about Bloomberg when the topic is death, unless you're talking about the death throes of a company. But, lo and behold, they put together a really nice visualization of death in America--they call it "How Americans Die." It starts out with a classic situation in which the death rate seems odd until you see that it is not age adjusted. Then they get into age cohort data and show you some trends over time that are pretty eye-popping, even for me--remembrances of the impact of AIDS on the mortality of young men, especially blacks. And the rise in suicides and deaths from drugs, which overshadow deaths from gun violence. But then they get to the fact that most deaths do occur at the older ages. However, increasing survival rates to old age increase our risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's. These diseases are problematic because they tend to kill slowly, and the Bloomberg data (I assume from CDC) suggest that in recent years (there are no long-term trend data) the cost of Alzheimer's treatment is one of the big drivers in the cost of Medicare. All-in-all, this is a very good "lecture." Any questions?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Demographic Divide Illustrated

The Population Reference Bureau has been doing excellent work in the field of population studies for a very long time, and their website offers a wealth of good stuff. One of their latest items is a very nice illustration of the demographic divide in the world. On the one hand is the Netherlands, which is doing quite well, thank you. Well, there is a bit of anti-immigrant sentiment, as I've noted before, but we find that everywhere we go in the world, it seems. At the other extreme is Niger which, as I've noted before, probably does win the prize for the world's worst demographics. 
The long-term effects of the demographic divide are apparent when we look at population projections for these two countries. Today, both countries have roughly the same population size. But by 2050, Niger is projected to have 49 million more people, increasing their current population nearly four times to 65 million. The Netherlands increases by just 1 million to 18 million, with much of that growth due to immigration.
To be sure, if you live in a country like Niger, your only hope for a better life may be to migrate someplace else, which is why Netherlands' growth, like in so many rich countries, will come from immigration. The world may be demographically divided, but we are actually all in this together.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Are We Getting Closer to a Biological Time Clock?

Two of the principal theories of aging focus on wear-and-tear and a biological time clock. Of course, these may be complementary. Each cell may have a certain number of "ticks" built into, but the timing could be altered by wear-and-tear. Two recent articles got me thinking about this. First, in last week's Economist there was a review of a book on birds by field biologist Noah Strycker, titled "The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human". Here is what really struck me:
PLATO suggested that humans were “bipeds without feathers”. People walk on two legs like most avian species. They are also largely diurnal and rely upon sight as their primary sense. All of this, incidentally, is unlike most mammals. Yet how much do humans really share with birds?..It turns out that humans and hummingbirds, despite differences of scale and style, enjoy a lifespan of about a billion heartbeats, a rule that holds good for many warm-blooded animals, from mice to elephants.
So, here is tacit acceptance of the biological time-clock theory with the added information that this may transcend species.

Then came an article in Nature today chronicling a fascinating research program by Steve Horvath at UCLA, in which he can tell with remarkable accuracy how old a person is by examining various cell samples.
He has discovered an algorithm, based on the methylation status of a set of these genomic positions, that provides a remarkably accurate age estimate — not of the cells, but of the person the cells inhabit. White blood cells, for example, which may be just a few days or weeks old, will carry the signature of the 50-year-old donor they came from, plus or minus a few years. The same is true for DNA extracted from a cheek swab, the brain, the colon and numerous other organs. This sets the method apart from tests that rely on biomarkers of age that work in only one or two tissues, including the gold-standard dating procedure, aspartic acid racemization, which analyses proteins that are locked away for a lifetime in tooth or bone.
Both Ideker [at UCSD] and Horvath expect that the most interesting use of the clock will be to detect 'age acceleration': discrepancies between a person's epigenetic and chronological ages, either overall or in one particular part of their body.
Such discrepancies could be signs that something is awry. In work due to be presented at the November meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, Brian Chen of the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Framingham, Massachusetts, teamed up with Horvath and others to analyse methylation data collected on more than 2,100 men and women aged 40 to 92 as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers concluded that for every five-year increase in age acceleration, the risk of dying from any cause during the study jumped by 15%. Horvath says that unpublished work from two other large studies also finds epigenetic age acceleration to be a substantial risk factor for mortality, even after controlling for chronological age and other well-known risk factors.
The story of how this research came about and what it might mean seems like prime material for a movie, but in particular it seems that we may be inching closer to an improved biological theory of aging.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading the Future from Age Pyramids

One of my mantras forever has been that we can read the future from age pyramids built on good cohort component population projections. Pew Research Center has essentially taken over this task from the US Census Bureau and, as Justin Stoler pointed out to me, they have posted an excellent online visualization of the future via age pyramids to accompany a new book they just published on "The Next America."
Demographic transformations are dramas in slow motion. America is in the midst of two right now. Our population is becoming majority non-white at the same time a record share is going gray. Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era. The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.
The Pew Research Center tracks these transformations with public opinion surveys and demographic and economic analyses. Our new book, The Next America, draws on this research to paint a data-rich portrait of the many ways our nation is changing and the challenges we face in the decades ahead.
The age pyramids put a spotlight on the Baby Boomers--the American youth bulge that has been driving the societal bus in many ways for a long time. You have to check it out...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Xenophobia and American Politics

I'm currently reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow." He is a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, but he is a psychologist who has spent his life figuring out how we humans think (and believe things). In my view, this book is a must-read for everyone. I thought about his book over the past couple of days, in particular, as I have been listening to the media reaction to a paper just out by two psychologists at Northwestern University: "On the Precipice of a ''Majority-Minority'' America: Perceived Status Threat From the Racial Demographic Shift Affects White Americans' Political Ideology" by Maureen A. Craig and Jennifer A. Richeson and published in the journal Psychological Science. Among the many reviews was this one in Slate:
Using a nationally representative survey of self-identified politically “independent” whites, Craig and Richeson conducted three experiments. In the first, they asked respondents about the racial shift in California—if they had heard the state had become majority-minority. What they found was a significant shift toward Republican identification, which increased for those who lived closest to the West Coast.
In the second experiment, they focused on the overall U.S. shift with census projections of the national population. Again, they found that white Americans became more conservative—and more likely to endorse conservative policies—when they were aware of demographic changes that put them in the minority.
The final experiment—where questions were further refined and targeted—saw similar results. As Craig and Richeson write, “Perceived group-status threat, triggered by exposure to majority-minority shift, increases Whites’ endorsement of conservative political ideology and policy positions.” What’s more, this held true even after they told respondents “whites are likely to remain at the top of the future racial hierarchy.”
As the Slate author notes, this is fascinating, but not really surprising. I have blogged several times about xenophobia (e.g, here), and it certainly comes up several times in my book. This is an unfortunate human trait. Of course, the long-held, and in my opinion correct, view is that once you get to know people, and realize that people are people, no matter what your stereotype of them, the angst goes away and everybody moves on. That is why Germans, Irish, and Italians, for example, are now part of the "non-Hispanic white" population in the U.S. It just all takes time, and in the meantime a lot of lives can be ruined.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Bump in Stay-at-Home Moms

Pew Research recently released their analysis of data from the 2013 March supplement to the Current Population Survey, showing that there has been a rise in the percentage of mothers who are staying at home to care for their children. The most obvious potential reason for this could be the difficulty that some mothers have had finding a job in a lackluster economic environment. That was a point picked up on by MSNBC. On the other hand, Time had a take on the story that came closer to my thinking on the subject--where are the stay-at-home (or even do-some-work-at-home) Dads??
In sum: Stay-at-home mothers don’t need to be objects of our collective, envious projected fantasies about lifestyles of the rich and unsalaried — but a lot of them do need our help. They need ESL classes and job training; access to work that pays a livable wage, and, among other forms of parenting support, access to affordable, high-quality child care.
They also, quite frankly, if married, need their husbands to step up to the plate and give them a break. Full-time child rearing and care of a home is work — unpaid, undervalued, often overwhelming and emotionally draining work. It’s work that, while revered by Mother’s Day cards, comes with none of the financial empowerment of paid labor, and brings much less personal empowerment, too.
One of the other findings was that immigrants mothers are more likely than native-born mothers to be staying at home with the kids. This could be, of course, simply that it is harder for them to find jobs, or it may represent a different cultural perspective on parenting. Either way, there needs to be more emphasis on the role of husbands and fathers in the everyday life of the family. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yemen's Youth Bulge

Yemen has the highest fertility level of any country outside of sub-Saharan Africa, with women having an average of 4.9 children each. Mortality is below the world average, but its life expectancy of 63 for women and 61 for men is high enough that slightly more than 2 children each would still be quite close to replacement level. The result is, predictably, high rates of population growth and a very high proportion of people at the young ages. I've talked before about the fact that the Yemeni government seems to understand this, at least in the abstract, yet it seems that little is being done about it. Since Yemen is increasingly believed to be a staging ground for terrorism, with a strong Al-Qaeda presence in the country, this demographic situation is one that is not going to end well unless something is done soon. Thanks to Abu Daoud for sending me a link to a recent article published on the YemenTimes website (which I didn't otherwise know existed) that lays out some of these concerns:
The high rate of population growth is both unplanned and inconsistent with Yemen's bleak economic prospects. Failure to manage the youth bulge bomb means higher rates of youth unemployment. 
Unemployment in Yemen has been high since the return of millions of workers, in particular from Saudi Arabia, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Unemployment in 2010 was 14.6 percent, and by 2011 it had risen to 29 percent. This aggravates an already bad situation which is further compounded by a lack of educational infrastructure. University enrollments have grown from 35,000 in 1991 to nearly 300,000 in 2010. In short, the education sector and the job market are in a dire state and unemployed young graduates are pessimistic about their future.
These are exactly the issues that Debbie Fugate and I laid out in our book on the Youth Bulge. As we noted, the youth bulge can be an opportunity, but in the Yemeni case it is a huge challenge. A lot of unemployed males in a sexist, potentially radicalized society, is not a good thing, as the authors of the article note:
Yemen’s faltering economy coupled with its youth bulge bomb poses a direct threat to Yemen’s and to regional stability. Unemployed and disenfranchised youth are perfect targets for AQAP for radicalization and are also vulnerable to general lawlessness.
The potential solutions seem obvious--more family planning, more education and especially more jobs. But it is not at all clear where the resources will come from to help with this. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

China Prepares for an Aging Population

China's economic miracle has been importantly facilitated by its demographic dividend, derived from the rapid decline in fertility--a generation in which there were lots of working age people relative to both the young and the old populations. That is a transition, of course, and China's work force is now beginning to age. As people retire, the result is lower productivity per total populaiton and increased pension costs. What to do about it? The first obvious solution is to raise the age at retirement, and this week's Economist reports that China is seriously contemplating that policy shift.
With the number of pensioners set to soar, and the number of young workers able to support them unable to keep up, China has been making long-overdue changes at both ends of the demographic spectrum. Late last year it started to ease its restrictive one-child policy. Now it is planning an adjustment to the retirement age.
Allowing people to choose if they want more than one child may prove more popular, but raising the retirement age is likely to bring more economic benefits. Officials at China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS) have solicited advice from Chinese and foreign experts, including the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation. Many have advised raising standard retirement ages—currently 50 or 55 for women and 60 for men—by five years each.
The government has clearly signalled its intention to follow this advice. In October an MHRSS official openly supported the idea, and in November, an important meeting of senior party leaders included three “gradual” adjustments in retirement age in its official policy document.
This is the same policy that all aging countries have been following, because the longer life expectancy at the older ages means that a young retirement age--put into place when few people survived to very old ages--just doesn't make sense. Look at these numbers:
The proportion of China’s population over 65 is currently 9%, but is projected to grow to 24% by 2050 [based on data from the UN Population Division]. A report published in December by the Chinese Academy of Social Studies (CASS) said that without adjustments, pension deficits would appear in 2030, and that by 2050 the accumulated shortfall would amount to 90% of China’s GDP.
Raising the retirement age is never popular, but communal bankruptcy is never popular, either. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Know the Way to The Ukraine?

I'm in Tampa for the annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers where I'm presenting a paper on our work in Ghana, and so it was nicely coincidental that my son, Greg Weeks, sent me a link today to an analysis of how imperfect the knowledge is about where Ukraine is. This doesn't affect the country's demographics--they are what they are--but it probably does influence how people respond to events in that country. Here's the link:
Since Russian troops first entered the Crimean peninsula in early March, a series of media polling outlets have asked Americans how they want the U.S. to respond to the ongoing situation. Although two-thirds of Americans have reported following the situation at least “somewhat closely,” most Americans actually know very little about events on the ground — or even where the ground is.
On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.
Here's the map:


I am reminded here of a study that I used for many years in my spatial statistics class--do you know the way to San Jose? [sorry, I don't have the reference here on my travel laptop] and the farther away from San Jose students were (even in California!), the less close they were to where San Jose, CA actually is. We need to work on this, folks
!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Russian Demographics: Whom to Believe?

I do not profess to have any insider knowledge about Russian demographics. At the same time, I do know where to go if I want that kind of information. So, I was very interested to dig into a debate on Russian demographics to which Duane Miller alerted me. Here's the deal. A few days ago an article appeared in Vanity Fair by Maureen Orth titled "The Numbers Vladimir Putin Doesn't Want You to See." This is a provocative headline and the story is a bit sensational, but the message is basically that Russia's demographics are not good. It has a relatively low life expectancy, especially for men, and a low fertility rate. Her information comes from respectable sources: the World Health Organization, in particular, and interviews with demographers Murray Feshbach and Nicholas Eberstadt, both of whom you'll find cited in my book. And she puts out some numbers that can be fact-checked against the WHO and United Nations Population Division databases:
Despite a recent slight uptick in births versus deaths, life expectancy now stands at 64 for males and 76 for women (137th and 100th in the world, respectively). According to the U.N.’s World Health Organization, the life expectancy for a 15-year-old boy in Haiti is three years higher than for a Russian boy the same age [YES, THAT IS WHAT THE WHO LIFE TABLES SHOW]. A drop in fertility by 50 percent between 1987 and 1999 [YES, THAT'S WHAT THE UN SHOWS] has resulted in a reduced number of women now at childbearing age, which is beginning to affect the country in a major way: Two thirds of all births in Russia take place among women between the ages of 20 and 29, and this population will decline from 13 million currently to 7 or 8 million in the coming years [YES, THIS IS CONSISTENT WITH UN DATA AND PROJECTIONS].
In response to this article was a piece in Forbes by Mark Adomanis titled "4 Things You Should Know About Russian Demography That Vanity Fair Won't Tell You". He says that his specialty is Russian economy and demography and he puts out a number of charts that don't exactly refute the Vanity Fair article, but rather point to a rosier picture. Fertility is increasing, life expectancy is increasing, and the sky is not falling in. These trends are also apparent in the WHO and UN Pop Division data, but my real complaint about the Adomanis article is that he does not cite a single source for his data. Others seemed to have complained about this, and yesterday he issued a revised story in which he draws on data from a Russian source (I clicked on the link, but it was all Greek to me, as they say), so I can't confirm what he is saying, but this is a much more reasoned argument:
I’m not clairvoyant and I won’t pretend to know exactly what Russia’s population will be ten years from now. If forced to guess I would have to say that it will be smaller than it is today. Much of the answer, though, hinges on what happens to the flow of workers out of Central Asia, and migration patterns are notoriously hard to predict. The point I’m making is not that “things in Russia will continue to get better forever” but merely that we need to rely on the most recent and accurate data. And the most recent and accurate data say that the general demographic picture in Russia is continuing to improve.
I do think he hit the nail on the head with the reference to "workers out of Central Asia." In all likelihood, were it not for this immigration from several of its former republics, Russia would be on the verge of depopulation. At the same time, without the remittances from those workers, several of these former republics would be in dire economic circumstances. According to data from the World Bank, remittances from emigrants (probably mostly in Russia) account for 48 percent of the country's GDP. The Kyrgyz Republic and Moldova are also very high on that list. This suggests to me that these workers are unlikely to go home anytime soon. What I do not know, however, is the gender composition of the immigrants. In particular, are there women of child-bearing age who can help make up for the small birth cohorts of Russian women currently moving into the reproductive ages? If you have answers, provide the source, please.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lebanon Becomes a Suburb of Syria

Foreign Policy magazine greeted us this morning with the terrible news that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has now hit the one million mark. This is not a record anyone wanted to achieve.
The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon officially topped 1 million Thursday in what the United Nations called a "devastating milestone." With a population of about 4 million, this constitutes about a quarter of Lebanon's resident population and has made it so that Lebanon now has the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, "The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering."
Reuters notes that:
School-aged refugees eclipse the number of Lebanese children in the country's state schools, the UN says, and 2,500 new refugees are registered every day.
"The extent of the human tragedy is not just the recitation of numbers," UNHCR representative Ninette Kelley told reporters in Tripoli. "Each one of these numbers represents a human life who ... have lost their homes, their family members, their sense of future."
These one million in Lebanon are in addition to the estimated 2.6 million Syrian refugees spread around Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and a few other places. Nor do these numbers take into account the estimated 6.5 million internally displaced persons within Syria. If we start with a population of 22 million people, subtract about 150,000 who have died (although not all of these are Syrian), the 3.6 million refugees account for 16 percent of the population, and the internally displaced account for an additional 30 percent. This means that nearly half of Syria's population has had to move because of the conflict.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Run For Your Life! But Only in Moderation

More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle advised us to be moderate in all things. I happen to think that this is pretty good advice and so I was not too surprised today to learn on CBS News that a new study presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C. offers up an example: Too little or too much exercise can shorten your life expectancy.
The researchers behind the newest study on the issue say people who get either no exercise or high-mileage runners both tend to have shorter lifespans than moderate runners. But the reasons why remain unclear, they added.

The new study seems to rule out cardiac risk or the use of certain medications as factors. 
"Our study didn't find any differences that could explain these longevity differences," said Dr. Martin Matsumura, co-director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pa.
The general advice seems to be that if you don't exercise, then you fall into the "use it or lose it" category, and this can lead to an earlier than expected death. This is consistent with the approach to exercise among seniors being promoted in Spain, where people are encouraged to "use it." At the other extreme, too much exercise puts you into the "wear and tear" category with respect to important parts of your body such as your heart. You are then perhaps artificially aging your body, leading to an earlier than expected death.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Playgrounds for the Elderly: Spain Prepares for an Aging Society

I had to admire the positive tenor of a story on PRI's "The World" today about the emergence of playgrounds for older people in Spain. To be fair, the story focused on Spain but suggested that other European countries were going the same direction. Instead of simply lamenting that the population is aging, the attitude seems to be: Let's prepare for it. One part of this is keeping older people fit both physically and mentally by creating parks that cater to them, instead of just having parks for kids in which you see older people feeding the squirrels while their grandkids play on the swing.
But these days the older folks aren’t just sitting around feeding squirrels.
They’re playing too. And exercising. On hundreds of specially designed outdoor circuits for the elderly.
On one recent morning, in the Spanish coastal town of Vilassar, a kiddy park with its slides and seesaws is empty. But right next to it, 20 retirees shout out during roll call. Then they take up positions by tiny balance beams, elevated walkways, pedals fixed to benches and twisting metal bars.
The day’s workout session begins.
The parks are put together by a Finnish firm, and appear to be very popular.
The point of these outdoor exercise spots isn’t just to give elderly folks something to do. Officials say it makes good fiscal sense as well.
Analysts estimate that 40 to 45 percent of the population in Spain will be retirees by 2050. Spending a few bucks on parks to keep that population alert and healthy, the thinking goes, could save a lot in expensive health care costs.
Now, I admit that the first thing I did when I got out of the car after listening to this was to check the UN Population Division's projections for Spain. Could those numbers be right? Actually, yes. The UN projects that by 2050, 40 percent of Spain's population could be age 60 and older. If people start taking pensions at a younger age, then the percentage could be higher. This, of course, reminds us of another related policy approach--increasing retirement age throughout Europe.