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.