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:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is Urban Sprawl Over in the U.S.?

One of the articles making the rounds on Twitter, especially, over the past few days has been an Upshot piece in the NYTimes summarizing a new report by Joe Cortright at the City Observatory. In this case the upshot is that newly analyzed data from the Census Bureau show that job growth has recently been faster in the central city core of metropolitan areas than it has been in the periphery. The analysis covers the 41 largest metro areas of the country, and the central city is defined a bit arbitrarily as the area within a 3-mile radius of the major intersection within the downtown area of the metro region's largest central business district. In other words, if there is more than one CBD, it is only the largest (most populous) that counts as the central city. Everything beyond that three mile radius is then the "periphery."

Kudos to the Census Bureau for creating a new set of employment data that allows this kind of micro-level geographic analysis, and Cortright has done a nice job of exploiting the data. The major limitation is that the data series only goes back to 2002, a period of time coinciding with the rapid rise in home construction that eventually led to the Great Recession. Cortright compares the period 2002-07 with 2007-11. Thus, he compares the run-up to the Great Recession to the Recession and early post-recession period. This may not be an historical period in which we can reliably search for trends. His data show, not surprisingly, that construction and manufacturing (much of which was undoubtedly related to construction) are disproportionately located in the periphery and took the biggest hits in the 2007-11 compared to the 2002-07 time frame. 

Even with those caveats, though, I think that Cortright is correct with respect to the broader trends. Before the big housing boom--falsely pushed along by the sub-prime mortgage market--city centers were trying to make a comeback. Gentrification, downtown revitalization, and job growth in city centers were trends that were essentially derailed by the housing boom, which took place largely in suburbs and exurbs. We are now in all likelihood returning to those earlier trends. They are not dramatic trends and they may not last, but they remind us that urban evolution will be part and parcel of human existence for the rest of our lives because the vast majority of Americans, and the majority of all human beings, live in urban places.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Will Immigrant Reform Lead to Higher Food Prices?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for linking me to an NPR story today about the potential effect of immigration reform on migrant farm workers. As he suggested to me, there is a lot to chew on here. The basic issue is this: farmers exploit undocumented farm workers, especially in terms of low wages. Those low wages translate into lower prices for domestically-grown food than we would otherwise pay, since it highly unlikely that the farmers themselves are going to absorb the difference. Given that widely acknowledged exploitation, will legalization encourage workers to leave agriculture and find other jobs? The NPR piece is wobbly on this score, and there are several reasons for this.

The last time we had a major legalization of undocumented immigrants--under Ronald Reagan--we were still in the pre-9/11 era when there was pretty easy mobility across the U.S.-Mexico border, so people leaving agriculture for higher-paying jobs were pretty quickly replaced by new waves of undocumented workers, but ones who came and went as the demand ebbed and flowed. The post-9/11 era, in which the border really is much more secure, and in which the birth rate has dropped considerably in Mexico, does not necessarily insure that there will be a new wave of people to replace those leaving agriculture. What about guest worker programs? These tend to work only in repressive societies such as Saudi Arabia where the government really will round people up and deport them when their contract ends. Furthermore, as the story points out, guest workers are also routinely exploited, despite working legally, so we don't get rid of that issue. 

Why can't farmers just pay their workers more and then charge more for their food? The problem, as the story notes, is competition from Mexico and Central America, where farm workers are also exploited and where, in all events, wages are even lower than in the U.S. 

If you follow through the logic of this story, it seems to me that (a) legalization will lead to a high fraction of current workers leaving agriculture to find higher pay elsewhere; (b) this will change the farming industry in California where many growers are already switching to almonds because they require less labor; (c) leading to more imported food, (d) which will keep food prices low in the U.S., but will be bad for the U.S. trade deficit. In the end, though, the only real argument for immigration reform is that we simply shouldn't be exploiting undocumented immigrants as we do. There will be consequences, not all good, but we will have to adjust to that new reality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Female Infertility the Cause of Iran's Low Birth Rate?

A few days ago Abu Douad pointed out an interesting article that appeared recently in Asia Times Online suggesting that Iran's low fertility was due at least in part to the country's very high level of infertility. The article is written by David Goldman at the London Center for Policy Research, which is in New York, not London--it is named after its president Herbert London. Anyway, Goldman suggests that recent sexual activity in Iran has increased the incidence of chlamydia and that helps keep the birth rate low. Does this make any sense?

First, it has be acknowledged that Iran has indeed experienced a genuinely stunning drop in fertility. I noted a few months ago that Iran shares with Cuba the distinction of responding to US-led economic embargoes by dramatically reducing childbearing. Economic uncertainty in a country characterized by increasing urbanization, high levels of literacy among both men and women, and a history of government-sponsored fertility control programs can almost certainly account for the rapid decline in fertility without resort to other explanations. Indeed, the idea that infertility is a key player in this is not well supported by the story upon which Goldman seems to rely. This is a paper published in the Journal of Reproduction and Infertility in 2009 reviewing three major studies in Iran. The important takeaway is that infertility--as defined in this particular article--was nearly as high in 1997 as it was in 2004-2005, and no more recent studies were cited. There is no evidence of a trend in infertility that would coincide with the trend in fertility rates. Perhaps even more important is the fact that I have not found any evidence of equivalently high levels of infertility in Turkey, whose fertility decline has closely mirrored Iran's. My view is that we can probably put the infertility theory in the category of maybe playing at most a very peripheral--and as yet unmeasured--role in Iran's fertility decline.

Monday, February 23, 2015

U.S. State Department Contributes to Global Mapping

Thanks to Dr. Debbie Fugate for linking me to a new initiative by her Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. State Department. The goal is provide governmental assistance to OpenStreetMap in order to strengthen its valuable use when populations are at risk any where in the world.
As a flagship initiative of the Department’s Open Government Plan, MapGive -- managed by the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) -- serves as a nexus of expertise in OSM for the Department’s domestic bureaus and diplomatic posts, other U.S. Government agencies, and other governments through international fora, such as the Open Government Partnership. We are especially proud to work with other institutions that focus on open mapping, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, and USAID's Global Development Lab; the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery; and the Peace Corps.

MapGive draws together mappers offline and online, spotlighting campaigns through State Department social media and providing easy-to-use analysis and visualization tools. These campaigns are also supported by launching “mapathons” that bring together university students, NGO workers, mapping enthusiasts, and other volunteers – from the novice to the expert. The State Department recently partnered with USAID’s GeoCenter at the Global Development Lab and George Washington University to help map Bangladesh, with American Red Cross and Missing Maps to support the Ebola response, and with the National Geographic Society on a series of events during National Geography Awareness Week. 
If you have ever asked: What has the government done for me and others, here is a good answer!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Homage to Max

I returned home yesterday from a visit to the University of Miami (as I noted yesterday) and I arrived home just in time to say goodbye to our 10-year old German Shepherd, Max (officially: Maximilian Bear Weeks). He died of cancer that had metastasized from his spleen to his lungs. The cancer was diagnosed exactly three months ago, but it was far too advanced to do anything except try to extend his life for as long as possible with powerful human drugs that our vet phoned in to our local Rite-Aid. When he died, Max weighed 120 pounds, about 20 pounds over his usual adult weight of 100 pounds, due especially to the prednisone he was taking. The sad truth is that larger dogs have a shorter lifespan than smaller dogs, and as with most mammals, males have a shorter life expectancy than females. As always when it comes to lifespan and life expectancy there is a certain amount of confusion about which is which. Dogs are like humans in that most do not live close to their biological maximum (which is the lifespan). PetMD's website, however, has a set of data on life expectancy for dogs and it shows that 10 years is the average life expectancy for German Shepherds (both sexes combined). Their data also suggest that in "human years" a 10-year-old dog weighing over 90 pounds would be 77 years of age. That actually squares with how Max seemed on the day he died.

Max was a kind and gentle person, who lived peaceably with the birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc., who inhabit the certified wildlife habitat that is our yard. At the same time, his trainer, David Ruiz (who in an earlier era had trained German Shepherds for the U.S. military) assured us that you would not want to be the person who tried to invade our house when Max was home. With those he knew, however, he was a natural extrovert who had lots of friends and will be missed enormously.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Aging in Latin America

At this moment I on a flight from Miami to Los Angeles, with a connection there back home to San Diego after making two presentations yesterday at the University of Miami (and my thanks to all those at UM that my brief stay very enjoyable). The first talk was about the way in which the changing age structure makes socialism an almost impossible economic model. This is research that my son, Greg Weeks and I are working on, and the examples that we are using include Chile, Venezuela, and Cuba. So, it was interesting to see an article yesterday by Elizabeth Gonzalez of the Council of the Americas discussing population aging in Latin America. There is no doubt that this is happening, and it now been many years since my good friend Roberto Ham-Chande of El Colegio de la Frontera in Tijuana, Mexico started writing about aging in Mexico. 

The aging of a population is a natural process of the combination of declining death and birth rates, as has been happening throughout Latin America, albeit very unevenly. What struck me about the article, though, was that the chart [see below] does not show Cuba, which has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the hemisphere. At the same time, the chart included Venezuela, which is aging very slowly and which, for the time being certainly, needs to concentrate on finding resources for its still quite young population. The country's high level of dependence on oil (a resource that has been squandered by past governments) makes it very difficult for the economy to meet the needs of the constantly growing population except in times when the oil price is not just high, but rising. It is way too early to start worrying about the aging of the Venezuelan population, in my opinion. That takes one's eye off the important demographic of youthfulness that the country still faces.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Aging Societies Aren't Necessarily Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

Thanks to Dr. Dobbins for pointing me to a George Friedman article in Stratfor today (and referenced, I see, fairly widely in demographic circles) about the idea that the aging of Europe is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. This is, of course, the theme of my note yesterday. While Friedman gets some of his smaller facts wrong (I'm guessing that he hasn't read my text!!), I agree with his overall assessment. 
But the real question is whether a declining population matters. Assume that there is a smooth downward curve of population, with it decreasing by 20 percent. If the downward curve in gross domestic product matched the downward curve in population, per capita GDP would be unchanged. By this simplest measure, the only way there would be a problem is if GDP fell more than population, or fell completely out of sync with the population, creating negative and positive bubbles. That would be destabilizing.
But there is no reason to think that GDP would fall along with population. The capital base of society, its productive plant as broadly understood, will not dissolve as population declines. Moreover, assume that population fell but GDP fell less — or even grew. Per capita GDP would rise and, by that measure, the population would be more prosperous than before.
This is an important set of distinctions. If you are concerned about human welfare, the idea that GDP per person may not drop even in the face of population decline is a very optimistic picture. If you are just an investor looking for return on your money, then anything except a growth in GDP may seem dangerous to your wealth. This was the point made yesterday in a Mauldin Economics blog, in which the point was made that increasing life expectancy at the older ages is very hard on pension funds that hadn't planned on people living that long, whereas it is good for life insurance companies who can continue to rake in premiums at a higher rate than they are paying out benefits. I mention this in Chapter 1 of the 12th edition and Mauldin notes that some pension funds are buying insurance companies as a hedge against their own liabilities. The economy is a complicated business.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Work Long and Save--Redux

Africa and the Middle East may be dealing with high fertility and young populations, but Europe, North America, and East Asia, in particular, are facing aging populations and trying to figure out how to deal with that economically. As I have noted before, this dilemma is faced by both individuals and governments, and the answer (work long and save) seems obvious, but it is not always easy to implement. My thanks to Carl Schmertmann for pointing me to an article about Korea's somewhat upside down approach to this--offering loans to couples to encourage marriage and childbearing, which will then help to support the older population.
South Korea’s national pension service is considering lending money to singles who delay or are reluctant to tie the knot because of wedding costs as a way to promote marriage and help raise chronically low birth rates, officials said Sunday. 
South Korea is faced with mounting demographic problems as the ultra-low birth rate and the rapidly aging population are expected to seriously shrink the size of the labor force and depress economic growth. Such changes are also pressing on the pension operators who have to deal with increasing payments for the elderly while revenue drops.
This is not really all that different from recent attempts by Turkey and Iran to stimulate their birth rates by encouraging marriage and childbearing. And its impact will likely be small and too late in coming to have much effect. Keeping people in the labor force for as long as possible is, in my view, the key. A paper just out from Demographic Research (for which Carl Schmertmann serves as editor) offers a glimmer of hope on this score, at least for Europe. The author, Elke Loichinger from the University of Vienna, projects the European labor force into the future taking not just age and sex, but also education, into account.
Summing up, the labor force in Europe is likely to be older, contain a higher share of women, and will overall be composed of people that are on average higher educated than today. This result is robust in the sense that it holds for the overall labor force, irrespective of the scenario, and for the analyzed subgroups (men/women and broad age groups). Whether the labor force will be smaller depends on how participation of women and those aged 55+ years and older evolves.
Thus, the idea is that better educated people, including ever increasing fractions of women (don't waste that resource!), will generate higher, not lower, levels of economic productivity as they age, thus dampening the effect of the overall aging of the population. In other words, educating women is a better solution to the world's problems than encouraging them to leave university and have babies.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

And You Thought Beijing's Air Was Bad!

Every day there are more than 200,000 people added to the planet. Almost all of these people will show up in cities of developing nations. The result is air pollution, in direct correlation to the combination of population size and economic development. Beijing's air is famously bad, as I have noted before, but a story in today's NY Times suggests that air pollution in New Delhi is even worse. Inconceivable!
Delhi’s air is the world’s most toxic in part because of high concentrations of PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs. While Beijing’s air quality has generated more headlines worldwide, scientists say New Delhi’s air is often significantly worse, especially during the winter, when choking smog often settles over the sprawling city.

Indeed, there has not been a single 30-day period in Beijing over the past two years during which the average PM2.5 level was as bad as it was in December and January in Delhi. 
Worse yet, the numbers tell only half the story because Delhi’s PM2.5 particles are far more dangerous than those from many other locales because of the widespread burning of garbage, coal and diesel fuel that results in high quantities of toxins such as sulfur, dioxins and other carcinogenic compounds, said Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, director of Urban Emissions, an independent research group based in Delhi.
Fortunately, it seems that India is finally coming to grips with this problem and is seeking advice and help. The problem in India, as in China, is of course that these nations are trying to develop in the old-fashioned way--the way that the now rich countries developed--without concern for the environmental consequences of cramming a lot of people into urban areas. It costs a lot of money to clean up the environment, but the alternative is unsustainable. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Demographics of Good Teaching

If there is one single theme that rolls through all aspects of demographic behavior, it is that education changes everything. It is education that enlightens and modernizes us, and is responsible--both directly and indirectly--for longer and healthier lives, and fewer but more economically successful children. But who is teaching those children? There is an old zen saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." In the complex modern world, however, the quality of the teacher that appears is important, and there is a lot of concern in the U.S. and elsewhere that the teaching profession is not doing a good job of attracting the best and the brightest among us to be teachers. The Economist highlights the story in this week's edition. 

The headline of the Economist's recalls the old saw that "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." But there are key demographic factors that are hidden behind that phrase and behind the declining quality of teachers: the ability of women to compete in all aspects of the labor market. For the first several decades of the 20th century, as America's economic power was surging and educational levels were rapidly rising, women who wanted to work as professionals had two main choices--teaching and nursing. Discrimination in the labor force meant that no matter how well educated and talented a woman might be, her options were very limited--she "could" do other things in theory, but society wouldn't allow it. Thus, many of the best and brightest women went into teaching because that's what there was. The pay was low for the professions, but the regular schedule and long vacations were attractive to women who could then work and have a family. Those days of limited options for women are now long gone--thankfully--but the teaching profession has not adjusted. The Economist discusses the fact that teacher's unions, among other things, have hampered progress. But the main point I am making is that if the solutions do not recognize the changing demographics of the pool of potential teachers, the quality of teaching is unlikely to improve much.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Government Matchmaking in Iran Not Likely to Start Many Fires

Yesterday I blogged about Turkey's attempt to generate incentives for women to leave university and have babies. The Economist this week has a companion story about Turkey's next door neighbor, Iran. Although Turkey is predominantly Sunni Muslim and Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, you wouldn't know the difference from these two stories. The government of Iran is about to launch its own matchmaking site--to encourage women to forsake education and career and become wives and mothers. After all, that's what women are supposed to be doing, right? Not so much.
AT A loss to explain why most youngsters are delaying marriage or altogether shunning the idea of a happy union, Iran’s government is taking action. In Hamedan province, a senior ayatollah recently warned unmarried public workers to find a spouse within a year or risk losing their jobs. A gentler approach, announced in January, is the launch of a matchmaker website which, the government hopes, could lead to as many as 100,000 marriages.
In any case, under-30s, who make up 55% of Iran’s population of 77m, seem far more interested in brief flings than marriage. Hence some 300 “immoral” Western-style dating websites have sprung up of late. Unable to close them all down, the state’s moral guardians have decided to turn matchmaker instead.As in Turkey, it is very unlikely that this latest attempt to get women back into their traditional roles will succeed.
For some, tying the knot has simply lost its appeal. Women make up more than 60% of university students and the better-educated no longer long to be wives first.
As is always true, education changes the way the world works. This is what the Enlightenment has been about--it is what has led to low mortality, which is why we can have low fertility and still have growing populations. It is how women discover that they are not inferior to men, and it is hard to put that genie back in the bottle, no matter how hard Turkey and Iran may try.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Turkey Goes Pronatalist

Turkey, like its eastern neighbor Iran, has slipped below replacement level fertility, and the government of President Erdogan is no happier about this state of affairs than is the Iranian government. So, what to do? Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing me to a story with the answer--cash bonuses for women who quit university and have a baby. Really? Less education and more babies is a real step backward and it seems unlikely that many women will jump at this. What seems to be going on here is that the government is trying several different things to keep women out of the labor force. Despite its current low fertility, Turkey has a fairly young population because fertility only recently dropped to those low levels. In the 1980s and 1990s, women in Turkey were still having 3-4 children each and those kids are now looking for jobs and pushing up unemployment rates. In the past this might have been dealt with by young people migrating to Germany. But anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany and competition from Syrian and other refugees means that migration is not as big a safety valve as it once was for Turkey. So, another way to deal with this is to remove women from the labor force, thus creating less competition for men searching for jobs, and that seems clearly to be what the government has in mind. After all, it will be a while before babies born now will have a big economic impact, and in the meantime the bulge of young people will be "handled." This is, of course, a very short-sighted perspective that essentially kicks the demographic can down the road. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Demographic Influences on Democracy

Thanks to Greg Weeks for pointing me to a blog post by political scientist Jay Ulfelder in which he statistically analyzes the link between median age and the transition to democracy. He is building on work by Richard Cincotta on the relationship between age structure and democracy. Cincotta's ideas first examined the destabilizing role played by young age structures. Indeed, Debbie Fugate and I included a paper by Cincotta as a chapter in our book, The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity? In that paper, Cincotta lays out his argument as follows: analysis of recent demographic and political trends shows that countries with a large proportion of young adults in the working-age population (referred to as a “youth bulge”) are much less likely to attain a stable liberal democracy than countries with a more mature age structure. If fertility continues to decline and age structure contin- ues to mature in many of the world’s current youth-bulge countries, analysts should expect most of these states to ultimately attain and maintain liberal democracy. Of course, there will be exceptions; since the early 1970s, charismatic authoritarian leaders and single-party ideological elites have demonstrated a capacity to resist democratization, persisting even as their countries’ age structures matured.
Ulfelder was provided with a new spreadsheet of median age data by Cincotta and his analysis essentially confirms Cincotta's thesis:
Consistent with Cincotta’s argument and other things being equal, countries with higher median age are more likely to transition to democracy than countries with younger populations.
As Ulfelder himself notes, the use of median age ignores the varied aspects of the age transition that will influence a society, but certainly these results suggest the political importance of the age structure. This is put into the context of modernization theory, and I don't necessarily disagree with that since demographic theory generally attributes the drop in both mortality and fertility (with the latter promoting an aging of the population) to modernization processes.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Undocumented Immigrants or Refugees? A Tough Call Along the Border

There are at least two things that are true about U.S. immigration policy: (1) it's all messed up; and (2) it is impossible to stop all people from entering the country without documentation. Those who think that the first step is to "secure" the border are, in essence, giving up on immigration reform. Unfortunately, the executive actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations have not helped, either, as revealed today in a long and dramatic story in the New York Times about a detention camp in Texas where undocumented women and their children--mainly from Central America--were being housed ("jailed," really).
Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today. 
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.
The story focuses on pro-bono lawyers who have helped people navigate a legal system that is complex and arcane and which, if the story is to be believed, is not well understood by the Department of Homeland Security. But the story also digs down into the attitudes of people living in towns where detention centers exist, and by and large it isn't pretty. What the story does well, though, is to remind us that immigration reform needs to be wrapped into a broader strategy for helping Central American countries gain control of the violence that, in many cases, has been exacerbated by actions of the U.S. government. This is going to be a long and painful process, i think, but the sooner we get started, the less pain there is likely to be.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

New Parental Leave Law in Poland May Have Perked up the Birth Rate

Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing me to a story on Radio Poland about last year's hike in births in Poland. In a country with one of the world's lowest birth rates (averaging 1.2 children per woman), the fact that births exceeded deaths last year was important news. This increase is generally attributed to the passage of a law in 2013 granting new parents a one-year paid leave from work upon the birth of a child. The positive rate of natural increase was, however, more than offset by net-outmigration (the continued movement of Polish workers to northern and western Europe), and so the country's population was a little lower at the end of 2014 than it had been at the start of that year. Now, to complicate the story even more, the migration out of the country is partly offset by illegal migration into the country, according to another Radio Poland story.
The Polish Border Guard (SG) detained in excess of 4,300 illegal immigrants in 2014, over 800 more than in 2013.According to statistics compiled by the SG's headquarters, Ukrainians were most frequently apprehended (2,000 people), a rise of 100 percent on the previous year. There was also an 80 percent rise in the number of Vietnamese detained without the correct documents (420 people). Other nationalities prominent on the list were Russians (264), Belarusians, Georgians and Syrians. While Vietnamese and Syrians often regard Poland as a gateway to the West, Ukrainians typically want to stay in Poland to find work.
It is easy enough to figure out why people from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, and Syria would want to go to or through Poland, but Vietnam is not an obvious source country. However, since Vietnam was a French colony, there has been a sizable community of Vietnamese in France especially since the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the communist takeover of the country. Other European countries, including Germany, the UK, and Poland, have also seen substantial increases in Vietnamese immigration over the years. Since migrants tend to be young adults, it is likely that they have contributed at least their fair share to the births in these countries. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

High Fertility is Still With Us

There is a tendency, even among demographers, to assume that the whole issue of high fertility is passé and that we should be moving on to other topics of greater importance. It is my view that fertility is still highly relevant because high fertility anywhere in the world--when coupled with lower mortality--means population growth that will shift the demographic, economic, and political balance of the world. So, I was very pleased to discover today that the United Nations Population Division has put out a new report summarizing the extremes of fertility--both high and low. As always, the middle ground tends to be best in demographic terms, as in most other things.

Here are the top three key findings:
Fertility has declined significantly since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, yet 66 countries remain with high fertility levels (more than 3.2 children per woman). The number of low-fertility countries (with 2.0 children per woman or less) has increased from 51 countries at the time of the 1994 ICPD to 70 countries today.

High-fertility countries are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa (45 out of 66 high- fertility countries) while low-fertility countries are becoming more diverse geographically, including many more countries in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean (31 out of the 70 low-fertility countries are from regions outside of Europe).

There have been substantial declines in adolescent fertility in many high-fertility countries, but adolescent fertility remains very high in Middle Africa and Western Africa. Angola, Chad, Mali and Niger stand out with adolescent birth rates of above 180 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years in 2005-2010. Adolescent fertility also continues to account for a high proportion of births in many low-fertility countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; in five low-fertility countries, all in Latin America and the Caribbean, 15 per cent or more of all births were to adolescent mothers.
The high fertility countries of Africa help to account for the problems faced by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon as they battle Boko Haram. Indeed, all of the political hot-spots south of the Mediterranean involve high fertility countries. On the other hand, the trouble spot in Eastern Europe--between Russia and Ukraine--involve two below replacement countries trying to figure out how to navigate when on the edge of depopulation. Neither demographic extreme seems to be amenable to political stability.

One reason for people thinking that high fertility is behind us is that the UN projections assume that will be the case. These assumptions are unlikely to hold if efforts to provide contraception, along with education to young people, are not supported.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will Low Oil Prices Lead to More Teen Births in Venezuela?

Venezuela's economy is heavily subsidized by the government, whose chief source of revenue is the nationalized oil industry. This situation is OK as long as the population is growing at the same rate as the price of oil. But there are two problems in Venezuela: (1) its birth rate is still well above replacement--pushed along by early marriage and childbearing; and (2) the price of oil has taken a big dip. today pointed out that the result of these things is a huge increase in the price of condoms, and this is not a good thing.
A collapse in oil prices has deepened shortages of consumer products from diapers to deodorant in the OPEC country that imports most of what it consumes, with crude exports accounting for about 95 percent of its foreign currency earnings. As the price the country receives for its oil exports fell 60 percent in the past seven months, the economy is being pushed to the brink with a three-in-four chance of default in the next 12 months if oil prices don’t recover. 
The impact of reduced access to contraceptives is far graver than frustration over failed hookups. Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. Abortion is illegal.
Venezuela had the third-fastest rate of HIV infections per capita in South America, after Paraguay and Brazil in 2013, United Nations data shows. The country also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies on the continent after Guyana, at 83 per 1,000, according to 2012 data from the World Bank. This compares to just 4 per 1,000 in Germany and 31 in the U.S. 
On the auction website MercadoLibre, used by Venezuelans to obtain scarce goods, a 36-pack of Trojans sells for 4,760 bolivars ($755 at the official exchange rate), close to the country’s minimum monthly wage of 5,600 bolivars. At the unofficial black-market rate used by people with access to dollars, the cost is about $25, compared to $21 in the U.S.
It was only back in November that I reported on a push in Caracas to encourage young girls to stay in school rather than get pregnant. The price of condoms is obviously going to change that equation. At best, the argument could now be made that young people need to stay in school so that they can find a job that will pay enough to allow them to afford birth control. They certainly can't afford kids in this economy...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Urbanization in China--Big and Ugly

The World Bank has just issued a new report on urbanization in East Asia [note: the full report is here]. A particular focus in the report is on the spatial spread of cities in the region, and I was pleased to see that this effort was led by Professor Annemarie Schneider at the University of Wisconsin. Population distribution data were prepared by Professor Andrew Tatem at the University of Southampton, building on his WorldPop project. I mention these people only to point out that this is a report to which we should pay close attention. As you might imagine, the urban process in East Asis is dominated by China:
The Pearl River Delta in China – which includes the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan – has overtaken Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area in both size and population, with more inhabitants than countries such as Argentina, Australia or Canada.
This is a very detailed report with lots of good tables, figures and maps. It could easily be a textbook in a course on urbanization. But, wait, there's more! You can download the data yourself and do your own analyses:
To encourage further research on urbanization, the World Bank is announcing a two-track competition based on this report. One offers a $1,500 prize for the best visualization of the data, while the other seeks proposals for papers further analyzing the information, with winners invited to World Bank headquarters to present their findings.
The report does not dwell on the quality of life in cities, although mention is made of air pollution. Yet, the deteriorating quality of China's cities seems to be one factor in a story from OZY suggesting that China's millionaires are trying to go elsewhere,
There is a growing trend among China’s richest to use their wealth to move themselves and their families abroad. This is done primarily in the form of investment visas.
On the flip side, a number of countries are opening the doors to the estimated 1 million Chinese millionaires … provided they bring their money with them. It’s something of a bidding war in reverse, for which Australia wins the prize. All it takes is AU$5 million (US$4.65 million) of investment to apply for permanent residency. [Note, by the way, that Australian Aid paid for the World Bank study...]
The U.S., for example, will take just $1 million for a green card, offering residence. That’s for an investment that generates 10 jobs for at least two years, although under the so-called EB-5 program, investment in a public development project can be a less-risky substitute. This figure halves if the investment is in a rural area or in an industry suffering from high employment.
So, from the World Bank study we learn (not surprisingly) that the rich in East Asia (as elsewhere in the world) live in the cities. And from the OZY report, we learn that one motivation to get rich in China is to have enough money to move out of China's cities into another country.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bill and Melinda Gates--Show Me the Contraceptives!

Over the past 15 years the Bill and Melinda Gates has done a genuinely wonderful job of helping to bring down death rates in developing countries. But, as children survive in ever greater numbers, the demand on resources in already struggling economies may be unbearable and is certainly unsustainable. That is why I was so pleased in 2012 when Melinda Gates helped to organize a family planning summit in London. But if we fast forward to 2015, we do not find a single mention of birth control, or family planning, or contraceptives in this year's 2015 Gates Annual Letter, except for one mention of contraceptives in the context of lowering maternal mortality by reducing the number of pregnancies a woman has had. The goals of the Gates Foundation are excellent and noble--save lives, and improve the lives of poor people. The sin is in the omission of the demographic change that has to accompany a declining death rate, and which will in the end improve people's lives--birth control.