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:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Age of Extremes: Concentrated affluence and poverty in the twenty-first century

As Historian of the Population Association of America, I chair the PAA History Committee and I and my committee members, who include Karen Hardee of the Population Council, Dennis Hodgson of Fairfield University, and Deborah McFarlane of the University of New Mexico (the latter unable to join us here in San Diego) are in the process of interviewing all living Past Presidents of the PAA (for more on this you can visit our website). Tomorrow we will be interviewing Douglas Massey of Princeton University, who was PAA President in 1996 (and was subsequently President of the American Sociological Association, among many other honors). He is a big man physically, but a true giant among American social scientists. This is nowhere more obvious than in the published version of his Presidential Address to the PAA 19 years ago. The title of that talk was "The Age of Extremes: Concentrated affluence and poverty in the twenty-first century."
Poverty is old news. For thousands of years the great majority of human beings have lived and labored at a low material standard of living.. .The one place where rich and poor families came into direct contact was in cities, but preindustrial urban centers were few in number and never contained more than a tiny fraction of the human population... The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century upset the apple cart by creating and distributing wealth on a grand scale, enabling affluence and poverty to become geographically concentrated for the first time. Through urbanization, the rich and the poor both came to inhabit large urban areas. Within cities new transportation and communication technologies allowed the affluent to distance themselves spatially as well as socially from the poor, causing a rise in the levels of class segregation and a new concentration of affluence and poverty.
For a short time after World War II, mass social mobility temporarily halted the relentless geographic concentration of affluence and poverty in developed countries. The postwar economic boom that swept Europe, Japan, and the United States created a numerically dominant middle class that mixed residentially with both the upper and the lower classes. After 1970, however, the promise of mass social mobility evaporated and inequality returned with a vengeance, ushering in a new era in which the privileges of the rich and the disadvantages of the poor were compounded increasingly through geographic means. 
In the coming century, the fundamental condition that enabled social order to be maintained in the past--the occurrence of affluence and poverty at low geographic densities--will no longer hold. In the future, most of the world's impoverished people will live in urban areas, and within these places they will inhabit neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty. A small stratum of rich families meanwhile will cluster in enclaves of affluence, creating an  unprecedented spatial intensification of both privilege and poverty. As a result of this fundamental change in the geographic structure of inequality...We have entered a new age of inequality in which class lines will grow more rigid as they are amplified and reinforced by a powerful process of geographic concentration.
This summary of the argument cannot do justice to the breadth and scope of his analysis, but it gives you a flavor. The point, though, is that two decades ago--before Thomas Piketty and before even Republican Members of Congress were talking about "fixing" inequality and before the Baltimore riots--Douglas Massey had figured out where the world was headed and why. He himself admits at the end of the paper that he doesn't have an immediate solution (and we'll ask him tomorrow if he has an update for us), but the point was for all us to recognize what was going on so that we could start figuring out what to do. He hints at the same solution that Piketty proposes, though--for the affluent to come to the realization that a redistribution of income, even if painful in the short-term--is healthy in the long run.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Population--the Long View

It is almost certainly not a coincidence that on the eve of this year's annual meeting of the Population Association of America here in San Diego, the journal Population Studies has issued a special issue on "Population--the Long View." You can download for free the introductory article by Oxford demographers David Coleman, Stuart Basten, and Francesco Billari. You will need a subscription to read the other articles. Thus far I have read only the lengthy intro article, the point of which is to remind demographers that our current fascination with micro-level studies--aided by big data and massive computing power--needs to be balanced with the bigger view--the long view--of what population growth and change means for the world. If you have read the 12th edition of my text--(and, of course, I hope you have :) --you will not find a lot here that is new, but obviously it is stuff that I think is very important!

Here are a couple of teasers, the topics of which you will recognize from some of my recent blog posts:
As Striessnig and Lutz comment in their paper here, ‘ Hardly any challenges in the twenty-first century are greater than those arising from the interaction of demographic change and climate change’ . However, their paper is refreshingly optimistic. It points to the prospect of at least a future brighter than expected both in respect ofresource pressures and in terms of our ability to meet global climate challenges and other shocks and disasters. It has already been shown that when educational attainment is incorporated into population projections, the scenarios of future population size and growth, health, and wealth appear to be more favourable than scenarios that ignore the role of education...Enhanced knowledge, skills, and competencies from education improve the adaptive capacity of populations.
And this:
The paper by Basten and Jiang, however, presents a big challenge to this notion, from another part of the modern world. Chinese policymakers and demographic observers had expected that fertility would revive to a two-child or higher standard, once restrictions to a single child were lifted. So far, that expectation seems to have been confounded. Instead, a one-child norm, both as ideal and as performance target, may be becoming established in urban China where legal constraints are released. Who said that demography was not an experimental science? Here is an experiment on the greatest possible scale in urban China, the result of which challenges the assumption of some kind of stable ‘ natural’ two-child replacement norm.
And there's lots more--enjoy. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Anthropocene as "The Great Acceleration"

Last month I commented on the idea that it makes sense to view the concept of the Anthropocene from the perspective of the events over the past two hundred years that have led us to science to lower the death rate (leading to population growth) and to raise standards of living (leading to massive environmental degradation). A group of researchers has just published a paper that provides graphs showing exactly these relationships, in what they call the Great Acceleration. The paper is available for download and I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here are some highlights.
The ‘Great Acceleration’ graphs, originally published in 2004 to show socio-economic and Earth System trends from 1750 to 2000, have now been updated to 2010. [Figure 2 is shown below.] In the graphs of socio-economic trends, where the data permit, the activity of the wealthy (OECD) countries, those countries with emerging economies, and the rest of the world have now been differentiated. The dominant feature of the socio-economic trends is that the economic activity of the human enterprise continues to grow at a rapid rate. However, the differentiatedgraphs clearly show that strong equity issues are masked by considering global aggregates only. Most of the population growth since 1950 has been in the non-OECD world but the world’s economy (GDP), and hence consumption, is still strongly dominated by the OECD world.
As I have discussed recently, however, there are signs that we could avoid catastrophe if we have the collective will to do so.
There are several glimmers of hope that the growth/collapse pattern may be avoided. As noted in the section ‘Extending the Great Acceleration to 2010’, exponential population growth is over and global population seems more likely to stabilise this century. Regulation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) through the Montreal Protocol has resulted in early signs of recovery of Antarctic stratospheric ozone (Figure 1). Policies in OECD countries to regulate excessive use of fertilizers have stabilised their consumption in these nations. The amount of domesticated land is increasing more slowly as agricultural intensification takes over (albeit with pollution problems from excessive use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers in some agricultural zones (Steffen and Stafford Smith, 2013)). The rapid rise of mobile telecommunication devices in the developing world is an excellent example of leapfrogging. If such leapfrogging could be extended to energy systems, the developing world may lead the way in decoupling development from environmental impacts. On the other hand, greenhouse gases are still rising rapidly, threatening the stability of the climate system, and tropical forest and woodland loss remains high. The pursuit of growth in the global economy continues, but responsibility for its impacts on the Earth System has not been taken. Planetary stewardship has yet to emerge. Will the next 50 years bring the Great Decoupling or the Great Collapse? The latest 10 years of the Great Acceleration graphs show signs of both but cannot distinguish between these scenarios, or other possibilities. But 100 years on from the advent of the Great Acceleration, in 2050, we’ll almost certainly know the answer.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Populations at Risk in Nepal

Nepal is a country of 27 million people, the vast majority of whom (83%) live in rural areas, not cities. It is also one of the poorest countries in South/Southeast Asia, being ahead of only Afghanistan in terms of per person income, according to data assembled by the PRB. These characteristics are bound to make it more difficult to bounce back from Saturday's devastating earthquake and the numerous aftershocks that have killed an estimated 2,500 people. The 7.8-magnitude quake struck an area of central Nepal between Katmandu and the city of Pokhara, cities that have many homes made of mud and brick, and where it appears that even new buildings were not always built to earthquake standards, despite the fact that the region is on top of a major earthquake fault. Andy Tatem and the WorldPop group have posted a map of the region to help us put the population at risk into spatial perspective.

The New York Times had an especially illuminating eye-witness account from a westerner who lives in Katmandu--Donatella Lorch:
I first came to Katmandu in 1983 as a backpacker and returned while working on a master’s degree in Indic studies. My husband’s job brought me back once more. A population boom had transformed the Katmandu Valley, its three cities now home to 2.5 million residents. We found a place with horrific air pollution, traffic that never seemed to move and garbage everywhere. Yet my son and I have been happy here. The quirky, cynical, self-deprecating humor of Nepalis charmed me from the first day.
Within 40 seconds on Saturday, everything changed. The Durbar Squares in Katmandu and Patan where tourists thronged — ancient plazas graced with temples and fountains opposite the old royal palaces — had been reduced to rubble, with only a few structures left standing. One of my favorite shrines, famous for its white domes and four giant, fearsome brass dragons with talons raised, is now a pile of cracked red bricks and dust.
Those who survived know they are lucky. Lucky that this did not happen during the frigid winter or monsoon season. Lucky that the quake hit in daylight rather than at night, when more people would have been indoors and casualties would have been worse. Lucky that it was a Saturday, when children were not in schools, most of which were shoddily built.
The urban valley is reliant for gasoline on shipments by truck from India, so things are going to be difficult during the rebuilding process. And, of course, it is anticipated that more deaths will be discovered as villages are visited over the next few days. If you know anything about the region, you are encouraged to share your spatial knowledge at:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Armenian Genocide Remembered

Yesterday marked the remembrance of the massive Armenian genocide in Turkey 100 years ago. BBC News reminded us of the essential facts:
Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Ottoman Turkey authorities arrested several hundred Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, most of whom were later killed. Armenians regard this as the beginning of the Ottoman policy of mass extermination of Christian Armenians suspected of supporting Russia, the Ottoman Empire's World War One enemy. Many of the victims were civilians deported to barren desert regions where they died of starvation and thirst. Thousands also died in massacres.
Armenia says up to 1.5 million people were killed. Turkey says the number of deaths was much smaller. Most non-Turkish scholars of the events regard them as genocide - as do more than 20 states, including France, Germany, Canada and Russia, and various international bodies including the European Parliament.
The Turkish government continues to deny that it was a genocide, although to its credit the lower house of the German Parliament has pushed Turkey to own up to what really happened:
The Bundestag president [Norbert Lammert] called on the present Turkish government to accept responsibility for what had resulted from the genocide, while stressing that it was not directly responsible. Lammert also referred to the role of Germany - a World War One ally of the Ottoman Empire - whose troops were said to have been involved in planning and even implementing deportations.
As I noted earlier this year, the Armenian diaspora that came in the wake of the Turkish genocide against them means that about a half million people of Armenian descent live in the U.S., with the biggest concentration being in Los Angeles. In that city, a march along Wilshire Boulevard to the Turkish consulate was one of the local remembrance events. Like many people my age, the Armenian situation was a part of my youth. While it may sound trite that my mother chastised me to "think about the poor starving Armenians" if I wasn't finishing my dinner, it did in fact invoke in me a sense of the importance of thinking about the suffering of others. And, as a species, we have sadly seen too many millions of people die an early and painful death at the hands of others for no other reason than that they were somehow "different."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dangerous Xenophobia in South Africa

Even as Europeans are trying to deal with an influx of undocumented immigrants crossing over the Mediterranean, at the other end of Africa xenophobia has turned violent. The Economist reports on the anger aimed at immigrant workers by some South Africans.
A STREET vendor from Mozambique, Emmanuel Sithole, lay begging for his life in a gutter as four men beat him and stabbed him in the heart with a long knife. Images of his murder have shaken South Africa, already reeling from a wave of attacks on foreigners, mostly poor migrants from the rest of Africa. Soldiers were deployed on April 21st to Alexandra, a Johannesburg township, and other flashpoints to quell the violence, though only after seven people had been killed. Thousands of fearful foreigners, many from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have sought refuge in makeshift camps. Others have returned home.
The latest violence flared up in the Durban area earlier this month after King Goodwill Zwelithini, the traditional leader of the Zulus, reportedly compared foreigners to lice and said that they should pack up and leave.
His comments poured fuel on an already-smouldering fire. Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society in Johannesburg, estimates that at least 350 foreigners have been killed in xenophobic violence since 2008. But Mr Misago says he has heard of only one conviction for murder. Attacks on foreigners and foreign-run businesses have been committed with virtual impunity; few cases ever make it to court. “Migrant lives are low-value lives,” says Marc Gbaffou, chairman of the African Diaspora Forum in Johannesburg.
When, after an outcry, King Zwelithini held an anti-xenophobia imbizo, or assembly, in a Durban stadium, some of the audience booed African ambassadors and religious leaders, chanted that foreigners should leave, and waved spears, axes and clubs. Meanwhile President Jacob Zuma, who has made only an emotionless plea to halt the violence, blamed journalists for publicising the death of Mr Sithole. “This makes us look bad,” he said. His eldest son, Edward (born in Swaziland), agreed foreigners should leave, saying that “we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of them taking over the country.”
This is the problem with immigrants, of course. They are perceived as somehow threatening the current way of life. Those sentiments seem to me to be behind xenophobia everywhere. In today's world, though, the presence of immigrants is more likely to indicate that the current way of life is already changing, and the immigrants are more the consequence, and less the cause, of those changes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Earth Day 2015

This is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. As I have been saying for the past few days, every day needs to be earth day, but it is still helpful to celebrate it annually. My own involvement in Earth Day goes back to the very first one in 1970. As a PhD student in Demography at the University of California, Berkeley, I was invited to address what turned out to be a very large outdoor gathering on the campus of California State University, Fresno. Fresno County is the most productive agricultural county in the United States, although its current biggest crop, almonds, takes a huge--almost certainly unsustainable--amount of water. At the time, though, few of us were thinking about water scarcity. The truth was that growing food was an unabashedly good thing, since we knew there were going to be lots of new mouths to be fed in the future. My talk was "Who Lit the Fuse on the Population Bomb?" and of course the answer was "look in the mirror":

Europeans and Americans are responsible for the world's population problems. It all began 200 years ago in the early days of European and American economic development...[you know the rest of the story if you've read my book]. 
I used the opportunity to push for change, keeping in mind that in 1970 the average woman in the United States was giving birth to 2.5 babies, virtually all of whom would survive to adulthood. Fertility was on the way down, to be sure, but it wasn't clear in 1970 whether or not that was a long-term trend.
We should definitely advocate for the immediate removal of all discriminatory barriers in education and in the professions [remember that this was the first year that women had been admitted as undergraduates at Princeton]. If you can get a woman out of the house and reward her with financial gain and social and economic prestige, then the social and economic costs of having additional children are going to increase for that woman and she is far more likely than ever before to prefer a small family.
You will recognize the importance of that theme in almost everything that I have written since then. Keep in mind that between then and now we have added 115 million people to the U.S. population, although the birth rate has dropped to just below replacement level. At the same time the world's population has almost exactly doubled--from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.3 billion in 2015. Fortunately, the global birth rate is also on the way down from about 4.6 children then to 2.5 children now. We're not out of the woods yet, though. There will be many more Earth Days before we can relax.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mediterranean Migration Is Ever More Deadly

Undocumented migration from North Africa to Europe has increased dramatically with the mess in the middle east. And since Libya is largely ungoverned it has become a migrant smugglers paradise, even though it is not the physically closest spot to southern Europe. Still, as the map below shows, there is a lot of activity from Libya. The result of packing too many people onto poorly maintained boats is a high death rate, exemplified yesterday by a major disaster off the Italian coast. The NYTimes noted that:
Hundreds of people were feared dead on Sunday after a ship crowded with migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean, as the authorities described a grisly scene of bodies floating and submerging in the warm waters, with the majority of the dead apparently trapped in the ship at the bottom of the sea.
The fatal shipwreck may prove to be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant disaster ever and is only the latest tragedy in Europe’s migration crisis. Warmer spring weather has unleashed a torrent of smuggler boats, mostly from Libya, bearing migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, often fleeing war and poverty for a foothold in Europe.
Death at sea has become a grimly common occurrence: Even before this weekend’s sinking, humanitarian groups estimated that 900 migrants had already died this year, compared with 90 during the same period a year ago. That figure could rise sharply, as officials estimate that 700 people may have drowned in the weekend disaster.
BBC News reported today that Italian authorities had arrested the Tunisian captain of the ship, along with his Syrian first mate. They were among the few survivors.  
The arrests come after the EU set out a package of measures to try to ease the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Search and rescue operations will be stepped up and there will be a campaign to destroy traffickers' boats.
At the same time, BBC News noted that there other rescues yesterday, one by Italians and another by Greeks. Cutting down on the supply of ships may help, although it is likely also to cause even more dangerous journeys, since the supply of people who would like to get to Europe is growing in tandem with violence in the region. The US State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit released a map last week detailing where the 2.7 million internally displaced persons in Iraq are estimated to be living. The problem is getting worse, not better.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Path to a Sustainable Future? Part 3-Population

Population growth is inevitable for the next few decades, but we will have a more sustainable future with fewer, rather than more people. Population growth over the past half century is intimately bound up with the ecological disaster that we face in a world of business as usual. Bringing population to a halt sooner rather than later is important for all of us and there

is some good news on this front from researchers at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Human Capital in Vienna, which is a collaboration of IIASA and the Vienna Institute for Demography. They have published a new book with accompanying online resources to help us understand their new population projections that take not only age and sex into account (per the United Nations projections), but also education (a major component of human capital). When they take into account the rising level of education among young women around the globe, their medium projection suggests that population size could peak at about 9.4 billion in the 2060-2080 period. This is a sooner peak and a smaller number of people than implied by the United Nations’ projections, which do not take educational attainment into account. Fertility is closely associated with female education, so as education increases, we can reasonably project that fertility will also go down.

Note, by the way, that these are the same sets of projections from which estimates of the population by religious affiliation were prepared by Pew Research in collaboration with IIASA and VID, as I discussed earlier. Remember that religion per se is not a hindrance to a decline in fertility. There are numerous Muslim majority countries, for example, with below replacement fertility, most notably Iran. And, of course, Catholic Christians have dramatically lowered their fertility over the past few decades, with Catholic majority countries of Southern Europe having among the lowest levels of fertility in the world. As I have said repeatedly, it is not religion, but rather the fundamentalists within a religion group that tend to promote high fertility, almost always in the context of second-class status for women. Education for women is the key remedy. 

At the same time, the Wittgenstein Centre researchers argue that an increasingly better educated older population (which the world has been experiencing over the past century) means that an increasing fraction of the population that is older is not predictive of a decline in productivity and thus of economic malaise. Indeed, the opposite very well may prevail, suggesting that aging and eventually declining populations are not the end of the world. Indeed--they are signs of sustainability.