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:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thank You, Population Geographers!

I know that it might seem a little self-serving to note that today I was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Population Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) here at the annual meeting in San Francisco. However, this provides me with a public opportunity to thank people to whom I owe so much--my colleagues, my students, and my publisher (and, of course, my wife). Special thanks go to Rachel Franklin of Brown University, current President of the AAG Population Specialty Group for organizing a wonderful session. Thanks to colleagues/friends Doug Stow (SDSU), Arthur Getis (SDSU), David Lopez-Carr (UCSB), David Rain (GWU), and Peter Craumer (FIU) for their very generous comments, and thanks to former students/now colleagues and friends Tarek Rashed (Indiana University), Debbie Fugate (US State Department), Justin Stoler (U of Miami), and Anna Carla Lopez-Carr (SDSU/UCSB) for their amazing comments. And thanks to everyone else in attendance, with whom we had a chance to mingle during the post-session reception hosted by Cengage Learning Publishers. Thanks to you all--I couldn't do this without you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Putting a Global Price Tag on Eating Meat

Recently I commented on the important way in which eating meat is costly in terms of environmental damage and deleterious health effects. But I didn't put a price tag on those costs. However, today I saw an article referenced in The Atlantic that does exactly that.
In a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Marco Springmann and his colleagues at the University of Oxford conservatively estimate that if people continue to follow current trends of meat consumption, rather than shifting to a more balanced or plant-based diet, it could cost the U.S. between $197 billion and $289 billion each year—and the global economy up to $1.6 trillion—by 2050.
Out of all the world’s countries, the U.S. would save the most by curbing its taste for meat. Due to its very high per-capita health-care costs, the country could save $180 billion if the population ate according to recommended guidelines, and $250 billion if it eschewed animal food products altogether—more than China, or all of the EU countries combined. And this is to say nothing of the number of obesity- and chronic-disease-related deaths that could be averted (at least 320,000 per year), and the accompanying benefits of reducing the level of greenhouse-gas emissions.
How much would be saved? Here is a graph of their calculations:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reality versus Perception of How Many Muslims Live in Europe

The terrorist attacks by Islamic Jihadists in Paris and Brussels have sharpened the already divisive debate about the flood of migrants from the Middle East to Europe. Even before these attacks, the presence of Muslims in Europe was exaggerated by European respondents to opinion polls, according to data put together by The Economist. Take a look at this map:

In France, 8% of the population was Muslim as of 2010, but an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that the average respondent thought the figure was 31%. In Belgium, a 6% Muslim population translated into the perception of a 29% Muslim population. 

A possible explanation for this is the fact that the terrorist groups have been so closely affiliated with Islam, even though the vast majority of Muslims have no sympathy for their cause. The combination of natural xenophobia combined with a terrorist fear skews perceptions. George Friedman puts it this way:
When we see pictures of terrorists calmly pushing luggage carts in an airport, it is not their courage that stands out, nor their willingness to die, but the sense that death does not mean to them what it means to us. We speak of dehumanizing people by regarding them as “other” or alien. These terrorists are “other.” They are not like us in the fundamental sense that they say they prefer death over life—and by every indication, they do. We are, of course, terrified by the randomness and the violence of the terrorists, but what is more frightening is the terrorist himself.
Recognition of the problem is at least a first step to dealing with it. Treating it as a disease may be the right approach. You isolate the disease, get rid of it, and then vaccinate the rest of the population against it coming back. I know, terrorism is complicated, but so are most diseases.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Global Health and the Environment

This coming week I will be a discussant in a plenary session on "Global Health & Environment" at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers in San Francisco. One question that the panel will be examining is: What is the most harmonious way for us to produce and consume food going forward? If you have read my book and/or followed this blog, you will immediately know the answer: eat less meat! In my view, the raising of animals for slaughter as food on the dinner table is one of the biggest threats to our ability to keep feeding a growing human population and a major threat to the environment at the same time. It is also a threat to human health, as I noted a few months ago.

We are already using all of the good agricultural land in the world to grow food, but the demand for food for animals who are raised to be killed for food is constantly pushing farmers into ever-more marginal land, and in many places this involves deforestation in order to create new farmland. And, of course, grazing animals produce a lot of methane gas that is bad for the atmosphere. And I haven't even mentioned the water necessary to grow feed for animals, much less humans. 

So, who are the big meat eaters in the world? A report by the OECD shows that on a per capita basis, people in Argentina eat more beef and veal than anyone, followed by Uruguay and Brazil, with the US coming in 4th place. The Chinese consume the greatest amount of pork on a per person basis, followed by the residents of the EU (collectively), Korea, Vietnam, and then the U.S. Poultry is consumed by people in Israel at a higher rate than anywhere else, following by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. You can see, then, that the US, in particular, does not top any of the lists, but it is high on all of them--unlike any other country. This needs to change.

And if damage to the environment and your health is not enough of an incentive to cut back on meat, how about the new round of findings that animals are "people" too. They have emotions, senses of humor, and feel pain and fear. Meat on your table isn't just a piece of meat--it was someone's parent, child, or friend. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

The New York Times Primer on Demography

Thanks to Francesco Billari whose tweet yesterday alerted me to a NYTimes blog post by Michael Gonchar titled "Demography is Destiny? Teaching About Cause and Effect With Global Population Trends." Now, my first reaction was that I had to applaud an article whose first link was to my blog post about the origins of the term "demography is destiny." But things started to go a bit down hill after that because the first section of the "lesson" takes the reader to a Retro Report video on the Population Bomb that the NYTimes put together last year and to which I took exception at the time, because it was clearly biased. Yet, despite the many comments to that effect on the NYTimes website at the time, Gonchar asks students questions about the video as though it were an unbiased factual piece of news. 

Fortunately, the remainder of the lessons are better. Indeed, I have probably blogged about most of the articles linked in the story because the NYTimes is typically an excellent source of news and I have been a long-time subscriber. This blog of mine essentially replaced my long-time practice of bringing in news stories to share with students at the start of class in order to impress upon them that demography is central to our lives, whether we know it or not.

At the same time, just reading news articles isn't enough for you fully to know what's going on. That's why I wrote the book... 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Urban Shrinkage in Russia

Russia has been in the news a lot lately as it asserts itself in Eastern Europe (especially Ukraine) and in Syria. The combination of economic sanctions and low oil prices have hurt the Russian economy and it seems obvious that Putin is trying to take his countrymen's attention away from that by bullying others. It's a classic ploy. But it isn't just the economy that is shrinking in Russia. The population has been declining since the end of the Soviet era, as I have noted on several occasions, and a new paper just published in the French spatial demography journal Espaces Populations Sociétés documents a widespread shrinkage of cities throughout Russia. The paper by French demographer Clémentine Cottineau is titled "A multilevel portrait of shrinking urban Russia" and is available in English, in case you were worried that your French might be as weak as mine.

She points out that the country's demography is characterized by below replacement fertility and higher than average mortality, leading to negative natural increase, partly compensated for by migration from former Soviet republics like Armenia, as I noted a couple of months ago. There is also a clear regional pattern to the shrinkage. There is still positive population growth in the southwest of Russia, between the Caspian and Black Seas, but it is declining almost everywhere else. And the decrease is showing up (so to speak) in the cities:
Russia appears to be the most shrinking urban system in the world, even though Germany and Japan are usually cited to illustrate studies on urban shrinkage at a national scale. Their share of shrinking cities is indeed high (respectively 46 and 58%, cf. tab. 2) but significantly lower than that of Russia (> 70%).
Shrinkage is almost never popular in human societies, and so the demonstration of these widespread demographic changes taking place in Russia suggests that Putin is likely to continue aggravating the rest of the world to keep the Russian minds off what is happening at home. It is unlikely that anything good will come of this. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Demographics of Happiness (and Unhappiness)

The terrorist attacks in Brussels this week and in Paris in November are among the many horrific reminders of unhappiness in the world. Indeed, here in the US, the candidacy of Donald Trump is largely about unhappiness among a subset of Americans. Economist Richard Easterlin, a Past President of the Population Association of America, has been a leader in the research studying unhappiness. I mention that largely to point out upfront that demographers are interested in happiness, because there is almost certainly a strong correlation between demographic characteristics of a nation and its residents happiness. This is borne out by a recently released World Happiness Report, sponsored by the United Nations, although written by outside experts, including Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University (who is, however, a special advisor to the UN).

The NYTimes covered the story, with the headline about Denmark being the happiest nation on earth and Burundi the unhappiest. Denmark, as everyone knows, is a small country with a high life expectancy (81 years, one of the highest in the world), low fertility (1.7 children per woman--low but not disastrously low), high income ($46,140 per person per year--one of the highest in the world), and characterized by a political economic system of democratic socialism. Burundi, on the other hand, is a relatively small East African nation that has low life expectancy (59 years, one of the lowest in the world), high fertility (6.2 children per woman, one of the highest in the world), low income ($790 per person per year--one the lowest in the world) and a history of violence and trouble, as I noted recently (for an overview, see the US State Department Humanitarian Information Unit website).

Denmark did not come by its success easily. My wife's maternal grandparents migrated from Denmark to the US in the late 19th century because of the deep rural poverty in Denmark at the time. But Scandinavia in general gave birth to the world's first major increases in life expectancy and declining fertility, increasing the status of women, and distributing societal resources in a fair and just manner. On the other hand, Burundi, like many developing nations, is wrapped around by corruption and mutual distrust. The remedies cannot be easily imposed from the outside, but they can at least be encouraged from the outside and rewarded as much as possible. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jury Demographics

I spent the day yesterday traveling to and from the Solano County, CA, courthouse, where I testified on behalf of the defense in a murder case in support of a motion to compel the jury commissioner to conduct a survey among potential jurors to see if the jury pool in Solana County reflects the demographics of the jury-eligible population in the county. The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to a trial of your "peers" and over the years the courts have recognized certain "cognizable" groups that must be appropriately represented, mainly racial and ethnic groups and males and females--characteristics that may uniquely influence the way you think and feel and thus might influence your decision on a jury panel.

Jury composition in California is mainly challenged in death-penalty cases such as this one, and this case is noteworthy partly because the defendant is African-American and the victim was a non-Hispanic white teenager. It is thus especially important to the defense to have a jury pool that is representative of the community. I have calculated that the percent of the jury-eligible population (defined as 18 years of age and older residing in Solano County, US citizen who speaks English at least well) is 16.3 percent. This is the highest percentage of any county in California, which frankly was a surprise to me when I did the calculations. To be sure, Los Angeles has more African-Americans than any other county, and by a lot, but Solano County has the highest percentage.

I have been involved in more than 100 jury challenges in California (in State Superior Courts and in Federal District Courts) and the concern has largely been over the representation of Latinos and, to a lesser extent, Asians. The presence of both groups can be assessed with the use of surname lists provided by the U.S. Census Bureau that tabulate the self reported racial/ethnic self-identification of people of each surname found in the census results. So, if we just have a list of the names of potential jurors, we can know with a high degree of certainty how many are Latino and how many are Asian. African-Americans as a group do not have distinctive surnames, however, so the only way to know about their representation on jury pools is by means of a questionnaire administered to people showing up for jury duty. Los Angeles County has been doing this for a long time, and every other county in which I have been involved in this way has done it voluntarily. Yet, so far Solano County is resisting, for reasons that are not obvious. Indeed, the Jury Commissioner chose not to attend court yesterday, so we have yet to hear from him. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Income Inequality and Its Demographic Discontents

Despite the toxicity of the current US presidential campaign, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have increased the discussion about income inequality. Trump blames it on bad trade deals, whereas Sanders blames the fact that the rich are subsidized more than the poor. 

Let's look first at trade deals. As Joseph Chamie, former director of the UN Population Division, pointed out in a recent article, big companies have for several decades been "outsourcing" (sending jobs overseas where there are lots of workers who will work for less) and big and small companies alike have been "insourcing" (hiring cheap immigrant--often undocumented--labor to lower costs). None of this would have been thinkable were it not for the massive increase in population in developing countries since the end of WWII. Any person who was opposed to the US government spending money on providing birth control to developing nations has to own some responsibility for the fact that birth rates did not decline in sync with the drop in death rates. So, it is not so much about trade deals, as it is about global population growth and labor migration.

And who benefits from the outsourcing and insourcing? Well, of course the workers in developing countries benefit (this is the principal cause of China's economic rise) and immigrants benefit (which is why so many people risk incredibly dangerous journeys to get to the rich countries). In the rich countries, the workers lose out (except for the fact that a lot of things they buy are now cheaper than they were when they were made in the rich countries...), while the rich benefit. This is the major explanation for the incredible time series chart of income inequality in the US put together by Conrad Hackett at Pew Research a few days ago.

Would some new trade deals and a really great wall at the US-Mexico border solve the problem? Almost certainly not. Would taxing the really wealthy solve the problem? This is more complicated because the tax on corporations is probably a bigger issue with respect to job creation than the tax on individuals. And if you do raise taxes even a bit on the wealthy, how will the money be spent to create jobs? There is a growing consensus that the government needs to do more, rather than less, to get the economy back on track. In an Op-Ed in today's NYTimes, Miriam Shapiro hits some of the key points:
Rather than blaming international trade for economic woes, we need to have an honest conversation about what the United States must do to strengthen its economy. More than 20 percent of American children today live in poverty. Our educational system, once the envy of the world, now ranks in the bottom half of much of the developed world. The tax system rewards companies that exploit loopholes, infrastructure is crumbling and training programs lack the kind of apprenticeship and credentialing opportunities that Germany and other major economies offer.
These are not difficult things to do. The US and other countries have done them before. They do, however, require us to return to the mentality that the government is not a business. Rather, it is an instrument of the people and its resources should be used for the benefit of everyone. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Latinos in the New South

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we baby-sat while our younger son, Greg (Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at UNC, Charlotte) and his wife attended the SECOLAS meetings in Cartagena, Colombia. I was also invited to give a talk to a joint session, if you will, of the Geography and Political Science departments and that was a lot of fun. Greg was back from South America by then and several of us went out for lunch after the talk to a Mexican restaurant near campus. That was on top of the fact that while Greg and Amy were out of town we took the grandkids to dinner at another Mexican restaurant. Indeed, there are lots of really good Mexican restaurants in Charlotte, as there are now throughout the southern states. And even restaurants that are not Mexican restaurants per se are likely to offer burritos, taco salads, or other Mexican-derived dishes. Naturally, that's a consequence of the--recent--rise in the Latin American origin population in these states. Greg and I talk about this in our book Irresistible Forces.

I thought about this especially because while we were in Charlotte my older son, John (Professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland) sent me a link to a map posted on Twitter by Michael Clemens (@m_clem) showing the distribution of Mexican laborers in the U.S. in 1930:

You can see the amazing sparsity of Mexicans in the U.S. south back in 1930--indeed, it is the most conspicuous blank in the map. It is a very different world demographically now than then.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Demographer Jack Caldwell Has Died

One of the genuinely legendary voices of modern demography has just died, according to news out today from the IUSSP office in Paris.
We are saddened to learn that Jack [John C.] Caldwell [1928-2106], IUSSP President (1994-1997) passed away on Saturday at the age of 87 while sitting peacefully in his chair. Jack Caldwell is one of the most influential researchers in the demographic field. He is considered one of the grandfathers of African demography and is widely known for his theory of intergenerational flows of wealth within families and its impact on fertility preferences. He shared most of his research career with his wife, an anthropologist, “Pat” Caldwell (1922-2008). Together they directed the Changing African Family Project, which used demographic and anthropological approaches to understand the nature and trends of fertility and mortality shaping the many unique family systems across the continent.
 Professor Caldwell and his wife were Australian, but his first academic appointment back in the 1960s was at the University of Ghana. The research that he and his wife conducted throughout Africa set the standard for other demographers and social scientists, but their influence on demographic thought goes well beyond the work in Africa, as readers of my text can witness by repeated references to publications by him alone and in concert with his wife.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Geodemographics of Support for Trump

Neil Irwin and Josh Katz of the Upshot have a very nice article in today's NYTimes dissecting the geography and demography of support for Donald Trump. Here's the methodology:
To see what conditions prime a place to support Mr. Trump for the presidency, we compared hundreds of demographic and economic variables from census data, along with results from past elections, with this year’s results in the 23 states that have held primaries and caucuses. We examined what factors predict a high level of Trump support relative to the total number of registered voters.
And here is their summary of findings:
The analysis shows that Trump counties are places where white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions.
The places where Trump has done well cut across many of the usual fault lines of American politics — North and South, liberal and conservative, rural and suburban. What they have in common is that they have largely missed the generation-long transition of the United States away from manufacturing and into a diverse, information-driven economy deeply intertwined with the rest of the world.
“It’s a nonurban, blue-collar and now apparently quite angry population,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “They’re not people who have moved around a lot, and things have been changing away from them, but they live in areas that feel stagnant in a lot of ways.”
The story has a table of correlations that are interesting, but actually starts with a brilliant example of using geodemographics for political analysis:
When the Census Bureau asks Americans about their ancestors, some respondents don’t give a standard answer like “English” or “German.” Instead, they simply answer “American.”
The places with high concentrations of these self-described Americans turn out to be the places Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has performed the strongest.
I should note that the Upshot analysis squares nicely with another thoughtful piece produced a few days ago by George Friedman and distributed by Mauldin Economics.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Protest the Planned Changes to the National Health Interview Survey

The Minnesota Population Center (directed by Past PAA President Steven Ruggles) has alerted the rest of us to some planned changes to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS):
The most significant proposed change is the elimination of the family questionnaire that collects basic demographic, socioeconomic, health status, disability, and health insurance information about everyone in the sampled household. The revised survey will only collect this information for one sampled adult and one sampled child per household. It is also unclear whether the collection of family income and poverty information will also be discontinued.
There are other changes being contemplated, and the government instituted a very short comment period before finalizing their decision. Go to this website of the Minnesota Population Center to get more details, including instructions for making your complaints known to the government.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Are There Really a Lot of Mothers Who Choose to be Single?

Today is International Women's Day, although of course every day should be women's day, and it is sad to think that we still have a horrifying amount of discrimination against women in the world. A couple of days ago, I noted that women in the U.S. are increasingly opting to postpone marriage and eventually avoiding it altogether. These trends seem to be the choice of women, although probably reflecting similar trends among men who are also choosing not to marry. 

But the obvious biological difference between men and women is that women can have babies. And we also know that an increasing fraction of babies in the U.S. are being born out of wedlock. Does that mean that we are experiencing an increase in the number of single mothers by choice? When questions like this come up, the first place I go is to the website of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. What I found there is a reference to an article that in appeared in the most recent issue of the journal Contexts (published by the American Sociological Association). Sarah Hayford and Karen Guzzi argue that, in fact, there are relatively few women who choose to have a child without at least some quasi-marital help. Using data from several sets of National Surveys of Family Growth they found that:

Looking at the lifetime experience of women who were aged 40-44 in each survey, we can see that the proportion single at the time of their first birth—not married or cohabiting—more than doubled between the 1988 and 2006-2010 surveys, from 9.2% to 19.7%. But few of these women were single mothers by choice.Less than a third of the women who reported a non- marital, non-cohabiting first birth said that the birth was intended, and only a tiny fraction of unpartnered women with intended first births had these births at age 35 or over. Among women with a college degree, many fewer became single mothers—only 6% by the most recent survey.
They argue that is important to get past the myth of single mothers by choice (SMC) so that we can focus on mothers who really need help.
Most importantly, the focus on SMCs takes attention away from the high levels of single motherhood, often not by choice, that have existed for decades among the disadvantaged and are linked to structural social and economic conditions.
These arguments mirror those of Isabel Sawhill in her book Generation Unbound, which I have commented on several times in the past.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Single by Choice in America: Women in Transition

Marriage has been in steady decline in the U.S., following a trend set earlier in Europe. This obviously affects both men and women, but the change for women is most dramatic, because "tradition" dictates that women should be married (and at a young age, for that matter), whereas men have more options on that score. A few days ago, NPR aired an interview with Rebecca Traister, author of a new book titled All the Single Ladies.  Here's the premise:
Marriage is losing ground in America. According to the U.S. Census, the proportion of married adults dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009. For the first time ever, single adult women outnumber married adult women in the U.S.
Rebecca Traister says the declining marriage rates among adult women are less about the institution of marriage and more about the choices available to women today.
"The choice not to marry isn't necessarily a conscious rejection of marriage," Traister tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It is [about] the ability to live singly if an appealing marriage option doesn't come along."
In her new book, All the Single Ladies, Traister draws on historical research, interviews with about 100 women and her own experience to examine how delaying or abstaining from marriage affects women's lives. She notes that the shift allows women to build up "our economic and professional bases," which can result in greater autonomy and a more equitable distribution of domestic work in marriage.
If you follow that link to the numbers from the Census Bureau, you actually are taken to a Population Reference Bureau Report by Mark Mather and Diana Lavery. I blogged about it when it came out back in 2010, because it was (and still is) an important story, and it appears that the PRB report inspired Traister's book (good going, PRB!). 

The numbers reported in the NPR interview all take us back to 2009, so I went to to download the latest ACS data (2014) to see where we stand now. The PRB noted that in 2009 the proportion married among women aged 25-34 had dropped below 50% (49.9%) for the first time in recorded history. The downward trend has continued--it was 46.3% in 2014.

The PRB report also quoted Andrew Cherlin (of Johns Hopkins University, and a Past President of the Population Association of America) in making the argument that almost all women (about 90%) will, in fact, eventually marry. Data from the 2014 ACS suggest that this might be on decline, at least by a bit. Almost 14% of women in the U.S. at age 50 report that they have never been married as of 2014. Even at age 58, it is still above 10%, so it is possible that we will see a growing number of never-married baby boomer women moving into the older ages in the near future.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Can India Cope With Its Youthful Population?

Yesterday I wrote about the mismatch, if you will, between population growth and the loss of agricultural land in India. Today, Somini Sengupta of the NYTimes has a story that offers more perspective on population growth in India and other developing countries: too many young people.
Much has been made of the challenges of aging societies. But it’s the youth bulge that stands to put greater pressure on the global economy, sow political unrest, spur mass migration and have profound consequences for everything from marriage to Internet access to the growth of cities.
The parable of our time might well be: Mind your young, or they will trouble you in your old age.
A fourth of humanity is now young (ages 10 to 24). The vast majority live in the developing world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Nowhere can the pressures of the youth bulge be felt as profoundly as in India. Every month, some one million young Indians turn 18 — coming of age, looking for work, registering to vote and making India home to the largest number of young, working-age people anywhere in the world.
Now, to be sure, there is nothing new here to readers of my book, and Debbie Fugate and I go into this topic in considerable historical detail in our book on The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity? In particular, we point out that a large young population in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It can even be beneficial if it is truly a bulge (rather than just a crowed, so to speak), in which recently declining low fertility is leading to an increasingly smaller cohort behind this current one. This is the now classic "demographic dividend." As I noted a few days ago, this happened in China, but not India, which is why India is about to surpass China as the most populous country in the world, and also why China's per person income has been rising faster than India's. Sengupta writes in her book End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's about her family leaving India at the time that Indira Gandhi was trying to implement a mandatory vasectomy program to bring down the birth rate. This was just before China implemented its one-child policy. Both governments realized that a much lower birth rate was going to make a much better future. A key difference, though, as I discuss in my book, is that fertility was already declining in China when the one-child policy was implemented. In China, there was a population trapped by communism, but also one that was more amenable to lower fertility than was the population of India at the time. Indeed, Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb was inspired by a trip he made to India in the late 1960s.

Still, the table Sengupta put together for her story is worth repeating here, because it tells us a lot about why some parts of the world are in a bigger mess than other parts:

Friday, March 4, 2016

India is Growing People and Losing Agricultural Land

India is on track to soon surpass China as the world's most populous country. I have previously commented on the issue of China feeding itself, but there is less discussion about India's progress on that score. What we do know, however, is that India is losing, rather than gaining, agricultural land even as its population grows. We know that from some excellent analysis of satellite imagery undertaken by Karen Seto at Yale University in a project funded by NASA. She has just posted key results online.
Our analysis uncovers some key trends in agricultural land loss. First, during 2001 – 2010, India lost 0.7 million hectares (roughly five times the size of Delhi) of its agricultural land to urban expansion. Second, agricultural land loss is occurring around smaller cities more than around bigger cities. Third, the northeastern states experienced the least amount of agricultural land loss compared to other states (Fig 2).

This is a pattern that is repeated all over the globe. Historically, cities have been located close to good agricultural land so that the urban population could be fed. But as cities grow and sprawl the close by farmland becomes more "valuable"--in the short term at least--for housing people than for growing their food. Is that sustainable? 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Age Transition + Economic Transition = Retirement Transition

In richer countries (and, indeed, in China as well) there is a lot of concern about the effects of the age transition in which low fertility and low mortality in the absence of a lot of immigration produces an older population that must be "cared for." The latter category includes financial support for those not working and health care in general because we tend to need more of that as we age. The biggest policy focus has been on financial support--on pensions for the older population. Most richer countries have a PAYGO system (pay as you go--the younger subsidize the elderly who, of course, subsidized the elderly when they were younger--this isn't a completely one way street...). But more older people relative to the younger population creates problems. I have repeatedly noted the answer: work longer and save more.

Most countries are, in fact, pushing workers to stay in the labor force longer, although this can create some social inequalities because some people can do that more easily than others. This point was made in an article just published in the European Journal of Aging. Two Swiss researchers looked at data from that country and concluded that people with higher education and higher incomes when young are, somewhat paradoxically, better able to continue working past "normal" retirement age than others in the population. This suggests that structural reforms in planning for retirement need to start at a pretty young age. Saving for your retirement is key to success in this regard.

Now, here's a new wrinkle to the save more issue. Today's governments and central bank planners seem to think that the economy is all about spending and not at all about saving. So, we have zero or even negative interest rates that discourage safe saving and encourage either reckless investment or just spending your money and don't worry about the consequences. As the Economist pointed out last week, we need a concerted effort among governments and central bankers to infuse economies with enough cash to simultaneously encourage investment and create jobs. Infrastructure spending is likely the answer, as it has been in the past. It should be a way to help lower the levels of income inequality that are, in many ways, at the heart of the economic difficulties that the world faces.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

SCOTUS and Abortion Rights--A New Chapter?

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard one of the most consequential abortion rights cases in the last few decades. The case came to the court from Texas, which in 2013 passed a law placing a lot of restrictions on clinics that performed otherwise legal abortions. This is, of course, part of a long-term strategy of anti-abortion groups to limit access to abortion at the local level, thus circumventing the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the country. This is also the first major case to come before the court since the death of Justice Scalia who, as a staunch Catholic, would almost certainly have voted in favor of letting Texas (and other states that have passed similar laws) go ahead with these restrictions. Today the court was apparently very divided, as the NYTimes reports:
The court’s four liberal justices were adamant that restrictions imposed by a Texas law on the state’s abortion providers served no medical purpose and could not pass constitutional muster. But two of the more conservative justices said there was little evidence that abortion clinics in Texas had closed or would close because of the law.
Justice Kennedy also asked whether the law encouraged women to seek surgical abortions rather than ones induced by drugs.
“Because my reading indicated that medical abortions are up nationwide, but down significantly in Texas,” he said, in a tone that suggested that this was a problem. “This may not be medically wise.”
Justice Kagan asked a series of questions about how far women had to travel to obtain an abortion, rattling off data. She said 900,000 Texas women now lived farther than 150 miles from an abortion provider, and 750,000 lived farther than 200 miles. In 2012, she said, fewer than 100,000 Texas women lived over 150 miles from a provider, and only 10,000 lived more than 200 miles away.
“So we’re going from, like, 10,000 to three-quarters of a million living more than 200 miles away,” she said.
That has consequences, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, arguing that more women would now die of complications from self-induced abortions.
If the court splits 4-4 on this, then the lower court ruling (that approved the limitations on abortion access) will stand, but this will affect only a limited number of states for the time being, according to a story on MSNBC. On the other hand, it will certainly encourage anti-abortion legislators in other states to push for these limitations in their own state. We'll know the SCOTUS decision in June.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Keeping Global Migration in Perspective

I was very impressed today to see a story by OZY staff writer Laura Secorun Palet trying to get global migration into perspective. Despite the massive amount of news given to migration in the past year or so, she points out that:
If we adjust the numbers as a percentage of the total population, it turns out migration worldwide has actually remained pretty much at the same level for the past five decades. And what’s that magic number? Around 2 to 3 percent, according to Determinants of International Migration, a research group at the International Migration Institute at Oxford.
Of course, she correctly points out that there are two key differences in what's going on right now: (1) the Syrian refugees represent a huge population in need--although there have been a lot of very large refugee movements over the past several decades; but importantly (2) people are trying to get into Europe, instead of getting out of it. Europe has been a source of emigration, not a host to immigrants, for most of the past two hundred years. Europeans are now experiencing the xenophobia that comes with the territory of having strangers move into their midst. 
So from a Western-centric view, it’s easy to assume migration is increasing, when what’s actually happening is the profile of the migrant has changed.
And, on a day when anti-immigrant Donald Trump is leading in several more GOP primaries in the US, it is important to remember that migration has been a fact of life among humans for thousands of years. We need to get used to it.