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

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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Teen Birth Rate Continues its Decline in the US

The US Centers for Disease Control yesterday released a report showing that the teen birth rate in the U.S. is continuing to decline. Here's the trend over time:



The Washington Post has nice coverage of the story:
The decline of the past decade has occurred in all regions in the country and among all races. But the most radical changes have been among Hispanic and black teens, whose birthrates have dropped nearly 50 percent since 2006.
Theories on the reasons for the dramatic shift include everything from new approaches to sex education to the widespread availability of broadband Internet. But most experts agree on the two major causes.
Theories on the reasons for the dramatic shift include everything from new approaches to sex education to the widespread availability of broadband Internet. But most experts agree on the two major causes.
The first is the most important and may be obvious: Today's teens enjoy better access to contraception and more convenient contraception than their predecessors, and more of them are taking advantage of innovations like long-acting injectable and implantable methods that can last years over a daily birth control pill. But the second cause is something that goes against the conventional wisdom. It's that teens -- despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited and acting only on hormones -- are having less sex.
This is all obviously good news, but the chart above also shows that the rates remain higher among black and Hispanic teenagers than among whites, so there is still a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Planning for an Aging World

The U.S. Census recently published an excellent and detailed volume on "An Aging World: 2015." This should be required reading for everyone (it is a nice supplement to my Chapter 8, for example), and one person who has read it and ruminated on it is John Mauldin, whose free newsletter I subscribe to. I don't always agree with his perspective, but he is one of those people who is constantly trying to figure out how the world works, and where we are going. His motives are largely economic (he sells investment advice, for example), but that may simply sharpen his thinking. In all events, his latest newsletter combs the Census report and brings in other sources to contemplate the consequences of an increasingly aging population. 

As Mauldin notes, an aging population would not be overly problematic if it weren't for retirement. I have mentioned this before, of course, but it bears continual repeating. Retirement is a new concept in human society. For most of history, people worked until they dropped because they couldn't afford anything else and, on top of that, life was short anyway. Improved health has meant that more people live to old age and people live to ever older ages. Since better health is associated with higher standards of living, societies have had the option, at least for a while, of paying the elderly not to work. Most people don't save enough for retirement, and most people don't have children who are able to willing to support them. So, without government subsidies, there isn't much retirement for the average person. What to do? Work longer, save more when young, and tax workers a bit more to make up for the fact that there are fewer workers per older people than there used to be. Of those three options, working longer is probably the easiest to accomplish. Europeans, in particular, have resisted that, and Mauldin comments on this fact:
Much of Europe is going to be going through dramatic changes in their entitlement and retirement programs as budgets and debt get blown out in the coming five years. Ask a retiree in Greece how life is going. Greece’s situation is going to be visited on more than a few countries in Europe. And if the United States doesn’t get its fiscal act together, sometime in the middle of the next decade a very nasty reality will come crashing down upon us.
Greece was even more egregious than most other European countries in terms of allowing early retirement, despite a low birth rate and rising life expectancy. More than five years ago, as the Greece financial crisis was heating up, I commented on the demographic winter in Greece created by the average age at retirement of 61. That is an object lesson for all us. As Mauldin says, we (meaning everyone, not just the U.S.) need to get real about the consequences of population aging and what we can do about them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Theme Song for Demography!

You have gotta love this!! Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau has created a "Pop" song called "Break it Down." Demography has a theme song--finally 😀 

Here are the lyrics, but you need to go to the video to catch the words and tune together:
Here’s a song about population
With births and deaths and some immigration.
Demography is a key foundation
For understanding our world and nations.
Break it down.
What’s the population in your town?
Take the number and then break it down.
Count by age, gender, race and then,
Add the births and deaths and movers,
And then you start again.
Babies make the population grow,
But people come and sometimes people go.
Some will die and others move away.
Millions of people come and go every day.
Break it down, break it down,
That’s demography.
Break it down like they do at PRB.
Break it down, break it down,
It’s 1-2-3.
To balance the equation
For your town or for your nation,
Add the births, subtract the deaths,
And don’t forget about migration,
And through this simple computation
You will know what makes the population grow.
Seven billion people on the Earth,
But there are fewer deaths than there are births.
That’s what makes the population grow,
But if the birth rate keeps on falling
The growth will start to slow.
Break it down, break it down,
That’s demography.
Break it down like they do at PRB.
Break it down, break it down,
It’s 1-2-3.
Here’s a song about population,
Break it down.
It’s a ‘Pop Song,’
Come and sing along
To the ‘Pop Song,’
Come and sing along.
I still carry around a book bag handed out at one of the annual meetings of the Population Association of America describing demographers as "broken down by age and sex." Mark Mather has put this idea to music and it's music to my ears. Hmm--I wonder if Mark was influenced by Prince.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Every One Is In Favor of Getting Rid of Malaria

Malaria is an ancient disease whose name is derived from the earlier notion that it was caused by bad air (mal aria in Italian). It is startling sometimes to think about how recently in human history we have figured these things out. The Enlightenment and the rise in popularity of scientific thinking has brought us a long way. Once we figured out that the big problem with malaria was its vector--the mosquito--science began to make good headway to combat the disease, aided by large-scale government funding (such as USAID) and private funding (especially the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). On today's World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization issued a very positive report. Despite 214 million new cases of malaria in the world in 2015, accompanied by 438,000 deaths from malaria last year, WHO thinks that we can reduce malaria incidence by 90% by 2030, and USAID adds the possibility of getting rid of it altogether by 2040. The Economist reminds us, however, that this won't happen without a lot of hard work and vigilance.
Humanity has much to celebrate on World Malaria Day. But as public-health experts will be reminding politicians, these victories are fragile. Prevention and treatment are patchy in the worst-hit regions, and international aid has flat-lined as rich-world economic growth has slowed. As the parasite evolves, some treatments become less effective. Researchers worry about “monkey malaria”, carried by macaques in Borneo. It used to affect humans only mildly. Now it seems to be evolving into something deadlier, just as deforestation and palm-oil plantations bring humans and other primates into closer and more dangerous contact.
So, for sure let's celebrate, but let's also not let down our guard. Remember, that's why we have the Zika virus...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Is There a "Middle Way" to Integrate Immigrants?

The New Scientist has a special issue this month devoted to migration. Now, in truth, you won't find anything in there that's not in my text, but it's a well written and interesting set of articles with the major themes that most people don't move, migrants and xenophobia do go together, but overall migration should be seen as an opportunity to be seized by both sending and receiving countries, rather than as a huge political and cultural issue. The cultural issues go along with the xenophobia, of course, and there is always the genuine fear that society will be different because of who moves in (and, to a lesser extent, who moves out--we worry much less about the latter even though it too can have dramatic consequences).

Given the concern that European societies, for example, will be turned upside down by an influx of Syrian refugees, an article by Branco Milanovic (a visiting scholar at NYU) in the Financial Times this week raises an interesting argument. He suggests that granting immigrants legal status that does not necessarily include a path to citizenship could be a winning proposition. These are ideas that have been unsuccessfully kicked around the U.S. Congress, to be sure, but he lays out the argument succinctly:
The arrival of migrants threatens to diminish or dilute the premium enjoyed by citizens of rich countries, which includes not only financial aspects, but also good health and education services, and public goods like the preservation of national culture and language.
Can that threat be defused? I believe it can, so long as we redefine citizenship in such a way that migrants are not allowed to lay claim to the entire premium falling to citizens straight away, if at all. Restricting the citizenship rights of migrants in this way would assuage the concerns of the native population, while still ensuring the migrants are better off than they would be had they stayed in their own countries.
This would require significant adjustments to traditional ways of thinking about migration and citizenship. We should stop thinking of migration as a voyage of reinvention in which an African, say, “becomes” a European, and start viewing it simply as a way of finding a better job in a foreign country. Moving from a Nigerian village to work in London should not be seen as any different from working in Lagos while one’s family stays in the countryside.
Indeed, this is exactly how many professional ex-pats live in the world--living in one place for short or long periods of time, while still retaining their foothold in the country of origin. 
It is not clear that the old conception of nation-state citizenship as a binary category that in principle confers all the benefits of citizenship to anyone who happens to be physically present within a country’s borders is adequate in a globalised world.
In effect, there is a trade-off between such a view of citizenship and the flow of migration. The more we insist on full rights for all residents, the less longstanding residents will be willing to accept more migrants. 
If graduated categories of citizenship were created — ranging from those that grant almost no benefits other than the right to temporary work, to those that are close to full citizenship, like the US green card system — we would be able to reconcile the objective of reducing world poverty with reducing migration to acceptable levels.
The big issue that Milanovic sidesteps is that of the children born to migrants in the host country. My own view is that they should be granted citizenship in the country of birth--either immediately as in the U.S. or after some continuous period of residence after birth, as in most countries.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Celebrating Earth Day 2016

Earth Day 2016 is upon us. As I have noted before, I participated in the very first Earth Day back in 1970, and 46 years later the earth is still here, but it's not in as good a shape as it was back then. In 1970 the world's population was 3.7 billion, exactly half the 7.4 billion alive now in 2016. But the earth does not have twice as many resources, and we are exploiting the resources that do exist at a much faster pace than we were doing back then. In the United States, the population in 1970 was 209 billion. Now it is 324 million--1.5 times larger. In 1970 the average American was living on $21,000 per year in constant dollars. Today it is $46,000 dollars. Yes, of course, there is more inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere than there used to be, but the planet doesn't care about inequality--it has to absorb the total load. Globally we have twice as many people as in 1970 living at a higher level of living than at any time in world history. This is great news! But it is only great news if it could be sustained, and there is simply no evidence--only blind hope--that it can be sustained.

Keep that thought in mind next time you hear people saying that the birth rate needs to rise in Europe and North America in order to maintain economic growth. That is a recipe for a disaster that will arrive sooner, rather than later. We need at best no more people, not more, if human society is to stick around. The planet will still be here when we use up the resources we need for sustained human existence, but we won't be around to know it.

On a happier note, I and many others will spend the afternoon of Earth Day celebrating San Diego State University's newest Distinguished Professor--my good friend and collaborator, Dr. Douglas Stow, Distinguished Professor of Geography. He will be receiving that award and giving a University-wide lecture on campus here at SDSU on "Sensing the Environment from Above Over Time : How We Monitor, Study and Manage Geography Phenomena and Processes." It starts at 3PM in Hardy Tower 14o, if you are in the area.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Statistics, Lies, or Bullshit--Which Serves Science and the World Best?

Nature posted a story today about the media surprise that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to knowledgeably discuss quantum computing at a press conference.
Emerging diseases, energy policy, transport, conservation and, yes, climate change and vaccination — almost every sphere of government requires at least some familiarity with science. Especially given that most science funding is still disbursed by politicians on behalf of the public.
The problem is that science, if done properly, rarely comes up with the sound-bite certainties and expedient spin that politicians demand — nor the ability to say one thing while meaning something quite different. So perhaps it is not so surprising that the latest brave attempt by a politician to grapple with science involves the quantum world, where it is possible for something to be both true and false at the same time.
The backbone of science, and of right-thinking generally, is statistics. Yet, a disheartening story in the Financial Times a few days ago, to which my older son, John, sent me a link, reminds us that even here in the 21st century, where we all live longer and better lives because of statistics and the scientific discoveries they support, there are a lot of people, especially in politics, who choose to ignore real numbers, either out of ignorance or, more dangerously, because they either want to subvert the truth or don't care about it. Here are the highlights of that story:
Thirty years ago, the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt published an essay in an obscure academic journal, Raritan. The essay’s title was “On Bullshit”. (Much later, it was republished as a slim volume that became a bestseller.) Frankfurt was on a quest to understand the meaning of bullshit — what was it, how did it differ from lies, and why was there so much of it about?
Frankfurt concluded that the difference between the liar and the bullshitter was that the liar cared about the truth — cared so much that he wanted to obscure it — while the bullshitter did not. The bullshitter, said Frankfurt, was indifferent to whether the statements he uttered were true or not. “He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”
Statistical bullshit is a special case of bullshit in general, and it appears to be on the rise. This is partly because social media — a natural vector for statements made purely for effect — are also on the rise. On Instagram and Twitter we like to share attention-grabbing graphics, surprising headlines and figures that resonate with how we already see the world. Unfortunately, very few claims are eye-catching, surprising or emotionally resonant because they are true and fair. Statistical bullshit spreads easily these days; all it takes is a click.
Bullshit corrodes the very idea that the truth is out there, waiting to be discovered by a careful mind. It undermines the notion that the truth matters. As Harry Frankfurt himself wrote, the bullshitter “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
So, in our pursuit of truth (the essence of science, but it applies to everything), the choice is not between "lies, damn lies, and statistics," it is really between science and bullshit. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Affordable or an Expensive City--Which Would You Choose?

One of the foundations of spatial demography is that your life is determined (yes, I said determined) by two key things: (1) who you are; and (2) where you are. The "who you are" is a combination of your sociodemographic characteristics and personality traits, whereas the "where you are" refers mainly to where you live. I discussed this recently in terms of mortality rates in the US, which differ, especially for the poor (the who you are), by where you live in the country. But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Laura Kusisto discusses the spatial divide in terms of affordable (expansive) compared to expensive (cannot expand) U.S. cities. 
Across the country, a divide is emerging between cities that are growing outward and remaining affordable and ones that are hemmed in by geography and onerous zoning codes and are becoming more and more expensive.
As a whole, U.S. cities are expanding as rapidly as they have throughout the last half-century. From the 1950s until the 2000s they have added about 10,000 square miles per decade, or an area roughly the size of Massachusetts, according to research by Issi Romem, chief economist at real-estate site BuildZoom, to be released Monday. But beneath the surface a divide is deepening.
Thus, the very same person may live well or not so well depending upon the city of your choice (and, yes, we make that choice--few of us are compelled to live in a particular place).  Cities such as San Francisco are hemmed in geographically and so housing prices go up as demand goes up faster than the supply can increase. In Sunbelt cities of the New South, on the other hand, geographic expansion has meant that the supply of homes can keep better pace with demand and prices don't get out of hand.
The developed residential area in Atlanta, for example, grew by 208% from 1980 to 2010 and real home values grew by 14%. In contrast, in the San Francisco-San Jose area, developed residential land grew by just 30%, while homes values grew by 188%.
Now, as the article notes, this seems like a clarion call for suburban sprawl--spread out and keep housing prices low. Is that sustainable? Is that what we want? It probably is what some people want, and not what others want. The discussion about affordability of housing and sustainability of urban life needs to be nuanced enough to account for a variety of lifestyle preferences. Keep in mind that another aspect of inequality in America (not discussed in this article) is that many people in the Rust Belt who have lost their jobs prefer not to move somewhere else where they might find a job. That's another example of the interaction of who you are and where you are.

Overall, the data are telling us that homes in the US are more affordable in the expansive, not the expensive cities. Here's the map:


Monday, April 18, 2016

The 100 People Project

Thanks to my old friend Jennifer Messersmith for the link to a video describing the human population in terms of percentages. The shorthand is "100 people" but you get the idea. The video that appears on Facebook (and has so many views that you may already have seen it, even though I had not until today--go figure) appears to be derived from a project called 100 People: A World Portrait, which lists the sources for the data that appear in the video. It is a nice overview of the current world situation. Of course it raises more questions than it answers, but hopefully it inspires people to go out looking for the connections.


Click here to play video

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Demographic Underpinnings of Having to Choose American-made or Low Prices

The loss of American jobs to workers in developing countries has been a major theme in this year's Presidential campaign. It is high on the agenda of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Why did those jobs go offshore? The easy answer is that rich business owners saw workers willing to work for less money and so the jobs went to them. But where did those workers come from? The answer is, of course, that in the aftermath of WWII the rich countries spread newly discovered methods of death control all over the world, which helped to lower infant and child death rates in a short time. Since birth rates did not immediately decline in step with the drop in mortality we had a population explosion. Of course, it took a bit of time for those newly surviving children to grow to maturity and become a viable labor market. It also required that the developing countries have invested in education sufficiently to create a pool of readily trained laborers. Enter countries such as Mexico, China, both of which have been excoriated by Donald Trump for having stolen US jobs. 

Unfortunately, the demographic timing was very bad for American labor, because these "offshore" labor pools were coming into place just as labor unions in the US were consolidating their gains for American workers, increasing pay and benefits. Naturally, higher pay and benefits for workers are passed along to consumers. In the absence of competition, consumers pay the price and don't give it another thought. But when the same goods are manufactured elsewhere by people with low wages and few or no benefits, the prices are lower and people pay attention.

This came to the fore yesterday in the results of a nationwide poll in which it was found that a majority of Americans prefer low prices to buying products just because they were made in the USA. CBS News reports the story:
Nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured inside the United States, but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released Thursday. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.
Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair made in the United States - one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design - 67 percent say they'd buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive American-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they'd go for the lower price.
Keep in mind that workers in the USA were routinely exploited in the US prior to the formation of labor unions and the passage of various forms of protective legislation. Think, for example, of the passage of laws requiring that children attend school in this country, which helped to end the exploitation of child labor. We have to encourage the rest of the world to stop exploiting people as well, but we also have to recognize that as this happens the prices will rise again. There's no such thing as a free lunch (TNSTAAFL is the acronym for this famous phrase). We live in the time of demographic (and many other) transitions and we have to understand that fact. The past was a foreign place and so is the future.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The World's Stateless Population--New Map from HIU at State Dept.

The Humanitarian Information Unit at the US State Department has done it again--putting together a map that synthesizes a lot of information that most of us knew nothing about. This time it is about the estimated 10-15 million stateless people in the world (about as many people as live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area). These are people who are not recognized as being the citizen of any specific country. Pretty scary in a world of nation-states. The map is copied below, and some of the stats are tough to swallow:

* A new stateless child is born every 10 minutes
* Syria's nationality law does not allow women to confer citizenship on their children (what???)


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

More Migration Messiness in Europe

Migrants are coming into Europe, are being deported from Europe, and are now thinking about returning to the old dangerous routes from Libya to Italy. But that's not all that is going on in Europe. The historic pattern of East to West migration within Europe continues, as the Eurozone crisis continues to push migrants to the UK. As the BBC notes, some of this is economic and some of it is demographic (and the two, of course, go together). The story comes from a new report by the Migration Observatory team at the University of Oxford.
Over the past five years the number of EU nationals living in the UK has gone up by almost 700,000 to 3.3 million.
The report said 49% of the 700,000 were from Poland and Romania, but Spain, Italy and Portugal accounted for 24%. 
 Another long-term factor that could influence the rate of migration to the UK is the birth rate in Europe.
The population of 20 to 34-year-olds in the six top nations has fallen by more than six million - or 15% since 2006.
If those fall continue, it could lead to a corresponding decline in the number of workers willing to travel to the UK as demand for them at home, and wages, increase.
Of course, the latter issue may well be altered by the continued immigration from the Middle East and North Africa. Hang on, it's going to be a rough ride.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Battling the Zika Virus Is More Important Than Partisan Politics

No matter how much progress we humans make in preventing disease and keeping ourselves alive longer, nature seems always to be inventing new threats. Ebola has quieted down--for now--but the Zika virus is alive and spreading, as U.S. officials warned us yesterday, hoping to put pressure on Congress to appropriate more money to stop the spread of the disease.
"Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schuchat said Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species that primarily transmits the virus, is present in about 30 states, rather than 12 as previously thought. In the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, there may be hundreds of thousands of Zika infections and perhaps hundreds of affected babies, she added.
The World Health Organization has said there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads that can result in developmental problems, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis, though proof may take months or years.
Brazil said last week it has confirmed more than 1,046 cases of microcephaly, and considers most to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.
It is very unfortunate that Congress has somehow decided that partisan politics are more important than public health.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

If Your Are Poor in the US, Your Life Depends on Where You Live

It is well-known that death rates vary geographically within the United States, with the usual explanation focusing on higher death rates among African-Americans, especially in southern states. Since those also tend to be among the poorer states, there is an obvious geographic association between mortality and where you live. But a group of researchers from Stanford and Harvard have just published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association that controls for race and ethnicity and comes up with the fascinating conclusion that "The Rich Live Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters." Now, to be fair, that headline is from the Upshot at the NYTimes. The journal article is more sedately titled "The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014."
For poor Americans, the place they call home can be a matter of life or death. The poor in some cities — big ones like New York and Los Angeles, and also quite a few smaller ones like Birmingham, Ala. — live nearly as long as their middle-class neighbors or have seen rising life expectancy in the 21st century. But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.
One conclusion from this work, published on Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is that the gap in life spans between rich and poor widened from 2001 to 2014. The top 1 percent in income among American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent; for women, the gap is 10 years. These rich Americans have gained three years of longevity just in this century. They live longer almost without regard to where they live. Poor Americans had very little gain as a whole, with big differences among different places.
As the article notes, these results are in line with the highly publicized findings of Deaton and Case regarding the increasing mortality among less well-educated whites in the U.S.  Indeed, one of the lead authors on this research--David Cutler of Harvard--has published health research with Angus Deaton in the past. 
Life expectancy for the poor is lowest in a large swath that cuts through the middle of the country, and it appears in pockets in the rest of the country, in places like Nevada. David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist and an author of the paper, calls it the “drug overdose belt,” because the area matches in part a map of where the nation’s opioid epidemic is concentrated.

The new findings dovetail with a much-discussed paper by Anne Case and Angus Deaton published last year. That research showed rising death rates among middle-age white Americans, especially those with low education. It also showed a sharp increase in drug and alcohol poisonings, suicides and accidents in the first years of this century. Research from the Brookings Institution published in February also found a growing gap in life span between the rich and the poor.
The map below illustrates this swath of low life expectancy among the poor in the U.S. Go here for the interactive map to check the data for your area. 


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Role of the Family in Changing Inequality in the U.S.

Thanks to John Mauldin for pointing to an article by Roy Boshara of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, detailing the differences between "thrivers and strugglers" in the U.S. This article is a very good bit of supplemental reading for my Chapter 10 on the Family and Household Transition. The article is lengthy and detailed, and I can't do it justice in a single blog post, so I encourage you to read it thoroughly on your own, but here are some highlights. First, the issue at hand:
Given wealth’s importance, it is disturbing that the wealth gap has grown dramatically during the last few decades. The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances5 shows a massive shift in wealth away from those we are calling strugglers, who generally are younger, less educated, and non-white, and toward those we are calling thrivers, who generally are middle-aged or older, better educated, and white or Asian.6 Although thrivers’ share of the population has risen 9 percent since 1989, their share of the nation’s wealth has grown 23 percent. Stated another way, thrivers used to command less than one-half of the nation’s wealth, but now they own about two-thirds, despite accounting for slightly less than one-quarter of the population. [Note that Boshara uses data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, but the results are the same as from the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation.]
Boshara discusses the various demographic predictors of the differences--age, race/ethnicity, education, and marital status. You will recall all of these from my Chapter 10. The most well-off people in the U.S. are older married whites with a graduate level education. But Boshara points out that the trends in marital status play an especially key role:
A growing number of academics on both the political left and right appear to now be coming together around concerns over declining rates of marriage14 and rising rates of single-parent households, especially among less-educated persons. Their common economic concern: the ability of single parents to make it on one income and get their kids on a track for upward mobility. Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution recently remarked, “There’s a growing danger that marriage, with all its advantages for stability, income, and child well-being, will look like a gated community for the baccalaureate class, with ever-shrinking working-class participation. We’re not there yet, but that’s the trajectory we’re on.”15 June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, authors of Marriage Markets, report that four out of five couples are married in the top 20 percent of earners, while fewer than one in five couples are married among the bottom 20 percent; they also observe that increasing income inequality influences the markets for marriage.16
Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis focuses on the implications of this growing class divide for children.19 He notes that one in three children is being raised by married, college-educated parents, who are investing more time and money in their children than any previous generation. In fact, research by Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak finds that marriage is thriving among better-educated couples precisely because it is being used as a commitment device to raise highly successful children.20
These are themes that I have discussed over time. I was a bit disappointed to see that Boshara's perspective is that we cannot likely change the trends toward less family solidarity among those with lower levels of education, so we have to do other things to help strengthen the lives of kids as they grow up. I don't disagree with his policy initiatives, but my own view is that we should, in fact, put kids first and in my view a society committed to having kids within marriage, so that they can have the greatest amount of possible resources available to them, is not too lofty a goal to achieve (or, in fact, re-achieve). 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

World Health Day--Can We Make Ourselves Healthier?

April 7th is annually known as World Health Day by, of course, the World Health Organization, and it comes in the middle of National Public Health Week, as named by the American Public Health Association. Last year the focus was on safe food, as I noted at the time, whereas this year the emphasis is on beating diabetes. The WHO notes, in particular, that the incidence of diabetes is growing most quickly in developing countries. Certainly, our research in Accra, the capital of Ghana, in West Africa, shows that obesity is rising rapidly and with it the risk of diabetes. In our Women's Health Study of Accra in 2008-09, we found that women who were obese (based on BMI measurements) were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes as those who were not obese. Based on data for the entire country of Ghana from the Demographic and Health Survey in 2008, you can see in the map below that woman of reproductive age are much more likely to be overweight in the urban regions, which are located largely in the southern half of the country. Since Ghana, like most developing nations, is rapidly urbanizing, this is not a healthy trend.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Cultural Components of Sustainability

If you have read my book, you will know that I have always been critical of the concept of sustainable development. It is the development part to which I object. It seems impossible to me that we can all aspire to use ever more resources (which is the bottom line of development) in a sustainable way. Fortunately, the new UN Sustainable Development Goals soften that a bit and sometimes talk only about sustainability--hanging on to what we have. Those goals are focused on increasing levels of living mainly among people in developing nations. But there are a lot of cultural impediments in the way of sustainability and a group of researchers, including one my SDSU Geography colleagues, has just published a paper in Science that identifies a set of indicators that might help us crack and track those cultural codes. The paper is behind a subscription, but the SDSU Newscenter has a summary:
Physical and economic indicators such as carbon emissions and gross domestic product (GDP) are frequently tracked in sustainability studies and monitoring programs, mainly because it’s comparatively easy to account for such numbers, said San Diego State University assistant professor of geography and study co-author Arielle Levine.
“For the most part, researchers and policymakers are trying to find things they can easily quantify,” Levine said. “Things that you can’t quantify easily—values, human agency, power, cultural context—often get lost in the process.”
The paper, led by Christina Hicks of Lancaster University, argues that researchers and policymakers need to engage with these key social concepts as well as science if fair and lasting changes to the environment are going to take hold.
The concepts identified are:
--wellbeing
--culture
--values
--inequality
--justice
--power
--agency (a sense of self-determination)
The authors argue that these concepts are critical to informing decision-making and shaping policies for a more sustainable future.
In the Science article, the authors provide concrete examples of international data sets that can be used to monitor these trends, going beyond just identifying the concepts themselves. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Supreme Court Upholds "One Person, One Vote"

Almost a year ago, the US Supreme Court agreed to take up a case challenging the way that state legislative boundaries are drawn in Texas, as I noted at the time. The Supreme Court had already ruled that district boundaries at the state level--as at the US Congressional level--needed to be drawn so that each district had the same number of people. At the national level, there is no question that this includes everyone, regardless of age, race/ethnicity, citizenship or anything else. If you are counted in the census, you count for redistricting. The plaintiffs in Texas argued, however, that at the state level it should only be eligible voters who are counted. Even the State of Texas disagreed with this idea, and the Supreme Court was today unanimous in its rejection of that approach. CNN summarized the issue:
The Obama administration and state of Texas opposed the lawsuit. Civil rights groups watched the case carefully, fearful that if the court were to rule with the plaintiffs, it could potentially shift power from urban areas -- districts that tend to include a higher percentage of individuals not eligible to vote such as non-citizens, released felons and children -- to rural areas that are more likely to favor Republicans.
Civil rights groups feared that Latino communities in certain states with nonvoting residents, as well as children and others, would be sharply disadvantaged if the court were to side with Evenwel. "Drawing districts to equalize people is the only way to ensure that the communities where people live and work are fairly represented in the nation's legislatures," Michael Li, counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program said after oral arguments.  
Also supporting Texas was Nathaniel Persily of Stanford Law School, who said that if the court were to say that the Constitution requires states to use the voting population, it could unleash a series of questions regarding the reliability of voter lists and surveys. "A national database of eligible voters does not exist and will not exist in the foreseeable future," he said in an amicus brief.
Keep in mind that the Constitutional basis of the census in the US is to count everyone so that Congressional districts can be drawn on the basis of population counts. When the country was founded, the fraction of people eligible to vote was actually pretty small, but that didn't matter in terms of drawing Congressional district boundaries. With today's Supreme Court decision, it appears that we will continue to follow the time-honored pattern of drawing both national and state legislative boundaries on the basis of total population numbers, not on the basis of some select group within the population.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Reproductive Rights and Choices in America

Abortion has been legal in the US since the 1973 Supreme Court decision supporting that right. The Republican Party has long been opposed, however, and has worked diligently with a variety of state legislatures to restrict access. These issues came to the fore this week with Donald Trump's assertion (subsequently "walked back") that women who sought an abortion should be punished. His walk-back targeted doctors instead of women, and of course doctors performing abortions have been under attack for a long time, as I noted a few months ago. The attacks on Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations have the potential to make it even more likely that a woman might be put in a position of thinking about abortion if she is unable to readily access other methods of birth control. On that score, there was some good news this week in that the US Food and Drug Administration approved some changes in the use of abortion-inducing drugs, as CBS News reported:
A federal agency approved a new label for a common abortion-inducing drug that will undermine restrictions on medication abortions passed by several states, allowing women to take the drug later in a pregnancy and with fewer required office visits.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified the manufacturer of the drug Mifeprex in a letter on Tuesday that the drug is safe and effective for terminating a pregnancy in accordance with the new label. Also known as mifepristone, the drug is used in combination with another drug, misoprostol, to end a pregnancy.
While abortion providers in most states already are using the protocol outlined in the new label, laws in effect in Ohio, North Dakota and Texas prohibited "off-label" uses of the drug and mandated abortion providers adhere to the older protocol approved in 2000. Similar laws in Arizona, Arkansas and Oklahoma have been on hold pending legal challenges.
Under the new label, a smaller dose of mifepristone can be used up to 70 days after the beginning of the last menstrual period instead of the 49-day limit in effect under the old label. Also, the second drug can be taken by a woman at home and not be required to be administered at a clinic.
Of course, those who oppose a woman's right to an abortion were ready for this. Today's NYTimes reports that the governor of Arizona yesterday signed a law requiring abortion providers to use the old FDA guidelines rather than the new ones. It seems unlikely that this will withstand a court test, but the goal is obstruction of what is already legal, and this is just part of the war on women's reproductive rights--waged disproportionately by white males, so there is yet another demographic angle to this.