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:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Real Scoop on Undocumented Immigrants in America

Donald Trump has made undocumented immigrants, and the need to build a wall to stop them, a huge part of his presidential campaign. The reality is vastly different than his description of them as criminals and rapists who are coming across the border to take jobs from Americans. Thanks to my son John for pointing to me an a truly excellent interview that WNYC had a couple of days ago with Professor Douglas Massey, Professor of Sociology at Princeton and past president of the Population Association of America. Massey is the genuinely the world's foremost authority on migration issues and you will hear nothing but the truth in the 12 minutes that he is interviewed.

A less detailed, but also very good, editorial on this topic appeared in today's NYTimes, with an appropriate reference to Professor Rubén Rumbaut's work demonstrating that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are citizens of the U.S.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Is Increasing Tallness a Sign of Societal Well-Being?

As I discuss in Chapter 11 of my text, the health and mortality transition in the world is associated with larger people. This means that as the population grows, our improved health is associated partly with a better diet and, in turn, the demand for food grows faster than the population is growing. Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London, along a large group of collaboraters, has just published an analysis of global trends in human height over the 100 year span from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. The abstract sums up the main points:
Being taller is associated with enhanced longevity, and higher education and earnings. We reanalysed 1472 population-based studies, with measurement of height on more than 18.6 million participants to estimate mean height for people born between 1896 and 1996 in 200 countries. The largest gain in adult height over the past century has occurred in South Korean women and Iranian men, who became 20.2 cm (95% credible interval 17.5–22.7) and 16.5 cm (13.3–19.7) taller, respectively. In contrast, there was little change in adult height in some sub-Saharan African countries and in South Asia over the century of analysis. The tallest people over these 100 years are men born in the Netherlands in the last quarter of 20th century, whose average heights surpassed 182.5 cm, and the shortest were women born in Guatemala in 1896 (140.3 cm; 135.8–144.8). The height differential between the tallest and shortest populations was 19-20 cm a century ago, and has remained the same for women and increased for men a century later despite substantial changes in the ranking of countries.
The Economist Espresso pulled together a graph from the data that provides a nice picture of a century of growth in height among the tallest people in the world, who are Europeans:

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I am 6' 2" so I may pay more attention to the tallness issue than might otherwise be the case, but the societal correlation between changes in average tallness and changes in average well-being is compelling.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Birth Defect Associated With Zika Virus is Spatially Concentrated in Brazil

The huge concern about the Zika virus is of course that it can cause birth defects (microcephaly) in babies whose mothers have contracted the disease. But Nature News today reported on new analyses showing that birth defects are spatially concentrated in only one state in Brazil, leading researchers to consider what else it is about that state that might interact with Zika to cause microcephaly. 
Zika virus has spread throughout Brazil, but extremely high rates of microcephaly have been reported only in the country's northeast. Although evidence suggests that Zika can cause microcephaly, the clustering pattern hints that other environmental, socio-economic or biological factors could be at play. 
“We suspect that something more than Zika virus is causing the high intensity and severity of cases,” says Fatima Marinho, director of information and health analysis at Brazil’s ministry of health. If that turns out to be true, it could change researchers' assessment of the risk that Zika poses to pregnant women and their children.
There are many hypotheses about what might be going on. Marinho says that her team's data, submitted for publication, hint that socio-economic factors might be involved. For example, the majority of women who have had babies with microcephaly have been young, single, black, poor and tend to live in small cities or on the outskirts of big ones, she says. Another idea is that co-infections of Zika and other viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya, might be interacting to cause the high intensity of birth defects in the area. A third possibility was put forward in a paper published last month1, in which researchers from Brazilian labs noted a correlation between low vaccination rates for yellow fever and the microcephaly clusters.
Brazil has called in spatial epidemiology experts Oliver Brady from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Simon Hay, director of geospatial science at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, Washington, to help sort out the issues. Not mentioned among the possibilities is the debunked theory put out early on that this was all due to experimental research on larvicides being conducted in the region by Sumitomo, which has a relationship to Monsanto.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Continued Worries About Israel's Growing Population

Israel's demography has not traditionally been part of the demographic mess in the Middle East. Indeed, the country's biggest concern for a long time was that it needed enough people to make the economy work and defend itself against hostile neighbors. Yet, more than three years ago I blogged about the emerging issue of the much more rapid growth of the ultra-orthodox population in Israel than of the rest of the population, and of the possibility that this might alter the political landscape of the country. Last month I discussed a new report out by Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University in Israel who is decrying the overall rapid rate of population growth there. Professor Tal's concerns today reached the ears of the New York Times in the form of an Op-Ed piece.
For a quarter-century, I have worked hard to protect Israel’s environment: organizing demonstrations, writing legislation, even suing polluters. Eventually, it dawned on me that while local environmentalists might enjoy isolated victories, our efforts may be futile in the long run — because we’re addressing only symptoms, not causes.

Israel’s environmental problems are largely a function of a rapid increase in population. The country will never be able to control greenhouse gases, maintain even minimal levels in our rivers and streams or protect our fragile habitats if this demographic growth continues at such an astonishing rate. With urban development taking over about five square miles of open space every five years, Israel’s wildlife is in steep decline. Species from gazelles and hedgehogs to bats and hyenas are endangered.
Professor Tal is sensitive to the politics of the country and does not specifically address the high fertility of the ultra-orthodox population, although he does refer to studies that suggest the long-term cost of large families:
More than a quarter of Israeli children live below the poverty line; a majority of those live in families with five or more children. Israeli children growing up in families with two siblings or fewer, regardless of ethnic identity or religious affiliation, generally enjoy better opportunities.
Nor does he get into the clearly related problem of settlements in the West Bank, which are driven both by politics and demography. He may be indirectly referencing these things, however, in his final comment that "[T]here was a time when expanding Israel’s population was a paramount national priority. Today, the focus must change from quantity to quality of life." John Stuart Mill made that same assessment back in the 19th century and it is still true today and true today everywhere in the world, not just in Israel.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The History of the Population Association of America Has a New Website

For several decades now there has been an ongoing effort to keep up with and write the history of the Population Association of America. The effort was first started by Anders Lunde, who received his doctorate in sociology at Columbia University under Kingsley Davis. Most of his professional career was spent at the National Center for Health Statistics in Washington, D.C. (which is now part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control). When he became PAA secretary-treasurer in 1965, he was dismayed by the dearth of usable PAA files he inherited. So, Lunde subsequently decided to create an archive of data, including oral histories of past PAA presidents. In 1973, he became the first Historian of the PAA and assembled core records of meetings, membership numbers and officers and Board members since PAA's founding in 1931. With these data available to him, he started interviewing past presidents who were still alive at that time, beginning with Frank Notestein at the Population Council. He interviewed 12 others between 1973 and 1979 when he retired from the NCHS. In 1982, Lunde asked Jean van der Tak of the Population Reference Bureau to assume the role of PAA Historian. She subsequently brought the oral histories up-to-date as of 1994, calling them "Demographic Destinies". She retired in that year, and the PAA Board asked me to take over the role of PAA Historian. With the help of a great set of committee members--Dennis Hodgson of Fairfield University, Karen Hardee of the Population Council, Deborah McFarlane of the University of New Mexico, and Emily Merchant of Dartmouth University--we have been trying our best to interview all past PAA Presidents, as well as provide brief histories of the PAA and a timeline of PAA events. 

For many years these historical archives were hosted by San Diego State University, but this week Danielle Staudt and Bobbi Westmoreland of the PAA were able to finalize their integration into the website of the Population Association of America. Take a look, and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tribute to Professor Joseph Mayone Stycos

I learned today of the recent death of Professor Joseph Mayone Stycos of Cornell University. The information came via an email from the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) which has a nice tribute on its website.
Born in 1927, Saugerties, NY, he graduated from Princeton in 1947 (BA honors) and received his PhD from Columbia University in 1954. In 1957 Professor Stycos launched his long and distinguished career at Cornell University in the department of Sociology. In 1962 he founded the International Population Program (IPP), subsequently renamed the Population and Development Program (PDP), and served as its director until 1992. These programs were supported by such organizations as the Population Council, the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. He also served as chair of Cornell's Department of Sociology (1966-1970) and as director of the Latin American Studies Program (1962-1990).
Professor Stycos was an expert on fertility in Latin America, among many other things, and I was introduced to his writings at a young age because he had received his doctorate under the mentorship of Kingsley Davis, who subsequently moved to Berkeley and eventually became my mentor. One of Joe Stycos's fellow students at Columbia was Judith Blake, who married Kingsley Davis and went with him to Berkeley where together they founded the Department of Demography. She and Joe Stycos both worked on a project on fertility in Jamaica funded by the Conservation Foundation and that project helped to launch both of their careers while enlightening the world about fertility trends in developing nations.

Among the many people whom Professor Stycos mentored at Cornell are two of my good friends, Dennis Hodgson and Karen Hardee, both of whom serve with me on the History Committee of the Population Association of America. Professor Stycos's influence was long and wide, but his legacy lives on in his many important publications.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Trumpish Demographics Point to a Complicated Political Future

As the Republican National Convention gets underway today in Cleveland, the question of who supports Trump, and who supports Trumpish-type policies even if they aren't totally on board with the man, comes to the fore. The bottom line seems to be that angry white voters--people who feel that they have been disenfranchised in some way by changes in American society--are the base to which Trump's ideas are most appealing. Are there enough of them to make a difference? The Economist discusses an attempt to answer that question:
...[t]he electorate is not the same as the population, because not all voters are equally likely to turn out. Even in 2012, an election that saw minorities turn out in record numbers, voters were as white as America was 20 years before. Three demographers—Mr Teixeira and Rob Griffin of the Centre for American Progress, and Bill Frey of Brookings—have run a simulation to see what would happen if the Republican Party managed to boost white turnout by 5% across the board, while all other voter groups remained constant. This would be hard to achieve, but not impossible: turnout among whites in 2012 was 64%, which leaves some headroom. The result of the voting model is a Republican advantage in the electoral college up until 2024, after which point the strategy no longer works.
The point is that for the time being the electorate is sufficiently white and less well-educated that Trump/Trumpish policies have at least a shot at winning elections. Complicating the chance of a Republican victory, however, is that a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that a majority of prospective voters in the U.S. support free trade and immigration--contrary to the Trumpish ideas.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Census Results in Bosnia Create Controversy

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for linking me to a story about the release of data from the 2013 census of Bosnia. A big issue raised is that the final count of 3.53 million is about 200,000 fewer people than were initially said to have been counted. Such differences always raise suspicion, but the concern in Bosnia is the ethnic divide--a long-time problem in the Balkans and the underlying cause of Yugoslavia's breakup 25 years ago.
The results are extremely sensitive in a country whose institutional framework, as a result of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, rests on the principle of the balance and equality of the three “constitutive peoples” - Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
According to the results, Bosniaks now make up 50.11 per cent of the population, Serbs 30.78 per cent and Croats 15.43 per cent of the population. 
The census also confirmed that the two entities have a clear ethnic structure, with 92.11 per cent of all Bosnian Serbs living in the RS, and 91.39 per cent of Bosnian Croats and 88.23 percent of Bosniaks living in the Federation. 
The average woman in Bosnia is giving birth to only 1.2 children, so the population is clearly on the decline. The UN Population Division projects the population to be down to only 3 million by the middle of this century, but that projection assumed that the population size in the the 2013 census was higher than these revised numbers suggest. So, we can guess that by 2050 there will be fewer than 3 million Bosnians. Will the ethnic mix become less of a problem, or more of a problem, as the population declines? I think that social theory would predict that a declining population will lead to the need for greater cooperation to keep the country functioning, so this should be a positive, rather than a negative development. Let's hope I'm right on that.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

World Population Day 2016

The 11th of July has been World Population Day since 1989, declared so by the United Nations Population Fund. It has also been the anniversary of this blog since 2010, declared so by me! In 2010 the theme was about censuses, as I noted back then. This year the theme is about empowering young women.

In just those six years since I started this blog, the world has added 503 million people--going from 6.9 billion to 7.4 billion. The total fertility rate has dropped from 2.56 to 2.51, so that's good news, and life expectancy at birth for both men and women is estimated to have increased by 1.6 years--up to 72.7 for women and 68.3 for men. Since the birth rate has dropped at a slightly faster pace than the death rate, the overall rate of growth is now slower than it was back then. But even at what seems like a very slow pace of growth of 1.13 percent per year, we are adding 84 million people per year to the planet! We just can't keep doing this.

In line with the news from yesterday about the outlawing of child marriage in Gambia and Tanzania, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has elaborated on the theme that allowing girls to become socially and economic productive members of society instead of just child brides and mothers is a key to a better global future. They make the point out that there are more young people in the world today than ever before in human history (see the graph below), and nine out of every ten of those young persons lives in a developing country. In many of these countries children are vulnerable simply because they are girls. They are exploited sexually, and shuffled into child marriage and early pregnancy. The improvement of these girls' lives will signal an improvement in the world as a whole, and offers hope for dealing with this ever growing population on a planet with limited resources.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Child Marriage Outlawed in Gambia and Tanzania

This week was big for the rights of girls--by which we really mean the future well-being of women and their children in Gambia (West Africa) and Tanzania (East Africa). Both countries have outlawed the marriage of girls under the age of 18, as reported by BBCNews:
Gambia's President Yayha Jammeh announced that anyone marrying a girl below 18 would be jailed for up to 20 years. In Tanzania, the high court imposed a landmark ruling outlawing marriage under the age of 18 for boys and girls. Some 30% of underage girls are married in The Gambia, while in Tanzania the rate is 37%.
In both countries the average woman is currently having more than five children each and in both countries nearly half of the population is under age 15. These are two among too many African countries in which children have been having children, and we have to hope that the changes in the law will have the effect of genuinely changing behavior. The BBC article notes the fear of a backlash, but in my view that is clearly worth the risk. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

90 People Per Day Die in the US in Auto Accidents: Buckle Your Seat Belts!!

Thanks to Rebecca Clark for pointing me to a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control that compares deaths from auto accidents in the US with those in a group of other rich countries. Three conclusions stand out: (1) the US has the highest fatality rate compared to 19 other rich countries; (2) seat belt use in accidents in the US is lower than in almost every other country; and (3) alcohol-related accidents are higher than in almost every other country. You can see the issue: We have found the enemy and it is us.
During 2013, 87% front seat belt use and 78% rear seat belt use were reported nationally in the United States (Table 2). Among comparison countries, front seat belt use ranged from 86% (Austria) to 99% (France) with a mean of 94.1% and a median of 95.0%. The United States ranked 18th out of 20 countries for front seat belt use. Among comparison countries, rear seat belt use ranged from 65% (Austria) to 97% (Germany) with a mean of 82.1% and a median of 84%. The United States ranked 13th in rear seat belt use among 18 countries reporting.
Alcohol-impaired driving was involved in 31% of U.S. motor vehicle crash deaths. Percentages of crash deaths that involved alcohol-impaired driving across 18 countries reporting these data ranged from 3.2% (Israel) to 33.6% (Canada) (mean = 19.1%; median = 18.0%) (Table 2)...The United States tied with New Zealand for the second highest percentage of motor vehicle crash deaths related to alcohol impairment, and had the eighth highest percentage of speeding involved deaths (Table 2).
Driving under the influence of alcohol and under the influence of stupidity (why else wouldn't people buckle their seat belts?) represent aspects of personal discipline that are more amenable to social pressure and social control than to legal limitations. To be sure, cars could be designed not to start if the driver has too high an alcohol level and/or a seat belt is not buckled--and it may come to that--but a little self-control could go a long way. I Googled to see if there is a relationship between people who are opposed to vaccinations and those opposed to using seat belts. There's a lot of relevant chatter, but no hard data that I could find. Maybe CDC could check into that...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Glimmers of Hope in the Middle East: Lebanese Returning Home with Money and Ambition

It's been awhile since we've had what might be thought of as hopeful signs cropping up in the Middle East. An article on by Farah Halime is thus refreshing. She notes that although there are currently only about 5 million people living in Lebanon (actually, the Population Reference Bureau estimates a bit over 6 million, but that's not the point of this story), there are an estimated 15 Lebanese origin people living elsewhere in the world. Proportionately, that's a pretty large diaspora. Most importantly, they are doing pretty well for themselves.
Among the approximately 15 million people of Lebanese descent who live outside of Lebanon, that doer attitude seems ubiquitous, if we are to judge by the success of the business community. (Carlos Slim, the telecoms tycoon and the richest man in the world, is Lebanese-Mexican. Ely Calil, whose father, George, founded an oil empire in Nigeria, is one of the richest men in Britain. Carlos Ghosn, who is French-Lebanese-Brazilian, is the chief executive of French carmaker Renault and Japanese carmaker Nissan.) But increasingly, a slice of this highly successful community is turning back toward their place of ancestry. It’s good news for the motherland, which is home to fewer than 5 million people, ancient infrastructure, shaky internet connections, and, these days, increasing startup activity.
This is a case, then, where the volume of return migration is less important in terms of numbers of people than in terms of dollars to be invested at home in Lebanon. That helps to create jobs and infrastructure that will move the region forward:
For 34 days in the summer of 2006, the world’s attention turned to Lebanon, where a bloody war erupted between the country’s militant group Hezbollah and longtime enemy Israel. But for Habib Haddad, who was hundreds of miles away from family at the University of Southern California, searching for local-language updates was almost impossible because he did not have access to an Arabic keyboard. Enter Yamli, the online transliteration service he invented that allows searches in Arabic using phonetic English.
When, in 2012, Yahoo acquired the company’s licensing rights, Haddad joined the ranks of an impressive group of industrious Lebanese entrepreneurs who have dominated multiple global companies across industries — telecoms, logistics, automobiles. In total, the 35-year-old Haddad has been involved as an engineer, angel investor or founder in no fewer than 10 companies in the Middle East. “Things that don’t work excite me,” says Haddad, speaking over the phone from Beirut. “It’s the same reason I live in Lebanon. A lot of things are broken in this country.”
I suppose these returning migrants could very easily live by the slogan: "Let's Make Lebanon Great Again!" 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ozone Layer is Healing: Global Collective Action Actually Works!

It is genuinely rare to get good environmental news, but we just received some regarding the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica--it's getting smaller. A team of scientists in the U.S. and the U.K. just published these findings in Science magazine. The paper is behind a subscription, but gives us an overview.
A new study in Science finds evidence that the Earth's protective ozone layer is finally healing — all thanks to global efforts in the 1980s to phase out CFCs and other destructive chemicals.
This is one of the great environmental success stories of all time. Back in the 1970s, scientists first realized that we were rapidly depleting Earth's stratospheric ozone layer, which protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
The culprit? Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical widely used in refrigerators and air conditioners. These chemicals had already chewed a massive "hole" in the ozone layer above Antarctica, and the damage was poised to spread further north.
Think for a moment about the importance to modern life of refrigeration and air conditioning and you can appreciate the consternation caused by the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer as a byproduct of ever more use of these technologies.
Fortunately, this apocalyptic scenario never came to pass. Scientists uncovered the problem in time. And under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, world leaders agreed to phase out CFCs, despite industry warnings that abolishing the chemicals would impose steep costs. The hole in the ozone layer stopped expanding. The global economy kept chugging along.
Granted, just because the world banded together and saved the ozone layer doesn't ensure that we’ll also do the same for future environmental problems, like global warming. It will almost certainly be harder to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels than it was to curtail our use of CFCs. (For one thing, the DuPont chemical company developed easy substitutes to CFCs fairly quickly.) But the ozone case remains the best example of international cooperation to halt a slow-moving ecological disaster. And it worked.
We have to come away from this positive experience with renewed commitment to global action on climate change because we can see that huge problems associated with more people living at higher standards of living can be dealt with. We know how to do it, as I've discussed before.