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

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dogs Are People Too, Revisited

A little over a year ago I wrote about our new "fur baby" Larry, whom we adopted from Coastal German Shepherd Rescue. He is truly a cherished member of the family, and I still find it hard when I run across people who think of dogs (and other animals) as just pieces of property with no feelings or emotions. Research that I discussed last year focused on the fact that dogs (and certainly other animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas) experience hormonal responses of bonding that are similar to what happens among humans. New research just published in Science has concluded that dogs are able to understand more than most people thought they could. This was widely covered in the media, but I will link to the NPR story:
"Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do," says Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary.

When dogs hear speech, he explains, they seem to separate the meaning of words from the intonation, and each aspect of speech is analyzed independently. The left hemisphere of the brain processes meaning, while intonation is analyzed in the right hemisphere.
In other words, even though dogs can't speak, they do process human language in a way that goes beyond learning behavioral commands ("training"). In a tightly controlled experiment conducted with each dog trained to lie still in a scanner, researchers discovered that dogs responded not just to words, and not just to intonation, but to both.
The reward pathway in the dogs' brains lit up when they heard both praising words and an approving intonation — but not when they heard random words spoken in a praising tone or praise words spoken in a flat tone...
The research leads to the conclusion that dogs are even more like humans than we previously thought. And, from a demographic perspective, this shouldn't be surprising. After all, dogs and all other mammals have similar patterns of birth and death and age structures as do humans. Different lifespans mean that demographic events occur at different times, but just as with humans, the highest risk of death for dogs is right after birth. Then they go through their healthy adolescence leading to reproduction. Then, as they age, they become susceptible to non-communicable disease, just as we humans do. As all dog lovers know, the hardest part is, indeed, the shorter lifespan. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Congratulations to Professor Wendy Manning

Wendy Manning has been elected President-Elect of the Population Association of America, and of course a big round of congratulations is due. The PAA has a very useful practice of presidents serving on the Board for three years--first as President-Elect (as Wendy will be officially as of 1 January 2017, replacing Amy Tsui of Johns Hopkins, who is the current President-Elect), President (currently Judith Seltzer of UCLA, to be followed by Amy Tsui) and Past-President (currently Steven Ruggles of the University of Minnesota, to be followed by Judith Seltzer--and so it goes). The three-year span on the board provides a broader scope of the discipline and more opportunities for input than might otherwise be the case. You can get a feel for that by reading the oral histories of Past-PAA Presidents that I and the other members of the PAA History Committee have put together over the years.

Wendy is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She and her colleagues have produced a lot of really important research over the years, as I have noted in this blog, and as you can see by visiting the Center's website. Please join me, then, in congratulating Professor Manning.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Economist Gets it Wrong on the Birth Rate

I have subscribed to The Economist for a long time and I generally feel that I am getting an intelligent and relatively unbiased view of what's happening in the world. However, this week's Economist has a couple of articles, and a leader article introducing them, about the fact that many couples in the world are having fewer children than they want. In the extreme case of people who are unable biologically to have a child, but would like to have a child, I don't know anyone who would argue against the idea that it would be great if an inexpensive solution could be found for that issue. However, when the Economist notes in its leader that this would avoid the situation where men attack their wives because the wife is unable to conceive a child, I say hold it! First, the problem may be the man, not the woman, and secondly, any man who would do that shouldn't be become a father.

For some reason or another, the Economist employed a firm to survey couples in 19 countries to show that, on average, couples are having fewer children than they "want." OK, we know that from Demographic and Health Surveys in developing countries, and from other surveys in richer countries. Nothing new there. What is troubling is the interpretation of these data by the Economist to mean that we should be encouraging couples to have more children. NO! We need to encourage couples to want fewer children. No matter what the writer(s) at the Economist may think, the world's population cannot just keep growing forever. We are running out of resources and the attitude that I'll just take mine now, thank you, is one of the reasons this is happening. The Economist puts down "Malthusians" who are worried about population growth, and sneers at Paul Ehrlich because the birth rate has dropped and food production has increased since he published his dire views on population growth in the Population Bomb back in the 1960s. Well, guess what? That book and the discussion he started helped to push along efforts already underway at the time to reduce the birth rate and grow more food (whether or not you like genetic modification, that was one of the solutions). But, the birth rate is still declining less quickly than the death rate and so we are on track to add 2-3 billion more people and we really don't know how we are going to feed them and find them jobs. 

This was a completely irresponsible Op-Ed published as news by the Economist and I am very disappointed. I noticed in the comments published on the Economist website that some people were ready to unsubscribe and I saw too that Sir David Attenborough, the force behind Population Matters in the U.K., weighed in with a short but to the point comment: “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”

Finally, the Economist claims that family planning programs need to pay more attention to infertility issues, not just providing birth control. In fact, every family planning program of which I am aware does both. However, most can only provide medication to deal with STDs that prevent a woman from conceiving. Almost everything else is too expensive. A dose of reality on these issues is what we need, not uninformed and incorrect statements presented as facts.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The World is Especially Messy in the Mid-Latitudes

Last Friday was World Humanitarian Day. I admit that I missed it at the time, but the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. State Department did not. Indeed, they created a very useful, even if somewhat dispiriting global map showing the various humanitarian "situations" that currently exist. To my knowledge, none of these situations is caused solely and directly by demography, but of course demographic trends underlie everything going on in the world, in some way or another. In most of these instances, a history of rapid population growth has combined with insufficient economic growth to create environments in which political instability and violence can fester and erupt. Note, in particular, that the mid-latitudes are way over-represented in this map. The problems created in those places, especially Africa and South Asia, but also Latin America, then spread over into neighboring countries.

Next week's European Population Conference, taking place in Mainz, Germany, has the theme of "Demographic Change and Policy Implications". With any luck, this map will be a centerpiece for much of the conference's discussion.

Friday, August 26, 2016

PRB's 2016 World Population Data Sheet is Out--Don't Leave Home Without It!

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in Washington, D.C. has been an important resource for demographers for more than half a century. They have expanded the scope and depth of what they do over the years, but the signature product is still their annual World Population Data sheet, and the 2016 model just came out. You can download it as a PDF file or get a paper copy in the mail, as I have done for a long time. There aren't necessary any surprises in the latest version, but here are some highlights that PRB has put together:
* Over 25 percent of the world's population is less than 15 years old. The figure is 41 percent in least developed countries and 16 percent in more developed countries. 
* Japan has the oldest population profile, with over a quarter of its citizens older than 65. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are at the other end of the spectrum, with each having only 1 percent over 65. 
* The top 10 fertility rates in the world are in sub-Saharan African countries, with nearly all above six children per woman, and one topping seven. In Europe, the average is 1.6. 
* The fertility rate in the United States is 1.8 children per woman, down from 1.9 in 2014. “Replacement” fertility in the United States—that is, the rate at which the population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, excluding the effects of migration—is 2.1 children per woman.
* Thirty-three countries in Europe and Asia already have more people over age 65 than under 15.
You can see that fertility rates, and the changing age structures they bring about, remain key factors in the world's demographic picture. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Zika Does More Brain Damage Than Previously Thought

Even as the U.S. Congress sits on its hands with respect to funding an anti-Zika virus program, the news just keeps getting worse. We heard last week that the virus has the potential to harm the brains of adults, not just babies in utero. Now we are learning that the damage to babies' brains is even more dire than originally believed. The Guardian notes that:
A new report shows in graphic detail the kind of damage Zika infections can do to the developing brain – damage that goes well beyond microcephaly, a birth defect in which
the baby’s head is much smaller than normal.

“From an imaging standpoint, the abnormalities in the brain are very severe when compared to other congenital infections,” said the study’s co-author Dr Deborah Levine of Beth Israel Deaconess medical centre and a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School.

As with other reports, the paper suggests that Zika does the most harm in the first trimester of pregnancy. The researchers plan to keep following the cases to see what impact prenatal Zika infections have on future brain development.
Keep in mind that this study was conducted among infants born in the Brazilian state of ParaĆ­ba in north-eastern Brazil, where the most severe cases have been found, as I noted a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, it is a scary result and will likely continue to fuel the increased demand for abortion in the region.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Female Mortality in the U.S. Varies by State: Context Matters

Despite the high cost of health care in the U.S., life expectancy lags behind almost all other rich nations. Two key trends are embedded in this, however: (1) there is considerable variability from state to state; and (2) women are lagging more than men. A new paper published in the on-line open access journal Social Science and Medicine-Population Health sheds some new and interesting light on what's going on. Today's New York Times summarizes the findings.
A team of researchers has now come up with an important clue: Where women live matters just as much as who they are. In fact, in a study to be published this week in SSM Population Health, they found that many common demographic traits — whether a woman is rich, poor, unemployed, working, single or married — might not be as important as the state in which she lives.
Using new state-by-state data collected by the federal government, researchers found that a state’s economic and social environment — from its welfare policy and tobacco tax rate, to the strength of social ties through sports clubs and churchgoing, to the level of economic inequality — had a significant effect on women’s life spans.
Here is what the state level variability looks like:

The single most important characteristic of a state was what the authors call "social cohesion":
This factor describes the level of social and economic integration and equality within a state. It is comprised of four variables: (1) Gini coefficient of income inequality, (2) unemployment rate, (3) violent crime rate, and (4) the state-level social capital index developed by Putnam (2000). The index includes 14 components such as involvement in community organizations and social trust. The fact that income inequality and unemployment cluster with crime and social capital more so than with the variables in the economic environment latent factor indicates that these measures capture social and economic integration, and relative well-being, more so than absolute economic well-being.
Higher levels of social cohesion in a state were more important than individual-level characteristics such as education. "Our findings imply that divergent social and economic policies across states have played an important role in shaping the inequalities in women's mortality." Context matters when it comes to health, just as it does in most other things in life.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Europe's Migrant Picture is Different Than You Might Imagine

For most of the past 200 years, European countries have been sources of out-migration more than in-migration. That has changed more recently as European nations have been taking in more immigrants. Syrian refugees to Europe have, of course, sparked an atmosphere of crisis about this, but it is sometimes useful to sit back and see what the real situation is. Maps can help with this, and Jakub Marian, a Czech linguist, mathematician and artist, has put together a set of four maps about international migration in Europe, based on a 2015 study by the United Nations on international migration. The first map shows the percent of the population in each European country that is foreign born. Setting aside Luxembourg, which is a very small place (population of less than a million) Switzerland has the highest percentage of foreigners, perhaps not surprising given all of the international organizations that are based there. As a point of comparison, the U.S. (which has accepted more immigrants over the years than any other country in the world), currently has a bit over 13% of its population that is foreign-born--not quite as high as the 15% a hundred years ago. You can see in the map that almost all western and northern European countries are now near or above the U.S. in this regard.

The second map is perhaps the more surprising, because it shows the country that has contributed the greatest number of immigrants to the stock of each country. In the Brexit vote there was a lot of concern about the immigration of Eastern Europeans, but in fact India remains the largest source of foreigners in the U.K. In Ireland it is the British who comprise the biggest chunk of immigrants, and in Switzerland it is Germans. On the other hand, Russian immigrants dominate the immigrant landscape in Eastern Europe, just to the west of Russia. Indeed, the most interesting takeaway for me is the dominance of nearest neighbors as the sources of immigrants throughout Europe (including Turkey), and of course the general east to west flow of the immigrants. Even Spain and France fit the near neighbor profile in that the largest source countries are just across the Mediterranean from them. Portugal and the U.K. are the major outliers, but in both cases the largest single stock of immigrants is from a former colony.

Friday, August 19, 2016

World Mosquito Day--Ouch, That Bites!

The 20th of August is World Mosquito Day, in case you didn't already know that. Mosquitos need their day, so that we can find them and get them out of our midst. Not every mosquito spreads disease when it bites you after biting a sick person, but enough do to make us leery of them all. Given the death toll from malaria over the course of human history it is actually remarkable that we didn't know how it was spread until 1897--scarcely more than 100 years ago--when Sir Ronald Ross figured out that the female anopheles mosquito was the culprit. Keep in mind that the name "malaria" comes from the Italian for "bad air" referring to the knowledge that people got malaria in swampy places where the air smelled bad. But it isn't the air that gets you...
Mosquitoes kill nearly three-quarters of a million people each year worldwide and sicken millions more. Malaria by itself is responsible for more than half of mosquito-related deaths, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. Mosquitoes also transmit dengue, lymphatic filariasis, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever, among other diseases.
In fact, only 3 out 3,500 mosquitos species transmit disease to humans, but they manage to do a lot of damage:
1. Anopheles mosquitoes are the only species known to carry human malaria. They also transmit filariasis and encephalitis.
2. Culex mosquitoes carry encephalitis, filariasis, and the West Nile virus.
3. Aedes mosquitoes, of which the voracious Asian tiger is a member, carry yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.
Obviously, the Zika outbreak in the western hemisphere has heightened the current interest in mosquito eradication, but as evidenced by the above quote from the President's Malaria Initiative, malaria is still the biggest reason for a human to fear the sight or sound of a mosquito.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Zika May Affect Adult Brains

Thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing to an article in today's Wall Street Journal summarizing findings from a report just out by researchers at Rockefeller University in NYC and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology here in San Diego. 
Concerns over the Zika virus have focused on pregnant women due to mounting evidence that it causes brain abnormalities in developing fetuses. However, new research in mice from scientists at The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology suggests that certain adult brain cells may be vulnerable to infection as well. Among these are populations of cells that serve to replace lost or damaged neurons throughout adulthood, and are also thought to be critical to learning and memory.
“This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain,” says Joseph Gleeson, adjunct professor at Rockefeller and head of the Laboratory of Pediatric Brain Disease and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think.”
The research is based on studies of mice, so the usual caveats apply about applicability to humans, but it is still a worrisome thought. 

The research also calls into question the hypothesis that brain damage in infants is due not just to the Zika virus, but to related factors that are geographically co-located with the virus, as I mentioned a few weeks ago. 

And these findings lend support to the idea that spraying for mosquitos is a necessary evil. A report just out in Nature shows that Cuba has limited the number of Zika cases there by means of a rapid response spraying policy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Can You Trust Other People?

The social world is built on trust and Max Roser at Oxford has a lengthy new analysis of relationships between trust and other sociodemographic characteristics of nations.
Global comparisons of trust attitudes around the world today suggest very large time-persistent cross-country heterogeneity. In one extreme, in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, more than 60% of respondents in the World Value Survey think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case.
Of particular interest is the finding that the level of trust in a country (expressed as the percent of people who say that most people can be trusted) is positively related to per person income--higher incomes tend to be associated with higher levels of trust, as you can see in the graph below:

Roser argues that this is not simply a correlation, but that there are almost certainly causal forces at work. Societies with higher levels of trust are organized in ways that help to create higher levels of income. How can trust be built? Education may be one way, as Roser suggests. That could be an encouraging sign for the future, given the projected rise in education throughout the world, which Roser wrote about earlier this year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Knitting is Good for Your Health--Really!

My wife has knitted for a long-time and has sworn that it has helped her cope with the stresses of a successful career as CEO of a local economic development organization and, at the same time, as an elected official (trust me, it doesn't get much more stressful than that!). Earlier this year, The NYTimes published a story with links to scientific studies backing up the idea that knitting is beneficial to your health.
The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women ages 25 to 35 now knit or crochet...Last April, the council created a “Stitch Away Stress” campaign in honor of National Stress Awareness Month. Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of “The Relaxation Response,” says that the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In other words, it is not just your mental health that is beneficially influenced (which has always been my wife's perspective), but your physical health as well.
Perhaps most exciting is research that suggests that crafts like knitting and crocheting may help to stave off a decline in brain function with age. In a 2011 study, researchers led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., interviewed a random sample of 1,321 people ages 70 to 89, most of whom were cognitively normal, about the cognitive activities they engaged in late in life. The study, published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, found that those who engaged in crafts like knitting and crocheting had a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.
The older you get, the more you think about these things. The younger you are when you make the adjustments, the better off you are likely to be in the long run. I published a book on aging more than three decades ago, with major contributions from my wife, and the lessons we learned from writing that book (along with other aging-related research in which we were both involved) has helped us cope more successfully with the aging process. For my wife, in particular, knitting has been a part of that. You should try it. You have nothing to lose but your stress.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Maternal Mortality Going Up, Not Down, in the U.S.

Thanks to Rebecca Clark for pointing to an article just published in Obstetrics and Gynecology showing that the maternal mortality rate is on the rise in the United States. The analysis was led by Marian MacDorman from the Maryland Population Center at the University of Maryland. Now, you might think that these data would come directly from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, but no, cuts in funding at both the federal and state levels have made data collection a bit iffy. This should be a huge embarrassment for the world's richest country, as the authors themselves note. More embarrassing--and tragic--is the finding that the number and rate of women dying from pregnancy-related causes is going up. 

Clearly at a time when the World Health Organization reports that 157 of 183 countries studied had decreases in maternal mortality between 2000 and 2013, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction. Among 31 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries reporting maternal mortality data, the United States would rank 30th, ahead of only Mexico.
They look in detail at two populous states--California and Texas--and find that the maternal mortality rate has been going down in California and up in Texas. The paper is mainly about the calculation of rates and not about underlying causes of the changes, but the authors point out that California has deliberately stepped up its efforts in reproductive health, whereas Texas has gone the other direction. Lack of prenatal care and unsafe abortions are two important causes of maternal mortality and many states have been going the wrong direction with respect to women's health. The maternal mortality data provide the sad evidence of the damage that this does.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Demographic Setbacks in Nigeria

Nigeria is currently the world's 7th most populous country. UN projections suggest that it could surpass the U.S. and become the 3rd most populous nation by the middle of this century. Thus, it should be higher on our collective radar screen that it currently is. Among the many issues within the country, the two latest are connected: (1) tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the northeast of the country, forced out by violence inflicted on the area by Boko Haram; and (2) the discovery of two new polio cases in the same region, probably for the same reason.

On NPR's "All Things Considered" a couple of days ago, the problems associated with being internally displaced were discussed in some detail.
Children are among the hardest hit by seven years of Boko Haram's violent insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. Doctors Without Borders warns acutely malnourished children risk starvation and even death. Tens of thousands of people are seeking shelter, food and medical aid, uprooted from their homes by the militants the Nigerian military claims they have defeated.
And BBC News, among many others, covered the story about the polio cases. In 2012, Nigeria was home to half of all reported polio cases in the world, but was working hard to vaccinate all children against the paralyzing disease, the spread of which can only be prevented by immunization.
The government said polio paralysed two children in Borno state, a part of Nigeria where Boko Haram militants have hindered health campaigns. The development is seen as a major setback for Nigeria, which was on track to be declared polio free in 2017. The cases were confirmed exactly two years after Africa's last previous case - in the Puntland region of Somalia, on 11 August 2014. Nigeria's government said that one million children would be immunized in the affected areas in Borno and a further four million will also be targeted in neighbouring states.
As bad as these events are, Nigeria's 2 million IDPs doesn't quite put it among the top ten list of countries in terms of the number of internally displaced persons. Data from the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. State Department suggest that Syria leads the list, followed by Colombia, India, China, Iraq, Sudan, Nepal, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Philippines. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Global Migration Dilemma

Joseph Chamie, former Director of the UN Population Division, has a new article posted online discussing an upcoming "first-ever United Nations high-level summit meeting for refugees and migrants, to occur on Sept. 19 in New York." He is careful to point out that this is not the same as a global conference, such as the ones the UN has held on population, environment, women, and other demographically related issues. Migration is essentially too hot a topic to be put on the table for all to discuss. Why? First, there is a huge global imbalance between people who want to leave and go elsewhere and the places where they can realistically be accepted and integrated.
International surveys find that about one of every six of the world’s adults, close to 900 million globally today, would migrate to another country if they could. In contrast, annual numbers of migrants worldwide today are only several million. 
A clear illustration of the extent of the demographic imbalance in the supply and demand for migrants is the top destination country, the United States. While more than two hundred million people have said they would like to migrate to the US, the country’s annual number of immigrants that are admitted is a fraction of that figure, approximately one million.
Another example of the imbalance is the growth of the African population compared to that of Europe, as shown in the graph below. The youth bulge in Africa has created a huge number of people who see themselves better off somewhere else than where they were born. Who can blame them?

But the other big problem is that governments and the people of receiving countries are routinely at odds over the value of immigration.
While most governments tend to favor immigration, the public mostly wants policies favoring less immigration. Opinion polls regularly report that large majorities of the public think there should be greater restriction of immigration and tighter control of their country’s borders. Besides economic uncertainties and unemployment, people are concerned about losing their traditional culture and national identities. Many people migrating today are ethnically, religiously and culturally different from the populations of the receiving countries, increasing anxiety about integration and cultural integrity and fears about ethnic conflict. In contrast to public opinion, few governments view their immigration levels as too high.
And, since it is the average person on the street who is asked by the government to accommodate the immigrants, who can blame them for balking? As Chamie points out, then, there are no easy answers, but the migration dilemma is growing and we really do need to cope with it better than we have been.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Will Bats Instead of Pesticides Help to Sustain Food Production?

The single biggest issue facing the world is whether or not we can feed ourselves. This discussion takes us right back to Malthus, and forward to the various ways by which we have so far managed to keep food production in line with population growth. Part of the problem moving forward, however, is that the use of pesticides to increase production comes at high--and almost certainly unsustainable--environmental costs, not to mention the threat to the health of humans and other animals. I discuss this in some depth in Chapter 11 and have talked about it repeatedly over the years, including this one four years ago.

So, I was naturally taken by a story on a few days ago extolling the virtues of bats as natural pesticides. The focus of the story is on saving farmers money, but there is no question that this could help save the environment.
Bats are a precious, but unheralded friend of farmers, providing consistent crop protection. Take away the colonies of pest killers and insect control costs would explode across farmland. And just how much do bats save agriculture in pesticide use? Globally, the tally may reach a numbing $53 billion per year, according to estimates from the University of Pretoria, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of Tennessee, and Boston University.
Bats are a precious, but unheralded friend of farmers, providing consistent crop protection. Take away the colonies of pest killers and insect control costs would explode across farmland. And just how much do bats save agriculture in pesticide use? Globally, the tally may reach a numbing $53 billion per year, according to estimates from the University of Pretoria, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of Tennessee, and Boston University.

Cryan coauthored a seminal 2011 paper, Economic Importance of Bats in Agriculture, suggesting the loss of bats would cost U.S. agriculture at least $3.7 billion per year. “We’re typically scared of the dark, but bats shouldn’t be a part of that association. They’re such a beneficial and important part of the environment and farmland protection.”
There is a threat here, however, in that a disease called "white nose syndrome" is attacking bat populations. This is a fungus that spreads among bats in caves and poses a real threat to the survival of bats. We have to save the bats, so that they can help to save our crops without artificial pesticides.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Demography of Revolt in the Middle East

Yesterday I commented on the tyranny of demography in Japan in terms of its rapidly aging population and how that is changing attitudes about the end of life. Another article in this week's Economist reviews the demography of revolt in the Middle East. It's all about how societies deal with a youth bulge.
Arab countries are full of young people frustrated by a lack of jobs; questioning traditional authority; bittersweet about the West, its liberties and its power; and plugged-in enough to know that their lot is worse than that of many of their peers around the world. 
Many factors led to the Arab uprisings of 2011, which overthrew old rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and rattled many other regimes. But there is little doubt that the Arab world’s large youth bulge, and its rulers’ failure to harness it for economic development, was central.
Young people in the Arab world, as elsewhere, come in endless varieties. But taken as a whole, several trends stand out. First is a demographic explosion. The Arab world is growing fast. The region’s population doubled in the three decades after 1980, to 357m in 2010. It is expected to add another 110m people by 2025—an average annual growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The demographic stress is compounded by rapid urbanisation. In 2010 the proportion of Arabs who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total population. But the absolute number of young will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.
A second striking aspect is the scale of youth unemployment (see chart 2). In 2010, on the eve of the Arab uprisings, total and youth unemployment rates in the Arab world were already the highest of any region, at 10% and 27% respectively. Since then these figures have risen further, to nearly 12% and 30%.
Here is how Debbie Fugate and I put it in the introductory chapter of our book on The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity?
...[a] young population—the characteristic of most societies for most of human history—is not the same as a youth bulge. The “bulge” comes from demographic change, typically from a decline in mortality that is not immediately followed by a decline in birthrates—thus increasing the rate of growth and altering the age structure of a society. So, the real story of youth is not simply how many there are in relation to the rest of the population, but rather their changing numbers. As the late professor of history Herbert Moller says later in this volume, “As a rule, young people become conspicuous in public life in periods of rapid demographic growth.” Every society has to balance its population with the resources available to support that number of people.
The Economist notes ominously in the article's final sentence that: "The evidence from around the world is that lots of jobless young men are a recipe for instability. And Arab rulers, in fearing the young and failing to help them, are creating the conditions for the next explosion."

Monday, August 8, 2016

The "Tyranny of Demography" in Japan

My thanks to Duane Miller for pointing me to an article in this week's Economist discussing the funeral industry in Japan. This is a classic example of applied demography--business trends being driven in this case by the age wave. Japan's post-WWII baby boomers are dying off and so the demand for end-of-life services is on the rise. 
Although Japanese are living longer, healthier lives, the huge baby-boom generation born after the second world war is starting to die just as younger Japanese are having fewer children. The population of 127m has already peaked and is set to fall below 100m by 2050. This year around 1m Japanese will be born, and around 1.3m will die. By 2040 annual deaths may approach 1.7m.
Call it peak death. It is already changing families. Traditionally, offspring would handle their deceased parents’ affairs, with neighbours helping with funeral ceremonies at home. But many more Japanese, particularly in depopulated rural areas and coastal towns, are now dying alone, with few to help them into the next world.
Data from the UN Population Division show that in 1950 in Japan 35% of the population was under the age of 15, while only 5 percent was aged 65+. As of this year, only 13% are under 15, while the 65+ group has grown to 26% of the population. By mid-century, it is projected that 12% will be under 15, while the 65+ group will have increased to 36% of the population. I don't think we're at peak death yet! 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Labor Migration in the US Hampered by Inequalities in Housing Cost

As manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have headed off to developing countries where wages are much lower, displaced workers, especially those with fewer skills, have been less likely than in the past to move somewhere else in search of work. Labor migration is part and parcel of American history, but two young economists have just published a paper through the Brookings Institution suggesting that one limiting factor in recent years has been the increasing spatial inequality in housing costs. Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag suggest that an increase in housing regulations is part of the problem. High skilled workers are much better able to absorb the cost of moving to places with high housing costs than are people with fewer skills and this slows down the movement of unskilled labor and thereby perpetuates income inequality.

I like the paper because it references two past presidents of the Population Association of America--Richard Easterlin and Steven Ruggles--and uses census data from the IPUMS website at the Minnesota Population Center. On the other hand, I am disappointed by the lack of any spatial analysis. We all know that housing costs and incomes are higher along both coasts than they are inland, and there a lot of reasons for this besides just housing regulations. The paper also ignores important population movements over time. You cannot easily equate the cohort of workers in 1940-1960 (pre-Baby Boom and pre-1965 Immigration Act) with the cohort in 1990-2010 (peak earnings Baby Boomers and full impact from changing immigration). 

Still, it is good to get these ideas out on the table where they can be examined. I also encourage you to read today's newsletter from Mauldin Economics, in which Patrick Watson discusses the possibility of jobs coming back to the old neighborhoods in new, technologically innovative ways. If the future unfolds in this way, labor migration could become a thing of the past.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Olympics: Training Grounds for Epidemiologists

The 2016 Summer Olympics begin today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The whole world will be watching...for mosquitos! Will the Zika virus erupt among visitors and athletes? Sarah Zhang has a nice column in Wired today suggesting that we should expect the epidemiologically unexpected, at least based on past experience. She notes that in the 2010 winter games in British Columbia the concern ahead of time had been the swine flu, but in fact it was a measles outbreak that stole the show. 
This year, the virus looming over the Rio Olympics is Zika. But mosquito-borne virus experts have repeatedly said they don’t think Zika is a big risk for Olympics tourists—for several reasons. It’s actually winter in Rio, so mosquito season is at a lull, and the country’s Zika hot spot is hundreds of miles away in the north. [SEE MY BLOG POST A FEW DAYS AGO ABOUT THIS] Brazilian authorities are also rooting out mosquito breeding grounds and fumigating any Olympics venues where mosquito-borne virus cases pop up. 
The Olympics could test whether all these assumptions about Zika spread hold true—or reveal some totally new information about the virus’ movement. “When it comes to infectious diseases, we don’t actually know a lot about how they spread from person to person,” says Gardy. “With the nitty gritty, there’s a lot not understood.”
And it’s not just about Zika. The WHO is watching the Olympics for less novel diseases, too: other mosquito-borne viruses like dengue and yellow, food poisoning, and seasonal flu. August is the tail end of flu season in the southern hemisphere. Because the northern and southern hemisphere have different flu seasons, strains that circulate can be different, too. That’s why every year, flu vaccine manufacturers make two versions: one for the northern and one for the southern hemisphere. This year, the flu in Brazil happens to be covered by the northern hemisphere vaccine. Otherwise, it would be more cause for worry.
And then there is the polluted bay in which people will be rowing, and toilets that don't work in various places where athletes and visitors are staying. If you want to study the spread of disease, this is definitely the place to set up camp.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rebecca Clark at NICHD for pointing me to a study that they are funding of U.S. Olympic athlete and coach exposure to the Zika virus.
Researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health will monitor potential Zika virus exposure among a subset of athletes, coaches and other U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) staff attending the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil. The study, funded by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and led by Carrie L. Byington, M.D., from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, aims to improve understanding of how the virus persists in the body and to identify potential factors that influence the course of infection.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Australian Census Generates a Bit of Controversy

Nick Parr has thrown onto my radar screen the controversy surrounding the impending (next Tuesday, the 9th) census enumeration in Australia. It's not about the questions in the census, but rather the fact that the government wants everybody to provide their name and address. ArsTechnica summarizes the issue with a very clever headline: "Australians threaten to take leave of their census."
Next Tuesday is the day Australians must fill in—correctly—their census forms, or face a fine. However, many may be willing to take that risk as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will rather extraordinarily be storing names and addresses in addition to the usual census results. 
Previous census forms have collected this information, but respondents were allowed to opt-in to having personally identifiable information retained. This time, the ABS wants to keep the information on record until 2020. This has provoked both privacy and security concerns. The bureau's former chief statistician Bill McLennan called it “the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS,” and even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak weighed in to say the data retention plans were “unethical.”
For those of us living in the U.S. this sounds like much ado about nothing, since names and addresses have been part of the census-taking effort forever. There are heavy penalties in this country for disclosing any of those data until seven decades after the census is taken, but the existence of such data represents a treasure trove for ancestral searches. This is true not just in the U.S. but in many European countries, as well. Indeed, last year I was able to track down the census information from Denmark about my wife's grandfather, who was born and raised there before migrating to the U.S. as a young adult.

I should note that there are two other differences between the Australian and U.S. censuses. Australia enumerates its population every five years, rather than every ten, and Australians can choose to fill out the form online. A five-year plan was approved by the U.S. Congress many years ago, but never funded. The implementation of the American Community Survey has filled in the gap between decadal censuses. Respondents to the ACS can fill out the form online and the Census Bureau is exploring that possibility for the 2020 census, so we may catch up to Australia on that score. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Younger Adult Cohorts in US Are Less Sexually Active

Psychology professor Jean Twenge here at San Diego State University is widely recognized for her work analyzing social trends among millennials and other cohorts, as I have noted before. She has just published a very nice age-period-cohort (APC) analysis of sexual activity among young adults in the most recent American cohorts. Her surprising result is that sexual inactivity during young adulthood is becoming more common, rather than the other way around. The paper is behind a subscription, but KPBS has a nice summary.
Millennials may be more accepting of premarital sex than any other generation, but fewer of them are actually doing it. "Millennials born in the 1990s were more than twice as likely to have not had sex since age 18 compared to Gen X'ers born in the 1960s," Twenge said. The researchers looked at how people of different generations aged 20 to 24 responded to survey questions about sex. They found that a larger proportion of millennials reported being sexually inactive in early adulthood. About 15 percent of millennials born in the 1990s said they've had no sexual partners since turning 18. That's up from only 6 percent of people born in the 1960s.
Data are drawn from the General Social Surveys over time and even after taking into account some potential changes in how people might answer questions, the results seem very solid. Twenge notes that: 
American culture has shifted to value the individual self and self-expression over social rules (Twenge, 2014), leading to greater acceptance of premarital sex (Twenge, Sherman, & Wells 2015; Wells & Twenge, 2005), suggesting that sexual activity should be more common among Millennials and iGen during early adulthood.
...and yet, overall it isn't. Part of this is due to an increase in the percent of young adults living at home with parents, and associated with that is a steep delay in marriage over time (and marriage is still the most popular place for sexual activity). But Twenge's research also revealed that the rise in sexual inactivity is especially noteworthy among less educated whites. The trend is observable neither among Black Americans nor among people with a college education. You can draw your own parallels about these patterns and the characteristics of people supporting the current presidential candidates.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Greeks Remain Europe's Biggest Xenophobes

It is probably no coincidence that xenophobia is a Greek word. They've had a long history of fending off strangers, and this week's Economist has European survey results showing that a majority of Greeks agree with the statement that "having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in our country makes it a worse place to live":

Pew Research had asked a similar question in the U.S. and you can see in the chart that Greece and the U.S. are at opposite ends of the continuum on this issue. You wouldn't guess it from the rhetoric coming out of the Trump campaign, but the survey results show clearly that Americans are much less xenophobic than Europeans in general.

And guess who seems to be a bit less xenophobic than in the past? Japan. Yes, Japan, which has been so xenophobic historically that it seems almost natural. However, another story in the Economist suggests that Abenomics (the economic policies of Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister) includes a greater incorporation of foreign workers to shore up the Japanese economy.
Thanks to the strength of labour demand, there were almost 908,000 foreign workers last year, up by over 15% from the year before. Japan needs hardworking housekeepers and homebuilders. It also needs high-flying tech leaders, says Takeshi Niinami, who sits on the council for economic and fiscal policy. In this year’s growth strategy, the government proposes to give skilled foreigners permanent residency, with a waiting period of as little as three years, compared with five before 2012.
 It may not go much further than this, but the acceptance of foreign workers is surely an economic benefit to Japan, as it almost certainly would be to Greece...

Monday, August 1, 2016

Aging in Rich Countries is Likely to Increase Inequality

Bernie Sanders supporters have been especially vocal about the increase in income and wealth inequality in the United States. Inequality was put squarely on the table by Thomas Piketty a couple of years ago, as I discussed at the time and since then as well. You can be sure that a lot of people are going to be unhappy when the top 10% of earners are raking in 50% of the income, as is happening in the U.S. right now.

It turns out, though, that demography is working in favor of inequality in the richer countries because an aging population tends to lead to more, rather than less, inequality. These are the very interesting findings of a paper by Joshua Goldstein and Ronald Lee of U.C. Berkeley that just came out in the latest volume of the Vienna Yearbook of Population Research. [Note that the latest issue has a date of 2014, but it just arrived in my mail and I know the mail isn't THAT slow!]

In this paper, we look at the role that population aging plays in increasing economic inequality. We provide estimates of the magnitudes of the effects on inequality of three different factors related to population aging: capital intensification, changing population age structure, and increasing longevity. Changing age structure is found to have a small effect on aggregate inequality, while capital deepening and longevity-based life cycle savings are shown to be more important. Taken together, our findings suggest that aging has a substantial effect on economic inequality.
The U.S. is largest economy in the world and is consistently more unequal than are European societies. However, since Europe is aging faster than the U.S., the Goldstein and Lee analysis suggests that inequality will also increase more rapidly in Europe than in the U.S. Here we find a clear-cut case of the intersection of demography and political economy--exactly the topic that Malthus was going on about more than 200 years ago.