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

Monday, December 26, 2016

The World Really is a Better Place Than it Used to Be

Max Roser at Oxford's Martin School has once again done a magnificent job of pulling together historical demographic data to remind us that there have been tremendous improvements in human existence over the past two hundred years. He says that he did this in response to surveys that have shown that only a tiny fraction of respondents in rich countries think that things are getting better rather than worse. Why don't people know this, he asks? I might answer that not enough people have read my book, and actually that would be a good answer because Roser's data are just providing graphic illustrations of the changes over time that I discuss in detail in my book. Take a look at his charts:


If we think in percentage terms, i.e., a world of 100 people, then we can see that in 1820, 94 of us would have been living in extreme poverty, compared to 10 of today. That is a decline even in absolute terms--from about 940 million in 1820 to 740 million today. Literacy and basic education have improved all over the world, vaccinations are up and child mortality is down. And, in step with the recent blog post by Ben Wilson at LSE about demography and democracy which I noted a few days ago, the percent of the world's population living in a democracy has grown from 1 to 56.

The strength of these numbers is to remind us to be optimistic about the prospect for the continued improvement of human society. The danger, of course, is complacency that might come from thinking that everything is going to automatically be OK. There is nothing automatic about any of this, as Roser notes. It requires massive collaboration. 
There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.
But then if you've read my book, you already know this... 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The GeoDemographics of Christmas

Younger members of American society (the "Millennials") are more likely to view Christmas as a cultural holiday than as a religious holiday, according to a recent Pew Research poll. That demographic is interesting given the demographic change over time in the Israeli town of Nazareth, where Jesus was from, thus giving rise eventually to the celebration of Christmas (note that according to a Wikipedia entry, Santa Claus first arose from the activities of a Greek Christian Bishop of the 4th Century AD, so both elements of Christmas that are typically celebrated in the US and Europe are linked back to Christianity).

At the time of the birth of Jesus, the population of Nazareth might have been a few thousand, almost all of whom would have been Jewish, although the region at the time was part of the Roman Empire (indeed, you will recall from Luke 2 that the family went from Nazareth to Bethlehem "to be enrolled" in the Roman census). Over time, the city apparently went through transitions in which is was predominantly Christian, but now it has the distinction of being the largest (albeit only about 75,000 people) Arab city in Israel, with about 70 percent of the population being Muslim and the remainder Christian. However, this is a little deceiving because the eastern (old) part of Nazareth was declared a separate city in 1974 and it is predominantly Jewish.

The demography of modern Nazareth brings to mind a link that Abu Daoud sent a few days ago discussing the changing demographics of modern Israel as a whole. The article is titled "Jewish Demography Bodes Well for Israel". The main point of the article is that Israel has the highest birth rate among all developed nations, and that the Jewish population now is reported to have birth rates as high as the Arab population. But the demographics of Israel are still troubling, given the several different groups that comprise the society. A Pew Research report earlier this year noted the following:
Although they live in the same small country and share many traditions, highly religious and secular Jews inhabit largely separate social worlds, with relatively few close friends and little intermarriage outside their own groups. In fact, the survey finds that secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs might someday marry an ultra-Orthodox Jew than they are with the prospect of their child marrying a Christian. (See Chapter 11 for more information.)
In these increasingly uncertain times, we have to hope that everyone continues to work together in that society as in all societies, regardless of religion or religiosity.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Population Growth Slows in US Generally; But Not in Utah

The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week on the growth of the population between 1 July 2015 and 1 July 2016. The fastest rates of growth by state were in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. Utah has had the highest birth rate in the U.S. for many years, fueled by its large (and obviously growing) Mormon population. Idaho also has an increasing Mormon population. We're not sure about Nevada because, as you know, what happens there stays there...

In overall numbers, Texas had the highest numerical increase--an increase of more than 400,000 people in 2016 compared to the previous year. California remains the most populous state in the union, but were it not for continued immigration, the population would probably stop growing due to internal migration out of California to other states--like Texas where property taxes and business taxes and regulations are lower.

Regionally, population growth was highest in the West and the South, as noted by the NYTimes coverage of the Census Bureau's report:
“The movement to the South and West is a very long-term trend,” said Mr. [Jeff] Passel of Pew [Research], adding that those regions attract older residents of the Northeast and Midwest looking for more temperate places to retire.
The Midwest expanded by nearly 0.2 percent, while the population in the Northeast remained virtually unchanged. Both regions lost more residents than they gained from migration, though that was offset by more births than deaths.
The South is now home to 38 percent of the national population, while 24 percent of Americans live in the West. The Midwest is home to 21 percent of the population and the Northeast is home to 17 percent.
The NYTimes also notes that the rate of population growth in the country as a whole is at its lowest level in many decades. Nonetheless, we still added more than 2 million to the total last year, since we are building on a base that represents the third most populous country in the world. And, since we have the largest economy in the world, those new folks add disproportionately to the environmental consequence of ever-rising resource utilization. I was reminded of this by another story this morning about the newest alarm bells going off because of the rise in temperature in the Arctic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Demography and Democracy

Ben Wilson at LSE has posted a very nice blog in Demotrends about the relationship between demography and democracy, building on his work with Tim Dyson. Their analysis is that the kinds of societal changes associated with the demographic transition are those that also tend to promote democracy in societies:
In the second half of the demographic transition, the proportion of adults in the population becomes larger. In demographic terms, fewer children means that the number of people eligible to vote increases, as does overall civic engagement. Put bluntly, children aren’t interested or engaged in politics. 
Another consequence of demographic transition is that when women are caring for fewer children they are more likely to enter the labour market. Women are able to pursue careers, skills, and training in a way that they aren’t able to if they are caring for large families. As a result, they tend to have a greater interest in the political system and their rights.
They then show the statistical relationship between the Vanhanen Index of democracy and the median age as a proxy for where a country is in terms of the demographic transition. The relationship isn't perfect, but it is very intriguing. Now, full disclosure, I have been following Tim Dyson's work forever, and I doubt that I have ever disagreed with anything he wrote. Indeed, if you go back and look at my blog post about the Colombia peace agreement, you will see some similarities with this theme that democracy and demography are intimately related.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Migrants, Migrants, Everywhere

Yesterday was International Migrants Day. I celebrated it by being out of town, but I didn't personally do any migrating. However, a lot of people do migrate all the time, and the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. State Department has put together a very nice map, using UN data, to illustrate the truly global nature of international migration. 


As you look at this infographic, a couple of points they make stand out. First of all, "only" 244 million of today's 7.4 billion people are international migrants. Although it is a big number, it is actually a pretty small fraction of the total, given the amount of fuss and bother that is caused by migration. Secondly, the majority of migrants are relocating to places within their own region, so the spatial scope of international migration is also more limited than it might seem from the press coverage it receives. 

Of course, the issues surrounding migration are what make even proportionately small numbers seem big. No matter where people migrate, they are apt to be perceived as being different in some way that will lead to discrimination. Furthermore, some of those immigrants will wind up not being very integrated into their host society and that will exacerbate local xenophobic tendencies. This is always made more difficult when the immigrants are refugees or asylum seekers (25 million, as you can see), meaning that they have left a lot of their life (and probably loved ones) behind, perhaps never to return. The situation in Aleppo cannot do anything but break your heart, for example.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Central American Asylum Seekers on the Rise

Life in Central America--especially in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras--can be downright dangerous for a lot of people, and the natural human response is to get out. This affects both Mexico and the United States. Reuters reports that the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) is anticipating a continued rise in the number of Central Americans seeking asylum.
Mexico expects a sharp increase in people seeking asylum from Central America next year, fleeing gang warfare and poverty in their home countries, a senior official said on Thursday.

There has been a steady surge of Central Americans applying for asylum in Mexico since 2015. Cinthia Perez, a director of Mexico's refugee agency COMAR, said in an interview that she is receiving about 9 percent more applications each month.

There were 3,424 asylum applications in 2015, and she predicts ending 2016 with around 8,000. That figure could well rise to 22,501 by the end of 2017 if the trend of 9 percent more applications each month continues.
Many of these people will stay in Mexico, but once granted asylum they have freedom of movement within Mexico, and who knows how many will head to the U.S.-Mexico border. The election of Donald Trump seems to have spurred an increase towards the border in anticipation of potentially even tighter controls after Trump assumes office.

A related story from Prospect.org this week offers some background into the violence in Central America, and the role played by U.S. deportation policies in that violence. There is also a link there to a story last year in the Guardian in which my PhD student, Elizabeth Kennedy, was quoted regarding her very important research on this issue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Xenophobia Rules! Overestimates of the Muslim Population in Western Countries

Fear of an influx of Muslim immigrants seemed to fuel at least some voters in the U.S. to vote for Donald Trump, and polls in the U.K. suggested that people with the least contact with immigrants were the ones most likely to vote to leave the EU, as I noted at the time of that vote. Now a new set of poll data from western countries shows the depth and scope of the issue: People tend to vastly overestimate the number of Muslims in their own country. The Guardian covers the story, emphasizing that the reality gap is widest in France.
An Ipsos Mori survey that measured the gap between public perception and reality in 40 countries in 2016 found French respondents were by far the most likely to overstate their country’s current and projected Muslim population.
The average French estimate was that 31% of the population was Muslim – almost one in three residents. According to Pew Research, France’s Muslim population actually stood at 7.5% in 2010, or one in 13 people.
The French were not the only ones to hold such misconceptions: Italian, German and Belgian respondents all guessed that more than a fifth of the resident population was Muslim, while in reality the figure ranges from 3.7% in Italy to 7% in Belgium. All three countries also greatly overstated the expected proportion of Muslim residents in 2020.
The graph below shows the results for several countries, including the U.S. You can readily imagine that the discussions in the media about refugees--especially inspired by the crisis in Syria--have increased and distorted the public perception about the presence of Muslims in western countries. 


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Refugee Adaptation Depends in Part on Their Neighbors

In my view, the single biggest concern that host societies have about incoming refugees is: How will they adapt to the new society? Will they eventually integrate and fit in, or will they stay in an ethnic neighborhood that essentially preserves the old culture and protects them from the new one. How much should governmental influence these decisions? A new infographic from Population Europe highlights research that puts an interesting spin on this issue, based on Sweden's experiences with Turkish and Iranian immigrants. In a paper accepted for publication in Population, Space, and Place, the authors use a longitudinal database to track resettlement patterns. They find that the region of origin (the place within a country) is more important in resettlement decisions that is the country per se.
Imagine Kurds from Turkey or Iran who thanks to home-country conflicts prefer to live alongside other Kurds but not Turks or Persians. Thus, ethnic conflicts in the sending country may manifest themselves in immigrants’ residential choices in the host country. Whether or not to encourage relocation, the drivers of post-migration residence decisions are key to good asylum policies. Otherwise, carefully crafted common asylum systems could be swiftly undermined.
In other words, ethnic differences are at play not only in the residential preferences and adaptation of immigrants to the host society, but also in the way that immigrants themselves behave toward each other in the host society. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why is Germany's Birth Rate so Low?

Germany's birth rate has been below replacement level since the early 1970s, according to data from UN demographers. There have been many lamentations about this fact in Germany, but until just about this year there were enough women of childbearing age--enhanced by immigration, especially from Turkey--having children that the population did not decline. It is threat of population decline, along with the not-so-popular solution of letting in more immigrants, that is one of the forces behind the right-wing populist movement in that country. So, I was very surprised by an article in OZY yesterday discussing results from a YouGov poll suggesting a high level of regret among Germans about becoming parents.
YouGov undertook what’s believed to be the first quantitative “parenthood regret” survey earlier this year, quizzing 1,228 parents — 671 women and 557 men. It found that a whopping 19 percent of mothers and 20 percent of fathers regret having children. They love their offspring but, if given the choice, would steer clear of parenthood a second time around.
The reasons surrounding this regret, at least for women, have to do with the lack of accommodation in German society for combining parenthood and a career. 
Young German women often struggle to find permanent employment following their studies, says Geissler, and the country’s generous maternity leave — three years with one’s post reserved — is available only to those who have such job stability. There also are limited options for working part-time as a professional. Nele Dagefoerde, a business-degree-toting mother of four in Esslingen, just outside Stuttgart, says that as long as companies and society fail to provide convincing models for moms to return to work part-time, and make it easier for men to do the same, it will always be difficult to have both a career and a family. “As long as women still have to make a choice whether to go for a career or to become a mother, there will be moms who regret motherhood,” she says.
There also appear to be limits to child-care combined with schools that end at mid-day that are oriented around a more traditional world of non-working mothers. Reading between the lines, you can see that Germany (like Japan, as well, as I've noted before) cannot reconcile itself to a world in which women are encouraged to become educated and employed in the paid labor force, and yet they are also expected to be full-time mothers. Women are essentially forced to choose and a lot of them decide to forego children as a consequence. Germans have known about this for several decades, yet have clearly done very little about it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Money and Age Still Go Together in the U.S.

As I discuss in the essay in Chapter 10 of my text, the wealth in the United States is concentrated in the population aged 65 and older. We see this every year when Forbes publishes its list of the 400 richest Americans. Now, to be honest, they put out this year's list several weeks ago, but it took me a while to organize the data into a spreadsheet so that I could analyze it (and, yes, you can pay Forbes for a spreadsheet, but I declined that offer) for an update to what's in the Chapter 10 essay in the 12th edition. The bottom line: in 2016 people 65 and older account for 57% of the richest 400, and they hold 59% of the wealth in that group.

At the same time, we have to recognize that 3 of the 5 richest Americans are under age 65: Bill Gates is 61, Jeff Bezos is 52, and Mark Zuckerberg is 32. If you are rich at a young age, you are likely to be uber-rich. Keeping in mind that it took a net worth of 1.7 billion to get in this club, people less than 45 years old had an average wealth of 9.8 billion, compared to 6.1 for those aged 45-54, 4.8 for those aged 55-64, and 6.2 for those aged 65 and older.

Although the list shows that there are a lot of ways to get rich (James LePrino has made billions out of Mozzarella cheese, for example), the one that stands out in terms of how many people are on this list is finance--in some way or another. That is, of course, the source of wealth for Warren Buffet--the third richest American, but there are a lot of hedge fund, private equity, and other investment-related people on the list. If you are watching "Medici" on Netflix, as my wife and I are, you will appreciate the historical nature of finance as a way of "financing" wealth. And if you want some insight to how private equity firms enrich their partners, check out this article in today's NYTimes.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Life Expectancy at Birth Takes a Hit in the US

Life expectancy in the United States is already the lowest among the rich nations of the world, despite the highest per person cost in the world. More bad news came out this week from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS--part of the Centers for Disease Control): life expectancy at birth dropped between 2014 and 2015. To be fair, the drop was minuscule, but a decline is still going in the wrong direction. The media, such as the Washington Post, emphasized that this was the first drop since 1993. I admit that I didn't remember that drop, but a little investigation revealed that it was due to deaths from HIV reaching their peak among men aged 25-44.

The latest increase appears to have multiple causes. First, we have the increase in opioid-related deaths, already identified by Anne Case and Angus Deaton at Princeton. Then there is the continuing increase in obesity and diabetes in the United States that is especially troublesome prior to old age. This is noteworthy because the report from the NCHS shows that life expectancy held steady at ages 65 and older. It is the younger ages that are driving the decline. And, on that note, we need a hat tip to Beth Jarosz, who tweeted out that the infant mortality rose between 2014 and 2015, although the media tended to ignore that bit of important information.

I saw today that the most-read article this year from "The Nation's Health", published online by the American Public Health Association, was the story about where U.S. states rank in terms of health. That story, while generally positive about health in the U.S., also pointed out the dilemma of obesity and diabetes. Put another way, we need a medical model that emphasizes prevention, rather than just expensive treatment. So, next time someone asks if we need health care reform, the answer is yes, and in a big way.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Abortion Rights Under Attack Yet Again--UPDATED

As I've said before, I am 100% convinced that if both men and women could get pregnant, abortion would be legal everywhere. But that's not how we evolved, so we have to continually cope with attacks on women's reproductive rights. The latest is a law just passed in Ohio, as reported by CNN:
Donald Trump's election, and a presumption that he'll appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, spurred Ohio Republicans to pass what would effectively be the nation's strictest time-based abortion law, a legislator said. 
Ohio lawmakers on Tuesday passed a controversial "Heartbeat Bill" that would ban abortions in that state from the moment the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected -- which usually occurs about six weeks into a pregnancy.
Two things strike me about this. First, as noted on NPR's reporting about this, most women don't even know they're pregnant at 6 weeks, so this legislation is effectively taking that option away from them. Secondly, of course, is the idea that Trump's election will dramatically increase the pressure on abortion rights. This is the same pressure being felt by people like Dr. Warren Hern in Colorado, whom I discussed shortly after the election.

As I write this, Ohio governor John Kasich has not voiced an opinion about the bill, but everything that he has said in the past suggests that he would be sympathetic. He has another week to veto it, but if he does nothing, it automatically goes into law next year.

UPDATE (12/13/16): Governor Kasich did, in fact, veto this bill, although he signed into law a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks in Ohio. It is possible that the more extreme bill was just a smoke screen to make it easier to pass the 20 week law, but I am just guessing on that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Cultural Differences in Fertility Levels in the U.K.

The United Kingdom has been generally welcoming to immigrants from its former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Each group has brought with it various cultural differences, including religion, that shape the U.K., especially in urban areas where most immigrants settle. The expectation in demography generally is that immigrants will have higher fertility than the native population, but that their children will reproduce at a rate closer to that of the native population. Hill Kulu and Tina Hannemann have found an exception to this pattern in the U.K. among descendants of immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their findings just came out in the online journal Demographic Research. Here is what the data show, drawing upon the longitudinal Understanding Society project in the U.K.:


Kulu and Hannemann show that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are just as likely to have a first child at about the same age as natives. So, the starting of a family is not different. What differs is that they are much more likely to have a second, third, and fourth child. This is not attributable to differences in education or employment status. Rather, the difference seems to be largely a function of culture, which includes religion (almost all immigrants from those two countries are Muslim), and coming themselves from and valuing large families. 

Of particular interest, though, is the finding that there is a certain bipolar distribution among immigrant groups and their descendants. Not all women act alike. Some (albeit still the minority) delay marriage and childbearing, while others are more likely to be the ones having a fourth child. The future will vary considerably depending upon which group gains the most traction over time.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Is the World's Muslim Population Growing Faster than the Christian Population?

We could perhaps call it the Religion Race. The two great proselytizing religions in the world are Christianity and Islam. Christianity had a seven century head start on Islam, but Islam has been steadily catching up with Christianity in terms of the overall number of adherents. Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing me to a recent assessment of where we stand globally.
Bottom line: both Christianity and Islam are growing faster than the world population (so the world is becoming more religious); and Islam is growing faster than Christianity, so the % Muslim in the world is increasing.
These numbers are based on projections made by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Although they use UN Population Division projections for their baseline numbers, they clearly have to make their own estimates of the population by religion. Their data project that by 2050 there will be 3.4 billion Christians, accounting for 35% of the world's projected population of 9.6 billion. By comparison, they project a total of 2.7 Muslims in 2050, representing 28% of the world's total. 

Meanwhile, last year Pew Research published its projections of the world population by religious affiliation. They projected a total of 9.3 billion people in the world by 2050, of whom 2.9 billion are projected to be Christian (31%), and 2.8 billion Muslims (30%). So, we see that the Christian group making projections has a higher number for members of its religious group than does the secular research organization. Does that surprise us? I think not. In either case, the conclusion stands that largely through birthrate differences, the Muslim population of the world is growing faster than the Christian population.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Defining U.S. Regions Using Census Data on Commute to Work

Humans have a natural sense of place and we tend to define ourselves at least partly by where we live. But how do we define the boundaries of places? Political entities are typically used and they may or may not reflect the lives of everyday people. Two researchers have nicely utilized commute to work data from the American Community Survey to organize the U.S. into what might be called "organic" (as opposed to politically defined) regions. The results are published in the open source journal PLOS ONE and summarized on the Atlasobsura.com website. The first map below summarizes the commuting patterns between census tracts in the U.S.:

Now, to be sure, some of those commutes are small in number, but that is all discussed in the paper (which you should read before making a final decision about how you feel about this). Now, combining these linkages with visual interpretation, the researchers (Garrett Dash Nelson, a historical geographer from Dartmouth, and Alasdair Rae, an urban analyst from the University of Sheffield) came up with the following map of "real" regions of the U.S.:

Since the baseline data refer to commuting patterns, these regions represent what we might think of as "spheres of influence" of major cities. Thus, you have one big area in the western states that lacks big cities and thus lacks any real commute patterns. Maybe that's what's left of the "wild west."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why are People Left Behind in Modern Society?

The general sentiment that I have seen regarding Donald Trump's election is that many people in America are feeling left behind and felt as though nobody in the current government was doing anything about that. Part of the explanation for people being left behind is, indeed, because many manufacturing jobs have been sent off to developing countries where wages are much lower and where, in general, environmental regulations and other worker and consumer protections are not built into the cost of manufacturing. The result is actually good for people because the increased availability of affordable consumer goods in this and other countries essentially raises everyone's standard of living since things are cheaper to purchase than they used to be. The availability of these cheap imported goods is the secret behind the amazing success of the Walton family--Wal-Mart opened its first store in 1962, shortly before the globalization of the labor market really took off. 

At the same time, however, manufacturing actually continued unabated in the U.S., but automation is replacing workers, as demonstrated by a Washington Post article intriguingly headlined "A single chart everybody needs to look at before Trump's big fight over bringing back American jobs..." The graph is from a report by researchers at the Brookings Institution and makes the point that "U.S. factories now manufacture twice as much as they did in 1984, with one-third fewer workers." Here's the graph:


The workplace is different than it used to be and people (including society in general) have to respond. But it is hard when there are obstacles to social mobility and employment success. The biggest obstacle, according to two new studies (adding fuel to a long-running hypothesis) is the family into which a child is born. A report out from the National Academy of Sciences concludes that "Parenting Matters."
From birth, children are learning and rely on parents and the other caregivers in their lives to protect and care for them. The impact of parents may never be greater than during the earliest years of life, when a child’s brain is rapidly developing and when nearly all of her or his experiences are created and shaped by parents and the family environment.
And a study out of Stanford University's Center on Poverty and Inequality shows that the U.S. and U.K. lag behind other culturally similar countries in ways that limit a child's chances of social mobility. The Financial Times summarizes the situation as follows:
Median family income was higher for rich families and lower for poor ones in the US and the UK than in Australia and Canada. In low-income families, the proportion where the mother was in poor health was far higher in the UK and US. 
The percentage of children born to a teenage mother was strikingly higher in poorer families in the US and significantly higher in the UK than in Canada or Australia.
In other words, we start out with too much income inequality (exactly as Thomas Picketty has famously talked about), but then compound that with high levels of out-of-wedlock births which lead to limited means available for children's development, not to mention the limitations that this places on the mother herself. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Many of China's Missing Girls May Not be Missing After All

A widely researched aspect of China's one-child policy, implemented back in 1979, was the rise in the sex ratio at birth. Census data revealed that there were far fewer girls at the youngest ages than you would have otherwise expected. The likely explanation seemed to be that millions of female fetuses had been aborted, or even that female infanticide was being practiced. While some of that probably did happen, a paper just published in the journal China Quarterly, suggests that many of these girls were in fact born, but were not registered until later--often years later. This was made possible largely through the complicity of local officials, largely in rural areas of China. The Washington Post has a summary, quoting John Kennedy at the University of Kansas, one of the study's authors:
“Most people are using a demographic explanation to say that abortion or infanticide are the reasons they don't show up in the census and that they don't exist. But we find there is a political explanation.” Local officials, they argue, were complicit in the concealment to retain support from villagers, and maintain social stability. “There is no coordination between cadres saying 'we're all in agreement,'” Kennedy said. “Actually it's just very local. The people who are implementing these policies work for the government in a sense. They are officials, but they are also villagers, and they have to live in the village where they are implementing policies.”
The authors first formed this idea back in 1996, but since one of the authors (Yaojiang Shi) is at a university in China, it was politically too risky until very recently to broach the subject publicly. The authors analyze age cohort data for older ages to show that, after accounting for probabilities of death, the sex ratios at older ages are closer than would be expected based on the highly skewed sex ratios at birth based on registered births. Parents were eventually paying the fine for the child so that she could attend school and eventually marry. Without her hukou registration, these things would not be possible.

These practices shed sad light on gender inequality in China. As the authors note in their paper: "This is associated with the virilocal marriage system whereby girls are raised by their natal family but then live with their husband’s family after marriage. Traditionally, daughters are considered to be 'born into another’s family.' As a result, there is no social or economic incentive for families, especially in the countryside, to have daughters." On the other hand, the acknowledgement that many of these missing girls aren't actually missing is good news for a government that has effectively ended the one-child policy in order to boost the age structure at the younger ages. And it means that the marriage for Chinese men may not be as bad as had been perceived, at least not in rural areas.