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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

India Says No to Condoms and Yes to Abortion

The New York Times reports today that India has banned condom ads from prime-time TV, saying that they are not appropriate for children.
Conservative groups were outraged by recent ads, including one that featured a former porn star undressing piece by piece, and they pressured the government to step in.
But progressive social groups said it was a bad move. India, they argue, desperately needs more condom use, not less. “We need to reach out to more people with more and more advertising, not less,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a private organization. ‘‘Condoms are one of the few methods of birth control which prevent H.I.V. and unwanted pregnancies. And they have no side effects.”
The NYTimes piece refers to a recent Deutsche Welle article about the unpopularity of condoms in India.  
While European countries have an overall 30 percent condom usage, India has less than six percent, even when it ranks third in the number of HIV cases worldwide.
Abortion, on the other hand, is very widely used in India as a means of fertility limitation, according to a paper just published in Lancet Global Health. 
We estimate that 15·6 million abortions (14·1 million–17·3 million) occurred in India in 2015. The abortion rate was 47·0 abortions (42·2–52·1) per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. 3·4 million abortions (22%) were obtained in health facilities, 11·5 million (73%) abortions were medication abortions done outside of health facilities, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done outside of health facilities using methods other than medication abortion. Overall, 12·7 million (81%) abortions were medication abortions, 2·2 million (14%) abortions were surgical, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done through other methods that were probably unsafe. We estimated 48·1 million pregnancies, a rate of 144·7 pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years, and a rate of 70·1 unintended pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. Abortions accounted for one third of all pregnancies, and nearly half of pregnancies were unintended.
The authors conclude that the demand for abortion currently exceeds the capacity of the health system to provide safe abortion services. Of course, if more people used condoms, this problem would be lessened.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can We Save the Census? Part Two

The problems surrounding the upcoming 2020 census came under additional scrutiny in today's NYTimes. Michael Wines has a lengthy piece covering the issues I mentioned a couple of days ago, but going into even greater depth than had the previous articles. In particular, he discusses some of the planned changes to the administration of the census that could be problematic if there is too little money to go around, especially if that were to be coupled with an inexperienced person at the helm.
The bureau has been working on the 2020 count since the 2010 census was completed. The complete overhaul now underway seeks to shrink the count’s costliest and toughest task: sending hundreds of thousands of enumerators to find and interview the millions of people who fail to fill out their census forms.
An online head count, the reasoning goes, should reach more households more efficiently than mailed forms. The enumerators who track down those who do not respond (in 2010, almost 3 in 10 households) will use smartphone apps that instantly send data to the bureau’s computers and track the canvassers’ progress.
The bureau also hopes to mine federal databases and even satellite images for information that could reduce wasted trips by enumerators — to vacant buildings, for example — and automatically fill in personal data like addresses and ages.
The consequences of a flawed census are, of course, enormous and the Times article points out a scary political scenario:
A marked undercount, especially one that appeared driven by partisanship, could spark an unsettling battle between the census’s political winners and losers. There is precedent: Article 1 of the Constitution requires a decennial census for reapportionment purposes. But after Republicans took control of Congress and the White House in 1920, the House of Representatives refused to allow reapportionment of House seats, fearing that the rapid urbanization the census had documented would shift political power from rural areas to cities.
The last word in the article goes to one of the very best directors that the Census Bureau has ever had:
“The record of the census in counting people from all income groups, all racial and ethnic groups, is really extraordinary,” said Steve H. Murdock, a Rice University sociologist who led the Census Bureau under President George W. Bush. “Once you break that belief in the activity, it’s hard to replace.”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

More Evidence That Contraception is a Good Thing

With reproductive rights generally under assault by the Trump administration, it is helpful that a new study just came out highlighting the importance of having contraception available to young women. This week's Economist reports on a working paper (presumably about to be published) by researchers at Stanford University.
Few tasks in developing countries are as tricky—or as important—as convincing parents to keep their daughters in school longer. One way of doing so is to make contraceptives available, concludes a new working paper by Kimberly Singer Babiarz at Stanford University and four other researchers.
Conducted in Malaysia, the study used a happy coincidence of surveys going back decades and family-planning programmes rolled out in a way that made it possible to measure their effect. Starting in the 1960s, these programmes were introduced in some areas a few years earlier than in others. So researchers could compare what happened to girls in areas where contraceptives became available when they were very young with girls from the same cohorts in areas with no contraceptives.
It turns out that girls in the areas with higher contraceptive availability stayed in school longer, had better jobs when they left school and were more likely to invite their parents rather than the in-laws to live with them. Of course, you could argue that correlation is not necessarily causation, but the impact of family planning programs is something that this group of researchers has been working. Check out the article published last year in Population and Development Review. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Can We Save the 2020 Census in the U.S.?

Ever since the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress there have been concerns about funding for the 2020 census in this country. A poorly funded census will be a lower quality census which will be troublesome for research of all kinds, including for businesses who rely heavily on that information. Remember, though, that the Constitutional mandate for a census is that those data are the basis for forming Congressional Districts. Thus, the census is inherently political, even as we demographers view it as a key source of data about the country. The Census Bureau has been without a director for several months now, following the resignation of John Thompson. The Director and Deputy Director positions have gone unfilled in the meantime, but there is growing concern that the Trump administration is going to put a possibly biased and almost certainly unqualified person in charge of census operations. 

Today's Washington Post has a detailed story about this:
This week the Population Association of America and the Association of Population Research Centers, whose members include over 3,000 scientists and over 40 federally-funded organizations, sounded an alarm bell about one of their most sacred cows: the United States Census Bureau.
Reports had surfaced saying the White House planned to install as the bureau’s deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political science professor with scant managerial experience who is best known for his testimony as an expert witness on behalf of Republican redistricting plans and a book that argues against competitive electoral districts.
News of the appointment, which sources close to the bureau say is imminent, sparked handwringing among statisticians, former bureau directors, and civil rights leaders.
The appointment would “undermine the credibility” of the traditionally nonpartisan bureau, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement. Brunell “appears to lack the necessary management and statistical agency experience, and may be viewed by many to have a very political perspective,” the president of the American Statistical Association wrote.
In a recent letter to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce (which houses the Census Bureau), the Population Association of America urged him "to promptly submit to the United States Senate a qualified nominee to serve as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and to reserve the agency’s Deputy Director position for a qualified candidate who can help lead the agency during these critical years leading up to the 2020 Census." We should all be writing a similar letter.



Monday, December 4, 2017

Europe and Africa Struggling With Migrant Issues

I recently blogged about the horrific situation in which African migrants trying to reach Europe wound up in slave markets in Libya. A video of a slave market was shown on CNN and that helped to galvanize the world's attention. In particular it was a top item on the agenda of last week's meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, between the European Union and the African Union. But, as Abu Daoud pointed out to me a couple of days ago, the result was disappointing. CNBCAfrica had a very mundane view of the proceedings:
Most of the discussion at the summit was about migration, with a horrific recent video of a slave auction in Libya at the forefront of delegates’ minds. The summit agreed on the formation of a special task force to protect migrants’ and refugees’ lives, including in Libya.
There was also much talk of how Europe might help African countries to build their economies in such a way that fewer Africans seek to migrate. The speeches on the subject were generic and general, but did show, we think, a widely shared will to do something to address the iniquities and deterioration in living conditions that make people flee their homes.
On the other hand, Deutsche Welle reports that while the UNHCR was very enthusiastic about the discussion, the German chapter of Amnesty International was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic:
The plan to evacuate refugees stuck in Libya's camps will not work in practice, says Franziska Vilmar of the German branch of Amnesty International. It has only been designed to help the EU shirk its responsibilities.
An even more dire view of the meeting was reported by the right-leaning gatestoneinstitute, which has a rather dire view of the proceedings:
The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe.
Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is "underestimating" the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that "millions of Africans" will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.
The bottom line here is that population growth in Africa is higher than local economies can absorb, and so people are looking around to see what the other options might be. Given the low birth rate in Europe, it seems as though the European economies beckon. At the moment, however, the European people are doing less beckoning at the same time that they are not willing to invest in African economies (which would indirectly encourage a lower birth rate), and so the problem is compounding. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

U.S. Pulls Out of Global Compact on Migration

Thanks to Rubèn Rumbaut for pointing me to the sad story that the United States has pulled out of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. This was a non-binding political declaration agreed to a little more than a year ago by all 193 member states of the United Nations. The Telegraph in the U.K. notes that the motivation behind the agreement was that migration (especially forced migration) is a growing global issue and success in dealing with this is probably greater if all nations can help "to to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they have access to education and
jobs."

The withdrawal by the U.S. comes the day before the start of a UN-sponsored meeting on global migration to be held this week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Although the Compact on Migration is voluntary, CNN notes that a statement from the U.S. State Department indicates that it "undermines the nation's sovereignty."

"While we will continue to engage on a number of fronts at the United Nations," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement Sunday, "in this case, we simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders." 
The US supports "international cooperation on migration issues," the statement added, "but it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal."
Of some interest is a report by Foreign Policy magazine that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was opposed to pulling out:
White House chief of staff John Kelly, who previously led the Department of Homeland Security’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly backed a pullout, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the deliberations. The State Department initially opposed the withdrawal, but its policy planning chief, Brian Hook, who represented Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the principals’ meeting, reversed course and recommended ditching the negotiations.
The meeting ended in deadlock, with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressing the lone dissent. Haley had argued that the United States would have a better shot at influencing the outcome of the negotiations if it participated in the process.
She was ultimately overruled by the president, according to diplomatic sources.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

It Isn't Easy Being an "Undocumented Immigrant" in Beijing

Yesterday's NYTimes had a lengthy story about neighborhoods of migrant workers in Beijing being destroyed by the government [see the photo below]. You may recall that China has a household registration system that is designed especially to keep rural villagers in their rural villages, rather than respond to the demand for workers in the city. But, of course, people do move to the cities where the jobs are and they become illegal migrants in the process. 

The city government says they are being pushed out for their own safety, after a recent deadly fire in a migrant settlement. But many migrants say the government is using the fire as an excuse to ramp up efforts to drive them out and ease pressures in a city whose population has already soared beyond 20 million people.
Beijing has set a goal of limiting its population to 23 million residents by 2020, while also making room to attract more higher-paid, university-educated professionals. 
Despite such efforts, officials have so far failed to deter migrants from settling in the city, largely because Beijing still relies on them to be its cooks, couriers and cleaners.
This is exactly the situation that the U.S. faces with undocumented immigrants. The economy is very reliant on them, and an increase in deportations would have very negative effects not just on the migrants themselves, but on local communities whose businesses would be suddenly shorn of needed workers. China, like the U.S., has to come to grips with the idea that you can't need undocumented immigrants and want to destroy their lives at the same time. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The "Chain Migration" Effect of DREAMers Is Apt to be Small

Chain migration is a process whereby someone moves to another country, gets established, and then is able to help others make the same move. It is institutionalized in family reunification provisions in the immigration laws of the U.S. and many, if not most, other countries. Sentiment has increased in the U.S. Congress to do something about the DREAMers (young people born outside the U.S. but brought to the country when young by their undocumented immigrant parents) before the DACA provisions run out and these people run the risk of being deported, even though they've spent their lives in this country. The main objection raised to legalizing these people is the idea that it will unleash a huge chain migration as they apply for their relatives to come to the U.S. A new report by the Migration Policy Institute analyzes this claim and finds it to be very overblown.
While research shows that after obtaining legal permanent resident (LPR) status or citizenship, immigrants in past decades have sponsored an average of about 3.5 relatives each, these comparisons cannot be applied to DACA recipients and the broader population of young unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children (known as DREAMers). There are two key reasons for this, [and detailed in the report]: DREAMers have very different characteristics than most green-card holders, and their family members face constrained immigration possibilities.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that by the time DREAMers obtain citizenship—a process that would take at least five years—an average of 0.36 of their spouses and parents would be able to obtain a green card under the most generous of the DREAM Act-type bills introduced in Congress. Because of existing visa backlogs, it would take them another 13 years or more to sponsor 0.34 to 0.67 siblings (a number that includes the spouses and minor children of those siblings).
In other words, over a lifetime, the average legalizing DREAMer would sponsor at most about one family member—a number that is a far cry from the estimates of 3.5 to 6.4 relatives that rely on older data and cover different populations.
With any luck, enough members of Congress will get this message and not be intimidated by the made-up numbers from right-wing media such as Breitbard. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Can Venezuela Handle a Higher Birth Rate?

The birth rate has gone down a lot in Venezuela in recent years. According to the UN demographers, it was nearly 3 children per woman only a couple of decades ago, and it is now nearly down to replacement level. The recency of this decline means that the country has a very large youth population--almost 4 out of every 10 Venezuelans is under age 20. But, a story today in the Washington Post suggests that contraceptives are not just priced out the market (as I had blogged about almost three years ago), they are nearly gone from the market.
For years, oral contraceptives, IUDs and condoms were available free at many public hospitals or through government programs. But the cash-strapped government has largely suspended those handouts, leaving some forms of contraception impossible to find and others prohibitively expensive.

“It’s hard for young people especially to access them,” said Vanessa Diaz, a gynecologist at Caracas University Hospital. “Contraceptives like condoms used to be given out and there were many brands available, some of them cheap. But that’s just not the case anymore.”
As you might expect, this is not keeping people from having sex. It just means that they are (a) more likely to get pregnant when they don't want to; (b) possibly going to have a dangerous unsafe abortion if pregnancy occurs; and/or (c) more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases. None of these outcomes is going to be good for the future of the country. Under the severe conditions existing in Venezuela, it is sadly possible to imagine a situation in which an increase in the birthrate through unintended pregnancies is balanced by a rise in the death rate from STDs and other diseases for which medicines are no longer available. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turkey Tries to Leverage the Syrian Refugees

You may recall that the EU is paying Turkey a fairly large amount of money to effectively warehouse 3.5 million refugees from the Syrian civil war, rather than letting them head into Europe. A story in today's Guardian reports that Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has threatened to let those people go if the upcoming Syrian peace talks include the Kurds, whom the Turkish government considers to be terrorists.
A sixth round of UN-sponsored Syrian talks to find a political solution for the six-year conflict is due to resume in Geneva on Tuesday, and Turkish opposition to any role in the talks for the Kurdish forces, the YPG, is likely to prove one of many stumbling blocks. Turkey regards the Syrian Kurds as inextricably linked to the Kurdish militant organisation, the PKK, which operates inside Turkey.

Speaking after a meeting with Theresa May in London on Monday, Binali Yıldırım said it was possible for Turkey to renege on its agreement with the EU, under which 3.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria have settled inside Turkey instead of heading for western Europe. 
Insisting Turkey is essential to Europe’s security and had prevented more than 53,000 foreign fighters reaching Syria and Iraq, he said: “We know how much [of] a headache the PKK constitute. If there is tolerance vis-a-vis these organisations in the long term, Europe will be endangering its own.”
The Prime Minister insisted this was not a threat (really??) but he did point that while Turkey has kept the refugees out of Europe, the EU has failed "to stick to a bargain struck in March 2016 in which Turkey would be granted visa liberalisation and cash in return for keeping Syrian refugees within its borders."

The article does not mention whether the fate of those Syrian refugees now in Turkey will be discussed at the Peace talks. One would assume that repatriation to Syria would be the preferred solution, although it is not clear how well they would all be received, nor what resources there would be for them to restart their lives.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A New Form of Election "Fraud" in the US

Michael Wines has a very interesting article in the NYTimes detailing the way in which the attempt to "clean up" lists of voters in several states wound up disenfranchising people who were, in fact, eligible to vote. At issue is something that I have been involved in for a long time--matching records. 

The motivation for cleaning up the voter lists is the requirement of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 that voter registration officials should make a reasonable effort to cull their lists of people who have died, moved away, are not citizens, or are convicted felons whose rights have not been restored. How do you do that? Largely by comparing lists of people, like those who died or who are felons, with the voter registration list.
Officials do tap databases kept by state vital records agencies, the Social Security Administration and the Postal Service, which has a change-of-address list. But the databases cannot assure matches; some jurisdictions do not collect personal information like Social Security or driver’s license numbers that could make a positive ID easier. 
And the databases themselves have flaws and anomalies. Voters with similar or identical names compound the odds of accidental delisting. A University of Pennsylvania study of 125 million voter registration files from 2012 found that some three million registrants shared a common first name, last name and date of birth. And registrants from groups where a few surnames are commonly used are especially vulnerable to being mistakenly struck from the rolls.
In California, for example, where there is a large Hispanic population, many people have the same surname, and often the same first name, as well. This issue came to my attention many years ago, when I asked by the defense lawyers for Richard Ramirez (the "night-stalker") to analyze why there were too few Hispanics showing up for jury duty in the Los Angeles downtown courthouse. When I examined the program that the county was using to match DMV and Registrar of Voter lists, I discovered that it was throwing out people as matches on the two lists when they were actually different people. This disproportionately affected Hispanics. The county rewrote its code and then handed over the job of matching records to a private firm. How did I know what to look for? My doctoral dissertation involved a matching of birth, marriage, and infant mortality records and I had scoured the literature on matching and had written my own program (see Appendix A in Teenage Marriages if you are interested!).

In the legal system, it is obviously important that a person have a jury of his or her peers, and race/ethnicity is the most important characteristic of "peers" according to rulings by the US Supreme Court. So, inclusion of all jury-eligible persons on a master list from which jurors are chosen is important. In voting, it is important that a person who is eligible to vote not be erroneously thrown off the voting rolls and prevented from voting. As Wines points out, this practice in Florida may actually have been the difference in George Bush winning the presidency in 2000.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doing a Better Job of Feeding Africans

As the most rapidly growing region on earth, sub-Saharan Africa needs to figure out ways to feed itself, even as it fends off land grabs from outsiders. This week's Economist shows how this could be done--it's all in the DNA. The story is about so-called orphan crops--foods that Africans eat, but which are not cash crops and so they don't get the same kind of attention as do global staples such as wheat, rice, and maize.
The cereals which dominate human diets—rice, wheat and maize—have had their yields and nutritional values boosted over the years by scientific breeding programmes. In the modern era of genomics, they have had their DNA scrutinised down to the level of individual base pairs, the molecular letters in which genetic information is written. They are as far removed, nutritionally, from their ancestors of as little as two centuries ago as those ancestors were from the wild plants which begat them. Orphan crops have yet to undergo such a genetic revolution.
The neglect has two important consequences: (1) these traditional crops, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, lablab beans, water berries, bitter gourds and sickle senna, elephant ears (leafy vegetables) and African locusts (tree-borne legumes) do not have as high a yield per acre as might otherwise be possible; and (2) they are not as nutritious in vitamins as they could be.
Even for adults, a lack of calories and essential nutrients is harmful. For children it can be devastating. Poor childhood nutrition leads to stunting—inadequate bodily development, including the development of the brain. A report published by the World Health Organisation on November 16th suggests that almost a third of Africa’s children, nearly 60m of them, are stunted. And stunted children grow into adults unable to achieve their potential. Researchers at the World Bank reckon the effects of stunting have reduced Africa’s GDP by 9-10% from what it would otherwise be.
Fortunately, African agricultural scientists are at work on these issues. What Nobel Prize-winning Norman Borlaug was able to do for wheat and maize, people like Dr. Robert Mwanga of the International Potato Centre in Uganda are trying to do for these African "orphan" crops. Note that Uganda's International Potato Center is part of a global network of CGIAR centers whose goal is to improve nutrition and food security in developing nations. I had the opportunity to learn about them first hand when I was doing spatial demographic consulting for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN. The world is clearly a better place for the work they do.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Eating More Animals Isn't Good for Your Health

I recently blogged about the fact that dogs are good for your health. That's because they are good family members. And you wouldn't eat your family members, right? Indeed, my wife and I stopped eating meat more than 30 years ago because we couldn't stand the thought of animals being killed so that we could consume them. And, of course, most people don't have to cope with the agony of doing the killing--they hire others to do that for them. In point of fact, with an increasing global population, especially a population that is ever more urban and affluent, the number of animals being raised for slaughter has increased over time, and that turns out to be bad for our health. 

The bad part is less a function of eating meat itself (although too much meat is not generally very good for you), but rather a function of the diseases that spread between livestock and humans. Making--and trying to fix--this connection is the goal of the One Health approach to life on the planet. A Dutch veterinarian, Thierry van den Berg, recently made the case in a blog post.
The One Health approach acknowledges that population health is dependent on interactions between animal and human diseases. In a globalized world, Humans and animals interact with greater frequency and intimacy. This interaction offers the opportunity for the emergence and spread of disease agents (chemicals, pathogens, etc.) that could adversely impact animal health, human health, or both. A multidisciplinary approach is required to address these questions.
It is reported that 61% of known pathogens can infect multiple animal species and 75% of all diseases that have emerged in the last two decades are of wildlife origin. Newly emerging and re-emerging infections are now recognized as a global problem, and 75% of these are potentially zoonotic.
One of the most significant changes in our society has been the “livestock revolution”, whereby the stock of food animals, their productivity and their trade has increased rapidly to feed the fast expanding and urbanized human population. This has led professionals involved in both animal and public health to recognize “veterinary public health” (VPH) as a key area for their activities to address the human-animal interface.
The reality is that we put ourselves at risk of emerging diseases when we raise ever more livestock for slaughter. And, as I have noted on more than one occasion, our ability to feed a growing population is almost certainly dependent on our eating less meat per person, rather than more. We need to turn things around for the sake of the future human health.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Can We Blame the World's Troubles on Illegal Immigration?

It sounds like it came from Donald Trump, but in fact it was Suu Kyi, the leader of the country of Myanmar, who reportedly told a group of visiting foreign ministers that illegal immigration is a cause of a lot of the problems in the modern world. The story comes from the Associated Press:
Suu Kyi said the world is in a new period of instability as conflicts around the world give rise to new threats and emergencies, citing “Illegal immigration’s spread of terrorism and violent extremism, social disharmony and even the threat of nuclear war. Conflicts take away peace from societies, leaving behind underdevelopment and poverty, pushing peoples and even countries away from one another.”
This seems to be a classic case of blaming the victims, since Myanmar considers its predominantly Muslim Rohingya population to be "illegal immigrants" who have no legal status, despite the fact that Rohingyas have lived in what is now Myanmar for a very long time. 
Myanmar has been widely criticized for the military crackdown that has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the crackdown appears to be a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” and some have called for re-imposing international sanctions that were lifted as Myanmar transitioned from military rule to elected government.
I blogged yesterday about the UN's attempt to enumerate and provide aid to the Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh. Myanmar has, for all intents and purposes, violently expelled these people from their own country and is now claiming that they had it coming to them.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Enumerating and Mapping Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for pointing me to a newly posted video by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees showing us how they are conducting an interactive census of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who have fled Myanmar in recent weeks. The UNHCR has a crew of about 100 enumerators who are visiting each of the households that have been set up in a huge refugee encampment housing about 500,000 people. Enumerators give each household an ID number and tag. Those tags have GPS coordinates, allowing the UN to know where each household is located physically. You can see this in the map below, that I have grabbed from their video:


On their real-time maps, they are able to click on a red dot, and the characteristics of that household are displayed. This is really pretty cool, I must say. And, of course, the hope is that with these kinds of data, the refugees will more easily receive the kind of aid they need.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dogs Are Good for Your Health!

Thanks to Todd Gardner and several others for pointing to a great study reported on by BBCNews showing that dogs are associated with better health among their owners than among people without dogs. The analysis is drawn from a large population-based longitudinal database in Sweden and the findings were just published in Scientific Reports.
We aimed to investigate the association of dog ownership with incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death in a register-based prospective nation-wide cohort (n = 3,432,153) with up to 12 years of follow-up. Self-reported health and lifestyle habits were available for 34,202 participants in the Swedish Twin Register.
Their overall conclusion is as follows:
[I]n a nationwide population based study with 12 years of follow-up, we show that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in single households and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death in the general population.
Taken together, we believe our longitudinal population-wide design provides the most robust evidence so far of a link between dog ownership and health outcomes, although bias from reverse causation, misclassification and confounding cannot be excluded.
Note that the authors are careful about the direction of causation. It may be that healthier people are generally more likely to have dogs, but even if that were true it doesn't negate the possibility that dogs can improve your health.

The one caveat that I would throw into the mix is that dog ownership is not always associated with loving the dogs. Our current German Shepherd was abandoned by its owner at a high-kill animal shelter here in Southern California when he was about one year old. Fortunately for Larry Bear (our name for him--his photo from just a few minutes ago is below) and for us, he was rescued by Coastal German Shepherd Rescue, and then he "rescued" us as we gave him his forever home. He's good for our health, and we're good for his health--it's a nice combination
.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Land Grabs and Hunger in Africa

A few days ago I posed the question: Can we keep feeding a growing population? My answer was don't bet on it, and other news this week speaks to some of the problems. Yesterday Reuters reported that the United Nations now estimates that the number of hungry people in Africa rose by 10% in 2016, pushing the overall number to 224 million. The explanation given was that the combination of conflict and climate change has made it harder to grow and distribute food in the sub-Saharan region. 

Keeping in mind that Africa has the fastest growing population in the world, what happens there has a huge impact on the global hunger picture. And one of the things happening in Africa is a land grab by wealthier countries who want to increase food productivity not necessarily for Africans, but rather as a source of food for themselves. Timothy Wise of the Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and also a senior researcher at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University) has been studying these issues for some time now and his group recently sent out this summary of some of the events he has been covering:
Tim was in Maputo October 23-24 for the Trinational People’s Conference on ProSAVANA, the controversial Mozambique-Brazil-Japan agricultural development project widely denounced by local farmers and communities as a land-grab. Fifty farmers took turns lecturing ProSAVANA director Antonio Limbau that they did not want large-scale foreign investments, they wanted support for their own food production. Tim has covered the conflict since 2014 (see previous articles here and here). This year he has also researched a controversial Chinese rice project; look for an in-depth report on the project soon.
While in Maputo, Tim presented at an African Union-sponsored three-day conference on “Climate Smart Agriculture,” the new catch-all term for agricultural practices that mitigate and adapt to climate change. He was part of an ActionAid-sponsored event on agro-ecology, where he laid out the evidence supporting a transition to soil-building agro-ecological practices, in contrast to the Green Revolution practices of monoculture fed by synthetic fertilizers. Colleagues from Zambia and Malawi presented case studies, and Tim offered observations of the successful project he’s seen in Marracuene, Mozambique. (See articles here and here.)
The point is that Africa needs its land to grow food for its rapidly growing population and it needs help (meaning investments, but not ones that are essentially confiscatory) to implement sustainable methods for increasing per acre productivity. The region's population growth will not be sustainable if Africans are routinely taken advantage of with respect to their agricultural land. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weaponized Mosquitos May be Headed Your Way

Malaria continues to be one of the biggest killers of humans in the world, and since mosquito bites are the method by which the malaria parasite infects a human, controlling mosquitos is a big deal. And, of course, mosquitos help spread other deadly diseases besides malaria, including dengue fever and the Zika virus. Over the years I have often blogged about both mosquitos and malaria--most recently in April of this year on World Malaria Day, when I discussed a new malaria vaccine being introduced. Last week we had yet another development, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of what are called "weaponized mosquitos" in 20 U.S. states.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval for MosquitoMate, a Kentucky-based biotechnology company, to release its bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in several parts of the United States.
The company’s lab-grown mosquitoes, which it calls ZAP males, are infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, naturally occurring in many insects, but not in Aedes aegypti, a vector for viruses such as yellow fever, dengue and Zika. When bacteria-infected males mate with uninfected females, the females produce eggs that don’t hatch. In addition, infected mosquitoes are less likely to spread disease.
Entomologist Stephen Dobson, CEO of MosquitoMate, told Quartz that the company could start selling the infected mosquitoes in the summer for use by municipal bodies and individual homeowners. The male mosquitoes don’t bite, which should make the release of these insects sound less alarming. 
The 20 approved states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia, as well as Washington, DC. The permitted states include mostly those with similar weather conditions to Kentucky, New York, and California, states where the company earlier conducted trials.
While companies like MosquitoMate are trying to make mosquitos less dangerous, a report today from Nature News suggests that an old-fashioned anti-malaria strategy is being brought back in Africa:
In a sea of high-tech malaria fixes — everything from drug-delivery by drone to gene-edited mosquitoes — an old-fashioned approach is saving thousands of children in West Africa, according to studies presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. 
The measure, called seasonal malaria chemoprevention, involves giving children a dose of antimalarial drugs once each month in the rainy season to prevent the disease in hard-hit regions. Researchers have previously demonstrated this strategy in large clinical trials but they had feared that their positive results wouldn’t be replicated in the messy, real world, because chemoprevention requires thousands of local health workers to deliver drugs to children in villages far from hospitals, pharmacies and paved roads.
I personally have always taken anti-malaria drugs with me to Africa, and the idea that these drugs could help save children from malaria through this selective dosage strategy is very intriguing. We are still at that stage where we have employ all of the "weapons" we can. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Migration Morphs Into Slavery in Libya--UPDATED

CNN has put together a very troubling report on the way in which human migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe by way of Libya has morphed into not just human trafficking, but into real slavery.
Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya's borders. They're refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe. Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the coast and the gateway to the Mediterranean.
But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands. So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.
As the route through north Africa becomes increasingly fraught, many migrants have relinquished their dreams of ever reaching European shores. This year, more than 8,800 individuals have opted to voluntarily return home on repatriation flights organized by the IOM.
This turn of events is probably not a surprise to the researchers at the "Human Costs of Border Control" project at the University of Amsterdam. 
On the basis of globalization theories, as well as on the basis of developments in European migration policies, we hypothesize that since 1990 migration law has witnessed a shift from migration control (reactive, focus on concrete individuals) to migration management (pro-active, focus on potential migrant populations). A second hypothesis is that the increased number of ‘irregular’ migrants dying on their way to Europe is an unintended side-effect of this shift. Thirdly, we propose that as a consequence of the shift to border management, the human rights protection previously available regarding migrant fatalities under border control, has become considerably less effective.
After ten years of work, they have just wrapped up their research, the results of which remind us that migration policies are actually matters of life and death in their consequences.

UPDATE: The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC has just posted a very interesting review of the changing migration policies between Spain and Morocco and between Italy and Tunisia. Reading this helps to illustrate how complicated the policy issues are with respect to migration from South to North.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Can We Keep Feeding a Growing Population? Don't Bet on it

In 2011, Professor David Lam of the University of Michigan was the President of the Population Association of America and in his presidential address at the Annual Meeting that year in Washington, DC, he predicted that there should be plenty of food to go around even as the world added another 4 billion people. [Like all presidential addresses, this was published later that year in the journal Demography.] Professor Lam updated some of these ideas in a recent article in the online news magazine of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). This was followed yesterday by a sort of rebuttal of that optimism from Richard Grossman, a retired gynecologist and public health physician.
As a demographer, it is appropriate that Lam should focus on humans. However, I fear that he has largely ignored the environment in which we live when he wrote this essay. I have difficulty accepting his statement: “An important source of optimism about the world’s ability to support an additional 4 billion people is the success in supporting the previous 4 billion.” My concern is that the past 4 billion have degraded natural world upon which we depend, and that this degradation will make the world much less welcoming to the next 4 billion.
If you've read Chapter 11 of my Population text you will know that I too worry about this same issue, and you won't find anything really new or exciting in what Grossman is saying. Rather, it is very troubling. Grossman also reminds us that Lam's optimism back in 2011 was subsequently challenged by Professor Stan Becker of Johns Hopkins University: 
In 2013, Professor Stan Becker challenged Professor Lam after his presidential address at the Population Association of America in 2011 in which he forecast “I expect that it [the world] will have improved in many ways, including lower poverty, higher levels of education, and plenty of food to go around” (Lam 2011:1259). Drs. Lam and Becker have a wager on food prices (collected by FAO) over the period 2001-10 to 2011-2020, with Lam predicting they will go down and Becker predicting they will go up. Half of the period of interest has passed (2011 to 2016), and prices have risen, by about 51% globally (Table 1).
And, of course, prices are going up because we have essentially used up all the available good farmland, we have to apply new and expensive technologies to get more food out of each acre of land, and we waste a lot of land and food on animals that are killed for humans to eat. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

South Koreans Push for the Right to Choose

For several decades abortion has been a legal and important method of fertility control for women in China and Japan. Not so in South Korea, where abortion has been outlawed since 1953 except for cases of rape, severe health threat to the mother, or a severe fetal defect. This week's Economist reports on a new push in South Korea to legalize abortion. The interesting thing about this effort is that it became necessary because a few years ago a concerted effort emerged to enforce the restrictions on abortion.
[F]or a long time governments turned a blind eye to it, viewing it as simply another form of birth control. Doctors readily provided it. Many people did not even know that it was illegal to have one. To this day the government estimates that around 170,000 pregnancies are aborted every year.
But in 2010 a group called Pro-Life Doctors started reporting hospitals offering abortions to the police. Wealthy and politically influential religious groups began campaigning against the practice too. The president at the time, Lee Myung-bak, a devout Christian, vowed to prevent illegal abortions. He created a task force to ensure the law was enforced, presenting the move as a way to lift falling fertility rates. It did not work: in 2016 there were only 406,000 live births, the lowest number on record. It did lift prices though: during Mr Lee’s term, the cost of a furtive abortion reportedly rose tenfold.
Keep in mind that a relatively rapid drop in fertility has been one of the keys to South Korea's economic success. At the same time, the birth rate is only slightly below replacement level, and is higher than in either China or Japan. Thus, it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that penalizing abortions will make a huge difference in the birth rate. This is largely a humanitarian reproductive rights issue.
A recent survey found that only 36% of people want to keep abortion as a criminal offence, down from 53% in 2010. The constitutional court is due to rule soon on a challenge to the abortion law, on the grounds that it is an unwarranted infringement of women’s personal liberty. In 2012 the court voted narrowly to uphold it, but several more liberal judges have joined since then.
To the extent that religion might play a role in the abortion debate, it is interesting to note that South Korea is a country in which there is no religious majority. A Pew Research report shows that people with no religious affiliation are the largest single group (46%), followed by Christians (29%) and Buddhists (23%). The current President, Moon Jae-In is a Roman Catholic. 


Friday, November 10, 2017

How Well Can We Predict Our Own Survivability?

Having recently had my own brush with death, I was fascinated by one of the articles in the latest issue of the Vienna Yearbook of Population Research (Volume 14--2106) published by the Vienna Institute of Demography. Well, actually, they are all good articles, but the one by Alberto Palloni and Beatriz Novak caught my eye for two reasons: (1) Professor Palloni is a Past President of the Population Association of America (click here for an interview with him), and (2) we humans tend to be very interested in our potential ability to evaluate our own likely age at death.

In their research, Palloni and Novak compared people's own subjective responses about their probability of surviving to a particular age, with life table probabilities based on calculations from death certificate analysis at the national level. Their source of data for people's subjective probabilities was a set of questions asked in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), funded over many years by the National Institutes of Health.
The HRS is a longitudinal survey designed to gather information on individuals in the U.S. from pre-retirement into retirement. The first wave’s (1992) target population included individuals born between 1931 and 1941 who were living in households, and the spouses or partners of these individuals, regardless of their ages. Out of the 15,497 individuals who were eligible to be interviewed in 1992, 12,654 respondents were actually interviewed. Since then, the individuals in this initial cohort have been re-interviewed every two years. The entire survey consists of five birth cohorts who have been incorporated into the study over time. In the present study, we examine data from the first, fourth, and fifth HRS cohorts.
Here's what they found:
We show that the subjective probabilities are remarkably close to the results of actual life tables constructed from observed data, that whites underestimate their survival chances more than blacks, that women underestimate their survival chances more than men, and that the subjective underestimation of conditional survival increases with age in all population subgroups. We find significant differences in the survival outlooks of the original HRS cohort and a more recent HRS cohort (1992 versus 2004). These differences persist after introducing suitable controls. The observed mortality differentials between smokers and non-smokers, obese and non-obese individuals, and high-education and low-education groups are quite close to those of these subgroups’ subjective survival expectations. Finally, we find large updating effects that result from recent health shocks on subjective expectations.
As the authors note, this is really an extension of the literature showing that self-rated health generally comes very close to what physicians would say about you in a physical exam. We tend to know ourselves pretty well, and tend to monitor our likely chances of survival in a reasonably realistic way. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Will People in Poland Start Breeding Like Rabbits?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for the link to a BBC video on a new attempt by the Polish government to get people to raise the birth rate--encouraging them to "breed like rabbits". The video also reminds us of other attempts at this, including the Danish advertisement aimed at getting young adults to think romantically and not just have sex, but to have kids.

I'm guessing that this will not be an easy sell in Poland. The country's total fertility rate dropped down to replacement level way back in 1990, and it has slowly slipped since then down to almost 1.3. The slowness of the drop has been beneficial in the sense that it has not sent huge shocks through the age structure. Poland is aging, right along with the rest of Europe, but the population aged 20-64 (working ages) has been pretty steady at about 65% of the population. At the moment there are just about as many people under 20 as there are 65 and older. The total population size peaked in 2000 at just above 38 million, and it is still above 38 million, so there is nothing to suggest pushing the panic button.

It seems likely that this attempt to raise the birth rate is meant as a pushback against complaints by the EU that Poland has refused to accept any refugees from the Middle East. The Telegraph noted a couple of months ago that the new right-wing government in Poland is not interested in accepting refugees. Since refugees tend to be young adults--often with their children--they could be seen as an alternative to native Poles raising their birth rate, but that is clearly not currently a popular option in Poland. (And, by the way, the Danes are not interested in new refugees, either...)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Guns are a Public Health Risk in the U.S.--Redux

It is painful to note that it was scarcely a month ago that I blogged about the fact that guns are a public health problem in the United States. That was in reference to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, but Sunday's massacre at a church in Sutherland Spring, Texas, has raised that issue again. Nicholas Kristof has a very good Op-Ed in today's NYTimes laying out the case--yet again. His approach is one that makes sense, and could (please!) be politically palatable both to gun-owners and non-owners--following what we did for automobiles by making them safer.
Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent since 1921.

Take a look at the history of motor vehicle safety since World War II:
It took a long time to make cars safer, but we've done a good job of this. The sooner we start on making guns safer, the better off we will all be.
Some of you will protest, as President Trump did, that it’s too soon to talk about guns, or that it is disrespectful to the dead to use such a tragedy to score political points. Yet more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.

Yes, making America safer will be hard: There are no perfect solutions. The Second Amendment is one constraint, and so is our polarized political system and the power of the gun lobby. It’s unclear how effective some of my suggestions will be, and in any case this will be a long, uncertain, uphill process.
We cannot sit back passively and wait for things to happen. People need to talk to their members of Congress, non-profit organizations need to get involved, and the gun manufacturers need to be brought into the dialogue, just as auto manufacturers were. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

More Sleep + Less Sugary Soda = Better Heath

OK, with any luck you already know these things, but it always helps to have new research come along to remind us of these truths. The Nation's Health (from the American Public Health Association) summarizes a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
We show that more than one-half of racial differences in cardiometabolic risk can be explained by sleep patterns—namely, less total sleep and lower sleep efficiency among African American than European American adults. Sleep is a malleable health behavior that is linked with characteristics of the social and physical environment and could be an effective target in national efforts to reduce racial health disparities.
Differences in sleep patterns may be attributed to increased exposure to social stresses, the study showed. Stressors associated with socio-economic status and systemic discrimination can lead to low sleep efficiency.
Although the study compared racial/ethnic groups, the lesson is true for everyone--better sleep is associated with better health. You can find out more about this by thumbing through issues of the Journal of Sleep Research--with luck it won't put you to sleep... 

Sugary sodas have been under attack for a long time and the evidence continues to mount that they push your weight up, and that is bad for your health in a variety of ways. The latest research comes from the American Journal of Public Health and uses data from a population of teachers in Mexico.
We followed 11 218 women from the Mexican Teachers’ Cohort from 2006 to 2008. Dietary data were collected using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. Weight was self-reported, and waist circumference was self-measured. We used linear regression to evaluate changes in sugar-sweetened and sugar-free soda consumption in relation to changes in weight and waist circumference, adjusting for lifestyle and other dietary factors.
Decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened soda was associated with less weight gain, and increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened soda had an opposite association. These results were similar when waist circumference was used as a measure of adiposity. The impact of changes in sugar-sweetened soda intake on weight appeared to be stronger among women who were overweight or obese at baseline relative to women who were of normal weight. Changes in sugar-free soda consumption were not associated with weight change.
Thus, if the consumption of sugary sodas increased over a two-year period, so did a person's weight. Conversely, less sugary soda was associated with a weight loss. The results were not huge, but this was only a two-year timeframe. And the fact that sugar-free sodas had no effect lends credibility to the findings.

So, drink less sugary soda, get more sleep, and, by the way, don't forget to be vaccinated against the flu. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Chinese Government Doesn't Want Us to Know About the Low Birth Rate

A recent story in the South China Morning Post notes that the latest Statistical Yearbook from China omits mention of the birth rate. Very suspicious!
China’s National Bureau of Statistics has been publishing the data on the “age-specific fertility rate of child­bearing women” – the measure of how many children were born to different age groups – annually since 2004.
But in the 2017, China’s statistics yearbook, which sets out the data from the previous 12 months, the bureau said it had decided to remove these figures, which help to calculate the country’s overall fertility ratio [the total fertility rate, as we would call it].
Almost three years ago, as the one-child policy was being lifted in China, I commented on the fact that demographers did not expect a rise in the birth rate, whereas the Chinese government did. Not surprisingly, the demographers appear to continue to be right.
The statistics agency’s number, which indicated a fertility ratio of 1.05 in 2015, ran counter to an estimated fertility rate of 1.6 from the National Heath and Family Planning Commission, the body that is responsible for China’s family planning policy and ruthlessly implemented the country’s one-child policy for decades. 
While the statistics agency did not explain why it stopped publishing the data, demographers said it underscored the problems with China’s official population figures.
Liang Zhongtang, a demographer who sat on the state family planning commission in the 1980s, said China’s fertility rate had failed to show any meaningful increase after the country officially rolled out a universal two-child policy in 2016, adding that could be one reason for the non-disclosure. “A gap between what the government actually got and what they had expected may persuade them to stop releasing the data,” Liang said.
If the birth rate really is still close to one child per woman, as we expect it really is, the consequences for China's age transition are clear: the aging population will continue to grow more quickly than the younger labor force, and this will create continual strains on the Chinese economy. It is not clear whether or not this feeds into the new "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" that is now enshrined in the communist party's constitution. What we do know from the South China Morning Post story is that family planning wasn't mentioned by Xi during the recent communist party gathering. "Instead, Xi used the much milder term “population policy” and stressed that China must “enhance strategic research” into its demographics."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Demographic Effects of Girls' Education in Developing Countries

The National Academies Press just released a synopsis of a workshop organized earlier this year by the Population Committee of the National Academy of Sciences on the topic of "Demographic Effects of Girls' Education in Developing Countries." The workshop was headed up by Ann Blanc of the Population Council, Jere Behrman of the University of Pennsylvania and Cynthia Lloyd who is now an independent consultant but was with the Population Council for many years. The main question raised was this: Why does education have an impact on fertility? In other words, what are the causal linkages?

In general, the participants in the workshop (who were all demographers doing work in the area of girl's education and fertility in developing countries--especially in Africa) concluded that an education can change the way a girl thinks about her place in the world and this can influence her decision-making about the timing of both marriage and childbearing. At the same time, having a baby early almost always truncates a girl's education and sets her back for the rest of her life. So, the causal links work in two directions.

I read through the synopsis of the workshop looking for things I didn't already know, and the major point that was brought out that needs some consideration is the idea that the quality of education may actually be lower now than it used to be in some of the countries that were being discussed. If that is true, then the impact of education on attitudes and behaviors of young women may be less than in the past. Still, however, I saw nothing to suggest I should modify the following summary that you will find on page 207-208 in Chapter 6 of the 12th edition of my text:
It is nearly axiomatic that better-educated women have lower fertility than less-educated women in any given society. It is the identification of this kind of fertility differential that helps to build our understanding of reproductive dynamics in human societies, because it causes us to ask what it is about education that makes reproduction so sensitive to it. In general terms, the answer is that education offers to people (men and women) a view of the world that expands their horizon beyond the boundaries of traditional society and causes them to reassess the value of children and reevaluate the role of women in society. Education also increases the opportunity for social mobility, which, in turn, sharpens the likelihood that people will be in the path of innovative behavior, such as fertility limitation, that they may try themselves. Indeed, the role of education is so important that demographers at the Vienna Institute of Demography have created a whole set of population projections incorporating trends in educational attainment as a predictor of fertility levels.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Demographics of Not Moving to Where the Jobs Are

There seems to be general agreement that Donald Trump's base of support are people who feel they are being left behind by the process of globalization and they want some change. It seems highly unlikely that Trump's proposed tax cuts will help those people, but this week's Economist takes a stab at the problem. 

The general pattern in the past in most countries of the world has been for people to go where the jobs are. My wife's grandfather migrated from Denmark in the late 19th century because there were no jobs there, but there was a chance to be a successful farmer in the American midwest. In my lifetime, my family certainly moved for economic reasons. During the first 12 years of my life, we lived in two different cities in northern California, three cities in Oregon, and one city in Arizona before settling down in San Diego. But Americans are moving less than they used to, according to Census data assembled by the Economist (see below). 


The Economist suggests that several demographic factors may help to understand this slowing of migration. There are now many more two-earner households, making it harder for couples to move (or even to decide where to move if they are going to move). At the same time, people may have older parents who are aging in place and who expect or at least hope that their children and grandchildren will be close enough to help them out. Another major impediment to movement is the high cost of housing in almost all of the urban places that are home to the superstar companies. The higher wages in those places may be offset by the cost of living there. There is also the fact that many unemployment and welfare benefits are place-specific. If you move, you lose those benefits, thus reducing the incentive to move since most people tend to be risk-averse.

The principal suggestion for change proposed by the Economist amounts to local economic development. This could involve a public-private partnership to invest in new types of businesses where globalization has left a labor force looking for work. Going along with this could be an investment in local community colleges geared toward teaching people the skills that these new companies need for success. This is so crazy it might just work.

Friday, October 20, 2017

How Many Births Were Averted in China by the One-Child Policy?

My thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten for pointing to a story in Science magazine by Mara Hvistendahl about a controversy brewing over how many births were averted in China by their one-child policy.
A new study of China’s one-child policy is roiling demography, sparking calls for the field’s leading journal to withdraw the paper. The controversy has ignited a debate over scholarly values in a discipline that some say often prioritizes reducing population growth above all else.
Chinese officials have long claimed that the one-child policy—in place from 1980 to 2016—averted some 400 million births, which they say aided global environmental efforts. Scholars, in turn, have contested that number as flawed. But in a paper published in the journal Demography in August, Daniel Goodkind—an analyst at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland, who published as an independent researcher—argues that the figure may, in fact, have merit.
Now, to be honest, I'm not sure that Goodkind's study is "roiling demography," but the paper is, in fact, written in a somewhat contentious style because it is obvious that Goodkind knows that his analysis will likely be unpopular. To be sure, he notes explicitly that his conclusions are different from those of a lot of people, including Stuart Gietel-Basten, and Mara Hvistendahl who wrote this story for Science. 

If you have read Chapter 6 of my book, you will know from Figure 6.9 (see below) that the drop in fertility was very similar in China (where the one-child policy was implemented in 1979) to that in Taiwan, where there was no such policy. 



The Taiwanese are culturally very similar to those in mainland China and, despite the fact that economic development may have taken off a bit earlier in Taiwan than on the mainland, the two countries were already on the same downward fertility path before China implemented its one-child policy. Goodkind tends to dismiss that argument in his paper, preferring to believe that the differences in economic development were more important than the data seem to suggest. 

My reading of Goodkind's paper is that it is much ado about nothing. While one may question the editors of Demography as to whether it should have been accepted for publication, it at least reminded us that there's nothing to see here folks. The one-child policy was a human rights disaster and, in my view, was not necessary to the drop in fertility in China. The Chinese were going to avert those births with or without that policy.