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:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What If We Could Live to Age 1,000?

Yes, that's what I asked, and no, this is not April Fools Day! Thanks to my long-time friend Larry Freymiller for giving me his copy of the June issue of The Smithsonian which has an article by Elmo Keep about a Silicon Valley non-profit research organization whose goal is ostensibly to stretch human lifespan to 1,000 years. Aubrey de Grey has a PhD in biology from Cambridge and his work is aimed at extending the ideas in his 1999 book "The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging, in which he argued that immortality was theoretically possible. Since then, he’s been promoting his ideas from prominent platforms—the BBC, the pages of Wired, the TED stage. He delivers his message in seemingly unbroken paragraphs, stroking his dark brown wizard’s beard, which reaches below his navel. Unlike most scientists, he isn’t shy about making bold speculations. He believes, for example, that the first person who will live to be 1,000 years old has most likely already been born."

Mr. Keep keeps it real, however, by interviewing others who suggest that while de Grey puts that idea out there to attract funding, he probably doesn't really believe it. Keep also asks him some hard questions about the whole concept of extending human lifespan in a way that he thinks might be possible:
I ask de Grey about how the world would change—socioeconomically especially—if no one ever died. Would people still have children? If they did, how long would the planet be able to sustain billions of immortals? Wouldn’t every norm predicated on our inevitable deaths break down, including all the world’s religions? What would replace them? At what point might you decide that, actually, this is enough life? After decades? Centuries? And once you made that decision, how would you make your exit? 
“I find it frustrating that people are so fixated on the longevity side effects,” de Grey says, clearly irritated. “And they’re constantly thinking about how society would change in the context of everyone being 1,000 years old or whatever. The single thing that makes people’s lives most miserable is chronic disease, staying sick and being sick. And I’m about alleviating suffering.”
Longevity "side effects"? An interesting way to think about what would probably be the most radical change ever to occur in human society. Think about it. What would your answer be?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Most of Us Will Not Live to See the World's Population Stop Growing

Last week the United Nations Population Division released its latest round of World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision. Although there was nothing dramatically new in here, it provides a good overview of where we stand demographically. In particular, the report itself, along with CNN's reporting of the findings, remind us of the key role that Africa is playing in the world's demographic future. If you have read my book and followed this blog, you already knew that Nigeria has been on track for quite a while to displace the U.S. as the third most populous country by the middle of this century. But Nigeria is not alone in Africa in terms of its rate of growth--it just happens to be the most populous of Africa's countries. I have copied below two of the graphs from the UNPopulation Division report. The first shows the projected trajectory of world population growth through the rest of this century.

The medium-variant projection shows the world's population approaching a point of leveling off by the year 2100--83 years from now. Since life expectancy at birth in the United States is currently lower than that for both males and females, you can appreciate that only a relatively small fraction of people currently alive in this country--and in most other countries, as well--will be alive to see the world's population stop growing, unless something dramatic happens in the meantime. What would that dramatic thing be? The second graph offers the clue:

The current age structure is very young--largely because of Africa. What the world needs now is a huge effort to rapidly reduce the birth rate in Africa. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

World Refugee Day Recap

I wasn't able to blog last Tuesday, which was World Refugee Day, as declared by the United Nations. In recapping what we know, the sad truth is that the refugee situation is worse than last year, which was arguably the worst ever until now. CNN summarized the situation as follows:
We are in the midst of the WORLD'S WORST refugee crisis in history. A crisis that brings with it overwhelming numbers, huge challenges for countries and communities affected, untold misery -- and hope.
More than 65 MILLION people are now counted as forcibly displaced by the United Nations. That's like the entire population of the UK or France, or about as many as everyone in New York state, Texas and Florida -- all forced from their homes. Just over one-third are refugees, people forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war, or violence.
As they did last year, the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. State Department has prepared an infographic summarizing our current knowledge of the global refugee situation. I have copied it below. Note that the map itself highlights the sources of refugees--the darker the shade of blue the more refugees there are from that country. The middle of Africa, and the area from Syria to Pakistan are the major contributors. The graph in the lower left shows the countries hosting the greatest number of refugees. Turkey and Jordan lead that list, and this is due largely to the Syrian crisis, although Jordan also hosts a population of displaced Palestinians. If you compare the map of where refugees are leaving, and the graph of where they are going, you see the complexity of situation--many countries that are generating refugees are also hosting refugees from elsewhere. This is true, for example, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (currently the largest source of refugees into the U.S.), Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and even Syria (which hosts refugees from Iraq, even as hundreds of thousands of its own people have fled the country.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fertility is on the Rise in Egypt

Thanks to Abu Daoud for linking me a to a story about census workers in Egypt finding more babies than they expected. The latest census is underway--a year late (the last census was in 2006 and Egypt has been conducting censuses every ten years; this one got delayed a bit) and there are more young kids being found than were expected.
Census workers going door to door in Egypt’s teeming neighborhoods and crowded towns are discovering a new country — of more than 20 million people born in the last decade alone.
Family planning efforts have lapsed over the past decade, particularly during the chaotic years following the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Today the government is mainly focused on combatting Islamic militancy and repairing the tattered economy.
But the staggering growth rate in the most populous Arab country, already home to more than 93 million people, could worsen both problems by giving rise to yet another bulging generation with few job prospects and widespread reliance on dwindling government assistance.
“In 10 years, we’ve made what can be considered an entirely new country,” said Hussein Sayed, the coordinator of the national census. The results will be finalized and released in August.
Now, to be fair, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you won't be surprised by these findings, since they were heralded by the 2014 Egyptian Fertility Survey, which revealed an unexpected rise in Egyptian fertility over the past few years, as I noted at the time. 

Nonetheless, to have the census confirm this finding is important and, with luck, when the results are made available we should be able to track the spatial demographic patterns of changing fertility in this important and populous country.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Is Growing Old a Societal Blessing or Curse?

I have been absorbed for the past several days by two simultaneous court cases in which I am an expert witness (I have been involved in more than 200 of these over the years, drawing upon my demographic and statistical background), and so today I have the very pleasant task of sorting through blog post ideas that several of you have sent me. Since I recently turned yet another year older, I'm going to go first with the suggestion from Justin Stoler, who pointed to a story in Bloomberg called "The Old Are Eating the Young," written by Satyajit Das--a 60-year old Australian of Indian descent. The basic point is a familiar one if you have read my book and follow this blog--the older population is currently increasing at a faster rate than the younger population in virtually all richer countries, and the burden of paying for a dependent older population will fall on that younger population and it's going to be a bigger burden per person than in the past.
This growing burden on future generations can be measured. Rising dependency ratios -- or the number of retirees per employed worker -- provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.
But you know how to cope with this--work long and save. That latter point is really important, as the Bloomberg article points out. Global economies are based on consumption, not on saving.
A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money -- today standing at a dizzying 325 percent of global gross domestic product. Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet.
Somehow we have to get past the idea that it is OK to borrow money to buy "stuff" when we're not really sure how we're going to pay that money back. Naturally we all want a high standard of living, but my old-fashioned (and tested) idea is that you can't afford it, don't buy it. Work hard, save, and then buy it when you can afford it. Try it, it works! 

The point here is that the old are not actually eating the young. If everyone of all ages worked and saved instead of borrowing against the future, the economy would adjust accordingly.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Case for Deporting Nonimmigrants

If you haven't done so already, you really have to read the only slightly tongue-in-cheek article by Bret Stephens in the NYTimes titled "Only Mass Deportation Can Save America." The basic point is that the sociodemographic characteristics of nonimmigrants are not as oriented toward "Making America Great Again" as are those of immigrants. Here's a taste of what he's saying:
On point after point, America’s nonimmigrants are failing our country. Crime? A study by the Cato Institute notes that nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones.
Educational achievement? Just 17 percent of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search — often called the “Junior Nobel Prize” — were the children of United States-born parents. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, just 9.5 percent of graduate students in electrical engineering were nonimmigrants.
Religious piety — especially of the Christian variety? More illegal immigrants identify as Christian (83 percent) than do Americans (70.6 percent), a fact right-wing immigration restrictionists might ponder as they bemoan declines in church attendance.
Business creation? Nonimmigrants start businesses at half the rate of immigrants, and accounted for fewer than half the companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005. Overall, the share of nonimmigrant entrepreneurs fell by more than 10 percentage points between 1995 and 2008, according to a Harvard Business Review study.
Despite the Trump administration rhetoric about undocumented immigrants--which helps fuel resentment of immigrants--a Pew Research analysis shows that 75% of immigrants in the U.S. are legal immigrants. Although Latino immigrants tend to be less well educated than the average nonimmigrant in the U.S., Asian immigrants are considerably better educated than nonimmigrants and they now account for a greater share of immigrants than Latinos. Stephens reminds us that it has been immigrants across every generation that made America great, and that is as true today as it ever was. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Population Overshoot Well Illustrated

Bill Marsh at the NYTimes just put out a very nice set of graphics under the title of "Overpopulation and Underfed: Countries Near a Breaking Point." The data go beyond that, though, to illustrate the fact that the world is in Overshoot mode, whether we want to admit it or not (and most people are overshoot deniers, let's face it). 
Mass migration, starvation, civil unrest: Overpopulation unites all of these. Many nations’ threadbare economies, unable to cope with soaring births, could produce even greater waves of refugees beyond the millions already on the move to neighboring countries or the more prosperous havens of Europe. The population crisis is especially acute in Africa, as Eugene Linden writes in the accompanying article, but it spans the globe, from Central America to Asia.
Curbing poverty in some countries would require unheard of economic growth. Even maintaining the economic status quo, a very low bar, is beyond reach.

In many countries, the population of desperately impoverished has grown to far exceed their total population as of 1970. When conditions worsen, the numbers stricken are staggering, and Malthusian concerns come back with a vengeance.
Take a careful look at this graphic. It shows a set of the world's most impoverished countries by their population in 1970, their population in 2015, and the number (in millions) of the most impoverished in that total population as of 2015. In every case, the number of impoverished people is a very high percentage of a population that has grown typically about three times its size since 1970. This can't be sustained.

The point above about even maintaining the economic status quo in some countries being "beyond reach" is what we mean by overshoot, as I noted a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Demographics of the Recent UK Election--Age Matters

Thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten at Oxford for linking us to a just-out report from on the demographics of the general election in the U.K. in which Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party received an unexpected whipping. Indeed, she called the snap election thinking that it was going to increase her majority in Parliament. Oops! (Several of her close advisors have resigned over this). Data come from a survey of more than 50,000 voters, so we can anticipate that the results have meaning. 
In electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics. The starkest way to show this is to note that, amongst first time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead. Amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of fifty percentage points.

In fact, for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around nine points and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by nine points. The tipping point, that is the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour, is now 47 – up from 34 at the start of the campaign.
However, as they note, the problem for politicians is that young people are less likely to vote than older people and, of course, the older population is currently growing at a more rapid rate than the younger population. To be sure, those two facts may have inspired Conservatives to think that the snap election was a good idea. Other factors were obviously at work here because the tipping point age from Labour to Conservative, as noted in the paragraph above, went up during the course of the election campaign. Who knew it would be so complicated?

Monday, June 12, 2017

US Census in Peril Puts the Economy in Peril

It has been more than a month since the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau resigned, and no one has been called upon to fill the job yet. The Deputy Director job is also vacant. As we get ever closer to the 2010 census, we really need people pushing the administration and Congress for enough money to fund a good census. The U.S. had led the world in the quality of its censuses for more than two centuries, but this is in peril, as the Huffington Post detailed in a very good article a couple of days ago. If you haven't read it, you need to.
When most people think of the U.S. Census Bureau, they probably don’t think of an agency that supercharges the profitability and efficiency of American businesses. Nor do they realize that one of the economy’s best secret weapons is facing its greatest crisis since James Madison and Thomas Jefferson created it in 1790.
But then again, most people haven’t built a $4.5 billion fortune based on Census data, the way Jack and Laura Dangermond have. The Dangermonds, sweethearts since high school, had an epiphany about data while they were graduate students at Harvard in 1967, a time when the university was awash in protests and political strife. They were both working in a lab developing the nascent field of computerized mapping, now better known as geographic information systems.
I've personally been using GIS to map and analyze census data for the last 30 years, and demographic science and a lot of other segments of the economy depend upon high quality georeferenced census data.
The world today is all about analytics, and the Census Bureau provides systematic and science-based information about the demographic profile of Americans,” Dangermond said. “Census data is in many ways the lifeblood of these kinds of organizations.”

That’s not an exaggeration ― and it’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spends a lot of time trying to persuade Congress and the White House to keep the bureau and its data production well-funded.
Indeed, the businesses that use this government data generate up to $220 billion a year in economic activity, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce study.
We all need to step up our efforts to contact our Senators and Member of the House of Representatives and remind them that as a nation we can't afford not to do a good job with the 2010 census. We need a good new director and we need a genuine boost in funding. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There Are More Child Marriages in the US Than You Might Think

Tens of thousands of children--mainly girls--are married every year in the United States. That's the conclusion of Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit organization trying to end the practice. She was interviewed this morning on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday:
We at Unchained At Last, last year, went and collected marriage license data from across the United States. We were able to get the data from 38 states. The other 12 don't even track marriage age. And in those 38 states just between 2000 and 2010, more than 167,000 children as young as 12 were married - almost all of them girls married to adult men. And so extrapolating from what we found, we estimate that nearly a quarter million children were married across all 50 states in that decade.
It turns out that all 50 states allow child marriage. In most, as here in California, you need parental consent and a court order if you are under 18, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.

Weirdly enough, as Reiss points out, this is going on in the U.S. even though we know that on a global scale child marriage is a bad thing:
...the U.S. State Department in setting its foreign policy established that marriage before 18 is a human rights abuse. And the U.S. State Department lists ending marriage before 18 globally as a key strategy toward empowering adolescent girls. And yet, somehow state legislators have not gotten this message that marriage before 18 is a human rights abuse.
Indeed, as a society we are sufficiently uninterested in these things that the National Center for Health Statistics stopped collecting detailed data on marriage and divorce more than twenty years ago. To be sure, teenage marriages are much less common now than were back when I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the topic, but we are still seeing girls not yet even in their teens being married. Something is wrong here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

New Attempts to Combat Gerrymandering in the U.S.

Gerrymandered districts have been increasingly in the news in the U.S. as legislators at the state level try to draw Congressional and state legislative boundaries in a way to improve their own party's chances in elections. But people are fighting back. Not just people, but mathematicians, according to a recent story in Nature.
Leaning back in his chair, Jonathan Mattingly swings his legs up onto his desk, presses a key on his laptop and changes the results of the 2012 elections in North Carolina. On the screen, flickering lines and dots outline a map of the state’s 13 congressional districts, each of which chooses one person to send to the US House of Representatives. By tweaking the borders of those election districts, but not changing a single vote, Mattingly’s maps show candidates from the Democratic Party winning six, seven or even eight seats in the race. In reality, they won only four — despite earning a majority of votes overall.
Mattingly’s election simulations can’t rewrite history, but he hopes they will help to support democracy in the future — in his state and the nation as a whole. The mathematician, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has designed an algorithm that pumps out random alternative versions of the state’s election maps — he’s created more than 24,000 so far — as part of an attempt to quantify the extent and impact of gerrymandering: when voting districts are drawn to favour or disfavour certain candidates or political parties.
The story goes on to quote political scientists and others doing similar work. Now, to be honest, I tend to think of these tasks as being in the realm of spatial demography. I myself submitted sets of maps for local redistricting here in San Diego a few years ago when my wife was serving on San Diego County's Redistricting Commission. I was thanked for the effort and the County Board of Supervisors then ignored them, so I think it is a very good thing that more and different kinds of people get into the business of keeping everyone aware of the way in which district boundaries can affect the functioning of a democracy.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Politics of Population Counts in Pakistan

Almost exactly two months ago I noted that census-takers had been attacked in Pakistan as that country embarked on its first census since 1998. A suicide bomber blew himself up next to a van carrying census-takers and their military escort. Of course, it tells you a lot that the enumerators needed military protection in the first place. The census is complete now, in all events, and thanks to a link from Abu Daoud, we can get a glimpse of the things that might be at stake as we wait for the results. The writer is a former member of the Pakistani cabinet and a former official at the World Bank, and thus seems well-qualified to offer these thoughts:
There will be losers and winners as the seats are redistributed on the basis of the 2017 count. It is understandable that those who are embedded in the established political order prefer the status quo. Now that a census has been held, we should see a fairly significant impact on the distribution of political power in the country. To begin with, we will see greater urban participation in the legislative process at the federal as well as provincial levels.
Federal dollars in Pakistan are also distributed to provinces within the country on the basis of population count, so that is clearly an issue of importance--again there will be winners (urban areas, in particular) and losers (probably the more rural areas suffering from out-migration to cities). The author, Shahid Javed Burki, promises to keep readers of the Express Tribune informed about results as they become available. I could be wrong, but I think we'll be waiting several months for these data.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Justin Stoler on the Linkages Between Violence, Poverty and Policy

Thanks to Tom Boswell for pointing me to an Op-Ed in today's Miami Herald by Justin Stoler and Tanya Zakrison. They build on a research article published earlier this year on gun violence in Miami to lay out the path for creating community change that can, in particular, replace guns with jobs. What a concept! Here are some highlights:

Gun violence has become a silent epidemic among select Miami-Dade communities, leading to hundreds of intentional injuries every year. We call it “silent” because most of the burden is borne by just a handful of communities — ones that have been marginalized for decades.
How did this happen? Surely analysis of other hospital records and police reports would show the same trends, though gun violence research has been stifled for years by the gun lobby’s efforts to limit the collection of gun-related data. But social issues such as race and poverty — long embedded in Miami politics — have deprived many communities of resources needed to strengthen communities from within. This has created a legacy of structural violence — the avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs — that has led to an entire generation of impoverished youth for whom violence and the “code of the street” are a way of life, while remaining invisible to those in power.
A truly holistic response to gun violence requires a multipronged approach to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. We need basic food security, hands-on youth mentoring and educational programs, and economic opportunities that offer parents meaningful employment and that allow leisure time to care for their children. Most of all, we also need to work with organizations in affected communities (churches, schools, social service providers) to understand and prioritize their needs. These organizations stand ready and willing to promote proud messages of empowerment with local law enforcement as community partners, not enforcers of an unjust status quo.
We need a society--and communities within that society--where it is easier to get a job than a gun. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Canada Copes With Aging

Not long ago the news came out of Canada that the number of people aged 65 had just exceeded the number of children aged 0-14. This is, of course, a predictable part of the age transition, but predictable or not, it seems as though Canada--like almost every other country going through the transition--has not planned well
The federal government’s failure to address a slew of issues relating to seniors means Canada is “woefully unprepared” to deal with its aging society, a Senate committee heard Tuesday.“Until such time as the Government of Canada makes decisions based on the demographic trends in aging … will we be able to make significant changes,” said retired senator Sharon Carstairs, who has spent decades working in and studying the fields of elderly and palliative care.
Like every other rich country, Canada has high life expectancy (higher than the U.S.) and low fertility (lower than the U.S.), but it also has higher levels of immigration than most other countries. Still, the aging of the baby boomers (who provided a demographic dividend for Canada, just as they did for the U.S.) is problematic. Their economic productivity is at least perceived to lessen with age, just as their health care needs increase.
The issue of the aging population in Canada is of great interest to Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, his office said Tuesday. A spokesperson for Duclos pointed to several steps the government has taken in support of seniors, including restoring the age of eligibility for Old Age Security to 65 from 67, as the previous Conservative government had done.
NO! That is exactly the wrong approach. As people live longer, society needs to support their economic productivity for as long as possible, rather than promoting more dependence. Don't they get it! And, speaking of who needs to get it, I put together the following chart from UN Population Division data. You can see that Canada, Germany, and China are all on track to have just slightly more than half of their population in the ages of 20-64 by 2070. Those are the people in every country who are going to have to suck it up for the older population. China has the more dramatic curve, and is almost certainly the least prepared. They need to pay attention to what other countries like Canada and Germany are doing, albeit choosing more wisely than Canada seems currently to be doing. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Help Save Funding for Population Science

The budget proposal put out by the Trump administration cuts money from the Census, NIH, and NSF. It is obvious that this administration cares little about science, including that related to demographic issues. Indeed, it is likely that the whole point of a bare bones budget is to allow for a tax cut for the rich. But I digress. We all need to be in touch with our Member of Congress to make sure they understand the long-term harm to humans that will come from cutting back on collecting data in the census and cutting back on scientific research. The Population Association of America put out such a call today:
As you may know, on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, President Trump released his Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request to Congress -- a document that includes deep, damaging cuts to a wide swath of scientific and statistical agencies that are vital to the work of population scientists. We are particularly concerned about:
National Institutes of Health: A $7.2 billion cut , or 21% reduction 
National Science Foundation: $551 million cut to research accounts (9% reduction) including a $28 million cut to the SBE Directorate
Census Bureau: Proposed an insufficient increase in funding (less than 4%) that is woefully inadequate to fund the critical End-to-End Readiness test in 2018 in preparation for the 2020 decennial census. This jeopardizes not only the accuracy of the 2020 Census, but potentially other core Census programs such as the American Community Survey (ACS), if the Bureau is forced to make unpalatable choices between annual surveys and the decennial census.
The President's Budget Request is only the first step in the federal budget process, and Congress has ultimate authority on appropriations. It is critical that Congress hears from constituents within the scientific community that a dramatic scaling back of the federal investment in scientific research and quality data collection threatens the economy as well as the productivity, health and well-being of the American people. Your voice is needed now, as the appropriations process gets underway, before spending decisions have been made. Read the statement from PAA President Amy Tsui and APC President Steve Ruggles concerning the Trump Budget Request.
This is really important. Contact your Member of Congress ASAP about this. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Did You Remember That It's Been Almost 100 Years Since the Spanish Flu Epidemic?

In August of 1918, just as World War I was ending, the Spanish influenza hit the world scene, killing tens of millions of people--more than had died in the war itself. To celebrate the millennium of this horrific event, a new book is coming out and, although it isn't yet available in the U.S., it was just reviewed in The Economist. The book is titled Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, and it is by Laura Spinney, an English writer.
BY EARLY 1920, nearly two years after the end of the first world war and the first outbreak of Spanish flu, the disease had killed as many as 100m people— more than both world wars combined. Yet few would name it as the biggest disaster of the 20th century. Some call it the “forgotten flu”. Almost a century on, “Pale Rider”, a scientific and historic account of Spanish flu, addresses this collective amnesia.
Now, for the record, if you've read my Population text, you will remember my talking about this (page 143 in the 12th edition), in which I reference a book by Alfred Crosby, that came out in 1989. The title of his book was America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918.  As you can see, we have a need to keep reminding ourselves about this pandemic!

What seems to be particularly useful about the new book by Spinney is her global perspective--showing how much of the world was affected by this flu--and her discussion of how this very importantly moved along the global research on viruses.
Influenza, like all viruses, is a parasite. Laura Spinney traces its long shadow over human history; records are patchy and uncertain, but Hippocrates’s “Cough of Perinthus” in 412BC may be its first written description. Influenza-shaped footprints can be traced down the centuries: the epidemic that struck during Rome’s siege of Syracuse in 212BC; the febris italica that plagued Charlemagne’s troops in the ninth century. The word “influenza” started being used towards the end of the Middle Ages from the Italian for “influence”—the influence of the stars. That was the state of knowledge then; in some ways at the start of the 20th century it was little better.
Now, to be sure, we don't usually think of a virus as being a parasite--e.g., malaria is caused by a parasite, whereas influenza is not considered to be a parasite under any definition of which I am aware, but that's not important right now. The point is that 100 years ago were just beginning to get a handle on bacteria, but viruses were not yet capable of being seen under existing microscopes. Once better equipment was invented in the 1930s, viruses moved from the theoretical to the real, and we were able to cope better with these things, figuring out over time how to invent vaccines for as many deadly viruses as we can. 

These stories are important reminders of how vastly different a world we live in today than did people of 100 years ago. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Has India Already Overtaken China in Population Size?

China has been more populous than India for centuries, but every population projection shows that India will soon overtake it and claim the trophy for the world's biggest population. This is due almost entirely to China's below-level fertility compared to India's above replacement level fertility. Now a Chinese demographer based at the University of Wisconsin, Yi Fuxiang, has suggested that India may already has surpassed China in population size. The NYTimes reports on this:
China’s real population may be 1.29 billion people, 90 million fewer than the government’s estimate of 1.38 billion in 2016, Mr. Yi told a meeting at Peking University on Monday, citing what he said were telltale inconsistencies among birthrate, hospital and school statistics. India’s population, on the other hand, had grown to 1.33 billion in 2016, according to the United Nations.
Mr. Yi’s claims met skepticism from demographers, who said he had misread or exaggerated statistical discrepancies. But Mr. Yi said he was not just splitting statistical hairs. China’s birthrate will determine the size of the work force sustaining its economy, and the data indicated that stagnation could occur in coming decades, he said.
Since the rest of us haven't yet seen Xi's analysis in published form, it is impossible to judge whether or not China's population size is really less than we might think. At the same time, we can ask whether this matters very much. After all, no one thinks that China will have the most people for very much longer. The projections made by demographers at the Wittgenstein Centre in Vienna suggest that India will have surpassed China by 2020--which is only three years from now. Demographers at the United Nations Population Division project that India will have overtaken China by 2025. That is still only a few years from now. It's going to happen soon, folks, even if we aren't quite there yet.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Many Old People Have Ever Lived?

This is the question answered by a paper just published in Demographic Research by researchers at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human  Capital in Vienna. Here's what prompted them to look at this issue:
A recent [2014] article in the Economist describes how those “age invaders” are about to change the global economy. Besides the old age dependency ratio, in this publication another indicator of aging is mentioned: The ratio 65 or older alive today relative to all humans who have ever reached the age of 65. According to the Economist , Fred Pearce presumed that it is possible that half of all people who have ever been over 65 are alive today. Motivated by these discussions, in our paper we reconsider indicators that estimate the share of people above a specific age alive today in relation to all the humans who have ever reached this specific age. By using formal demography together with historical data on population processes, we show how such indicators can be estimated. Our results indicate that far fewer than half of all people who have ever been over 65 are [were] alive in 2010.
Indeed, their results suggest that "the proportion who have ever been over 65 that are alive today (as of 2010) ranges between 5.5 and 9.5%." You can compare these numbers with my latest estimates (in the 12th edition) of the percentage of all humans ever born who are currently alive:

In fact, our current contribution to history’s total represents only a relatively small fraction of all people who have ever lived. The most analytical of the estimates has been made by Nathan Keyfitz (Keyfitz 1966; Keyfitz and Caswell 2005), and I have used Keyfitz’s formulas to estimate the number of people who have ever lived, assuming conservatively that we started with two people (call them “Adam and Eve” if you’d like) 200,000 years ago. The results of these calculations suggest that a total of 62.6 billion people have been born, of whom the 7.3 billion estimated to be alive in 2015 constitute 11.7 percent. (Weeks, 12th edition, page 34.)
Interestingly enough, I blogged about the Economist's story on aging at the time, but for whatever reason did not pick up on and try to correct the comment that perhaps half of all people ever to reach age 65 were currently alive. Thanks to the folks in Vienna for filling in that gap. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Supreme Court Rules That North Carolina Did Indeed Gerrymander Two Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that North Carolina did indeed gerrymander two Congressional Districts in that state in a racially biased manner. The NYTimes has the story:
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two North Carolina congressional districts, ruling that lawmakers had violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing them. The court rejected arguments from state lawmakers that their purpose in drawing the maps was not race discrimination but partisan advantage. Election law experts said the ruling would make it easier to challenge voting districts based partly on partisan affiliations and partly on race.
This case confirmed an earlier Federal Court ruling on the case, and that is good news for how the Courts are thinking about these issues. You will recall that in January of this year a panel of three Federal judges ruled that Texas had gerrymandered some of its legislative districts, and Wisconsin was found guilty of the same charges back in November.

In all of these cases the states have argued that the mapping was done on the basis of party lines (which, it turns out, is legal) not race. The Courts have rejected those arguments and found that race was the issue. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Illustrating the Complexities of Immigration--a Story from Houston

Thanks to my son, John, for pointing me a story that appeared a couple of days ago in the Houston Chronicle about an undocumented immigrant who finished first in her high school class in that city and has accepted a full scholarship to Georgetown University.
The price of Sofia Alfaro's future was a 1994 Chevrolet Camaro. Her stepfather sold the car when Sofia was 5, paying for safe passage from her native El Salvador to the United States. But that journey led to another - her years-long struggle to learn English and adapt to a new country. She fell a grade level behind her peers due to her limited English skills and was sent to an alternative school - not for bad behavior but to catch up. And did she.
Alfaro's story also illustrates the complexity of the debate over those brought into the country illegally as children. While Alfaro has been able to continue living in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama administration measure that bars deportation for those meeting certain conditions, political tensions over immigration have intensified under President Donald Trump. Even Trump has acknowledged that the question of what to do with DACA recipients is a "very, very difficult subject for me" because "you have these incredible kids."
Her story is not unusual--a lot of children brought to the U.S. when young do exceptionally well but, of course, some don't do so well. It is very hard to generalize the situation.
Nationwide, about 62 percent of English-language learners graduate from high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but those numbers vary by state. In Arizona, for example, only 18 percent of such students graduated in 2014, compared with 84 percent of English-language learners in Arkansas. About 71.5 percent of Texas' English-language learners graduated in 2015, according to the TEA, while the Houston ISD saw 73 percent of its ELL students graduate that year.
It is clear from the story that Houston does an excellent job of trying to integrate these students into society, whereas the data in the above paragraph suggests that as a state Arizona is not doing so well. These are all reasons why we desperately need immigration reform legislation at the national level that can set guidelines for using our resources to create a better future for everyone. It's not clear to me who would lose from that, but obviously there are a lot of people opposed to it. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Demographics of Iran's Election

As I write this, voters are at the polls in Iran for the presidential election there. The Economist's description of the supporters of the two candidates sounds not unlike what we saw in this country in terms of the Clinton and Trump contrasts:
Two clerics, both insiders since the first years of the 1979 Islamic revolution, are vying for the 56m votes being cast in today’s presidential race. Their campaigns have been as opposed as their black and white turbans. Appealing to the middle classes, Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent, has promised to open Iran to the West after years of sanctions. He also says he will improve civil liberties, particularly for women and Iran’s many ethnic and religious minorities. His rival, Ebrahim Raisi, is a former judge who has passed hundreds of death sentences, and who is tapping a large rural and working-class base with promises to boost subsidies and defend revolutionary values against a decadent West.
Keep in mind that almost three-fourths of Iran's population lives in urban places (which is where the middle classes tend to congregate), so the urban-rural demographic divide definitely works in Rouhani's favor. But, you would have thought the same with Hillary Clinton, in a country where more than 80 percent of the population lives in urban places. Of course, big city urban can be very different from small town urban, so voter turnout is expected to have an impact on Iran's election, as it did in the U.S. election. 

UPDATE: Rouhani did, indeed, win the election.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Visualizing the Decline of the Middle Class in American Cities

Thanks to my colleague Stuart Aitken for pointing to a story in today's Guardian that offers some truly amazing visualizations of the growing income inequality in America's cities. Max Galka of the Cities project put together the data. The maps are interactive, so you have to see them in person to get the most out of this, but here are the graphs for income distribution in 1970 in major U.S. cities compared with the distribution in 2015.

The graphic above shows the change in income distribution in 20 major US cities between 1970 and 2015. In 1970, each of these cities exhibits a near-symmetrical, bell-shaped income distribution – a high concentration of households in the middle, with narrow tails of low and high-income households on either end. By 2015, the distributions have grown more polarised – fewer middle-income households, and more households in the low-income and/or high-income extremes.
This is happening not just in the cities, of course, but throughout the country, and indeed throughout much of the world, as I've noted often before

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural Demography of Environmental Activism

Not everyone views the environment in the same way, as we famously know in the differences between those who believe that climate change is occurring and is a consequence of human activities, and those who either choose to ignore the evidence of climate change and/or think that humans have nothing to do with it. These cultural views of the environment are more complex than that example suggests, however, and the linkages between world views--expressed especially through religion--and the way people perceive the environment is the subject of a week-long cyberseminar from 15 May through 19 May hosted by the Population Environment Resource Network at Columbia University. Even if you don't have time to join the cyberseminar, I encourage you to download the background paper on "Religious belief and environmental challenges in the 21st century." There's a lot in there, but this passage jumped out at me:
Acknowledging the absence of a sociological theory accounting for White’s (1967) link between belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible and low levels of environmental concern, (Greeley 1993) found that this correlation is driven by denomination-specific beliefs such as belief in a gracious God and shows that this relationship does not hold for Catholics. Thus, it is not necessarily religious belief per se which causes individuals to be less likely to engage in environmentally-friendly behaviour, but a rigid mind set (exemplified by a literal biblical interpretation) characteristic among more conservative Christian traditions which drives these results. Differences in theology also make a significant difference in beliefs vis-à-vis personal responsibility for environmental issues and environmental outcomes (Bookless 2008). Testing White’s hypothesis that the Christian tradition breeds a belief in human domination over nature, Chuvieco et al. (2016) find that predominantly Christian countries perform better across a range of environmental indicators when controlling for per capita income and Human Development Index scores. However, it could be argued that more affluent Christian nations “export” their environmental problems by importing goods from more polluting (and secular) countries such as China.  
These are themes that you will find in Chapter 11 of my text, and, if you are a user of my text and have downloaded the Powerpoint slides that go with the book, you will recognize the following slide, drawing upon a seminal paper by James Proctor at Lewis & Clark University in Oregon:

When I put this slide up, I can always see light bulbs going on. Difference in religion and related cultural views permeate this slide, and you really can't understand approaches to the environmental issues of our time without working your way through all of these paths.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Life Expectancy is Going Down in Kentucky

When you think of Kentucky Downs you think of the racetrack where the Kentucky Derby was run last weekend. But data just published by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggests that what is going down in Kentucky is life expectancy. The article is in JAMA Internal Medicine and it was summarized a couple of days ago by The Atlantic.
In 13 counties across the U.S., Americans can now expect to die younger than their parents did. And the eight counties with the largest declines in life expectancy since 1980 are all in the state of Kentucky. 
The other counties tend to be associated with native American-Indian populations, as you can deduce from the map below.
Kentucky has one of the highest rates of death from drug overdoses, with about 30 deaths per 100,000 people. Owsley County is the country’s poorest white-majority county, according to a 2016 analysis by Al Jazeera, with about 45 percent of its roughly 4,500 residents living in poverty. The decline of coal mines and tobacco fields have battered the county, whose population peaked in 1940. (Indeed, the JAMA study authors acknowledge that part of the life expectancy trends might be due to healthy people moving away from blighted areas, and “high-risk” people remaining in them.)
These declines are already on top of the rather stark geographic differences in life expectancy by county and state, as I have noted before. As Chris Murray, Director of the Institute that produced these results, suggests--these kinds of trends are genuinely unacceptable in a country that spends more per person on health care than other nation on the planet.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chaos in Venezuela Produces Havoc in Health Care

Venezuela is unwinding as a country and, as you might expect, this is causing havoc to the health care system. CNN reported yesterday that infant deaths and malaria cases have skyrocketed recently.
Confirmed malaria cases in 2016 stood at 240,000, a 76% increase over 2015. Maternal deaths rose 66% to 756. Last year, 11,466 infants died, a 30% increase, according to new records recently released by Venezuela's health ministry. It's the first health data released by the government in nearly two years.
The staggering increases illustrate how badly Venezuela lacks basic medicine, equipment and supplies to treat even the simplest of injuries.
It shouldn't be this way, of course, since Venezuela has the world's largest known oil reserves, but political chaos has clearly undermined basic activities of daily living. According to data from the Population Reference Bureau's World Population Data Sheet, per person income in Venezuela is almost exactly the same as in Mexico, although even before this latest news, life expectancy was 2 years lower for males and one year lower for females in Venezuela than in Mexico. Of course, income isn't always the key to high life expectancy. Cuba has the highest life expectancy in Latin America and it was to Cuba that former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez went for treatment before his death in 2013. On the other hand, they couldn't keep him alive either, and it is hard to guess whether Venezuela would be in better shape were Chavez still alive. We can only hope that it doesn't get worse, because these increases in deaths are for all intents and purposes the canaries in the coal mine confirming that things are collapsing. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Censuses From Heaven

We are very fortunate in this country to have one of, if not the, best census bureaus on the planet. The U.S. Congress doesn't always understand the importance of census data, as I noted yesterday, but a lot of other people do, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been funding a study to use satellite imagery to create estimates of population in countries like Nigeria where census-taking has a pretty rough history. Back in 2013 I blogged about the WorldPop project that Andy Tatem at the University of Southampton in the U.K. had just organized, and he is also involved in this more detailed project, as outlined today in a news story in Nature.
Nigerian health officials won’t have to rely on flawed, decade-old census data when they plan deliveries of the measles vaccine next year. Instead, they will have access to what may be the most detailed and up-to-date population map ever produced for a developing country. 
The Gates Foundation began its mapping project after encountering problems while distributing polio vaccines in Nigeria: millions of doses would be sent to areas where they weren’t needed and would disappear, while other areas suffered shortages. The foundation teamed up with researchers at Oak Ridge and the University of Southampton, UK, in 2013 to produce the first high-resolution maps of Nigeria’s northern states. The group completed those in 2015, and next month it group will make public its first country-wide map.
The plot reveals villages that weren’t included in Nigeria’s most recent census, in 2006, and shows that many urban areas are more populated than the census data indicated, says Vince Seaman, an epidemiologist and interim deputy director of data and analytics for global develop-ment at the Gates Foundation. “This has the potential to change the whole game,” he says. “For all of the different vaccines in Nigeria, it could save US$1 billion in a space of a few years.”
The scale is much grander, but this is the same type of work that I and my colleagues have been doing since 1998, first in Egypt, and more recently in Ghana. Indeed, the image below from the Gates project in Nigeria could easily be mistaken for some that we have created for Accra, the capital of Ghana. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

U.S. Census Director Resigns

Flying under the radar of today's bigger news story (the abrupt and unexpected firing of FBI Director James Comey) was the abrupt and unexpected announcement from U.S. Census Director John Thompson that he is retiring as of June 30th. T Thompson stepped into the leadership role less than four years when Dr. Robert Groves left the Bureau to become provost of Georgetown University. There was the expectation at the time that his experience with the Bureau and with NORC at the University of Chicago would put him in a good position to lead the Bureau through the 2020 census. Now we'll never know, and it's hard to tell from this distance whether this is a good or a bad thing. Huffington Post suggests that his testimony before Congress might have played a role.
Census Bureau Director John Thompson’s announcement that he is leaving at the end of June comes less than a week after he testified on Capitol Hill, telling House appropriators that his agency would be able to carry out the Census effectively, despite a number of cost overruns and a lower budget than normal for this point in the 10-year planning cycle.
Normally as Census planning shifts from the seventh year of the decade to the eighth, the budget jumps dramatically. But Congress did not pass the Obama administration’s budget for 2017, leaving the bureau about $160 million short of its $1.61 billion request. The Trump administration’s request for 2018 is essentially flatlined, at a time when the government is usually adding hundreds of millions of dollars to carry out one of the most challenging statistical counts in the world.
On May 3, Thompson told Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), the appropriations subcommittee chairman overseeing the Census budget, that the bureau would be able to meet the challenges of carrying out the Census in new and cheaper ways.
Thompson's retirement leaves the choice of a new director up to the Trump administration, keeping in mind that that the Deputy Director position is currently vacant. Given their track record on appointments, it is a bit of a frightening prospect. Thompson is not a demographer in the usual sense of the word--he holds bachelor's and master's degrees in math, not in the social or behavioral sciences, and he is not a member of the Population Association of America (a major strike against him!!), but he did have experience working at the Census Bureau. And, yet, even as I say that, how could he possibly think that the proposed budget for the 2020 census was OK?