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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Can Movies and TV Programs Lower Egypt's Fertility?

Fertility has been going up, not down, in Egypt over the past few years, as I have blogged about twice over the past two years (here and here). A paper just published in Demographic Research by researchers at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna analyzes the available data--especially from the Demographic and Health Surveys--and comes to the following conclusion:
We find that well-educated women between 20 and 29 years lack labour market opportunities. They may have preponed their fertility. Fertility could start declining again once the labour market situation for women has improved. On the other hand, the family model of three children is still widespread in the country.
I admit that I have never used the word "prepone", but it is the opposite of "postpone" and it makes sense in this usage. In a footnote in the paper, the authors indicate that the Egyptian government was trying to figure out what to do in order to lower the birth rate. My thanks to Abu Daoud who found a story about one of the things being tried--movies and TV programs.
In announcing the results of Egypt's 2017 census on Sept. 30, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also identified major issues surrounding the population that has grown past 100 million: early marriage, insufficient housing and, most important, overpopulation. He said, “We must face these flaws in society in collaboration with civil society and media.” His reference to the media gave newspapers and websites the green light to analyze the potential of the media as well as the film industry in confronting overpopulation in the country.
Overpopulation and problems associated with it, such as higher costs of living and uncontrolled urbanization, have long been on the agenda of the Egyptian cinema, along with issues that are hampering the lowering of birth rates, such as a rejection of birth control.
One of the challenges here is that the government has to back up any influence that the media might have by making family planning programs readily available to couples. And, of course, there has to be recognition that getting women back to work is a key element in lowering fertility. Even in urban areas, fertility remains higher than one might expect. More than a decade ago, my colleagues and I published an article on fertility in Cairo, in which we noted that:
Fertility transitions are historically thought to have started in cities and then spread to the rest of the country. This would suggest that in Egypt we would find that Cairo was well ahead of the rest of the nation in its fertility transition. The data suggest otherwise and highlight the fact that many parts of Cairo are still experiencing high levels of fertility.
There is still a long way to go to lower fertility in Egypt, but the country desperately needs to slow that pace as soon as possible--since it is, among other things, a nation facing potential water scarcity and the dangers associated with that. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Demographics of Water Scarcity

Many thanks to the folks at Population Matters for pointing to a report detailing the impact of water scarcity on youth unemployment and migration. The story comes from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and refers to analyses recently undertaken by UNESCO's World Water Assessment Program.
It finds close links between the impacts of water scarcity and migration patterns in regional hotspots including in the African, Mediterranean, South Asian and East Asian regions. The report also shows that water availability and quality impacts both youth employment and social stability.
The publication finds that growing climate variability affects water resources and the availability of jobs for youth, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. While the jobs most affected by water scarcity are in agriculture, other affected sectors include animal husbandry and fisheries. Populations migrate as a way of adapting to the lack of both water and employment opportunities.
The story has a link to a downloadable version of the report, which seems well-researched and referenced. Although it is not emphasized in the report, we know that the underlying problem here is population growth. With respect to Northern Africa, for example, the report highlights the propensity for conflict in places like MENA (see the map below) where water scarcity is combined with rapid population growth:
The figure also shows the hotspots of water-related disputes in the Mediterranean and North Africa (MENA) region, e.g. Jordan River, the control of the water resources of the Golan Heights or of the Litany River (Chazournes et al., 2013). Other conflicts among riparian countries are related to the allocation of the water from the Nile (Veilleux, 2015) and the downstream impacts of the Turkish Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) (Hommes et al., 2016). Often, these conflicts are caused by the high and intensive use of water in agriculture (in 2000, amounting to 63-79% of total water usage in North Africa) in a context of endemic water scarcity, which leaves other sectors and household water scarce. Notwithstanding, food security is in peril as population growth – coupled with constantly decreasing water flows since the 1960s – has in fact required an ever growing water usage in agriculture. The current situation is symptomatic of a low-adaptive capacity to climate change (Brauch, 2011).

Keep in mind that people have been thinking about these connections for a long time. In particular, I have mentioned in Chapter 1 of my book, as well as in blog posts, that Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes has linked water scarcity and population growth to the civil war still going on in Syria. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Plague is Still Upon Us

Mention of the plague usually brings up mental images of the Black Death (the bubonic plague) in the Middle Ages, the high mortality of which brought important demographic changes to a lot of villages in Europe and elsewhere. But the disease is still walking amongst us, as a story by Reuters today points out.
A probable case of plague in the Seychelles, imported from Madagascar, is believed to have sparked the Indian Ocean country’s first outbreak of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Plague, which is mainly spread by flea-carrying rats, is endemic in Madagascar. A large outbreak has killed 57 people since late August, according to the U.N. agency, the first time the disease has appeared in non-endemic urban areas, including in the capital Antananarivo.
Seychelles health authorities reported a probable case of pneumonic plague on Oct 10 in a 34-year-old man returning from a visit to Madagascar, the WHO said. “The patient continues to be hospitalized in isolation until completion of the antibiotic treatment. He is currently asymptomatic and in stable condition,” the WHO said.
Nearly 70 percent of cases in Madagascar have been pneumonic plague, a form spread human-to-human that is more dangerous than bubonic plague and can trigger epidemics. The pneumonic form invades the lungs, and is treatable with antibiotics. If not treated, it is always fatal and can kill a person within 24 hours.
Most of us have never been either to Madagascar or the Seychelles, but that doesn't mean we are immune to the risk of the plague. The US Centers for Disease Control reports that an average of 7 cases per year are reported each year in this country. Note also that while the bubonic plague is usually transmitted by fleas feeding on infected rats, pneumonic plague can be directly passed from one human to another--no fleas or rats required.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dan Brown--Novelist and Demographist

I have admitted before that I am a fan of Dan Brown and I always look forward to the release of his books--the latest of which is Origin. When his novel Inferno came out in 2013, I blogged about it because the theme of the book was about the threat of global overpopulation (as I note on page 8 of the 12th Edition). He refers to Malthus as a "demographist" and I had never heard that term until Dan Brown used it. A Google search suggests that it is a synonym for demographer, but I think I am going to be a little more nuanced. A demographer is someone who has an academic background in the field of demography and teaches and/or does research on demographic issues. By contrast, I am going to label as a demographist those who use demographic ideas and information without necessarily having a lot of background in the field of demography. That is not a bad thing; it is just a different thing. 

So, by that definition, Dan Brown is a demographist, along with being a brilliant novelist (and of course it doesn't hurt that his protagonist is a college professor!). His novels take place in real places that he has obviously carefully researched, and with real substantive themes, typically related in some way to religion. I thought about that, in fact, when on page 29 of Origins, Brown describes atheists as "one of the planet's fastest-growing demographics." Based on reports from Pew Research, I'm guessing that this is not an easy statement to fact-check, but the data do seem to suggest that the proportion of people in the U.S. who say they are atheists is growing. The number is larger if you more generally refer to people with "no religion" (which doesn't necessarily mean they don't believe in God). 

Interestingly enough, the "culture clash" between atheists and followers of traditional religions that forms the theme of Origins is taking place in Spain, and much of the action occurs in Barcelona--in Catalonia--a current hotbed of culture clashes, as I recently discussed.

Overall, then, reading Dan Brown novels is another example of how demography underlies everything in the world, whether we realize it or not.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Inside Demography--An Interview with Andrew Cherlin

Dr. Andrew Cherlin is the Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at John Hopkins University, and is a Past President of the Population Association of America (PAA). He is one of the world's foremost family demographers--widely published, cited, and quoted. He has appeared in numerous of my blogs over the years, starting in 2010 and most recently just a couple of weeks ago.

Last April he was interviewed by members of the PAA History Committee (which I chair) during the PAA's annual meeting in Chicago, and we now have this interview available online at the website of the PAA. One of the important themes in Dr. Cherlin's work over the years has been to bridge the gap between academic research and public policy. Here is an excerpt from page 18 of the interview:
The recent development that I see as most productive among policy people is an agreement among conservatives and liberals that both economics and culture make a difference.
In the economic realm, people with college degrees are the winners in our globalized and automated economy. And they’re the ones who have a marriage-based, stable family life these days. What we need to do is help the people who are not the winners, help them by getting them better educated, not necessarily college degrees for all, but community college training and other apprenticeship-based programs. That’s what we need to do.
On the cultural level, I do think there is a role for stressing the importance of stability in family life. And there is nothing wrong with the liberals doing that. So we need to think about both economic and cultural ways to lessen the class divide that in 2017 seems so strong among American families.
In my view, this is the one of, if not the, most important reason for doing demographic research--to improve our understanding of how the world is working, so that we can do our best to improve life for all humans. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Will Malaria Ever Be Gone From Africa?

Malaria has been one of the biggest killers of humans over the centuries, and an enormous amount of international effort has gone toward eradicating the parasites and the mosquitos that carry the parasite from one victim to another from the earth. The mosquitos (the vectors) flourish especially in warm, wet weather, so it is the mid-latitudes in which malaria is most prevalent, as you can see from the map below:

The most deadly of those parasites is the Plasmodium falciparum, which is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. There is probably no researcher in the world who has done more to track and map malaria than Robert Snow at Oxford University, and in the latest issue of Nature, he and his colleagues have traced the spatial spread of malaria across the face of Africa for the past 100 years. Take a look at the map below and see if you can spot a trend:

The change over time is, sadly, not so obvious, as Snow and his colleagues discuss:
The reduction in malaria transmission intensity has not occurred equally between countries or within countries (Fig. 1)[see above], with more substantive declines and ‘shrinking of the map’ occurring at the margins of the historical range of P. falciparum transmission than in the heartland of Africa’s most efficient vector species, Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto and Anopheles coluzzii. This heartland forms a densely populated belt from West Africa through Central Africa toward Mozambique, and represents the most severely impacted area of the contemporary malaria-endemic world: it was ignored after 196017, 18 and risks being ignored today19. Our previous and current armoury of interventions has not eliminated malaria in this part of the world, and there is little indication that it will do so in the foreseeable future.
The take-away here is that we cannot be complacent. There is a lot of work to do to dramatically lower malaria rates in Africa and we cannot stop trying. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catalonia is Important to Demographic History

One of the hardest things that humans do everywhere in the world is to get along with people whose culture is different than theirs. Spain has a long history of culture clashes and the most recent is the referendum in Catalonia--in northeastern Spain--to become independent of Spain. The difference between Catalonia (whose regional capital is Barcelona) and the rest of Spain lies at the heart of our current understanding of the demographic transition. On page 85 of the 12th edition, I note that:

In the early 1960s, J. William Leasure, then a graduate student in economics at Princeton [and subsequently a Professor of Economics here at San Diego State University], was writing a doctoral dissertation on the fertility decline in Spain, using data for each of that nation’s 49 provinces. Surprisingly, his thesis revealed that the history of fertility change in Spain was not explained by a simple version of the demographic transition theory. Fertility in Spain declined in contiguous areas that were culturally similar, even though the levels of urbanization and economic development might be different (Leasure 1962). At about the same time, other students began to uncover similarly puzzling historical patterns in European data (Coale 1986). A systematic review of the demographic histories of Europe was thus begun in order to establish exactly how and why the transition occurred. The focus was on the decline in fertility, because it is the most problematic aspect of the classic explanation. These new findings have been used to help revise the theory of the demographic transition.
Those provinces that caught Bill Leasure's eye were especially the ones in Catalonia. Compare the map below of marital fertility rates in 1950 in Spain [from one of Leasure's publications] with the regional linguistic map of Spain [reproduced in a paper by Ron Lesthaeghe and Antonio Lopez-Gay]:

In the Catalan-speaking areas, marital fertility was lower than elsewhere and this was due partly to the fact that urban and rural fertility rates were both low. Elsewhere in Spain the birth rates followed the expected pattern of being higher in rural than in urban areas, but Catalonia was different. This caused demographers at Princeton at the time to rethink their approach to the demographic transition in order to take culture--not just economics--into account. Current demography theory is much more sophisticated (and complex) as a result.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cereal Production Exceeds Population Growth--For Now...

Max Roser at Oxford does a magnificent job of putting data together to help people understand what's happening in the world, and one of his group's recent blog posts (by Hannah Ritchie) relates changes over time in cereal production to population growth. The tension between population and food was at the heart of Malthusian thinking and, to be frank, if were still back in the late 18th/early 19th century of Malthus's day, we would almost certainly agree with Malthus' view of the world. As I detail in my book, two important things have happened since then: (1) we have figured out how to control both mortality and fertility; and (2) we have figured out how to grow more food on an acre of land. Here's a graph of recent trends (which is interactive if you go there directly):

Cereal production accounts for more than half of the global caloric input (including cereals that are fed to animals that are then slaughtered for human consumption) and its production has increased faster than the population has grown. This is due almost entirely to agricultural intensification (more yield per acre), rather than extensification (we are already farming all of the good land).

Of course, we don't know how long this relationship will last--and that is the critical issue. As Ritchie notes in her blog:
The adoption and success of the Green Revolution has not been consistent across the developing world. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been a region of particular concern in terms of food security. Despite making significant progress in reducing hunger in recent decades, undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa remains the highest in the world (with almost one-in-five people living there defined as undernourished). 
In the chart below we see that SSA’s cereal production has been unable to keep pace with population growth. Despite an increase in cereal output of around 300 percent, per capita output has been declining. Overall, we see much greater emphasis on agricultural expansion in SSA, increasing by 120 percent since 1961—approximately equivalent to the total area of Kenya. Relative to Asia and Latin America, SSA’s improvements in yield have been much more modest (increasing by only 80 percent).
Since Africa has the world's most rapidly growing population, the fact that cereal production is lagging behind population growth is a very poor omen for the future, no matter how rosy the current global situation may seem. We have to stay real about this. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

How Will The Hurricanes Reshape Florida's Demographics?

Many thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a story in the NYTimes that ponders what an exodus from Puerto Rico might do for (or to) Florida. The focus of the article is on politics because Puerto Ricans tend to be Democrats while the other major Hispanic group in the state--Cubans--tend to be Republicans.
Every day dozens of Puerto Ricans straggle into the Orlando area, fleeing their homes and lives ravaged by Hurricane Maria. In the months to come, officials here said, that number could surge to more than 100,000.
And those numbers could remake politics in Florida, a state where the last two presidential and governor’s races were decided by roughly one percentage point or less.
There are more than a million Puerto Ricans in Florida, a number that has doubled since 2001, driven largely until now by a faltering economy. But their political powers have evolved slowly in this state, and the wave of potential voters from the island could quickly change that calculus.
The single biggest group of Florida-based Puerto Ricans are in the Orlando area, although there is also a sizable number in Miami. So, this could have a clear impact on local politics and on state politics, and the latter could potentially influence national politics. And, of course, since Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the effect is immediate--they just have to register to vote and their influence will be felt in the next election. 

Note that New York currently has the largest population of Puerto Ricans of any state, with Florida second. However, New York is more solidly Democratic, while Florida is a swing state, so migration to Florida is politically more consequential.

Earlier I suggested the possibility that hurricanes in Florida could discourage the migration of retirees from the north into Florida. The older population in Florida seems to lean slightly more towards Republicans than Democrats, so the changing demography of the older population--were it to happen--could also make at least a small difference in state politics.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What are the Health Risks for Puerto Ricans?

The devastation of Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria has so many dimensions that it is hard to even know where to begin. However, most people are concerned first with their health. There have been heart-warming stories of people stepping in and stepping up to evacuate very sick people to the mainland, and of course a lot of otherwise healthy people are self-evacuating in order to ensure themselves and their family members of food, clean water, and sanitation. Those latter two things are the tricky things for those staying behind because polluted water and lack of toilets and sewage can lead to serious health issues.

The biggest concern for most people is cholera, because it doesn't just give you diarrhea, it can kill you. As a news story this week in Nature points out:
In Yemen, cholera has killed more than 2,000 people and infected nearly 700,000 in the past 5 months alone, eclipsing the post-earthquake outbreak in Haiti. Haiti still battles with the disease 7 years after its reintroduction. Meanwhile, Somalia is experiencing its worst outbreak in five years. South Sudan continues to fight its worst outbreak since it gained independence in 2011. If nothing changes, cholera will continue to claim some 100,000 lives a year and afflict around 3 million people, many of them children.
Now, to be sure, the problem in Haiti was caused by Nepalese soldiers brought in by the UN to help after that country's huge earthquake, as I noted at the time. With any luck, no one in Puerto Rico has cholera and, if not, the island will be spared that disease, but not necessarily spared others.
As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, sanitation is a concern. Fifty-five percent of the island lacks running water, according to the governor's office, and Bloomberg reported that residents are bathing and washing clothes in rivers. Many people are getting water from roadside springs, according to NPR, or hoping their hoarded supplies from before the storm don't run out before tap water is restored.
Even without cholera, if any of these ad hoc water sources become contaminated with feces, it could mean a major public health problem. According to the CDC, diseases such as hepatitis A can spread through contaminated drinking water. So can other diarrheal illnesses, including enteroviruses, Giardia and Campylobacter. Standing water after the hurricane may also become prime breeding ground for mosquitos. Zika virus, which causes mostly mild fever in adults but severe birth defects in developing fetuses, is already found in Puerto Rico and spreads via mosquito bites.
It is going to take a lot more than President Trump tossing paper towels to the crowd to keep Puerto Ricans healthy over the next few months until everything is finally cleaned up and working again. The latest issue of the PRB's World Population Data Sheet shows that life expectancy for females in Puerto Rico before the hurricane was actually slightly higher than on the U.S. mainland--83 years for females (compared to 81 on the mainland), while being just the same for males (76 years in both Puerto Rico and on the mainland). We can anticipate that those figures are likely to suffer this year. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Guns Are a Public Health Problem in the U.S.

Republican politicians may insist that it is inappropriate to talk about gun control so soon after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, but of course these horrific events remind us that we need to do something--and the sooner the better. The first step is to increase public understanding of how "exceptional" the U.S. is in terms of gun violence. Several people have alerted me to a very good story put together by German Lopez at He has assembled an array of information that puts things into context. In the first place, the U.S. has an almost unimaginably higher rate of homicides by firearms per million persons than any other rich country--29.7 compared to the next highest, Switzerland, at 7.7. Why is this so? Well, it's because we have so many guns in civilian hands. Using data from the United Nations, the calculation is that while the U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world's population, it has 42 percent of the world's guns that are in civilian hands. 

When it comes to gun deaths, however, Steven Pinker in his excellent book The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined reminds us that the U.S. varies considerably by state, and the data from Lopez's reveal the pattern, as can be seen in the graph below.

States with more guns have more gun deaths. One line of thinking would be, of course, that these are more violent states and so people need guns to defend themselves. The research, however, suggests that this is a case of reverse causality. In reality, the more guns are available, the more likely they are to be used to kill someone, including the owner (gun ownership is associated with higher rates of suicide).
When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness didn’t correlate with more gun deaths. But he did find one telling correlation: States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths. (Read more at Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths.”)
Pew Research Center data referenced in the Vox story also show clearly that the vast majority of Americans favor specific policies to regulate gun ownership. It is past time for Congress to respond to the American public on this. This isn't about taking away guns, but rather about lowering the odds that guns will be used to kill innocent people. This will also help in at least a small way to close the gap between the U.S. and other rich countries on overall life expectancy. We have the highest rate of gun ownership and the lowest life expectancy among rich countries. Coincidence?

Monday, October 2, 2017

KFC Adds To Obesity Woes in Ghana

My thanks to David Rain for pointing me to a very interesting and detailed article in the NYTimes about the success of KFC fast-food outlets in Ghana. Well, really just in the capital city of Accra. David and I and others have been studying the spatial demography of health in Accra for several years (you can find details here), and obesity has been a growing problem as the country increases in per person income and more Western-style grocery stores and fast-food outlets become the sources of food and meals. KFC's fried chicken didn't create the problem, but it isn't helping, either. 
But KFC’s expansion here comes as obesity and related health problems have been surging. Public health officials see fried chicken, french fries and pizza as spurring and intensifying a global obesity epidemic that has hit hard in Ghana — one of 73 countries where obesity has at least doubled since 1980. In that period, Ghana’s obesity rates have surged more than 650 percent, from less than 2 percent of the population to 13.6 percent, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent research center at the University of Washington.
KFC’s presence in Ghana so far is relatively modest but rapidly growing, and it underscores the way fast food can shape palates, habits and waistlines.
Research shows that people who eat more fast food are more likely to gain weight and become obese, and nutrition experts here express deep concern at the prospect of an increasingly heavy and diabetic population, without the medical resources to address a looming health crisis that some say could rival AIDS.
One of the several photos in the article shows the flagship KFC outlet on Oxford Street in the Osu neighborhood of Accra. I remember walking by it shortly after it opened a few years ago and thinking--this is probably not a good thing for the health of the neighborhood. The story indicates that there are now 13 KFC stores in Ghana, with the majority in Accra--which already has the highest obesity levels in the country. I just put together the map below using data from the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey for Ghana. It shows the percentage of adult women who are obese, based on height and weight measurements by the DHS interviewers. Accra leads the way by a wide margin, and the farther away you get from Accra, the lower is the level of obesity.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Will Older People Be The Death of Rich Countries?

I've often mentioned the "prediction" that China will grow old before it gets rich. But an even more pervasive theme in the media is that the rapidly aging population of the richer countries in Europe and North America is on the verge of bringing economic collapse. The concern is especially about the ability and/or willingness of younger people to pay the pensions for the older population, since most pension schemes of governments and businesses are pay-as-you-go plans, not real savings plans. This theme came up yesterday in a blog post from John Mauldin of Mauldin Economics. I regularly read his blog (which was recommended to me several years ago by one of my readers), as do a lot of other people, so we need to pay attention to his ideas, whether we agree with him or not.
Look what we’re trying to do. We think people can spend 35–40 years working and saving, then stop working and go on for another 20–30–40 years at the same comfort level – but with a growing percentage of retirees and a shrinking number of workers paying into the system. I’m sorry, but that’s magical thinking. And it’s not what the original retirement schemes envisioned at all. Their goal was to provide for a relatively small number of elderly people who were unable to work. Life expectancies were such that most workers would not reach that point, or would at least live just a few years beyond retirement.
As I have pointed out in past letters, when Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security for people over 65 years old, US life expectancy was about 56 years. If the retirement age had kept up with the increase in life expectancy, the retirement age in the US would now be 82. Try and sell that to voters.
No, don't try to sell that to anyone, because those numbers are not correct. When Social Security was passed in 1935, life expectancy at birth was 60 for males and 64 for females. However, that is not the number to pay attention to. The issue is how long people live past retirement, since those are the years of "dependency" that create problems for the economy. The Social Security Administration has calculated this for us. When Social Security payments started being made in 1940, the expected years of life after age 65 were 12.7 for males and 14.7 for females. The latest data available from the US Centers for Disease Control show that in 2013 life expectancy at age 65 was 17.9 for males and 20.5 for females. If we follow those numbers, then retirement should be about age 72, instead of 67 (which is the current age at which a person born in 1960 or more recently can receive full Social Security benefits).

And for those of you who want to raise the birth rate to "solve" the problem, remember that children are also dependents for twenty years or more. As I discuss in my book, one of the reasons for the implementation of Social Security in the U.S. was that young people needed jobs and this was one way to get older people out of the labor force to make room for the youngsters. Changes in the age structure are more important determinants of the pension crisis than is increasing longevity. The Social Security Administration reminds us that:
Increases in life expectancy are a factor in the long-range financing of Social Security; but other factors, such as the sheer size of the "baby boom" generation, and the relative proportion of workers to beneficiaries, are larger determinants of Social Security's future financial condition.
I am fully supportive of the current ideas for raising the age at which people can receive retirement benefits. People need to work longer, and they also need to save more. Of course, getting back to an economic environment in which the interest rate on a regular savings account is somewhere higher than zero would likely encourage more of that behavior. Finally, we need for Congress to remember that when there is a surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund, it is a pot of money for future retirees, not a pot of money to be spent right now on whatever you want--as happened, for example, during the Bush administration.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Breaking Up Is Harder to Do Now in the U.S.

The National Center for Marriage & Family Research at Bowling Green State University is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Of particular note is that its Co-Director, Dr. Wendy Manning, is President-Elect of the Population Association of America. To celebrate the anniversary, the center has published an infographic by Hiujing Wu that tells the tale of changing divorce patterns by age and sex in the United States between 1990 and 2015. The punch line is the graph below:

Overall, the divorce rate has gone down a bit over time, and the pattern is essentially the same for both males and females. But you can see that the pattern of change depends very much on age. Divorce rates declined most rapidly for people under 35, whereas it actually went up for people aged 45 and older. This is probably associated with the pretty significant changes in the pattern of marriage and childbearing over this 25-year period.

One point to keep in mind is that back in 1990 the National Center for Health Statistics was keeping track of divorces by gathering those data from each state. However, they stopped doing that in 1996. We went for awhile without much information, but when the American Community Survey was launched in 2005 as the replacement for the long form on the decennial census, people started using the marriage and divorce questions asked in that survey. As Sheela Kennedy and Steve Ruggles famously titled a paper--"Breaking Up is Hard to Count"! Their analysis for data between 1980 and 2010 showed a rise in divorce during that period, so these new data suggest a veering away from that trend.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Quick Guide to Europe's Demography

Europe is a demographically complex region, and a new summary (with maps) of major demographic features of Europe is thus a handy tool to have at hand. To that end, the statistical office of the EU--Eurostat--recently put out its 2017 Regional Yearbook. This is a huge volume, albeit downloadable for free, but if you don't want to wade through all of that detail, Feargus O'Sullivan has posted a summary for us at In particular, what caught his eye was the following:
Among the sheer volume of detail, some clear trends emerge: younger people are leaving Europe’s south, especially its rural areas, in search of work in urban areas of the continent’s job-rich northwest. That’s creating a demographic hole that might presage extended, continuing decline.
Rural Greece, in particular, seems to be emptying out, but that had already happened in Italy, as well. Of course, as young people leave a place, they take their future childbearing with them. As you already know, fertility is low everywhere in Europe, but still higher in some places than others. The map below shows this spatial variability:

And what helps to explain this spatial pattern? I refer you back to yesterday's blog post for some clues...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Increasing Gender Equality in South Korea May Push Up the Birth Rate

As I note in my book, demographers have increasingly pointed out that gender inequality has two dimensions--each of which affects the birth rate in different ways. There is the public sphere inequality, in which women are discriminated against in the labor force and in politics (and maybe even in driving in public). Then there is the private, domestic inequality, in which women are expected to do the home chores such as caring for the kids, cleaning house, and cooking meals. If gender inequality is high in both spheres, fertility tends to be high. If gender equality is high in both spheres, fertility tends to be low, but not necessarily too low. The problem comes when gender equality exists in the public sphere, but less so in the private sphere. As it turns out, that is associated with below replacement level wherever we find it, most famously in southern and eastern Europe, and in East Asia. 

A few months ago I blogged about a study in Demographic Research showing that couples in East Asia who share the work are apt to have higher fertility than those who don't. The authors of that paper are editing a set of papers in Demographic Research and the most recent one, by Erin Hye-Won Kim at the National University of Singapore, looks specifically at data for South Korean couples. The results are in line with what we would expect, but with a special twist--women with only one child may be the key. Longitudinal data suggest that if they intend to have a second child, they are more likely to have that child than women at other parities. And the ones whose husbands help a bit around the house (along with the availability of day care for young children) are more inclined to intend to have a second child. So, that leads the author to the following policy implications of the research findings:

To tackle Korea’s lowest-low fertility, government policies would be wise to target women with one child and relieve their burden through a more gender-equal division of domestic labour and available and affordable childcare. It has been argued that South Korea, together with several other East Asian countries, remains in the first stage of the gender revolution framework proposed by Goldscheider, Bernhardt, and Lappegård (2015) (Kan and Hertog 2017). Reversing the current low fertility rate through the second stage of the revolution could be challenging in highly gendered East Asian societies, with their patriarchal family systems, welfare regimes relying on the family, and work- oriented lifestyles. For these countries to boost their persistently low fertility rates, it seems inevitable that they would have to improve gender equality, both inside and outside the home, to enable women to have a better work–life balance. Raising fertility in East Asia may take an entire nation: Changes in various institutions, including the family, the workplace, and the government, can lift the heavy burdens from the shoulders of women, making childbearing more attractive to them.
I was especially struck by the idea that it may take an entire nation to raise the birth rate in East Asia. This is a huge cultural shift and individuals cannot do it very effectively on their own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Saudi Women Will be Allowed to Drive

It was exactly one year ago today that I blogged about the fact that "Saudi women are tired of being 'owned' by men."  One of the issues that has really bothered women is the restriction on their ability to drive cars. It was one of the most obvious elements of the gender divide that, as I noted several years ago--is the true clash of civilizations in Saudi Arabia (and in many other parts of the world). Given that background, it was very nice to be greeted today with the news that women in Saudi Arabia are going to be allowed to drive. The Associated Press has the story:
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom next summer, fulfilling a key demand of women’s rights activists who faced detention for defying the ban.
The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.
Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.
Some ultraconservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against allowing women to drive. They argued it would corrupt society and lead to sin.
Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work, run errands and simply move around. The more affluent have male drivers and more recently, in major cities, women could access ride hailing apps like Uber and Careem.
Don't expect to see many female drivers for awhile though. It won't be until June 2018 that the new order will be implemented. As you might expect, a committee (probably all male) will be formed to figure out how to get this going. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Income Inequality Alters Marriage Rates

Marriage in the United States used to be nearly universal, and nearly all children were born within marriage. That has changed in important ways in recent years, as noted by a story in today's NYTimes.
Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.
Currently, 26 percent of poor adults, 39 percent of working-class adults and 56 percent of middle- and upper-class adults ages 18 to 55 are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America.
As blue-collar (working class) jobs have been automated and/or gone off-shore, people (men, especially) have found it harder to find good employment (the group that Donald Trump aimed for in his presidential campaign), and that has led to a drop in marriage rates.
“The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor’s or not,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.” [And, also, I might add, a Past President of the Population Association of America.]
But this doesn't mean that people without college degrees aren't making babies--they're just more likely to be out-of-wedlock births.
Researchers found a corresponding increase in births to unmarried mothers. The decline in marriage was not offset by more couples living together.
And, of course, those children born out-of-wedlock tend to have a heavier burden, especially if the father is not involved too heavily:
While researchers say it’s stability, not a marriage license, that matters for children, American couples who live together but don’t marry are generally less likely to stay committed.
This point was emphasized in an on-line article posted today by the IUSSP headquarters in France. Elena Mariani and Alice Goisis reported on their research in the UK where they found that:
Children whose biological father joined the household after their birth had better cognitive skills and were less likely to develop depressive symptoms than children who only lived with their single mothers. Conversely, the arrival of a stepfather in the family was not associated with improvement on any of the outcomes (and was instead associated with a marked worsening of cognitive verbal skills).
Overall, then, the evidence suggests that if we could create a more equal income distribution and increase marriage rates (and marital stability) among people with less than a college education, the kids as well as the parents would be better off. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Chinese Cities Combat Low Fertility With High In-Migration

This week's Economist has a very interesting story about the spatial variability in (already low) fertility in China. Sadly, it starts the story with the following quote:
IF DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, as Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, once said, then China has many destinies.
This is sad because it shows that the writers for the Economist don't read my blog, so they don't know the story behind the phrase "demography is destiny," which I laid out more than four years ago.

The story has some sad elements because it reveals that the rural population of China continues to be exploited by the cities. All provinces in China have below-replacement level fertility (see map below), but the rural provinces still have the highest fertility. Fertility is lowest in Beijing, at 0.71 children per woman. Provincial governments handle pensions in China, so those rural provinces that are experiencing migration to the cities are finding that their dependency ratio is rapidly rising (more pensioners per worker), while the cities are replacing the unborn children with rural migrants.

As a whole, China has too few young adults relative to the size of older generations, meaning it will not have enough workers to support its pensioners (or children) properly in the future. But some areas will hit demographic trouble earlier and harder than others, with serious implications for economic growth and regional stability. Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, dubs the problem “the Balkanisation of Chinese demography”.
Unlike in Guangzhou, the national authorities have been slow to recognise the problems of demographic decline. As a result, low fertility, ageing, labour shortages and dependency have all taken on a provincial aspect. The three great cities look relatively healthy, as do Guangdong and Zhejiang, a nearby province that shares some of its features. But provinces with low fertility, declining or ageing populations, and rising dependency are in deep trouble. These include the north-east, Sichuan and Chongqing in the west and several provinces in the third category in terms of fertility, such as Anhui.
The result is a big problem for the national government. Even now, it is having to bail out some provincial pension funds. But the threat is also philosophical. The Communist Party has long sought to narrow economic differences and erase local political distinctions because it is terrified of regional challenges. It thinks the only way to keep China together is to impose strong central control. If it is right, its failure to deal with demographic problems is setting back that cause.
The Chinese government is certainly aware of demographic problems--that is why the one-child policy was implemented in the first place. And it is certainly aware of the common prediction that "China will grow old before it gets rich." At the moment, it may be that government policy under Xi Jinping is to focus in the short term only on getting rich, rather than worrying about how many people are getting old and what that might do to the economy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Older Fathers Put Their Children at Higher Risk of Genetic Diseases

One of the odd things about human reproduction is that women are fecund (capable of bearing a child) from puberty in the teens to menopause in the 40s, whereas men are generally capable of fathering a child from puberty until death at any age. It is well known that as a woman gets older, especially in the late 30s and early 40s, the chance of trouble with a pregnancy and the risk of genetic disease for her baby increase. Men have rarely been implicated in these issues, but today's Economist Espresso links us to a research report published this week in Nature.
Increasingly, scientists are finding that men have something similar, with babies born to older fathers more likely to have genetic diseases. A paper published in Nature this week puts some startling numbers to that idea. Researchers studied the genomes of 1,500 Icelandic couples and their children, finding that a child born to 30-year-old parents would have, on average, 11 mutations from its mother, but 45 from its father. And while every year of maternal age adds 0.37 mutations on average, the rate for men is four times higher.
And here's another interesting conclusion from the researchers:
Moreover, the regional excess of C>G variation in humans is largely shared by chimpanzees, less by gorillas, and is almost absent from orangutans. This demonstrates that sequence diversity in humans results from evolving interactions between age, sex, mutation type, and genomic location. 
We probably wouldn't give this very much thought were it not for the pattern in much of the world for couples to delay childbearing. Low fertility in a society is almost always associated with a later average age at parenthood for both women and men. While women have been aware of the risks associated with later childbearing, men have generally not given this much thought with respect to their own age. This research suggests that men should start making these calculations as they get older. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Will HIV Be Gone from this World by 2030?

Target 3.3 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is as follows: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases. None of this is going to be easy, but the world has been making progress, even if very unevenly, with respect to health indicators, as evidenced by the most recent report on the Global Burden of Disease project published this month in The Lancet (see graph below for the current world situation):

The health picture vividly reminds us that sub-Saharan Africa is still the least healthy region in the world, and that has been severely aggravated by the high incidence of HIV and the subsequent deaths from AIDS. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the major funders of the Global Burden of Disease project, and, as I noted a few days ago, they are keeping close track of world progress on the SDGs. If you have followed their work over the years, you will know that they are also actively trying to save lives, and today comes the news of a new program aimed at curbing HIV infections and AIDS deaths in Africa:
Makers of generic AIDS drugs will start churning out millions of pills for Africa containing a state-of-the-art medicine widely used in rich countries, after securing a multi-million dollar guarantee that caps prices at just $75 per patient a year.
Bill Gates’ charitable foundation will guarantee minimum sales volumes of the new combination pills using dolutegravir, a so-called integrase inhibitor that avoids the drug resistance that often develops with older treatments.
In return the drugmakers, India-based Mylan Laboratories and Aurobindo Pharma, will agree the maximum price of about $75 per patient for a year’s supply - less than the list price for one day’s supply of a dolutegravir combination in the United States.
The agreement, which will make the treatment available to 92 poor countries, starting in Africa, will be formally announced during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday. 
This sounds like a much more hopeful and positive announcement than most of what has come out of the UNGA this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Does a Low Birth Rate Delay Young People's Entrance into Adulthood?

When demographers talk about low birth rates, the usual conversation is about why they are so low. And when consequences of those low rates are mentioned, it is almost always in the context of the negative effect on the age transition--with too few young people relative to the older population. Now, however, we have a new perspective from Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor who has written famously about "Generation Me," in which her analyses suggested that younger people were growing up in an age of "entitlement" rather than "enlightenment". Her newest book is iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” The San Diego Union-Tribune has a lengthy story about the substance of that book along with a paper on this topic that just came out in the journal Child Development.
Today’s 18-year-olds exhibit similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year-olds in the late 1970s, Twenge said. Moreover, they’re mostly doing this voluntarily — parents aren’t imposing this delayed independence.
But while smartphones and social media enable these trends, Twenge says it’s not the whole explanation. Advances in safety and a declining rate of childbirth drive this process. When parents have fewer children and expect them to grow up, they will expend more care on them.
Twenge said an evolutionary explanation called life history theory appears to be behind the trend. It classifies the maturation of species into “fast” and “slow” strategies.
Fast strategies involve producing prolific amounts of offspring with minimal care. Spawning fish and lobsters are examples. Very high death rates are acceptable, because only a tiny fraction need to survive to perpetuate the species.
Humans, with many years of care and training required for independence, represent the slow strategy. Modern society makes the slow strategy more feasible than before, Twenge said. 
Thus, fewer children per parent enables "helicopter parenting," but Twenge doesn't see that as necessarily bad--just different. Lower death rates with associated greater longevity (including healthy years of life expectancy) diminishes the need for children to rapidly become adults. Indeed, it may be socially useful for younger people to spend longer figuring out how the world works and where they are going to fit into it.