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, 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?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Demographics of Hungary

Hungary has been in the news lately especially because of the government's proposed legislation to close the Central European University in Budapest that was started by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros. And it was one of several eastern European countries that was not happy about the flow of Syrian and other refugees into Europe.

But there's a lot more interesting stuff going on in this country of nearly 10 million people, as well as among the many Hungarians who have left their homeland for western Europe. How do we know that? The answer lies in the "Demographic Portrait of Hungary," put together by Zsolt Spéder, Director of the Hungarian Demographic Institute in Budapest. It is laid out as a set of chapters that are structured like journal articles around specific demographic topics including marriage, fertility, mortality, migration (internal and international(, aging, family and household structure, and scenarios for the future. In other words, its structure is not unlike that of my book, but specific to what's happening in Hungary and to Hungarians.

Like most eastern European countries, Hungary has had below replacement fertility for a long-time and is on the verge of depopulation. Is there something about Hungarians that promotes low fertility, or is it a reflection of changes that have taken place over time in the country? Some clues come from the chapter on fertility in which the authors search out data from the United Kingdom regarding fertility rates of migrants from Hungary to the UK:
In England and Wales 1,225 babies were born to Hungarian-born mothers in 2011. (For the sake of comparison 1,826 children were born in the whole of Vas county in 2011.) The total fertility rate calculated for Hungarian-born mothers living in England and Wales was 1.63, much higher than the TFR of 1.24 measured in Hungary in the same year. Most post-communist countries are characterised by substantially higher childbearing propensity among emigrants than those who stay at home (for example the TFR of Polish women in England and Wales was 2.13 as opposed to 1.3 in Poland).
Now this difference could be due to selectivity of emigrants from Hungary (if you want more kids, leave the country), and/or it could be due to more favorable circumstances for having children in the UK than in Hungary. Either way, it points to the unfavorable conditions for having children in Hungary. The authors offer data showing that the vast majority of people would prefer to have 2 or 3 children, but they aren't having them. They hint that gender roles may play a role in the stress that women feel in having to be responsible for working and for parenting. And these findings all come from just one of the chapters in this volume--check it out....

Sunday, May 7, 2017

America Benefits From Immigrants--But It's Complicated

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to an op-ed in the NYTimes by Ruchir Sharma promoting the idea that immigrants are good for the American economy and will be the answer to "making America great again."
The underlying growth potential of any economy is shaped not only by productivity, or output per worker, but also by the number of workers entering the labor force. The growth of the labor force is in turn determined mainly by the number of native-born and immigrant working-age people. Over the last two decades, the United States’ advantage in productivity growth has narrowed sharply, while its population advantages, compared with both Europe and Japan, have essentially held steady.
What makes America great is, therefore, less about productivity than about population, less about Google and Stanford than about babies and immigrants.
The growing importance of the population race will be very hard for any political leader to fully digest. Every nation prefers to think of itself as productive in the sense of hard-working and smart, not just fertile. But population is where the real action is.
The complication here is that the discourse about immigration in this country routinely ignores the fact that as much we may not want undocumented immigrants, the economy is more dependent on exploiting this pool of "enslaved labor" than we would like to think. The most recent example is Case Farms in Ohio which uses undocumented Central American immigrants to "process" its chickens for sale to the public. As an article in The New Yorker points out "the law makes it hard to penalize employers, and easy for employers to retaliate against workers." So, who benefits disproportionately from undocumented immigrants? It is not hard to believe that the answer is the rich--thus contributing to the growing unfairness in the country's distribution of income and wealth.

The work done by the millions of exploited undocumented immigrants keeps prices lower than would otherwise be the case, thus effectively raising the standard of living for everyone else (not just the rich). Exploiting labor is also why Walmart got rich by selling stuff made in China and elsewhere in Asia where the "inconvenient" costs of reasonably paid labor and environmental controls do not have to be built into the cost of making things. 

At the same time, those who want to deport undocumented immigrants (without understanding the cost to the economy of doing that) point to the long line of people waiting to get into the country legally. The problem there is that a very high fraction of those people are family members of current legal immigrants who may or may not be potential workers and, even if they are, may not have the skills that the economy needs. They are invited in for reasons of family reunification (humanitarian reasons) rather than any reasons having to do with economic need or benefit to the country. 

So, it is way too simple to suggest that more immigrants will make America great again (whatever that really means!). Yes, the entire history of the country has been built around immigration, but we need to be willing to reform our immigration policies in large and important ways, and I have not seen anyone in politics willing to tackle this.

UPDATE: More people or more government spending (i.e., no tax cuts!) on infrastructure and education? Read this piece by John Mauldin and see what you think.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Cultural Demography of Arab Society

This week's Economist has a very interesting article discussing gender roles in Arab society. The subtitle of the story  is "the sorry state of Arab men," but to me this is a story about how demography and culture interact.
A new survey by the UN and Promundo, an advocacy group, examines Arab men’s views on male-female relations... It finds that around 90% of men in Egypt believe that they should have the final say on household decisions, and that women should do most of the chores.
So far, so predictable. But the survey sheds new light on the struggles of Arab men in the four countries studied (Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine) and how they hinder progress towards equality. At least two-thirds of these men report high levels of fear for the safety and well-being of their families. In Egypt and Palestine most men say they are stressed or depressed because of a lack of work or income. Women feel even worse, but for Arab men the result is a “crisis of masculinity”, the study finds.
Far from relaxing their patriarchal attitudes, Arab men are clinging to them. In every country except Lebanon, younger men’s views on gender roles do not differ substantially from those of older men. There may be several reasons for this, but the study suggests that the struggle of young Arab men to find work, afford marriage and achieve the status of financial provider may be producing a backlash against assertive women. In other words, male chauvinism may be fuelled by a sense of weakness, not strength.
My interpretation of what is happening in these societies is that past population growth--fueled by birth rates that have not dropped as quickly as child mortality rates--has not been met by equally rapid economic growth. The region really does not have the resources to support the population that currently lives there, unless you are one of the lucky ones with oil reserves, and even that won't last forever. That is the source of weakness that helps to perpetuate traditional attitudes of patriarchy. And keep in mind that these traditional gender role ideas are not peculiar to Arab society--we find them all over the world, including in places here in the U.S. They also popped up in an article just published yesterday in Demographic Research, in which the authors report on their interviews with second-generation Turkish-Germans who find "refuge" in Antalya, Turkey--a Mediterranean seaside resort town in southwest Turkey where some of them have escaped from the traditional family attitudes that prevail among Turkish immigrants (their parents) in Germany. Hmm, this is more complicated than I thought...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Canada's Demographic Disaster or Dividend?

You may have seen the news over the past couple of days that Canada's seniors outnumber children for the first time ever. The Canadian Broadcasting Company presented this story in terms of an impending disaster.
There are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20 per cent since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five per cent growth experienced by the population as a whole.
"As people get older, they need more health care, more home care, and that puts increasing demands on government spending," says Dr. Frances Woolley, economics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. "There are big challenges for the government coming on the fiscal side."
But thanks to Abu Daoud for linking me to another story from CTV News noting that Canada's demographic dividend hasn't yet ended. The population aged 15-64 is still large relative to the younger and older populations and that's a good thing.
That gives Canada a few more years to benefit from what Statistics Canada calls a "demographic dividend": a growing labour force while other countries watch theirs shrink. Eventually the numbers will decline in Canada as well, once populations age and retirements take hold, said Statistics Canada demographer Andre Lebel.
Projections about how long Canada will benefit from those dividends depends in part on immigration, which is the key to the modest gains thus far in the labour force, said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics.
Much will also depend on the sorts of policy decisions officials have wrestled with for years as they seek to prevent a coming crush of retirements from triggering an economic slowdown.
And the last point is especially important. Demography is destiny only in the sense that if you know what the possible demographic trajectories are, you can make plans to avoid the poor outcomes and enhance the better outcomes. That's what population policy is all about. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Nutrition Transition Catches Up With Latin America

For most of human existence, the food supply was precarious and famines were common. The industrial revolution and changes in modern farming practices have made more food available per person than at any other time in human history. But there is a precarious balance between what we eat and our health. As a species we are working our way through the nutrition transition, as described by Barry Popkin and his associates 25 years ago. The current phase in that transition involves a marked worldwide shift toward a diet high in fat and processed foods and low in fiber, accompanied by lower levels of physical exercise, leading to corresponding increases in degenerative diseases. There is no better evidence of that than a report out this week from the UN World Food Programme highlighting the rise in obesity in several Latin American countries. The Guardian summarizes the report (the original of which is in Spanish).
More than two-thirds of people living in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador are overweight or obese, costing their economies tens of billions of dollars every year, driving rates of disease and straining health services, according to a new UN report.
While the number of hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean has halved in the past 25 years, the region is now struggling to combat an obesity epidemic.
Changing diets, including more processed food that are high in salt, sugar and fat, along with more sedentary lifestyles have triggered a rising tide of obesity, experts say.
This is not just a "rich country" phenomenon. My colleagues and I have found the same patterns emerging in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa. Not enough food will kill you, but too much food of the wrong kinds (especially in combination with a more sedentary lifestyle that comes with modernity) is also not good for you. Eat enough, but eat smart.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Trump Picks Woman Who Doesn't Believe in Contraception to Head Federal Family Planning Program

You really cannot make this stuff up!! The Trump administration has just picked a woman who has said that contraception doesn't work to head up the family planning program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among many media outlets, Huffington Post has the story:
President Donald Trump has appointed Teresa Manning, an anti-abortion activist who has argued that “contraception doesn’t work,” to oversee a federal family planning program for low-income Americans. 
Manning, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee and legislative analyst for the conservative Family Research Council, will serve as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of Population Affairs administers the Title X program, which subsidizes contraception, Pap smears and other preventive health care services for 4 million low-income Americans, roughly half of whom are uninsured.
Manning has said she opposes federal family planning funding, and she has a long history of making false claims about birth control and women’s health.
Manning has referred to abortion as “legalized crime” and mistakenly argued that emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, is “the destruction of a human life already conceived.” (It’s not.) She has also claimed that the link between abortion and breast cancer is “undisputed,” when there is actually no evidence of a causal relationship between the two.
The assault on women's reproductive rights in this country--an attack which has been ongoing--seems to have reached a new level. To quote from various of Donald Trump's tweets--SAD! [TRAGIC might be the better word, in this case.]