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

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Can Venezuela Handle a Higher Birth Rate?

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

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


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turkey Tries to Leverage the Syrian Refugees

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

A New Form of Election "Fraud" in the US

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doing a Better Job of Feeding Africans

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Eating More Animals Isn't Good for Your Health

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Enumerating and Mapping Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

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


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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dogs Are Good for Your Health!

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

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


Friday, November 17, 2017

Land Grabs and Hunger in Africa

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weaponized Mosquitos May be Headed Your Way

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Migration Morphs Into Slavery in Libya--UPDATED

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

South Koreans Push for the Right to Choose

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


Friday, November 10, 2017

How Well Can We Predict Our Own Survivability?

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Will People in Poland Start Breeding Like Rabbits?

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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