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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Neanderthals Are Back in the News!

I don't think most of us give much thought to our very distant relatives--the Neanderthals. But they are back in the news because scientists have discovered ancient art on the walls of caves in Spain that seems to have been put there before Homo sapiens ever arrived in Europe. BBC News has a summary of the paper just published in Science.
Contrary to the traditional view of them as brutes, it turns out that Neanderthals were artists. A study in Science journal suggests they made cave drawings in Spain that pre-date the arrival of modern humans in Europe by 20,000 years. They also appear to have used painted sea shells as jewellery.
Art was previously thought to be a behaviour unique to our species (Homo sapiens) and far beyond our evolutionary cousins. The cave paintings include stencilled impressions of Neanderthal hands, geometric patterns and red circles. They occupy three sites at La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales - situated up to 700km apart in different parts of Spain.
These discoveries bring back to light the fact that we Homo sapiens used to share the planet with other human species, even if we prefer not to think about our roots. One person who has been thinking about these things is Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian who has written a best-selling book titled "Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind." I just finished reading it and while I'm not sure that I agree with everything he says (more on that in subsequent blog posts...), he writes well and obviously knows a lot. Here's his quick summary of where we fit into history (from pages 5 and 6):
Homo sapiens [modern humans] belong to a family. This banal fact used to be one of history's most closely guarded secrets. Homo sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan bereft of family, lacking siblings or cousins, and most importantly, without parents, but that's just not the case. Like it or not, we are members of a large and particularly noisy family called the great apes. Our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. The chimpanzees are the closest. Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother. 
Homo sapiens has kept hidden an even more disturbing secret. Not only do we possess an abundance of uncivilised cousins, once upon a time we had quite a few brothers and sisters as well. We are used to thinking about ourselves as the only humans, because for the last 10,000 years, our species has indeed been the only human species around. Yet the real meaning of the word human is 'an animal belonging to the genus Homo', and there used to be many other species of this genus besides Homo sapiens.
He then points out that humans first evolved in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago and that our human siblings include Homo rudolfensis (East Africa), Homo erectus (East Asia), Homo neanderthensis [--"man from the Neander Valley" (in Germany)]--(Europe and Western Asia), and a few others. However, for reasons about which we can only speculate, for the past 10,000 years Homo sapiens have been the only humans on the planet--still around so that we can enjoy the art of the Neanderthals.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

American and French Women are Delaying Births

A few days ago I commented on the finding that American women were having fewer children than they said they wanted. The ink was scarcely dry on that post (so to speak...) when Pew Research reported that their analysis showed that American women were, in fact, just delaying births.
Not only are women more likely to be mothers than in the past, but they are having more children. Overall, women have 2.07 children during their lives on average – up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record. And among those who are mothers, family size has also ticked up. In 2016, mothers at the end of their childbearing years had had about 2.42 children, compared with a low of 2.31 in 2008.
The recent rise in motherhood and fertility might seem to run counter to the notion that the U.S. is experiencing a post-recession “Baby Bust.” However, each trend is based on a different type of measurement. The analysis here is based on a cumulative measure of lifetime fertility, the number of births a woman has ever had; meantime, reports of declining U.S. fertility are based on annual rates, which capture fertility at one point in time.
The same thing seems to be happening in France, according to this week's Economist. As I've noted before, France's pronatalist policies have enabled the country to avoid the very low fertility levels of several of its European neighbors. The birth rate has dipped a little of late in France, but it may be another case of delaying babies, not necessarily of avoiding them altogether.
It could yet be that, in the coming years, older motherhood in France will make up for the recent fall. As Gilles Pison, a French demographer, points out, this is what happened after a previous child-bearing dip in the 1990s. Despite the sharp recent drop, the French remain among the more enthusiastic procreators in Europe. If the country can revive this breeding instinct, France will be on course, post-Brexit, to overtake Germany as the most populous country in the European Union by the mid-2050s—and for the first time since Bismarck.
Will that thought create a competitive spirit amongst German women? We'll have to wait and see...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Professor Bob McCaa to be Honored at Population Meetings

Robert (Bob) McCaa is Research Professor at the University of Minnesota and has made extremely important contributions to demographic research over the years. Those contributions are being recognized this year by his selection as Laureate 2018 of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and he will be honored at this year's annual meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) in Denver in April. Here are some excerpts from his nomination letter to remind you of his accomplishments:
From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, McCaa’s work focused mainly on Latin American historical demography. He produced classic articles on marriage and fertility in 18th and 19th century Chile and Mexico, the role of smallpox in the demographic catastrophe of the 16th century, paleodemography, the demographic impact of the Mexican Revolution, and the household composition of the Nahua (Aztec) of ancient Mexico.
You will find references to this line of research in several places in my text, of course. And then:
In the mid-1990s, McCaa had an idea that shifted the trajectory of his career and profoundly affected the field of population studies. He had been working on the IPUMS project, which was then a harmonized series of microdata samples from nine U.S. decennial censuses. With harmonized codes, consistent record layouts, and integrated documentation, IPUMS greatly simplified use of the microdata for analyzing long-run demographic change. 
McCaa had a radical idea: IPUMS should be expanded to cover international censuses...Eventually McCaa transformed the terrain of international census microdata research by persuading over 100 statistical offices to allow their census microdata to be disseminated by a third party. Remarkably, all these countries agreed to a single standard license with no special conditions for access beyond the standard approval process conducted by IPUMS. The project, which has been continuously supported by both NSF and NICHD since 1999, is now the largest microdata archive in the world. IPUMS-International disseminates data from 303 censuses of 83 countries, with a combined total of 631 million records. By 2018, IPUMS expects to be distributing microdata on over a billion individuals residing in 100 different countries.
I am one of the thousands of people whose research has benefitted from this amazing database. If you aren't familiar with it, there's no time like now to explore the IPUMS International resources. Thanks, Bob! 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Is the Youth Bulge a Huge Threat?

Thanks to my son, Greg Weeks, for linking me to a recent political blog on "Getting the Youth Bulge Wrong." The blog site is called "Political Violence @ a Glance" and is hosted by two political science professors, although the author of this particular post, Aaron Stanley, is a program assistant at the Carnegie Corporation in New York. In short, he argues vociferously against the idea that the youth bulge in Africa is the cause of violence in that region of the world. Who is he arguing with? It turns out that the source of his angst on this issue is a 1986 report from the Office of Global Issues at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that was partially declassified, albeit heavily redacted, in 2011. In particular, the references are redacted, so we do not know where the CIA was getting its information. No matter, Aaron Stanley is hopping mad!
Africa’s population is growing and quickly. Even those who are generally unaware of happenings on the continent, will be alert to the fact that half of the world’s population growth is projected to be in Africa by 2050. This strikes fear into all but an optimistic few.
The fear comes from an assumed correlation between the size of the youth population and insecurity popularized by the “youth bulge” hypothesis. The youth bulge is defined as “20 percent or more of the population in the 15 to 24 age group.” As a result, there has been no shortage of experts who have drawn on this hypothesis to opine on the potential of Africa’s youth for violence. There are two major problems with this. First, most researchers and commentators use aggregate numbers for Sub-Saharan Africa, which is misleading and largely inaccurate. Second, the data show that almost every country in Sub-Saharan Africa has consistently maintained a population of 15-24-year-olds well over the youth bulge’s 20 percent threshold. A deeper inspection of the data eliminates a correlation between the percentage of youth in African nations and violence.
Let's get real here. Yes, the population projections by the UN Population Division and others do suggest that sub-Saharan Africa will be contributing the greatest number of new people to the world's population over the next few decades, as I have noted before. This generates a concern about the resources available to meet the needs of these people, but that doesn't necessarily "strike fear into all but an optimistic few." Indeed, the 1986 CIA report does not purport to show that a youth bulge automatically leads to violence, even though that is what Mr. Stanley seems to think it says.

Importantly, demographers do NOT agree on the above definition of the youth bulge. Indeed, here is what Debbie Fugate and I wrote in the introduction to our edited volume on "The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity:"
As you will see in this book, authors have varying ideas of exactly what constitutes a youth bulge, and there is no single definition that is agreed to by everyone. What can be agreed upon, however, are the following propositions:
1) a society with a young population is very different in a vast array of dimensions than an older population;
2) a long-term increase in the size of the youth population, with each cohort being larger than the previous one, is one of the biggest challenges that any society will ever face--how a society responds to this challenge will shape the future in either a positive or negative direction. It is almost impossible for any society to be unscathed by such a change; and
3) a genuine one-time bulge, in which young adults are a higher percentage of either the younger or older populations, is often known as the “demographic dividend,” and this too can be used by society for its own good, or ignored—in which case it represents a wasted opportunity at best, or a real problem at worst.
We then go on to discuss the crucial difference between a youthful population and a youth bulge in terms of potential societal and policy consequences. It is unfortunate that Mr. Stanley didn't bother to track down our book, especially since Dr. Fugate has worked for the U.S. government for the last decade so we can rest assured that the government has good intellectual resources at its disposal.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

More Guns Equals More Deaths

I am very sad to once again be blogging about gun violence. I've done so several times over the years, most recently after the Las Vegas shooting. Social scientists keep coming up with the same analysis time and again--the more people there are with guns, the higher will be the death rate from guns. Thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to an article in today's NYTimes drawing similar conclusions in the aftermath of yesterday's horrific school shootings in south Florida. 
The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.
Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.
Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.
Today it seemed to me that politicians wanted to talk more about mental health issues than about guns.
A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Mr. Lankford, in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates of mass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental health problems correlated with mass shootings.
Republicans politicians, in particular, seem genuinely unwilling to acknowledge the true reason behind these mass shootings. If American society could limit access to guns, we would limit the tragic, unnecessary deaths that are vastly more commonplace than they should be. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bill and Melinda Gates are Becoming Demographers

Bill and Melinda Gates have been doing intensive and extensive philanthropic work for nearly two decades. The initial thrust of the Gates Foundation work was toward children's health. But over time they came to the realization that as ever greater fractions of children stay alive, the demand for ways of limiting family size to what people desire grows because people realize that too many children can exhaust a family's resources. In sum, Bill and Melinda Gates came to appreciate the basic elements of the demographic transition, and they discuss that very explicitly in their annual newsletter, which came out this week and is in the format of their answers to ten tough questions they get asked. Tough Question #5 is "Does Saving Kids' Lives Lead to Overpopulation?"
Melinda: We asked ourselves the same question at first. Hans Rosling, the brilliant and inspiring public health advocate who died last year, was great at answering it [One of my very first blog posts back in 2010 was about his famous Ted Talk]. I wrote about the issue at length in our 2014 letter [and I blogged about that at the time]. But it bears repeating, because it is so counterintuitive. When more children live past the age of 5, and when mothers can decide if and when to have children, population sizes don’t go up. They go down. Parents have fewer children when they’re confident those children will survive into adulthood. Big families are in some ways an insurance policy against the tragic likelihood of losing a son or a daughter.
Now, to be clear, population size almost always DOES go up as the death rate goes down, because historically it has taken a while for people to realize that low death rates are here to stay, plus they need to have access to birth control. At the same time, if people trust the work of the Gates Foundation and have greater faith than in the past that death rates will be low and reproductive health care needs will be met, the gap between low death rates and low fertility will be lower and the population size impact will be less.
Bill: There’s another benefit to the pattern Melinda describes—first more children survive, then families decide to have fewer children—which is that it can lead to a burst of economic growth that economists call “the demographic dividend.” Here’s how it works.
When more children live, you get one generation that’s relatively big. Then, when families decide to have fewer children, the next generation is much smaller. Eventually, a country ends up with relatively more people in the labor force producing economically—and relatively fewer dependents (very old or very young people). That’s a recipe for rapid economic development, especially if countries take advantage of it by investing in health and education.
I commented very recently about the demographic dividend, and I am pleased to see that Bill Gates is thinking along these lines. Indeed, I would not want any of my comments to be viewed as negative toward what the Gates Foundation has been accomplishing. I encourage you to read the answers to all ten of their tough questions--answers which are admirably insightful and honest.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They Say They Want

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing out a story in today's NYTimes about the gap between the number of children women in this country say they want to have and the actual number they are having. In some respects, this is not a new story. In every low fertility country for which I have seen data, women are not having as many children on average as they say they would like. These are averages, of course, so some women are having more than they might want (as a result of unintended pregnancies), and many are having exactly the number they want. Still, the averages point to trends, as the story's author, Lyman Stone, notes somewhat dramatically:
America’s fertility is in precipitous decline. Our team of forecasters at Demographic Intelligence projects 3.84 million births in 2017, down from about 3.95 million in 2016. And it’s likely to fall further — far short of what women themselves say they want for their family size. 

The trick in this kind of analysis is to marry (no pun intended) the desired family size with the actual number of children ever born. This is built into the Demographic Health Surveys, but such surveys are rarely conducted in the richer, low fertility countries. So, the desired family size data come from surveys, such as Gallup (as Pew Research has used), or the General Social Survey, as used  in this article by Stone, while the data on children actually born come from vital statistics, in this case the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (now part of the Centers for Disease Control).

Of particular interest is this following set of possible explanations set forth for why the gap may be rising between actual and desired family size:
Diminished face-to-face interaction, and possibly increased use of pornography, may explain the fall in sex, and both of those trends may be explained by the rise in cellphone usage and other screen time. 
Smartphone ownership rates have more than doubled for every age group in America since 2010, meaning that almost all of us now carry a get-out-of-human-interaction-free card in our pockets 24/7.
Also of interest is that the author is from a research company called Demographic Intelligence, whose founder, W. Bradford Wilcox, is a sociologist at the University of Virginia whom I blogged about several years ago. Two of the advisors to the company are also famous demographers: S. Philip Morgan, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who is a Past President of the Population Association of America (and appeared in my blog a few years ago); and Hans-Peter Kohler, at the University of Pennsylvania (who also appeared in my blog a few years ago).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Population Growth Still Threatens the Planet

The typical world leader or policy-maker is not currently worried about population growth. Even those who worry about things like global climate change generally do not phrase their concern in terms of numbers of humans beings. Yet, numbers matter, especially when we are consuming resources at an historically unprecedented level. This reminder came to us today in the IUSSP's latest online essay by renowned Italian demographer Massimo Livi-Bacci:
The “population question”, central to the debate about humankind’s future since the 18th century, has slipped away from center stage and fallen into a coma in recent years. The international community is busy promoting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their attendant 169 targets, and appears convinced that population has ceased to be a threat for balanced development. There is a sort of consensus among demographers that the world’s population will converge to a quasi-stationary state by the beginning of next century and this conviction has dispelled the severe anxiety about the future that affected most population experts in the second part of last century.
To be sure, the UN hasn't held a World Population Conference since 1994, but that doesn't mean that we should just ignore the fact that the current UN projections assume that we may well add another 4 billion people to the planet before we reach ZPG. It doesn't have to be that many--that's just what the UN demographers think will happen given the current attitudes towards population in the world.
Population interacts with the external constraints such as space, land, water, air, non-renewable resources and energy. Humankind, throughout its history on this planet, has found these resources in almost unlimited supply. But things have changed rapidly in recent times and some natural resources – particularly air, land and water – are under stress because of rapid population growth.
Professor Livi-Bacci points out that we would be better off if it were only 3 billion, instead of 4 billion that we were adding. Even that might not be sustainable in the long run, but at least we would have done less damage to the world in the meantime. These are issues, by the way, that are always front and center at the UK-based organization Population Matters, and I encourage you to visit their website.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Can China Cope With its Demographic Dividend?

Demographic dividend is the term applied to the potential for economic gains during a period of rapid fertility decline following a mortality decline. It is a transition period in which the prior higher fertility accompanied by lower mortality generates a large number of people of working age, while current rapid declines in fertility lower the number of young dependents and the prior high mortality has produced a relatively small number of people at the older dependent ages. The key word in that definition is TRANSITION. It is not a permanent state of affairs, and if a society does not use that transition wisely and plan for the post-transition period, there will be trouble. This is where China seems to find itself at the moment, as we have been reminded this week by a report from Bloomberg on the "Debt Bomb" associated with aging in China, and a story this week in the Economist discussing China's attempt to cope with this "bomb" by generating a new baby boom.

The debt bomb is largely related to the pension obligations that the government took on in the 1990s to deal with its growing older population--the generation that had forsaken a large family and generally will have only one child to look after them in old age. The government is going to have go into deeper debt to pay out these pensions. That will work for awhile but eventually someone is going to have pay off that debt. It seems as though the government assumed that a rise in the birth rate would take care of that by ramping up the younger population to previous levels. Thus, they got rid of most of the provisions of the one-child policy a couple of years ago, as I noted at the time.
Unwinding the one-child policy was supposed to help. But figures released in January confirm that after briefly boosting birth rates, its effect is petering out (see chart). Chinese mothers bore 17.2m babies last year, more than before the rules were relaxed but 3.5% down on 2016. Wang Feng of the University of California, Irvine, says the number of births was 3m-5m lower than the projections from the family-planning agency when the authorities were debating whether to change the policy, and below even sceptical analysts’ estimates.

The Economist suggests that the government now seems to be moving in a direction to push "traditional" Chinese values that emphasize the maternal role of women. However, a return to patriarchy is unlikely and, as I discussed a few months ago in reference to South Korea, more gender equality, not less, is the likely key to higher fertility in these very low birth rate countries. At the same time, it seems to me that the Chinese government needs to own up to the fact that its demographic dividend is coming to an end and the future is not going to be like the past two or three decades.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

CopyCat Suicides Followed the Death of Robin Williams

In Chapter 5 (The Health and Mortality Transition) of my text I discuss the work of David Phillips, a friend who is now Professor Emeritus in Sociology at UCSD. His research on the social and psychological influences on death, especially suicide, has been widely published and discussed since his first paper on the topic came out back in 1974. The most recent replication of his line of research was published this week in PLOS One and came to my attention via a news story in Mother Jones.
In August 2014, actor and comedian Robin Williams, famous for his roles in movies like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and Mrs. Doubtfire, committed suicide at his home just north of San Francisco. He was 63 years old and, as the public would later find out, was struggling with depression and dementia. In the weeks after his death, headlines like, “Robin Williams hanged himself in bedroom with a belt, sheriff says” and “Robin Williams Committed Suicide by Hanging Himself, Police Say,” flooded newsstands and newsfeeds across the country.
Now, new research shows that such coverage might have contributed to a horrible and unintended consequence: a spike in suicides in the following months.
This rise in possible “copycat suicides,” the authors write, is likely an example of the “Werther effect,” a phenomenon coined by suicide researcher David Phillips. (He named the effect after the 1774 Goethe novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which tells the story of a man who shoots himself after a love interest falls for someone else—and is widely blamed for the flood of young European men killing themselves shortly after the book’s release.)
Just as Phillips had done in his research on celebrity suicides, the authors of this study (David S. Fink, Julian Santaella-Tenorio, and Katherine M. Keyes--all at Columbia University) had looked at the time trend in suicides before and after the stories came about Robin Williams' death, and there was indeed a statistically significant increase that almost certainly represented copycat suicides.

Over time, the research of Phillips and the many studies that followed his have led people to try to set up guidelines on reporting this sort of news. As the authors point out in their paper:
Celebrity suicide effects have led to the World Health Organization to establishment media guidelines for reporting a high profile celebrity death, including sensitivity and non-sensationalism in the reporting of the means of suicide, the precipitating factors, and the risk factors for suicide apparent in the deceased, and clear and consistent messages about suicide prevention and help-seeking during reporting. The extent to which these guidelines were followed after the death of Mr. Williams, however, is questionable, and as such, we examined suicide incidence in the United States by month surrounding the time frame of Mr. Williams’ death.
Thus, despite the knowledge that publicizing the suicide of a famous person is apt to lead to additional deaths, the practice continues... 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Supreme Court Says that Pennsylvania Has to Redraw its Congressional Boundaries

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the case in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Congressional Districts in that state had indeed been gerrymandered in a way to favor Republicans over Democrats, and that these boundaries must be redrawn. At the very end I noted that:
Since the case in Pennsylvania relied on the state constitution, not on the U.S. Constitution, Reuters notes that the case could avoid being adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll see!
Today we saw! The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to take up the case, as NPR reports:
The United States Supreme Court has decided not to block a state court ruling requiring Pennsylvania's Legislature to immediately redraw its legislative boundaries.
Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court had previously ruled those 18 congressional districts — drawn by a Republican Legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2011 — were overly partisan and violated the state Constitution.
The state's Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature now have until Feb. 15 to draw new lines.
Pennsylvania is a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters, and yet 13 of the 18 state's members of Congress were Republican. Will that change after the new maps are drawn? We'll see!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Should People Not Have Children Because of the Impact on the Environment?

The New York Times published an Op-Ed this morning by Maggie Astor promoting the idea that people may choose not to bring a child into a world threatened by environmental collapse.
Add this to the list of decisions affected by climate change: Should I have children?
It is not an easy time for people to feel hopeful, with the effects of globalwarming no longer theoretical, projections becoming more dire and governmental action lagging. And while few, if any, studies have examined how large a role climate change plays in people’s childbearing decisions, it loomed large in interviews with more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43.
Among them, there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront. Some worry about the quality of life children born today will have as shorelines flood, wildfires rage and extreme weather becomes more common. Others are acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally.
To be sure, these data are from a small non-random sample of people assembled by a group called Conceivable Future, an organization that highlights how climate change is limiting reproductive choices, and co-founded by Meghan Kallman, who is interviewed in the article. 

But is this the best response to global environmental destruction? An IUSSP article also just posted this morning suggests not. George Martine, a widely respected demographer, offers the opinion that the problem is the per-person increase in resource consumption that has accompanied population increase. To be sure, more people add to the problem, but the biggest issue is that everyone in the world wants to live like the wealthiest 20% and that just isn't possible. Resources need to be more equitably spread around the world, and we need to change our attitudes about how many things we need to buy (and eat).
Ultimately, the “population problem” is much less relevant than, say, livestock increases (also driven by development) in the imminent ecological collapse. Given the trajectory of degradation caused by the richest third of the global population, the planet we know could well be thrashed even without the addition of a single baby. What we urgently need, therefore, is a reality check on our cherished “development” paradigm.
I would offer the middle ground that we should immediately slow population growth and immediately put a check on the development paradigm. We need both. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Where Are We Headed as a Species?

Today I want to catch up on two links that readers have posted over the past few days. Both of them raise huge questions about the future of human society. Duane Miller provided a link to a 15-minute YouTube video called Humans Need Not Apply It has already been viewed nearly 10 million times, so perhaps you've already seen it. The point it makes is that just as horses were replaced by automobiles, robots are quickly replacing humans. Now, to be sure, this alarm bell has been ringing often over the past century and a half. In the middle of the 19th century Karl Marx got the attention of workers by arguing that machines were going to replace them. And, of course, he was right in many respects, even if history didn't go exactly his way. The argument in this video is that robots may be much more successful at replacing humans than any previous generation of machines. This seems likely to me and, as I have said before, this should be viewed as a way of relieving our angst about the "demographic bomb" inherent in an increasingly older population.

By the way, if you watch the video you will see a reference to the occupational categories that were supposedly listed in the 1776 census (this occurs about 13 minutes into the video). Fact Check! The first census in the U.S. was in 1790, and the first census to ask about occupation was the one undertaken in 1850. It always worries me when I see a glaring error about things with which I am familiar, because then I wonder about the accuracy of everything else...

Another message oriented to the idea that we really don't need to keep adding to the number of humans alive comes from a blog posted by Steven Earl Salmony, who lives in a beautiful spot in North Carolina called Fearrington Village. The bottom line is one that will be familiar to any reader of my book or blog--we humans are currently on an unsustainable path. We cannot continue to increase in numbers as we have been doing without ruining the natural environment upon which we are entirely dependent. Machines grow and process our food (creating massive environmental damage in the process), and machines bring food to our markets and we just eat it. The nutrition transition means that we have been increasingly eating more food of the kinds that our bodies are not too happy with, so we need to cut back our caloric intake while also shifting our dietary mix towards a healthier combination of more fruits and vegetables and less meats and sweets.

The future will be different, and only if we start acting now will it be better rather than worse.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Women Are Making Some Progress in Japan and Iran

Thanks to both Todd Gardner and Abu Daoud for links to a fascinating story posted on the Australian version of BusinessInsider, after translation from its original Japanese. A young Japanese woman has launched a startup company that encourages other young women--those in their 20s--to get married, have kids, and also have a job.
In the 1980s, the number of unmarried young people in Japan increased along with the economic bubble. With those singles now in their middle age, the one-person household is projected to be more than 40% of the country’s total households by 2040. 
In a stark contrast, more millennials, particularly women in their 20s, increasingly wish to marry young — almost three decades after that bubble burst. 
Nearly 80% of women between ages 18 and 34 felt marriage was important in 2015, up from 71% in 1987, according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. The rate for the men has hovered around 60% during the same two time periods.
Unfortunately, it's not real clear what the start-up company to encourage early marriage. Furthermore, the reporters very honestly note that the 2015 census data don't yet show much movement in the direction of a younger age at marriage for women. Still, the positive element is the idea that Japanese culture has shifted enough so that young women could even think about it.

Meanwhile, in another low fertility country--Iran, women are protesting the government rule that requires women to wear full body covering Hijabs in public. The Guardian has the news about the protests: 
Iranian law has compelled women to wear a hijab since the 1979 revolution, but it has been a difficult policy to enforce. Despite the fear of reprisals, millions of women in Iran defy the restrictions on a daily basis.
A growing number of women, especially in Tehran, refuse to wear a hijab while driving, arguing that a car is a private space where they can dress more freely.
The issue has become more prominent in recent years, partly thanks to a campaign run by activist Masih Alinejad, called My Stealthy Freedom. Her Facebook page invites women in Iran to post pictures of themselves without their headscarves in defiance of the rules. She is also behind White Wednesdays, a campaign encouraging women to wear white headscarves and take them off in protest at the rules.
“Forced hijab is the most visible symbol of oppression against women in Iran, that’s why fighting for freedom to wear or not to wear hijab is the first step towards full equality,” Alinejad told the Guardian on Monday. “These women are not protesting against a piece of cloth, it’s about our identity, our dignity, and our freedom of choice. Our body, our choice.”
As I've noted on numerous occasions, low status for women routinely leads to high fertility (and hard lives for the women involved) and has a very long history in the world, but repressing women in modern society is, somewhat contrarily, a major cause of the below replacement level fertility being complained about in places like Japan and Iran. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

An Awful Reminder of the Low Status of Women in India

Justin Stoler just sent me a link to a story from the BBC reminding us of the low status of women in India. The headline tells it all: "India estimates that 21 million of its girls are 'unwanted'". Perhaps the only "good" thing about this report is that it comes from a government agency, rather than an NGO.
The desire among parents in India to have sons instead of daughters has created 21 million "unwanted" girls, a government report estimates. The finance ministry report found many couples kept on having children until they had a boy. Authors called this a "subtler form" of son preference than sex-selective abortions but warned it might lead to fewer resources for girls. Son preference was "a matter for Indian society to reflect upon", they said.
The authors also found that 63 million women were "missing" from India's population because the preference for sons led to to sex-selective abortions and more care was given to boys. Tests to determine a foetus's sex are illegal in India, but they still take place and can lead to sex-selective abortions.
Now, if you've read Chapter 6 of my book, you'll remember the discussion about the status of women in India (p.199):
India is a country where the desire for a surviving son is strong, since the Hindu religion requires that parents be buried by their son (Mandelbaum 1974). Malthus was very aware of this stimulus to fertility in India and, in his Essay on Population, quoted an Indian legislator who wrote that under Hindu law a male heir is “an object of the first importance. ‘By a son a man obtains victory over all people; by a son’s son he enjoys immortality; and afterwards by the son of that grandson he reaches the solar abode’” (Malthus 1872 [1971]:116).
The BBC story also points out that girls are a drain on the family economy because they require a dowry to be married (i.e., parents have to pay another family to take the girls off their hands), and then they go off to live with the husband's family, rather than staying around to help her parents. These are cultural characteristics that work against equal status for women and the cultural world turns more slowly than we might wish, I'm afraid. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Significant Metro Inequalities Exist in Life Expectancy in the U.S.

Almost six years ago I blogged about the major differences in life expectancy by county in the U.S. Marin County, California, topped the list with the highest male life expectancy, and several counties in the south had the lowest life expectancy. A new report, recently summarized by the Washington Post, looks at mortality data for metropolitan areas in the U.S. Keep in mind that for most of human history cities were less healthy than the countryside, but the health transition of the last century has turned that around and cities now have higher life expectancy than the rural areas in almost every corner of the world (it might be that some Chinese cities with lots of smog are less healthy than the surrounding rural areas...). Yet, even among those metro areas there can be important inequalities, some of it accounted for by the demographics of the state in question:
The measure [life expectancy] is closely tied to income and healthy behaviors, which is why it’s perhaps not surprising that residents of Hawaii, with the second-highest median household income in the United States and an active lifestyle, have the longest life expectancy (81.2 years), while Mississippians, with the lowest household income, one of the highest rates of obesity and the sixth-highest rate of smoking, have the shortest (74.9 years). As 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion site, found out by looking at metropolitan areas, there’s also a wide gap in life expectancy within states such as California, Florida, South Carolina and Texas, much of it explained by variations in the metropolitan areas’ household income and rates of smoking and obesity.
If we look at California, for example, we find that the metro area with the highest life expectancy (83.1 years--both sexes combined) is in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara. This is otherwise known as Silicon Valley, so all of those tech nerds have enough money and a healthy enough lifestyle to stay alive longer than most other people in the U.S. This is also the part of California with the most diverse neighborhoods, as I mentioned a few days ago, including immigrants from East Asia and Western Europe--the areas of the world with the highest life expectancy. Indeed, life expectancy in Silicon Valley is about the same as in Japan or Switzerland. However, if you drive north up the center of California towards Mt. Shasta you'll run into the metro area of Redding. These folks have an average life expectancy that is more than 6 years less than Silicon Valley and is much closer to the levels found in those southern states with the lowest life expectancy in the country. To be sure, these levels are much more similar to what we find in Eastern and Southern Europe and probably for the same reasons--lower levels of income and less healthy lifestyles.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What is the Impact of Demographics on Market Forces?

I don't really know how he does it, but Todd Gardner (@PopGeog) seems to find every story of demographic relevance every day of the year. Today he hit on a story posted on Investopedia.com in which the chief global strategist at Charles Schwab company discusses the importance of demographics on market forces.
Policy – be it monetary, trade, foreign or fiscal – can have an impact on investor sentiment and therefore on investment decisions. But demographics could play a bigger role in the coming decades as the population continues to age in the U.S, said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief global investment strategist at The Charles Schwab Corporation (SCHW).
Still, while there are reasons to worry about the demographic shift and the impact it will have on investing, Kleintop said that it is not all doom and gloom. For starters, he said that economists have not always been right when assessing the impact of demographics. Kleintop pointed to the late 1930s, when growth in the U.S. population started to slow. Alvin Hansen, a Harvard University professor and economist, said at the time that the economy in the U.S. was stuck in "secular stagnation." However, that population and growth slowdown was short lived, with the economy growing thanks to World War II and a surge in new babies starting after the war, ending any of those concerns. That is just one example of how economists can get it wrong by assuming that the worst is going to happen.
So, the story here is actually a pretty familiar one from economists--aging (which is heavily driven by low birth rates) is bad for the market, while high birth rates are good for the market. We can see that clearly from Kleintop when he notes that:
"Demographics are a powerful force, but they aren't the only force," Kleintop wrote in the blog post. "For example, Venezuela has good demographics, but they have been overwhelmed by bad governance."
I disagree 100% with the idea that "Venezuela has good demographics." I have blogged about Venezuela many times over the years, including a piece last November about the birth rate there. The country has way too high a rate of growth considering especially its heavy dependence on oil exports. Yes, good governance would help, but mainly if it were aimed at further lowering the birth rate.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Pennsylvania Court Rules Against Gerrymandered Districts

In the ongoing battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives via gerrymandered congressional district boundaries, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the state must immediately redraw its boundaries. As Reuters reports:
In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the electoral map violated the state’s Constitution by manipulating the district boundaries to marginalize Democratic voters, a practice called partisan gerrymandering.
Democrats, who hold only five of the state’s 18 congressional districts despite Pennsylvania’s status as an electoral swing state, hope to regain control of the House in the November mid-term elections by flipping 24 seats now held by Republicans nationwide.
As a reminder of the importance of the political party approach to gerrymandering, Ozy.com points out that Karl Rove, who engineered the campaign that brought George Bush to the White House in 2000, has put this strategy down on paper:
Consider that, in 2010, when Karl Rove wrote his political opus on redistricting in the Wall Street Journal, it included the prescient line “he who controls redistricting can control Congress,” and one of his prime examples was how Pennsylvania Republicans had redrawn lines to turn an 11–10 Republican-Democrat split in districts based on the 1990 census into a 12–7 advantage following the 2000 census. Today, the conservative edge is even greater: 13–5 in favor of Republicans. As for the state legislature, the split is 121–82 in the House and 34–16 in the Senate. And yet Trump’s margin of victory in the last presidential election was a mere 44,292 votes out of six million cast, suggesting that the state is much more evenly divided politically than its legislature or congressional delegation would indicate.
Since the case in Pennsylvania relied on the state constitution, not on the U.S. Constitution, Reuters notes that the case could avoid being adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll see! 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Was Queen Victoria a Malthusian?

If you are a fan of PBS's "Masterpiece Theater," as my wife and I are, then you have probably already seen the first episode of the second season of "Victoria." This series has thus far brought us into the early days of Queen Victoria's nearly 64-year reign, starting in 1837. Charles Dickens was just gaining fame, and Thomas Robert Malthus had recently died. I mention these two people because they both show up in Season 2, Episode 1, which starts in 1840 after the birth of her first child. The ladies of the court are very complimentary of Dickens' new story, "The Old Curiosity Shop." Dickens was decidedly not a Malthusian, in the sense that he did not agree with the way in which Malthus's ideas had been politicized to suggest that the government should not encourage the poor to have children. Indeed, there is a lot of discussion on the internet that Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" was deliberately anti-Malthusian and that Scrooge was Dickens' representation of Malthus.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a little later in the episode we see Queen Victoria reading aloud from Malthus' "Essay on Population," referencing the geometric growth of populations. She seems in agreement with these sentiments in the TV program, and that squares with comments by a British Historian, Stephanie Polsky, in her book "Ignoble Displacement: Dispossessed Capital in NeoDickensian London." Indeed, in one page about Victoria, Polsky brings in Malthus, Darwin, and Marx--along with Dickens. Although I don't talk about Dickens in my book, you can get more on the connections between Malthus, Darwin, and Marx in Chapter 3.

Keep in mind that one motivation of the writer(s) of "Victoria" to introduce Malthus might be that Victoria herself had children at what seems like a geometric pace--9 children in the 21 years that she and Albert were married before he died of typhoid fever. They were all married off to various European royalty and Victoria was dubbed "the grandmother of Europe." We could probably have a long discussion about whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Brazil Has Shifted Rather Dramatically to an Aging Population

Thanks to Duane Miller for linking me to a very interesting story on WorldCrunch about the way in which Brazil has quite dramatically become an aging population. This is a very predictable consequence of a rapid increase in life expectancy accompanied by a rapid decline in fertility--one that has sent birth rates below replacement level. 
While demographic trends indicate an aging population worldwide, Brazil's rate is outstanding for its speed. Countries like France, the United Kingdom and Spain, which are already known for their inhabitants' longevity, needed three times as long as Brazil to double their percentage of older population. By 2040, older people are expected to constitute one-fifth of Brazil's population, up from 10% in 2010.
Among traditional reasons given for demographic changes (fertility, mortality, migration, wars, epidemics), it is the basic fall in fertility rates and rise in life expectancy that best explain the widening of the Brazilian population pyramid. The number of children per woman has dropped significantly in recent years. In 2015 the figure was 1.7, which is considerably less than the average number of children for grandmothers two generations earlier (6.3 per woman).
Now, to be sure, the dramatic drop in fertility in Brazil has been known about for some time. I blogged about it back in 2011, for example. But, it takes any society some time to adjust to the reality of this dramatic demographic shift, and Brazil has had a variety of political and economic crises that tend to drain national attention away from the less obvious, even if dramatic, demographic trends taking place.
The demographic change is among the biggest challenges of modern Brazilian history, alongside such phenomena as accelerated urbanization and the push for universal healthcare and education. The challenge is multiplied by the fact that no government targets can alter its progression. The country needs to design appropriate public policies and create institutions and infrastructures to meet the needs of a growing number of "grandparents" populating the country's cities and countryside. These are long-term challenges that require a serious and rapid response from both the political class and society as a whole.
Every society undergoing a rapid decline in fertility needs to know these things, but most seem to ignore them until the demographic transition becomes the demographic crisis. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

African Immigration is a Good Thing for America

This is a day when the government is threatened by a shutdown because Republicans and Democrats in Congress cannot agree about the fate of "dreamers'" in the DACA program--people brought to the U.S. without documents by their parents, but who have grown up in this country, educated in this country, and are contributing economically to this country. And this is a week when the entire world shuddered at the U.S. president allegedly wondering why we would want immigrants from "s---hole" countries like Haiti and most African nations.

The actual people who have migrated to the U.S. from these countries gives the lie to Trump's derogatory characterization. Thanks to my son, Greg Weeks (Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte) for pointing me to an article yesterday in the Washington Post co-authored by one of his departmental colleagues, Beth Whitaker. She and Christopher Day have used census and other data to draw the following conclusions about immigrants from Africa:
But African immigrants are more educated, on average, than U.S.-born Americans. According to estimates for 2012 to 2016 from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 41.5 percent of African-born immigrants have bachelor’s, graduate or professional degrees — a higher percentage than immigrants from Europe (40.4 percent) or Latin America (12.4 percent), but lower than those from Asia (50.3 percent). Just 30.5 percent of U.S.-born individuals have such degrees.
Education levels are even higher among immigrants from specific African countries that are top sources of migration to the United States: 63.1 percent of immigrants from Egypt, 59.5 percent from Nigeria and 50.7 percent from Kenya have bachelor’s degrees or higher. In comparison, 43.1 percent of immigrants from Norway have similar degrees.
Whitaker and Day also provide an overview of the immigrant diversity program, the existence of which seems to have prompted Trump's comments. It is aimed at providing opportunities for immigration from countries that were essentially left out of the 1965 Immigration Act, it is limited to 50,000 per year, and it is not a lottery. There are clear stipulations about education and occupational experience, and there is a substantial vetting process before anyone receives a visa to migrate to the U.S.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Supreme Court Lets North Carolina Keep its Gerrymandered Districts For Now

It was only a few days ago that I last blogged about gerrymandering. Things seemed to be going in the right direction in terms of court decisions to slow down the blatantly political redistricting that has been going on over the past several years throughout the country. This evening, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has put a hold on a lower court decision that would have required North Carolina to redraw its Congressional District boundaries prior to this year's election. The Washington Post has the early story:
The Supreme Court said Thursday night that North Carolina does not immediately have to redraw its congressional district maps, meaning the 2018 elections will be held in districts that a lower court found unconstitutional.
The court granted a request from North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders to put the lower court’s ruling on hold. The decision was not unexpected, because generally, the Supreme Court is reluctant to require the drawing of new districts before it has had a chance to review a lower court’s ruling that such an action is warranted.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would not have granted the request.
So we now have to wait to see whether in fact the lower court ruling will eventually be upheld. In general, though, this does seem like a good sign of things to come. I sincerely hope that I am wrong about that. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ancient Killers are Unmasked

Today's news brought new insight into two of history's massively deadly epidemics: (1) what killed the ancient Aztecs in Mexico after the Spanish arrived?; and (2) how did the Black Death spread so quickly in Europe? The Guardian has the story about the Aztecs:
Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.
On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like “enteric fever” for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.
“The 1545-50 cocoliztli was one of many epidemics to affect Mexico after the arrival of Europeans, but was specifically the second of three epidemics that were most devastating and led to the largest number of human losses,” said Åshild Vågene of the University of Tuebingen in Germany. Vagene co-authored a study published in the science journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
In terms of numbers of deaths, the Aztec losses were nearly as large as those caused by the plague in Europe. BBC News tells us how that spread so fast:
The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe.
But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice".
As I noted in a post a few years ago, the rapid spread of the disease through European villages did not seem consistent with bites from fleas carried by rats. And the models utilized by these researchers were consistent with human-to-human spread of fleas and lice.
The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. 
The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351.
These two stories illustrate the incredible scientific advances being made to uncover the past. And they remind us of the incredible importance of continuing governmental and societal support of this kind of research.
 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Measuring Neighborhood Diversity

For decades now social scientists have measured the segregation of neighborhoods. Reynolds Farley at the University of Michigan was a pioneer in this kind of work with his analysis of Detroit. The flip side of segregation is obviously diversity and Leo Castaneda from inewsource here in San Diego was interviewed today on KPBS radio about neighborhood diversity in San Diego, and it turned out that the interview had a few clips from conversations that he and I had as he was putting his story together, for which he was using data from the 2016 American Community Survey.
When two residents in the southeastern San Diego neighborhood of Encanto meet, there’s a 71 percent chance they’re of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the coastal community of Cardiff, there’s only a 25 percent chance of that happening.
That makes Encanto one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Diego County, and Cardiff one of the least diverse. Those findings are based on an inewsource analysis of ZIP codes with at least 10,000 residents.
John Weeks, director of the International Population Center at San Diego State University, said the index results reflect historic migration patterns and housing costs.

At one time, Weeks said, housing laws made it legal to exclude non-whites from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, particularly coastal communities.

“You have a built in, historic almost, lack of diversity along the coast. But these days, mainly it's price,” Weeks said. “That's what keeps you out, if you don't have the money. And the people who are most likely to have the money, still in this country, tend to be non-Hispanic whites.”
Leo also calculated diversity measures at the county level for California and found that Alameda County (which includes Berkeley and Oakland in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area) is the most diverse. It has large African American, Hispanic, and Asian populations, along with non-Hispanic Whites. In fact, the top eight most diverse counties in the state are all in northern California.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The GeoDemographics of Gerrymandering

Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution lays out the basis for the census in the U.S. The enumeration of the population (all persons counted equally--as modified later by the 14th amendment) is the basis for dividing up states into Congressional Districts from which members of the House of Representatives are elected. Each such district is to have equal numbers of people, with the exception that each state must have at least one Representative in Congress. Since the Constitution says nothing more about how to create these districts than that cannot cross state lines, the district boundaries have been regularly messed with, starting way back in 1812 when Elbridge Gerry, then governor of Massachusetts, approved a salamander-shaped district, and thus was born the term "Gerrymandering."

While race was the big issue for most of U.S. history, over the past decade the Republican party, in particular, has been trying to redraw Congressional District boundaries in ways that are aimed at providing safe seats for Republican members of Congress. Today's CBS Sunday Morning has a nice primer on the whole set of issues.
Federal judges this past week ordered a redrawing of the lines between Congressional Districts in North Carolina, while the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a similar ruling in Texas. And then there's Pennsylvania -- which features a Congressional map that, some critics say, looks like a cartoon. [see map below]
But -- and this is important -- even if lines were not being drawn to favor Republicans, Democrats would still be at something of a disadvantage, says Stanford political scientist Jonathan Rodden. That's because of where they live.
"Democrats have been clustered in cities in the industrialized states every since the New Deal, ever since FDR," Rodden said. "Cities have become more Democratic, and rural areas more Republican." 
Rodden studies how increasingly Republicans are spread across rural areas and Democrats packed into urban areas. Consider the influence on a state like Missouri: "The Democrats are highly concentrated in St. Louis and Kansas City," Rodden said. "The gubernatorial elections are always very close. It's a place that Democrats can win statewide. But the best they can hope for in an eight-seat Congressional delegation is three seats, and the current outcome is two." 
So, is the issue gerrymandering or geography? "It's geography and gerrymandering," said Rodden. "In order to understand the outcomes we see, we have to understand how those two things interact."
Strictly speaking, of course, it's not just geography--it's GeoDemographics or spatial demography at work in a big and important way.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Africans Find Work--and Abuse--in the Gulf States

No place on earth is growing more quickly in population terms than sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly, the population growth is outpacing economic growth and youth unemployment is high. This is the major reason why Africans risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe. It is also why an increasing number are now finding work in the Gulf states. Two stories this week highlight the issues. The first is from OZY:
While continued international pressure on the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has managed to improve the working conditions of many South Asian and Southeast Asian migrants, recruitment agencies are now moving on to Africa. Detailed labor statistics are hard to come by in the region, but data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs suggests that there are more than 636,000 Sudanese migrants in the Gulf, as well as up to 300,000 Kenyans. Many of the workers flooding the Persian Gulf States are from Somalia, Ethiopia or Uganda — countries with little capacity to guarantee the fair treatment of their citizens abroad.
Kenya had, in fact, put a lid on migration to the Gulf states back in 2014 in reaction to numerous stories of abuse and exploitation. But, according to a story from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Kenya is going to reopen those migrant avenues.
Kenya plans to lift a ban on its citizens working in the Gulf - introduced in 2014 because of abuses - with new safeguards, such as requiring recruitment agencies to pay a security bond so they can repatriate any distressed migrants. But experts fear that the new rules will not protect them amid corruption, greed and desperation for a better life. Lured by the promise of well-paid work and a chance to escape joblessness at home, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are thought to be employed in the Middle East, sending much-needed remittances to their families every year.
Only time will tell if these new policies will limit the abuses. In the meantime, though, there are relatively few options for young people living in these countries with limited economic opportunities. Would global efforts to improve economic development help? Yes, if they are really indigenous efforts, rather than outsiders coming in to exploit the local populations. That is a tricky balance, and report out today from the Migration Policy Institute suggests that using economic development as a way of limiting migration is more complicated than it seems at first blush, and thus may not always have the desired consequences.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Japanese Town Figures Out How to Raise the Birth Rate

Thanks to Duane Miller for pointing me to a story in the Economist about a small town in Japan that has figured out how to double its birth rate. This didn't require a Sex Tsar like Spain created last year, nor did it involve billboards emphasizing how important it was to Singapore for people to have babies. Rather, it was an old-fashioned formula similar to the one that the French have been using for a long time--subsidize the cost of having children.
Mrs Fukuda will receive a “celebratory” gift of ¥300,000 ($3,530) when she gives birth. A subsidised baby-sitting service is available for just ¥1,800 a day, along with subsidised carseats and other baby accessories. When her children reach secondary school, she will receive ¥90,000 a year for each one who attends. In theory, this stipend is to cover the cost of getting children to school, especially for people who live relatively far away. And whereas usually all but the poorest and the old in Japan have to pay 30% of their health-care bills (with the national government picking up the rest), in Nagicho the local government pays the 30% for children.
For many years the French system of similar incentives seemed like a failure because the French birth rate remained right around replacement level at a time that the government was hoping for something higher than that. Now, of course, replacement level fertility looks pretty high in Europe! And, to be sure, it would look great in Japan, if every town were to replicate this model. Note that one resident interviewed for the story did not believe that the incentives were the main reason for the increase in the birth rate. I would argue that a community that thinks like this has a culture that is oriented toward families, rather than just individuals getting ahead--and typically at the expense of women. That is why they put the incentives in place, so the explanation is perhaps more complex than it seems at first glance.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Venezuelans Head to Colombia as the Country Unravels

As the economic situation in Venezuela continues its downward spiral, it seems that President Maduro is mainly concerned about his political opponents, not the economy. In other words, he's more concerned about his own survival than the survival of Venezuelans. Colombia has been bearing much of the brunt of this, as an increasing number of Venezuelans seek to find work or even longer-term residence in that next-door country. A story in VICE News summarizes the situation:
The crisis can be felt across Colombia’s border, where authorities lament the lack of support in dealing with the tide of migrants that has steadily increased to crisis levels over the last year. In the past three months, the pace of migration has dramatically grown, local authorities say.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called Venezuela his “worst nightmare” during a late-November visit to London. But he’s remained focused primarily on his Nobel Peace Prize-winning efforts to end Colombia’s 50-year civil war, and has largely allowed the crisis on his borders to develop without a clear national response.
Many of the border crossers do so legally, just as many people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have passes that allow them to work on the other side of the border. But the situation in Venezuela has the effect of turning many of those people into refugees in Colombia.
The monthly flow of documented migrants — those who get their passports stamped — over this part of the Colombian border more than doubled between June and November, from 47,071 to 95,826, respectively. But those numbers show a small part of the picture. Also in November, more than 200,000 people crossed into Colombia with special border transit ID cards, but never left.
And it is not just people. The smuggling of livestock is also on the rise. While cross-border cattle smuggling apparently has a long history, it has ramped up as the chaos in Venezuela keeps getting worse. Two years ago, I wrote about the situation unfolding in Venezuela and concluded that "[t]he result of population growth in the face of low oil prices in Venezuela will probably be a change of government. It is hard to see how Maduro can hang on." Maduro has been more successful in hanging on than I thought, but Venezuela itself seems to be barely hanging on.