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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tanzania Expels Pregnant Girls From Schools

Scarcely more than a month ago I blogged about the President of Tanzania telling women that they should stop using birth control. Their job was to have babies and, presumably, not try to compete with men in society. Another approach to this extreme level of gender inequality is to expel girls from school if they become pregnant. CNN reports that:
It happens twice a year at Arusha Secondary School. Each one of the school's 800 female students is accompanied into a toilet and told to pee in a jar. Outside the cubicle, a teacher waits to make sure the samples are not swapped. The girls are taking compulsory pregnancy tests. And if they come back positive, the student is expelled immediately. The tests have been happening at this school, for students from grades eight and up, for three years.
Tanzania uses a morality clause in a 2002 education law to give schools the legal framework needed to expel students -- the practice originally dates back to the 1960s. The law has been more widely applied since President John Pombe Magufuli took office in 2015.

Last June, Magufuli, dubbed "The Bulldozer," went a step further, announcing that pregnant students would not be allowed to return to school after giving birth. "In my administration as the President no pregnant girl will go back to school... she has chosen that of kind life, let her take care of the child," he said at a public rally in 2017. His speech removed any discretion schools had over how they enforced the morality rule.
Expelling a pregnant girl from school sets her life on a different course than if she were able to continue her education even while having to care for her child. Furthermore, the schools do not teach sex education nor are contraceptives available. If her parents don't teach her about sex, the CNN writers suggest that many of these girls will not be aware that sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy. So, if the whole idea is to scare girls into not getting pregnant while in school, a little bit of education along those lines would clearly be beneficial. In theory, any male who impregnates a schoolgirl could be sent to prison, but the CNN report does not indicate that this has ever happened.

The CNN report also summarizes the situation in Tanzania with respect to teenage pregnancies:
Around a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged between 15 and 19 are mothers or pregnant. Child marriage is still prevalent in the country -- 37% of women aged 20 to 24 having been married before they turned 18, according to official data from 2010, the latest available. More than a quarter of girls married before the age of 19 have husbands who are 10 or more years older, according to the same survey.
I should note that the 2010 data are not the most recent. The results of the 2015-16 DHS in Tanzania are available online at DHSProgram.com. Sadly, they show that teenage pregnancy has increased slightly since 2010, rather than declined.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Power of Plants to Save the Planet

The new UN report on the quickness with which climate change will dramatically our lives has attracted more attention than I was worried it would, and I was especially drawn to an article in the Washington Post reminding us that it is not just cars, trucks, and planes that are the problem--we are ruining the environment with our unsustainable pattern of food production.
The human population has reached 7.6 billion and could number 9 billion or 10 billion by midcentury. All those people will need to eat. A sobering report published Wednesday in the journal Nature argues that a sustainable food system that doesn’t ravage the environment is going to require dramatic reforms, including a radical change in dietary habits. 
To be specific: Cheeseburgers are out, and fruits and veggies are in.
Global warming has typically been linked to the burning of fossil fuels, but food production is a huge and underappreciated factor, and the new report seeks to place food in the center of the conversation about how humanity can create a sustainable future.
I've discussed the planetary benefits of a plant-based diet on other occasions--check out this post from August or just search in the blog for "plant-based". In that August post I comment on the increase in meat consumption in China, which is a wrong-way trend that the whole world needs to reverse. Indeed, I was thinking about that today as I read another Washington Post article about the dilemma faced by North Dakota soy farmers who are caught up in the Trump administration's trade war with China:
For the past decade, North American soybean production has exploded, driven by an intense demand from China. Peterson and other Great Plains farmers directly fed the overseas markets, harvesting more than 243 million bushels in North Dakota, at a price of $2.1 billion in the last market year. The majority of that crop fattened Chinese livestock.
If the majority of that crop were to start going to soy-based food for humans (or if farmers were growing potatoes!), we would all be better off and, in fact, that is what we are going to have to do if we are to sustainably feed the next generation of humans and, more generally, sustain life on this planet. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Demographics of Global Climate Change

I'm sure that you've seen the report that came out this week from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projecting that the negative impacts of emissions on global climate change are likely to come about even sooner than previously thought. The NYTimes summarizes the report and reactions to it.
The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
“This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report.
Burning coal was, of course, a huge asset to the economic development that has brought us the current global prosperity. The same is true of petroleum. Population and prosperity have grown together over the past two centuries as a consequence not just of the spread of the potato, but because of human ability to harness energy sources. The problem is that both have the potentially disastrous side-effects of putting us on the path to unsustainability with respect to growing food, and putting people on the path--literally--to another home because rising sea levels are swamping the land they live on. As the NYTimes notes we can either act now and try to avoid those disasters, or decide to wait and see how bad the disaster is and act then. We know what to do--switch to sustainable energy sources like solar and wind power, and we need to do it sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Demographic Power of the Potato--UPDATED

The European "discovery" of the Americas was amazingly consequential in demographic terms. I discuss this in my text, of course, but a story in today's Washington Post has a pretty good summary of the three key elements: (1) bringing the potato to Europe to help fuel population growth; (2) the spread of disease that killed a huge proportion of the indigenous population; and (3) the enslavement of Africans to work on plantations created by Europeans in the Americas. Let me focus here on the first of these:
The potato alone gets credit for population booms in parts of northern Europe that paved the way for urbanization and, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. Tobacco had such value it was used as currency in some places. Some American foods became staples abroad, from the tomato in Italy and cassava in Africa to the peppers that became the paprika of Hungary and the curries of India.
Eventually, starting with a group of monks on Spain’s Canary Islands in the 1600s, Europeans figured out how to cultivate potatoes, which form a nutritionally complete — albeit monotonous — diet when combined with milk to provide vitamins A and D. The effects were dramatic, boosting populations in Ireland, Scandinavia, Ukraine and other cold-weather regions by up to 30 percent, according to Qian’s [Nancy Qian, an economics professor at Northwestern University] research. The need to hunt declined and, as more land became productive, so did conflicts over land.
If you've read my book, you know that the statement above may give a bit more credit to the potato than it deserves. The potato arrived in Europe at about the same time that the plague was leaving, and at about the same time that the Little Ice Age was receding, thus opening up more farmland for cultivation. Still, were it not for the potato, it is unlikely that the health of the European population would have improved as it did, thus helping to set off population growth that eventually revolutionized the world. 

UPDATE:  Maybe this should really be a PRE-DATE instead of an update, but I just realized that I blogged about the demographic impact of the potato six years ago, based upon a paper just published at that time by Professor Qian, who was quoted in the above Washington Post story. Here's a link to that earlier blog post.

Friday, October 5, 2018

More Demographic Resources at the Local Level

Thanks to Meredith Gerhardt for linking me to a great source of data about communities in the U.S., based on a compilation of data largely drawn from the Census Bureau. It's called Data USA and it is funded by Deloitte Touche, a global consulting firm. Here's the background they provide:
In 2014, Deloitte, Datawheel, and Cesar Hidalgo, Professor at the MIT Media Lab and Director of Collective Learning, came together to embark on an ambitious journey -- to understand and visualize the critical issues facing the United States in areas like jobs, skills and education across industry and geography. And, to use this knowledge to inform decision making among executives, policymakers and citizens.
Data USA puts public US Government data in your hands. Instead of searching through multiple data sources that are often incomplete and difficult to access, you can simply point to Data USA to answer your questions. Data USA provides an open, easy-to-use platform that turns data into knowledge. It allows millions of people to conduct their own analyses and create their own stories about America – its people, places, industries, skill sets and educational institutions. Ultimately, accelerating society’s ability to learn and better understand itself.
The opening page puts the data at your fingertips when you type in a place name:


When you add this to the OpportunityAtlas.org set of data and the USALEEP neighborhood life expectancy project, your ability to know about local demographics and to compare your place with others is all of a sudden genuinely amazing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Citizenship Questions on Census Won't Be Good For Anyone

Thanks to PAA President Wendy Manning for the link to an Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes by demographer William Frey, discussing the likely negative consequences for everyone of adding the citizenship question to the full count 2020 census. Remember that the consensus among everyone--based especially on past field experiments by the Census Bureau--is that the presence of this question on the census form will reduce the response rate among not just non-citizens, but also among other members of households in which there is a non-citizen. The Trump administration likes this idea because it would increase the percentage of the counted population (which determines Congressional Redistricting) that is non-Hispanic White. But here's the bigger set of problems laid out by Frey:
If it is added to the census form, the citizenship question will distort our understanding of who resides in the country. What this selective underenumeration will not do is make America’s growing racial minority populations disappear. The losers from this undercount include members of Mr. Trump’s older white base, who will suffer from lost investments in a younger generation, whose successes and contributions to the economy will be necessary to keep America great.
The demographic trends make this plain. America’s white population is growing tepidly because of substantial declines among younger whites. Since 2000, the white population under the age of 18 has shrunk by seven million, and declines are projected among white 20-somethings and 30-somethings over the next two decades and beyond. This is a result of both low fertility rates among young whites and modest white immigration — a trend that is not likely to change despite Mr. Trump’s wish for more immigrants from Norway.
Let's face it, what we really need is to make sure that everyone has the resources to succeed in society, so that we all are better off. As I recently noted, this process starts at the neighborhood level, and the best way to get rid of the us/them dichotomy that we have fallen into is to bring everyone into the mainstream. That's obviously not easy, but the longer we sit on our hands, the harder it will be. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Your Neighborhood Shapes Your Children's Lives

I recently blogged about a new website that uses vital statistics data to calculate the life expectancy in your neighborhood. Well, closely related to your health and mortality is your income and overall level of economic well-being. Today the Census Bureau unveiled another very important website that can track the chances of children in your neighborhood being in or out of poverty--with all of the implications that has for their lives. The NYTimes picked up on the announcement:
The research has shown that where children live matters deeply in whether they prosper as adults. On Monday the Census Bureau, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard and Brown, published nationwide data that will make it possible to pinpoint — down to the census tract, a level relevant to individual families — where children of all backgrounds have the best shot at getting ahead.
This work, years in the making, seeks to bring the abstract promise of big data to the real lives of children. Across the country, city officials and philanthropists who have dreamed of such a map are planning how to use it. They’re hoping it can help crack open a problem, the persistence of neighborhood disadvantage, that has been resistant to government interventions and good intentions for years.
“That’s exciting and inspiring and daunting in some ways that we’re actually talking about real families, about kids growing up in different neighborhoods based on this data,” said the Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the project’s researchers, along with Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard, John N. Friedman at Brown, and Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter at the Census Bureau.
Be sure to click on all of the links above, because this is really important work. As with the life expectancy website, this is spatial demography at its very best. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

What's the Life Expectancy in Your Neighborhood?

Thanks to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for linking me to an incredibly interesting story about a new resource that shows the life expectancy in your own neighborhood, and allows you to compare your neighborhood with other areas near or distant from you. The project is called "United States Small Area Life Expectancy Estimate Project" (USALEEP) and it is coordinated by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and the National Association for Public Health Information Systems with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
These new data are available to everyone via the easy-to-use interactive tool available above. Typing in your street address reveals the average life expectancy for a baby born in your census tract or area, if current death rates do not change. You can then compare your area to nearby neighborhoods or communities, to county- and state-level data, as well as the national average. If you have a neighbor down the street who happens to live in a different census tract, your results might even be different, which we hope will spark some conversation about the differences in conditions and opportunities for health where we live. Ultimately, we hope this will inspire residents and leaders to work together to close the gaps these data illuminate.
Here's what the entry pad looks like (don't try to click on this--it's just a picture)--go here for the real thing:


I typed in my address and was surprised in a very pleasant way to see that the life expectancy at birth in my census tract is 87.20, which is higher than San Diego County in general (81.43), which is higher than California in general (80.90), which is higher than the national average of 78.80 (these are rates for both sexes combined). The concern is obviously in finding those places that are below average, and then to figure out why they are low when other places are high. These kinds of spatial inequalities in life expectancy have become an increasing cause of concern, as I noted most recently a few months ago. To be sure, a map of life expectancy by county in the United States that I blogged about four years ago, has a geographic pattern that is very similar to the recent map I posted of counties still feeling the long-term negative impact of slavery.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Demographic Legacy of Slavery in the United States

The latest issue of Demography has a fascinating research article by Thor Berger of the Department of Economic History & Centre for Economic Demography at Lund University in Sweden. This is an open access article so you can read the whole thing for yourself. The article is titled "Places of Persistence: Slavery and the Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States" and shows us the lasting effects of slavery on intergenerational economic mobility in the United States. This is not a pretty story and it is interesting to me that the research was carried out by a Swedish demographer, rather than an American demographer. Here is the map that summarizes a major point of his research:

And here is his conclusion:
A key contribution of this article is to document that the present-day geography of intergenerational mobility in the United States largely reflects the historical distribution of slavery, with substantially less upward mobility in areas with a higher share of slaves by the outbreak of the Civil War. Based on a variety of empirical strategies, the evidence suggests that this relationship is causal. Exploiting differences reported by Chetty and Hendren (2016a, 2016b) in observed mobility rates for children whose families move across CZs to identify the place-based component of upward mobility suggests that this relationship does not arise mainly from sorting of families across CZs; rather it reflects a causal effect of place.
And what is his theory about the underlying cause? Fragile families:
More fragile family structures in areas that had more prevalent slavery is seemingly the most important for understanding why these places produce significantly worse mobility outcomes today. Although these results are suggestive, they should be interpreted carefully because of the extremely challenging task of identifying the wide variety of causal transmission mechanisms that may link slavery to present-day differences in mobility. Further work is necessary for understanding how these differences emerged and the extent to which they link the past to the present.
For more on this idea, see my review of Isabel Sawhill's book, Generation Unbound... 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Will Have to Testify About His Role in the Citizenship Question

The issue of whether or not a citizenship question will be on the 2020 Census has been a hot topic ever since it was officially pushed onto the Census Bureau back in March of this year, as I discussed at the time. Back then the story from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was that he was being told by the Justice Department that this was necessary in order to keep track of violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That sounded a bit suspicious to most of us, and it also sounded suspicious to a federal judge who has now ordered Wilbur Ross to come to court and be deposed under oath about what really is going on. CNN had the story today:
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross must sit for a deposition in a lawsuit against his department over its decision to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census, a federal judge ruled Friday. 
The Commerce Department announced in March that the question of citizenship will again be included in the 2020 Census, which the administration said was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
New York, along with other states and cities, filed a lawsuit in April to block the government's decision to include the question, arguing it would intimidate immigrants and decrease participation in the census.
US District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York said Ross's deposition, limited to four hours, is needed "because Secretary Ross was personally and directly involved in the decision, and the unusual process leading to it, to an unusual degree."
Information presented to the Court apparently indicated that the idea might well have been Ross's and that he had been quietly pushing it for a year before the announcement was made in March that he was being told by the Justice Department to order the Census Bureau to include the question on the 2020 Census. With any luck this will help Congress decide that this is a bad idea--as the rest of us have known since it first came up.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Will Demography be Destiny in Texas?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for linking me to an NPR story this morning about the very tight Senate race currently taking place in Texas between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz. Cruz, of course, is the incumbent Senator while O'Rourke is a Member of Congress from El Paso. Cruz's father is from Cuba, although his mother is of Irish-American descent and Cruz himself was born in Canada and is apparently not fluent in Spanish, and he has an American, not Spanish, nickname. By contrast, O'Rourke is not Latino, but is fluent in Spanish and has a Spanish nickname. Which candidate will appeal most to Latinos? And will Latinos turn out to vote? The latter question seems to be the big one in Texas.
While polls show a single-digit race, O'Rourke will need a transformed electorate in order to win in Texas, where no Democrat has prevailed in a statewide race in almost a quarter-century. Specifically, O'Rourke needs to get dramatically more Latinos to show up to the polls in a state where Latinos have far less political clout than their demographic weight would suggest.
"For a couple of decades now there has been a 'demographics is destiny' narrative that has existed," said Manny Garcia with the Texas Democratic Party. "And sadly for many of those years, it seems like base Democrats — communities of color — were taken for granted."
In Texas' urban counties and the heavily Latino counties in the Rio Grande Valley, there's no surge of new Latino voters, according to voter registration data.
Since 2016, there have been single-digit-percentage increases in the number of new voters around the state's four biggest cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. In the heavily Latino Bexar County where San Antonio is located, voter registration totals have grown by less than 3 percent since 2016.
While Latinos are expected to become the largest population group in Texas by 2020, whether this is the year Latinos cost Republicans a statewide election remains an open question.
I happen to have the 2016 ACS data for the U.S. on my computer, so I did a quick check of the ethnic breakdown in the state of Texas as of two years ago. Among all people in the state, Hispanics currently account for 39% of the population, which is slightly less than the 43% who are non-Hispanic whites. If we look just at the population aged 18 and older (voting age), we find that Hispanics are 35% of the population compared to 46% for non-Hispanic whites. Finally, I looked only at citizens aged 18 and older--people who are eligible to vote. Here we find that Hispanics are only 29% of the voter-eligible population compared to 52% who are non-white Hispanics.

So, if O'Rourke is going to win by pulling in Latino/Hispanic voters, he has more work to do than it might seem at first glance. Tonight's debate should prove very interesting in many respects.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Spatial Demography of Facebook

Where you are matters just as who you are (your socioeconomic characteristics) matters in life. This is not about geographic determinism; it is about social connectedness. This was illustrated beautifully by a story today in the New York Times highlighting research on the geographic distribution of friends on Facebook.
In the millions of ties on Facebook that connect relatives, co-workers, classmates and friends, Americans are far more likely to know people nearby than in distant communities that share their politics or mirror their demographics. The dominant picture in data analyzed by economists at Facebook, Harvard, Princeton and New York University is not that like-minded places are linked; rather, people in counties close to one another are.
Even in the age of the internet, distance matters immensely in determining whom — and, as a result, what — we know.
Distance isn't the only important thing, of course, but since people who are similar tend to live near one another, the effect is amplified. This is a strong reminder that we are social creatures, and that point is made nicely at the end of the article by Mark Granovetter, who was a pioneer in social network analysis:
The patterns in this Facebook data don’t necessarily mean that limited social networks cause worse economic and health outcomes, or that wide-ranging networks produce better ones. But other researchers say this data will make it possible in future studies to untangle why they’re related.
“This gives us the first way to systematically look at some of those relationships,” said Mark Granovetter, a sociologist at Stanford who has written influential papers on the value of social networks. “They have just scratched the surface here.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gates Foundation Looks at the Demographics of Extreme Poverty

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just released this year's "Goalkeepers" report and the focus is on helping children living in areas of extreme poverty. The world needs for these youngsters to grow up healthy and well-educated--not an easy task, but certainly a possible one.
Today’s booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated, and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth. This helps explain the amazing progress of the past generation in most of the world, and it is the key to spreading that progress everywhere.
This progress has come in waves. The first wave centered on China; the second wave centered on India. As a result of successes in Asia, the geography of poverty is changing: extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries. By 2050, that’s where 86 percent of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live. Therefore, the world’s priority for the next three decades should be a third wave of poverty reduction in Africa.
One of the obstacles the continent faces is rapid population growth. Africa as a whole is projected to nearly double in size by 2050, which means that even if the percentage of poor people on the continent is cut in half, the number of poor people stays the same. Even so, for most African countries, the outlook is positive. For example, Ethiopia, once the global poster child for famine, is projected to almost eliminate extreme poverty by 2050.
As I read the report, I was instantly put in mind of the population projections made over the years by Wolfgang Lutz and his group at the Vienna Institute of Demography that have demonstrated the pretty amazing demographic consequences of education, especially when it equally includes boys and girls and is, of course, taught by well-qualified people. Investing in young people is, as the Gates reports says, an investment in the future of these countries because these are the people who are going to have to be change-makers at the local and regional levels.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hunger is on the Rise

Last week the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) issued its latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Its conclusions were not good, as Reuters noted:
World hunger rose in 2017 for a third consecutive year, fueled by conflict and climate change, the United Nations warned on Tuesday, jeopardizing a global goal to end the scourge by 2030.
Hunger appears to be increasing in almost all of Africa and in South America, with 821 million people - one in nine - going hungry in 2017, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018 report.
Meanwhile, 672 million adults - more than one in eight - are now obese, up from 600 million in 2014.
The rise in hunger is obviously troubling, since we had experienced several years of a falling number and percent of the world's population being hungry, as you can see in the graph below.



The rise in obesity could seem a bit odd, since you might attribute that to over-eating, rather than hunger.  The FAO concludes, however, that this is part of the nutrition transition that has been afflicting the entire planet for the past several decades:
These effects reinforce the already ongoing dietary transition away from a healthy traditional local diet to a greater dependency on imported foods and beverages, often high in fat, sugar and salt, leading to an increase in overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable disease (NCDs).
The only good news coming out of the report was that, so far at least, the rise in hunger has not been associated with a rise in child stunting or wasting. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Trump Administration Wants to Pay Mexico to Deport Migrants

The latest move by the Trump administration to deal with their "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border is to take $20 million from the U.S. State Department's foreign aid budget, transfer it to the Department of Homeland Security, and give it to Mexico so that they can deport migrants currently in Mexico who have come from Central America back to their country of origin. The New York Times was the first with the story:
In a recent notice sent to Congress, the administration said it intended to take $20 million in foreign assistance funds and use it to help Mexico pay plane and bus fare to deport as many as 17,000 people who are in that country illegally. 
The money will help increase deportations of Central Americans, many of whom pass through Mexico to get to the American border. Any unauthorized immigrant in Mexico who is a known or suspected terrorist will also be deported under the program, according to the notification, although such people are few in number. 
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the program was intended to help relieve immigration flows at the United States border with Mexico.
The last point is an important one, I think, because it seems to implicitly recognize that Mexico is no longer the source of most of the migrants showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of them are, in fact, from the violence-prone Central American nations.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Zombie Ideas" on US Immigration: A Conversation with Professor Rubén Rumbaut

Professor Alex Aleinikoff is Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at the New School in New York City, and he has recently launched a new podcast called "Tempest Tossed." His latest interview is with Rubén Rumbaut, who is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UC, Irvine, and is someone whose name shows up regularly in my blog postings. The focus of the discussion is on "zombie ideas" regarding immigration which Professor Rumbaut describes as ideas that should be dead. They are false ideas and stereotypes that endure despite the lack of any evidence to support them. These include ideas such as immigrants are criminals and rapists, hurt the economy, and damage society.

This is a must-listen podcast:


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Is China's Birth Rate Even Lower Than We Thought?

A few days ago I noted that the fertility rate in South Korea may have dropped to less than one child per woman. A paper just out by Stuart Gietel-Basten and associates has results from China's 2015 1% mini-census that suggests similarly very low levels of fertility--although probably not any lower than in South Korea.
In this paper, we produced a simple analysis of the 2015 mini-census of China without any statistical manipulation. Given the recent decision by the National Bureau of Statistics to cease publishing age-specific fertility rates, this data source represents one of the few means to calculate national and disaggregated measures of fertility in contemporary China. Our exercise found a national TFR of just above one, and very low TFRs in both urban and rural areas, and especially among migrant women. Our analysis of the contribution of changing trends in marriage lends credence to the idea that the postponement effect is being strongly felt in China.
The authors are careful to note that these results are tentative. The intercensal mini-census covered about 14 million people, so the sample is very large numerically, but census data are not necessarily as precise as information from vital statistics registration systems. Nonetheless, the results are consistent with various other sources, as the authors note. Although the results come from a date just prior to the government's lifting of the one-child policy, it seems pretty clear that China's road back to replacement-level fertility will probably be a long one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tanzania's President Urges Women to STOP Using Birth Control!

CNN has just reported that the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, has called on women in his country to stop using birth control because the country needs more people. 
"Those going for family planning are lazy ... they are afraid they will not be able to feed their children. They do not want to work hard to feed a large family and that is why they opt for birth controls and end up with one or two children only," he said at a public rally on Sunday. He was quoted in a local newspaper, The Citizen, as saying that those advocating for birth control were foreign and had sinister motives.

Magufuli urged citizens to keep reproducing as the government was investing in maternal health and opening new district hospitals.
Now, for the record, the latest PRB World Population Data Sheet show that the average woman in Tanzania is having 5.2 children. To be sure, this is down from 6 children 20 years ago, but it still means that Tanzania is one of the top 8 countries in the world in terms of population growth over the next several decades. They are projected to increase from the current 59 million to 84 million by 2030 and 138 million by 2050--more than a doubling in scarcely more than three decades! And these projections assume that fertility will drop to about 3.5 children by the middle of this century.

So, the need for women to stop using birth control is obviously bogus. Magufuli argued that:
"You have cattle. You are big farmers. You can feed your children. Why then resort to birth control?" he asked. "This is my opinion, I see no reason to control births in Tanzania," Magufuli, who has two children, said.
The CNN reporter, Stephanie Busari, hints at the real issue--sexism. Males seem to be feeling threatened by increasing control of women over their own bodies and lives. In the meantime, the future of Tanzania almost certainly depends upon women using more birth control, not less.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Are Baby Boomer Women Redefining Retirement?

As each new generation comes along, there is a tendency to focus on the group at its younger ages (e.g., the publicity now being given to iGen aka Generation Z). But keep in mind that each successively older generation is changing the world that younger generations will move into. For example, a new paper in the journal Sociology Compass addresses the issue of how Baby Boomer women are redefining retirement. The authors, Anne-Maree Sawyer and Sara James, are both Australian sociologists, but their paper covers things going on in the U.S. and the U.K, as well as in Australia. These are general principles, not just country-specific.
As a consequence of the large‐scale entry of women into the labour force from the 1960s (Toossi, 2002), the baby boomers1 are the first generation of women to encounter retirement since its institutionalisation as an expected (male) life course transition in the early‐mid 20th century (Kohli, 2007).
You can see three important issues here: (1) the concept of retirement was built around men retiring from full-time work outside the home; (2) there has been a tremendous increase in the proportion of women who work outside the home; and (3) this gender shift is affecting Baby Boomers in a way no previous generation was affected.
Many baby boomer women entered the labour force as “pioneers,” moving far beyond the domestic worlds of their mothers. Now, facing retirement in the early decades of the 21st century, they inhabit a social landscape in which “the old ideology and the new are tangled together” (Onyx & Benton, 1996, p. 20). In an era of delayed and intensive parenting, public policy emphases on home‐based care for older people, and the rise of the “sandwich generation” (Brody, 1990), social science scholars claim that women are more engaged in intergenerational family care‐giving than previously (Moen & Lam, 2015, p. 595; Vreugdenhil, 2014).
Compared with men's employment histories, women's more heterogeneous patterns of employment—characterised by career interruptions and fragmentation, higher rates of part‐time and casual employment, unpaid work and family care‐giving—are generating gendered inequalities in retirement incomes (Foster, 2012; Shuey & O'Rand, 2004; Slevin & Wingrove, 1995). It is estimated that only 20 percent of boomer women will be “comfortable” in their retirement (Dailey, 2000; Ray Karpen, 2017), despite prevailing popular images of baby boomer retirees as intrepid adventurers spending their children's inheritance (Arlington, 2017; Brown, 2012; Edmunds, 2017).
Given improvements in life expectancy over time, and hoped-for improvements in health--not just life--at the older ages, and given the fact that women tend to live longer than men, it seems reasonable to assume that Baby Boomer women will delay full retirement, at least partly because they won't be able to afford to not keep working. The experiences of this first generation of women moving so much more completely into their own retirement than previous generations will offer important guidance for how younger generations should think about their own aging process.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Census Bureau Links Income Data to Recent College Grads

Yesterday I blogged about the continued importance of parents in their children's success. There is a very high correlation in every modern society between education and income, so getting the highest level of education you can continues to be an important element of success, no matter who you parents are. There are a lot of reasons to become educated, but obviously higher income is one of them. That is why it is very interesting to see a new project from the U.S. Census Bureau aimed at showing income levels among college graduates a year after they graduate.
The Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO) project tabulates earnings by institution, degree level and degree field. PSEO does this by linking university transcript data to the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) records, which list unemployment-insurance covered quarterly earnings.
Data from PSEO offer an important assessment tool to plan postsecondary education and address a major gap in education statistics by providing a much clearer picture of what happens when a graduate gets a job out of state.
“Up until now, individual states could only measure earnings and employment outcomes for persons who worked in the same state where they were educated,” said John Abowd, chief scientist and associate director for research and methodology at the Census Bureau. “Thanks to this pilot, states, universities and prospective students have the opportunity to see employment outcomes by program of study by region and industry.”
So far the University of Texas system is the only university to have provided the requisite transcript data to the Census Bureau and, as you can see in the graph below, just a year out from graduation, the typical person is making nearly $50,000 per year. Economics majors do the best among the four shown in the graph (and you can see data for other majors by downloading spreadsheets from the PSEO website). There are some obvious limitations to the data, as the Census Bureau clearly points out, but this seems like a very innovative use of data. They promise more results down the road--stay tuned. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Your Parents Matter When it Comes to Your Occupational Status

America has always been viewed as a land of opportunity, but some people have more opportunities than others to succeed occupationally. This is a point driven home in a paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by social demographer Michael Hout of New York University. 
I present a time series of intergenerational occupational mobility between 1994 and 2016, using data from the GSS (9). (The GSS began in 1972 but did not ask about mother’s occupation until 1994.) The GSS recently recoded all occupational data to the latest standards established by the US Census Bureau, allowing comparisons of all years.
Occupational status persists across generations in the United States to a degree incompatible with the popular theme of “land of opportunity.” Data from 1994–2016 show that median occupational status rose 0.5 point for every one-point increase in parents’ status (somewhat less if the father was absent). Intergenerational persistence did not change during these years, but mobility declined from two-thirds of people born in the 1940s to half of those born in the 1980s. This substantial decline in absolute mobility reflects the changing distribution of occupational opportunities in the American labor market, not intergenerational persistence.
We parents want our children to do well in life, and Professor Hout's research suggests that successful couples are more likely than others to have successful children. This kind of perpetuation of inequality was not such a big deal, suggests Hout, when occupational mobility was high and everyone had a good shot at being socioeconomically better off than their parents. Today's economy has fewer opportunities for upward mobility, so the persistence of parental benefits emerges as a bigger deal than it might have seemed in the past.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

South Korea's Fertility May Drop Below 1 Child Per Woman

Thanks to both Todd Gardner and Stuart Gietel-Basten for almost simultaneously pointing me to a story in yesterday's Guardian suggesting that the fertility rate in South Korea may soon drop to less than one child per woman. This is low-low fertility of nearly unheard of proportions even in what has become a very low fertility region of the world (and check out the brand new 2018 PRB World Population Data Sheet to make those comparisons for yourself!):
The average number of babies born per woman of reproductive age is due to be as low as 0.96 this year, falling below one for the first time in history, according to a study commissioned by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper [that article is in Korean, btw].
Such a low fertility rate is normally only seen during wartime, said Lee Chul-hee, an economics professor at Seoul National University and one of the authors of the study.
“There’s definitely going to be a psychological shock among the Korean people,” he said. “It will likely influence what is considered to be an ideal number of children, and could lead to the rate dropping even further.”
At the end of the Korean War, UN demographers estimate that the TFR in South Korea was above 6 children per woman, but a rapid drop in fertility after that (not unlike the one in Taiwan) brought fertility down to below replacement in the mid-1980s and it has stayed below replacement since then. This has, of course, generated the almost ideal demographic dividend that has helped the country leap into prosperity in a relatively short period of time. 

As is also true in Southern Europe, the birth rate is so low in South Korea at least in part because of the strings that are still tied around the lives of women:
The status of women in South Korea, a deeply patriarchal society, is a major driver of the trend, along with worsening job prospects for young people and rising property prices. Women are getting married and having children later in life, if at all, for fear of being denied promotions and facing discrimination at work.
The average age for South Korean women marrying for the first time is 30.2, according to figures from the ministry of gender equality and family, up from 24.8 in 1990. On average, women have their first child at 31.6.
There are going to have to be some decisive cultural changes--not just simple government policies--if the birth rate is going to get back up closer to replacement level. It can happen, of course, but it won't be easy.



Friday, August 31, 2018

Max Roser and Our World in Data

Over time I have regularly given shout-outs to the great work that Max Roser and his team at Oxford University do in assembling and presenting data for the world around us--focusing heavily on demographically-related themes (remember, indeed, that nearly everything is connected to demography!). There is no time like the start of the Fall term to go online and access these resources. You could start with the graphs of world population growth, such as:


Or, you may want to start with a YouTube video sponsored by Bill Gates, focusing on the important demographic work that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does around the world:


And there's lots more. Browsing these resources is a great way to start the term.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

North Carolina Ordered by the Court to Redraw its Gerrymandered Districts -- UPDATED

You may recall that two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals a ruling that North Carolina's Congressional District boundaries had been gerrymandered in order to favor Republican candidates. The obvious evidence of this is that 10 of North Carolina's 13 Congressional Districts are held by Republicans, despite the fact that Republican candidates had won only 53% of the overall popular vote. The Supreme Court suggested that perhaps the parties bringing the lawsuit forward didn't have the standing to do so. This week the lower court rejected that idea, as the NYTimes reported:
In a lengthy ruling on Monday, the panel reached largely the same conclusion that it had in January. And the judges agreed that the plaintiffs in the case — voting-rights advocacy groups and residents of each of North Carolina’s 13 districts — had standing to bring the suit.
The judges left open the possibility that they could order new maps to be drawn before the 2018 election, either by the North Carolina General Assembly or by a special master appointed by the court.
The ruling sets up a delicate tactical question for the Supreme Court, which has never ruled a partisan gerrymander to be unconstitutional, passing up three separate opportunities to do so in its last term. With the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the end of July, the court is now divided between four conservatives who have expressed skepticism about the court’s ability to tinker with political maps, and four more liberal justices who have argued that it has that ability.
As you might imagine, this turn of events so close to the midterm elections in November has "plunged North Carolina politics into disarray" since no one knows what the district boundaries will be and thus who the viable candidates might be. Now, keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution does not require a person to live in the District they represent, but most voters are going to expect that they will. And, of course, redrawn boundaries will only be good until the 2020 census numbers are finalized late in 2020, at which time the new census figures will likely lead to new boundaries...and probably new lawsuits.

UPDATE:
Politico has just reported that the Federal Court will not require North Carolina to adjust its Congressional District boundaries prior to this year's midterm election coming up in November.
"Having carefully reviewed the parties’ briefing and supporting materials, we conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019. And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina’s congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State’s electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout," Judges James Wynn Jr., William Osteen Jr. and W. Earl Britt wrote in a joint order.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Reminder of Why Congress Can't Pass Immigration Reform

Thanks to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a story from NPR a few days ago about the quick rise and fall in the summer of 1965 of the A-TEAM--"Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower." 
The year was 1965. On Cinco de Mayo, newspapers across the country reported that Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers who had labored in the United States under the so-called Bracero Program. Started in World War II, the program was an agreement between the American and Mexican governments that brought Mexican men to pick harvests across the U.S. It ended in 1964, after years of accusations by civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions.
The end of the Bracero Program came about as part of the 1965 Immigration Act which also ended the decades-old National Origins Quota System that had been designed to limit legal migration to the U.S. to Northern and Western Europeans. Ending the guest worker program meant that farmers had no one to pick the crops, so strong (athletic) young male high school students were supposed to fill in the gap. 
Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California's Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. "We worked three days and all of us are broke," the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again.
So farmers went back to using Mexican immigrants, except that now they were undocumented immigrants or, more diplomatically, people who had entered without inspection (EWIs). And that is still where we are today. We don't want to legalize these workers because then they would have be paid good wages and have adequate housing and health care provided to them. That would raise the prices the farmers would have to charge for their produce, and consumers would complain or start buying food imported from elsewhere. This is the impasse that for decades since has prevented agreement on a reasonable immigration policy in this country.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The World Needs For China to Rejuvenate its Plant-Based Diet--UPDATED

I have mentioned before that as China gets richer, the population has been demanding more meat in the diet, especially pork. While the pigs are mainly grown in China, a lot of the food for those pigs is grown elsewhere and imported to China. Since nearly one in five humans lives in China, this is a big deal. The environmental impact of growing food for the pigs and the climate impact from pig waste all are huge problems going forward. 

There may be hope in sight, however, given the prospect of new innovations in plant-based diets in China. The story is from The Economist's 1843 magazine, and I thank my older son, Professor John Weeks, Jr., for pointing it out to me.
In the last few years there has been a rush in demand for vegan and vegetarian foods in Western countries. Much of it is coming from flexitarians – people who have not renounced meat completely but want to cut their consumption. To satisfy them, companies are developing products that look, taste and feel as close as possible to meat and dairy dishes – most famously a plant-based burger made by Impossible Foods that appears to bleed like a rare beef patty.
Amid this flurry of innovation in the West, it’s worth remembering that the Chinese have been using plant-based foods to mimic meat for hundreds of years. In the time of the Tang dynasty (AD618-907), an official hosted a banquet at which he served convincing replicas of pork and mutton dishes made from vegetables; in the 13th century, diners in the capital of the southern Song dynasty (Lin’an, now Hangzhou), had a wide choice of meat-free restaurants, including those that specialised in Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
The tradition is still alive in contemporary China. In Shanghai, most delicatessens sell rolled-tofu “chicken” and roast “duck” made from layered tofu skin. Restaurants offer stir-fried “crabmeat”, a strikingly convincing simulacrum of the original made from mashed carrot and potato flavoured with rice vinegar and ginger. Elsewhere, Chinese food manufacturers produce a range of imitation meat and seafood products, including slithery “chicken’s feet” concocted from konnyaku yam and “shark’s fin” made from translucent strands of bean-thread noodle.
My wife and I gave up meat 30 years ago when we got our first German Shepherd. It was an animal rights decision, not an environmental impact decision, but over time two important things have happened: (1) our knowledge of the environmental impact (not just the inherent cruelty) of growing animals to kill and eat them has expanded exponentially; and (2) the volume and quality of plant-based diets has expanded exponentially. This latter aspect is a great trend not just for China, but for the entire planet. 

UPDATE: A special report today from Reuters discusses the ecological damage being done in Brazil as it tries to meet China's demand for meat and grain:
Deforestation in the region has slowed from the early 2000s, when Brazil’s soy boom was gaining steam. Still, farmers continue to plow under vast stretches of the biome, propelled largely by Chinese demand for Brazilian meat and grain. The Asian nation is Brazil’s No. 1 buyer of soybeans to fatten its own hogs and chickens. China is also a major purchaser of Brazilian pork, beef and poultry to satisfy the tastes of its increasingly affluent consumers.
Rising trade tensions between China and the United States have only deepened that connection. Brazil’s soybean exports by value to China are up 18 percent through the first seven months of the year as Chinese buyers have canceled tens of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts with U.S. suppliers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Female Impressionist Makes a Demographic Impression

Today's Washington Post carries a very interesting story about a female Impressionist painter from the 19th century with whom I was not familiar--as the writer assumes most of us are not.
Berthe Morisot painted women, mostly, and adolescent girls. Her delight in the way blades of light were scattered by their pinafores and ribbons, pounced off furniture and coaxed bright color from flowers could not mask the sense she developed — and kept close, like a secret dispatch — of life’s brutal transience.
It’s easy to overlook how radical Morisot’s apparently nonchalant brushwork was in the late 1870s. Her work’s lack of finish conveys, like no other Impressionist, a sense of evanescence. We do not live long, her paintings attest. We hesitate, like teenagers, in thresholds. We know almost nothing.
She was an incredibly talented painter in a world that had very little interest in or tolerance for female artists. So, the gender equity issues are very strong in this story. But the other demographic impression the writer wants you to get from this article is the role in life still being played by high mortality as recently as the late 19th century.
Conditions in Paris were harsh. Morisot’s health suffered, and at the end of 1870, she contracted pneumonia. Her studio was destroyed by the Prussian bombardment, which may well have concentrated her mind: Mere months later, as the Paris Commune was getting established, Morisot confessed to Edma that painting was now “the sole purpose” of her existence. Finding buyers for her paintings, she wrote, was now all she cared about.
The years passed, but the shadow of death never lifted. Morisot lost her father in 1874 and, over the following decade, her mother, two brothers-in-law, her mother-in-law, a close confidante (the female sculptor Marcello) and the man one feels sure she loved above all others, Manet.
In 1895, Julie [her daughter] became ill. While caring for her, Morisot contracted pulmonary congestion. “My little Julie, I love you as I die,” she wrote in a farewell note. “I will love you when I’m dead; please don’t cry. . . . I would have liked to survive till your wedding. . . . Work and be good as you have always been; you haven’t made me sad once in your little life.”
For young people growing up in the 21st century this may all sound like ancient history, but in the scope of human history Morisot's life haunted by gender inequity and death in 19th century Paris was only a short time ago.  We have come a long way since then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Gen Z about to Outnumber Millennials Globally

Thanks to Todd Gardner for the link to a story in Bloomberg about their analysis of data from the United Nations Population Division in which they find that, at the global level, members of Generation Z are projected to outnumber Millennials by next year. Here we have demographic metabolism on display:
Gen Z will comprise 32 percent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5 percent share, based on Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data, and using 2000/2001 as the generational split.
Does that matter? With social, political, and economic changes taking place at a pretty rapid pace it almost certainly affects you to be growing up in a "different world" than previous generations.
Gen Zers have never known a non-digital world and have grown up amid events such as the "war on terror" and Global Recession. "The key factor that differentiated these two groups, other than their age, was an element of self-awareness versus self-centeredness," according to “Rise of Gen Z: New Challenge for Retailers,” a report by Marcie Merriman, an executive director at Ernst & Young LLP. Millennials were "more focused on what was in it for them. They also looked to others, such as the companies they did business with, for solutions, whereas the younger people naturally sought to create their own solutions."
There are two things to keep in mind in thinking about this generational transition. The first is that it is occurring earliest in developing countries that have higher birth rates and thus a younger age structure, as you can see in the map below:


And the second point is that not everyone agrees on the exact definition of the generations.
For this Bloomberg comparison, millennials were defined as people born in 1980 through 2000, with Gen Z classified as anyone born starting in 2001 -- at least until the next meaningful cohort emerges. The U.S. Census Bureau also bookends the generations at the end of 2000.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, American historians and authors who first coined the term "millennials," use 1982 and 2004 as the cutoff years. The Pew Research Center defines those born in 1981 through 1996 as millennials, a time-frame also used by Ernst & Young in the survey Merriman wrote about.
Finally, note that there is money to be made in these kinds of comparisons for those who provide advice based on demographic trends--this is a great example of applied demography.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Horrors at the Borders

The unbearable stories of children being still separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border just because they were trying to gain asylum in this country continue unabated. Over the weekend a plaintive story of a previous migrant was published in the NYTimes, and at least that story seems to be associated with a united outcome. 

But while our own border horrors continue, there are others erupting elsewhere. Venezuela is imploding and people want to get out. Who can blame them. The Guardian provides some recent accounts:
More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year as part of one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history, the United Nations said on Friday. That is nearly 10 times the number of migrants and refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Europe over the same period. The International Organization for Migration this week announced that 59,271 migrants and refugees tried to reach Europe by sea between January and August, with most coming to Spain, Italy or Greece.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said a daily average of up to 3,000 Venezuelan men, women and children had entered Ecuador this year but that the already “massive influx” was now accelerating further.
More than a million Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia since the exodus began in 2015. Others have fanned out across Latin American and Caribbean nations including Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Trindad and Tobago. Tens of thousands have hiked into Brazil down a remote Amazon road known as the Hunger Highway.
As is always true, these migrants are creating xenophobic reactions in the places to which they are going. It doesn't matter that they are culturally very similar to the people in the countries to which they are fleeing--they are still different, and that causes problems. So far, however, I have not seen news stories suggesting that any of these migrants out of Venezuela have been separated from their parents. Let's hope that horrible idea doesn't spread.

China Now Pushes For More Children

A story this weekend in the NYTimes discusses new moves by the Chinese government to encourage a rise in the birth rate, since the continued low birth rate is leading to a rapidly aging and eventually declining population. The one-child policy has been scrapped in favor of a two-child ideal, but Chinese couples are not hopping on the baby wagon in great numbers.

Now, keep in mind that fertility was already declining pretty rapidly in China before the implementation of the one-child policy back in the late 1970s, so the government may have helped to lower the birth rate, but its nasty, repressive policies were not the underlying cause of the low birth rate. This is at least one reason why lifting the one-child policy hasn't yet encouraged an increase in the birth rate. So, it may be that the government is going to get nasty again.
The new campaign has raised fear that China may go from one invasive extreme to another in getting women to have more children. Some provinces are already tightening access to abortion or making it more difficult to get divorced. 
“To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a matter of the family itself, but also a state affair,” the official newspaper People’s Daily said in an editorial this week, prompting widespread criticism and debate online.
A plan to end the two-child limit was floated during the legislative session in Beijing last spring and now appears to be under consideration with other measures, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
Experts say the government has little choice but to encourage more births. China — the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people — is aging quickly, with a smaller work force left to support a growing elderly population that is living longer. Some provinces have already reported difficulties meeting pension payments.
It is unclear whether lifting the two-child limit now will make much of a difference. As in many countries, educated women in Chinese cities are postponing childbirth as they pursue careers. Young couples are also struggling with economic pressures, including rising housing and education costs.
It is my hope that these and related issues are being discussed among demographers attending this year's American Sociological Association meetings in Philadelphia. I'm sorry I can't be there to contribute. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Good Contraceptive Approved/Not so Good Contraceptive App Exposed--UPDATED

Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaginal ring that provides a year of birth control for women who use it. The method was developed by the Population Council in New York City, and I first became aware of it eight years ago. The FDA describes it this way:
Annovera is a reusable donut-shaped (ring), non-biodegradable, flexible vaginal system that is placed in the vagina for three weeks followed by one week out of the vagina, at which time women may experience a period (a withdrawal bleed). This schedule is repeated every four weeks for one year (thirteen 28-day menstrual cycles).
The efficacy and safety of Annovera were studied in three, open label clinical trials with healthy women ranging from 18 to 40 years of age. Based on the results, about two to four women out of 100 women may get pregnant during the first year they use Annovera.
That is a very good use-effectiveness rate, as you can see if you look at Table 6.2 in my book. 

On the other hand, a widely used Swedish phone app called "Natural Cycles" designed to help women avoid pregnancy through fertility awareness methods (natural family planning) is not so good, as a recent story in The Guardian points out. Indeed, it is now being investigated in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority:
The Advertising Standards Authority has launched a formal investigation into marketing for a Swedish app that claims to be an effective method of contraception, after reports that women have become pregnant while using it. An ASA spokesman said it had received three complaints about Natural Cycles and its paid advertising on Facebook, which describes the app as highly accurate contraception that has been clinically tested. “We would require robust substantiation from any company to support such a claim,” he said.
The app was developed by two scientists from Sweden and Austria: Elina Berglund, who worked at the Cern laboratory in Geneva on the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, and Raoul Scherwitzl. The married couple originally devised the algorithm for their own family planning, and now both work full time for the company they founded. They claim to have 600,000 users worldwide, who pay an annual subscription.

Users monitor their fertility with the app by taking their temperature each morning. It tracks the results to detect ovulation, and advises which days are safe or unsafe to have unprotected sex without the risk of conception. The app relies on users taking their temperature at around the same time every morning, and cautions: “Remember that you must always measure as soon as you wake up before you snooze, sit/get up, or check your phone.”
Like all methods of natural family planning, there is a lot of room for error--which leads to unintended pregnancies and possibly then to abortions. 

UPDATE:

CNN today published an op-ed piece by Caroline Criado Perez that gives us more background into the Natural Cycles app, and how suspicious its claims are. She argues that since getting pregnant is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do in her life, governments should make it harder to market birth control methods that aren't very effective.