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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

The End of Babies? Probably Not.

This weekend's NYTimes included a widely-read opinion article titled "The End of Babies," which lamented the low birth rate in the richer countries. As of this writing, the article had almost 1,400 comments (and I admit that I have read only a few of them). The writer, Anna Louie Sussman, dives into the issues surrounding the Second Demographic Transition without seeming to know that this is what she is doing. 

As of yet, no one has come up with a single answer as to why so many countries now have below-replacement level fertility, and this is largely due to the unprecedented demographic situation in which we find ourselves. Never before in human history have death rates been so low, nor have women (and men) had such control over reproduction. Both of those phenomena have become associated with greater gender equality than ever before. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but things are moving in the right direction. It is easy to forget that Margaret Sanger started a world-wide movement for female reproductive rights because of the unwanted pregnancies (and attempted abortions) that she saw so often in the slums of New York City a hundred years ago.

In other words, we need to relish the fact that childbearing is now a choice. It is not something that societies demand of couples in order to counter the high death. And, increasingly it is not something that a man can foist on a woman whether she wants it or not. Furthermore, as the writer herself notes, it is not something that any longer requires having sexual intercourse with a man! These are genuinely revolutionary times in which we live. We are not living in a time associated with the end of babies (remember that there are still about a million more babies born each year in the U.S. than there are people dying). We are living in a time of choices, and that's a good thing.

The combination of lower mortality and lower fertility has, of course, altered the age structures of all modern societies. In particular, the populations of most countries are aging. But, rather than lament that fact and long for the days of higher birth rates (which the world really cannot afford), we need to adjust to these new realities of changing age dynamics, and gain a better understanding of how age structures influence politics and the economy. A good place to start getting your head around this is with the work of political demographer Richard Cincotta.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Educational Level as a Key Predictor of Human Well-Being

Yesterday I was scheduled to be in Vienna presenting a paper on "Educational Level as a Key Predictor of Human Well-Being" at the Wittgenstein Centre on Demography's Conference on Demographic Aspects of Human Wellbeing. Unfortunately, a cabin crew strike at Lufthansa Airlines scuttled my travel plans and so I wasn't there after all. However, thanks to the efforts of the conference organizers, I was able to record my presentation and it played while my slides were being shown. My thanks to Dr. Raquel Guimaraes for sharing some photos of that on Twitter!

I was using data from the Women's Health Survey of Accra (WHSA) that my colleague Dr. Allan Hill  (now at Southampton University in the UK) and I (and many other important collaborators) organized in Accra, Ghana a few years ago. You can find details of the project at the SDSU International Population Center website.

The talk was based on the postulates that good health is the single best (even if clearly not the only) measure of human well-being, and that education is the single most important reason for better health. I tested these ideas with our Ghana data, showing that both self-reported health and biometrically-measured health vary in predictable ways by educational level.  Here is a sample of the findings:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Would China's Population Be Even Smaller Had There Been No One-Child Policy?

For many years, the accepted wisdom in the world has been that China's one-child policy was the reason for the rapid decline in that country's birthrate. In the last several editions of my Population text, I have questioned that assumption, noting the incredible similarity between the fertility trajectories in China and its geographically and culturally close neighbor Taiwan (indeed, close enough that China claims it as its own). Here is my graph from the 13th edition of Population, which will be out very soon:

Given my history with this issue, I was very interested to read a paper by Stuart Gietel-Basten and his colleagues that was published just this week in PLOS/ONE: "Assessing the impact of the “one-child policy” in China: A synthetic control approach." They use a set of sophisticated demographic techniques to make the case that fertility might have declined even more quickly in the absence of the one-child policy--albeit in the continued presence of the wan xi shao ("later, longer, fewer") campaign launched a few years prior to the one-child policy. Here is their summary graph:

The implication of their findings is, of course, that a faster decline in fertility would actually have produced fewer people in China than there are now. Their results also help to explain why fertility has not risen in China despite the official end of the one-child policy. This is an important article regarding population policy, and I strongly recommend it to you.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Northern Triangle Countries Are NOT Falling Off a Demographic Cliff

Thanks to my son and co-author Greg Weeks for pointing me to a recent online commentary from the Center for Global Development, a "think-and-do-tank" in Washington, DC. Michael Clemens and Jimmy Graham posted "Three Facts You Haven't Heard Much About Are Keys to Better Policy Toward Central America." The first one they discuss is that "Central America is falling off a demographic cliff—so migration will slow." They argue that UN demographic data show that the youthful populations in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are about to decline dramatically and that will slow down migration from those countries, just as it has from Mexico--as a result of declining fertility--as I discuss in the forthcoming 13th Edition of my text.

The problem with their analysis is that the data simply don't show what they say. The United Nations demographers' medium projections show that the youthful, migration-age populations in Guatemala and Honduras will continue to increase in number for at least another decade, and after that we will see only a gradual slowdown. It is true that the number of youths in El Salvador will be a bit smaller in 2030 than now, but the change is not dramatic. There is no current evidence that any of the three Northern Triangle countries are falling off a demographic cliff. As much as I would have liked for their story to be true, the data simply don't paint the picture they have put out there.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Incomes are up in the U.S., but so is inequality

The U.S. Census Bureau today brought out data from the 2018 American Community Survey, and it was a combination of good news and bad news. The good news is that median household income has been generally on the rise, and the percent of the population living below the poverty line has declined. The changes are not huge, but they are in the right direction.
Median household income between 2017 and 2018 increased for all households across all major race and Hispanic origin groups. Median household income ranged from $87,243 for Asian households (up 2.1%) to $41,511 for black households (up 1.5%). Median household income for households with non-Hispanic white householders increased by 1.0% to $67,937 in 2018. Households with Hispanic householders increased by 1.5% to $51,404 in 2018.
In 2018, 13.1% of the U.S. population had income below the poverty level, down from 13.4% in 2017. This is the fifth consecutive annual decline in the ACS national poverty rate.
This good news was tempered by the finding that income inequality continues to get more extreme. The NPR program "Marketplace" covered this development this morning, and they were able to interview Beth Jarosz from PRB:
Income inequality increased in nine states, including California. That’s a reflection of the effects of the tech boom, according to Beth Jarosz, a demographer with the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.

In other words, Jarosz said, the contrast between “the level of income in Silicon Valley compared to the really extraordinarily high poverty rate in a county like Imperial County, where the economy is predominantly agricultural and there often is not much work for people who live there.” Jarosz says the same contrast may be behind increasing inequality in other states.
The hi-tech sectors have been raking in a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth, while the quality of other jobs seems to be on the decline, leaving average families at a relative disadvantage, even if things aren't awful. For more on this, I recommend taking a look at this month's issue of The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, edited by David Howell and Arne Kalleberg and devoted to "Changing Job Quality: Causes, Consequences, and Challenges."