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:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Continuing Conundrum of Immigration

Enforcing immigration laws is an expensive process, a cost that too few people take into consideration in the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States, as my son, Gregory Weeks at UNCC, points out today. At the same time, we are coping with an unanticipated consequence of the war in Iraq--refugees. When the US invaded Iraq, the Bush administration actually expected that US soldiers would be treated as liberators, and in the aftermath of the invasion, the already small number of applications from Iraqis for resettlement in the US was cut nearly to zero. As it turned out, the Iraqi reaction to US presence was not so friendly and Iraqis who have worked in some capacity for the US and its allies have found themselves in harm's way. In early 2008 the United States Congress passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which dramatically increased the number of refugees from Iraq, especially among the Chaldean Christian population. But the process seems to have been slowing down, and as US troops are leaving Iraq, there is now concern that the US is exposing many Iraqis to danger because the paperwork required to enter the US is so onerous.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Recession Blamed for Drop in US Birth Rate

The National Center for Health Statistics just released its tabulation of births in the United States for 2009 showing that the number of births declined for the second year in a row and, since the population continues to grow, this means that the crude birth rate (CBR) has dropped to a level not seen in many years. As the economy boomed in the early part of the decade, the number of births in the US reached record highs--peaking at 4.3 million in 2007, and the CBR rose steadily from 2002 through 2007 when it hit 14.3 births per thousand population. In 2009 the number of births declined to 4.1 million and the CBR was down to 13.5.
"When the economy is bad and people are uncomfortable about their financial future, they tend to postpone having children. We saw that in the Great Depression the 1930s and we're seeing that in the Great Recession today," said Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.

"It could take a few years to turn this around," he added.

Despite this drop, there are still 2 million more people born each year in the US than there are people dying and the death rate has been dropping. Indeed, the infant mortality rate declined between 2007 and 2009 so a slightly higher fraction of the babies born in 2009 will survive compared to 2007.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Humanitarian Crisis Keeps Unfolding in Pakistan

The floods in Pakistan continue to devastate crops and livelihoods, displacing people and their animals in ways that are almost unimaginable. The New York Times reports on a village that had already been evacuated because of flooding suddenly becoming a safe haven for people whose villages were in even worse shape. The aftermath of this natural disaster is obviously hard to discern, but it will almost certainly be wrapped into the already changing political structure of Pakistan as it moves from a largely rural, feudal-based society to a more urban nation. At independence from India in 1947 only one in six Pakistanis lived in an urban area. By 2010 that had increased to more than one in three, and the United Nations projects that by mid-century six out of every ten Pakistanis will be urban. Karachi is already a city of 13 million and Lahore has another 7 million--a reasonable approximation to the rank-size rule.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Korean Immigrants to the US Live Disproportionately in Los Angeles

The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC has created a "go-to" website for migration information. Although they have closely followed the national debate over undocumented immigration, they have also featured immigrant groups in the US that are almost entirely represented by legal migrants. Using data from the 2008 American Community Survey, the 2000 Census, and immigration data from the Department of Homeland Security, they have recently summarized data for the Korean-born population in the United States. In 1970 there were fewer than 40,000 Korean-born persons living in the US, but that had increased to more than one million by 2008. One in five of them currently lives in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with the New York City metro area being home to the second largest group (14 percent), so one in three lives in either LA or NYC. Koreans are, on average, better educated than other immigrant groups, and they have an above average rate of becoming naturalized US citizens.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Demography Destiny?

In its lead story about the "Contest of the Century" (between China and India) in its August 21st 2010 issue, the Economist begins with the following observations:
These two Asian giants, which until 1800 used to make up half the world economy, are not, like Japan and Germany, mere nation states. In terms of size and population, each is a continent—and for all the glittering growth rates, a poor one.This is uncharted territory that should be seen in terms of decades, not years. Demography is not destiny [emphasis added]. Nor for that matter are long-range economic forecasts from investment banks.
A quick search of the Economist's archives shows that they have used the term "demography is destiny" 14 times in the past 13 years, although usually with the appropriate caveat that demography shapes the future, but does not determine it. However, in discussing the demographic futures of China and India, the Economist gets only part of the story right:
While China is about to see its working-age population shrink (see article), India is enjoying the sort of bulge in manpower which brought sustained booms elsewhere in Asia.
This is, unfortunately, the same mistake that I previously mentioned regarding the New York Times story about paying women in India not to have children. Fertility has not yet declined rapidly enough in India to replicate the kind of age dividend that has been experienced by nearly all of East Asia. A youth bulge is not the same thing as having an increasing proportion of your population in the productive ages, rather than in the young and old dependent ages. India's youth bulge may lead to an increase in overall productivity in an absolute sense, but that will not necessarily lead to higher incomes per person.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Too much or too little sleep is bad for your health

The concept of the golden mean has a long history in philosophy and is even crudely recreated in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It applies to sleep as well. Too little sleep or too much sleep are both associated with poorer health than just the right amount of sleep, which turns out to be about 7-9 hours. Although people have had a good idea about this for a long time, a new nationwide study in the US has provided the strongest evidence to date of the negative affects of not getting the right amount of sleep each night. One of the co-authors of that study is an SDSU colleague of mine--Dr. Enrico Marcelli--and you can see his television interview discussing the research by clicking here (look for the article "Too Much Sleep").

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catching the Cairo Overflow

Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is bulging at the seams. With more than 11 million residents and counting, there isn't room for everybody, so the government has been building satellite cities. The first of these is 6 October City, about 20 miles west of Cairo. Construction for this city actually began in 1979 and when I visited there in 1982 it was populated mainly by empty apartment buildings. However, the government has recommitted itself to the project, largely by handing it over to private investors who have built gated communities with golf courses and have created an exurb for more affluent Cairenes, alongside poorer laborers who are confronted by an enormous commute to work.
Enormous subdivisions have sprung up in the dunes outside of Cairo, on an almost incomprehensible scale. Already a million people have moved to 6 October City, due west of Cairo, named for the date of the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel still hailed as a seminal Arab victory. A similar number have moved east of the city, to a settlement unimaginatively dubbed “New Cairo.”

The government’s original plans — which are widely considered more wishful than literal — conceived of 6 October City’s expanding to 3 million by 2020 and New Cairo to 4 million, primarily as havens for working-class Cairenes. So far, however, the overwhelming majority of new residents come from Egypt’s uppermost economic strata.

This overflow is, of course, a result of the huge youth bulge that Egypt confronts after decades of a much higher birth rate than infant death rate. Fertility is declining, but the momentum of past high fertility is sweeping the country, and Cairo, along.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wither Japan?

The August 21st-27th 2010 issue of The Economist is like a special issue of "Asian Demography." The spotlight is especially on India and China, but in the shadows of those two demographic giants lies Japan. Much has been made of Japan's total economic output falling to third behind the United States and China, although by World Bank reckoning this happened several years ago, not in 2010. The difference is whether you measure GDP in current $US (in which case Japan slipped to third in 2010), or in Purchasing Power Parity (PPI--the measure preferred by the World Bank), in which case Japan was already in third place in 2005.

Either way, Japan has failed to contend with demographic reality. After WWII, the birth rate plummeted in Japan, creating one of the first modern instances of the "demographic dividend"--a high proportion of young adults with relatively few older or younger dependents. In a well-educated highly industrial society this led to rapid economic growth which, as is so often the case, was mistakenly believed to represent an ever-upward curve. The economic slowdown began in the 1990s as the age structure moved toward an inverted pyramid--an increasingly older population that was not being replaced at the younger ages. Economic progress could have been sustained by allowing greater freedom to women in the labor market (Japan remains "the land of the rising sun, where only the son rises"). It could also have been aided by immigration. But the concept of "racial purity" has prevented any letup in the country's very restrictive immigration policy. In the absence of some miraculous demographic renewal, Japan will not be forgotten, but it will be gone.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hey Dude, Is That Drug For Real?

On top of the already high health risks among residents of Africa, fake or substandard medications may be responsible for as many as 700,000 deaths each year from malaria and tuberculosis, according to reports from the Associated Press.
Across the continent, more than 30 percent of malaria medicines are estimated to be fake, and many look identical to the real thing...Previous studies from agencies including the World Health Organization have shown about 30 to 60 percent of medicines in Africa are counterfeit or substandard.
A very clever invention by a Ghanaian entrepreneur may help solve the problem:

Ghanaian entrepreneur Bright Simons developed the mPedigree system; its technology and security infrastructure is now being provided by Hewlett Packard. The system assigns a unique code to genuine malaria medicines, printed on the back of medicine blister packs under a sheet that is scratched off like a lottery ticket.

Customers send a text message to a central hot line with the code and instantly get an "OK" response telling them if the drug is registered and thus real. It also sends them additional information like the drug's manufacturer and expiration date.

If the drug isn't registered and potentially fake, people receive a text message that says "No. Please recheck code." The system is free for consumers and is paid for by pharmaceutical companies and governments.

This is all made possible by the genuinely explosive growth in cell phone use Africa, helping to transform the way people think about the world and, in the case of texting for drugs, improving their ability to stay alive.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Indian State Paying Women to Delay Pregnancy

Not long ago I noted that Iran was paying women to have children. Now comes the story that the state of Satar in India is paying women to not have children, or at least to delay the birth of the first child. Betrothed couples are offered a "honeymoon package" equivalent to $106 to use contraceptives for awhile after getting married. There are also encouragements to delaying marriage itself, which globally is the more effective method of raising the age at first birth among women.

These ideas are arriving in India almost 40 years after the Chinese government instituted the wan xi shao (later, longer, fewer) campaign that helped to accelerate fertility decline in China and which evolved later into the one-child policy. But, of course, this is only one state in India, and it is focusing only on the early part, not on the longer (spacing of children) or the fewer part, and there is virtually no chance that anything close to a one-child policy will be implemented in India. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction. The New York Times article reporting this story did get one thing wrong, however:

Waiting also would allow India more time to curb a rapidly growing population that threatens to turn its demography from a prized asset into a crippling burden. With almost 1.2 billion people, India is disproportionately young; roughly half the population is younger than 25. This “demographic dividend” is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within five years. India will have a young, vast work force while a rapidly aging China will face the burden of supporting an older population.
A youth bulge is not the same thing as a demographic dividend. The dividend comes only when the birth rate drops rapidly and produces a large young adult population that has few young or old dependents. This will not happen under conditions of a slow decline in fertility, such as is occurring in India.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Europe's Immigrant Issues

The nearly constant chatter about border issues in the United States can drown out the fact that Europe faces a regular barrage of undocumented immigrants, some of whom are even from within Europe itself. Although Romania joined the EU n 2007, France has recently "voluntarily repatriated" hundreds of Romas (also known as Gypsies) who were living there illegally, as reported by The Economist:
Announced last month by the French president and his ministers, the decision to dismantle Gypsy camps will see some 700 people with Romanian passports sent back to the country by the end of August. A first batch of 79 travellers is due to arrive in Bucharest today; another 131 have been sent to Timisoara.

So far, the returns are “voluntary”, meaning that each adult who opts to board a plane has received €300 ($385), along with €100 for each of their children. Acknowledging that they will not be able to stop the Roma from coming straight back, French officials have taken fingerprints in order to make sure such returnees do not receive any more handouts.

As this is going on, Greece has now become the go-to place for undocumented immigrants to enter the EU.

Greece has found itself on the sharp end of Europe’s illegal-immigration problem largely because its “competitors” have found ways of stemming the flow. Until 2007 most of the influx was shared between Greece, Italy and Spain. But bilateral deals, such as Italy’s with Libya and Spain’s with Senegal and Mauritania, have largely closed down the western and central Mediterranean routes into the EU. Greek attempts to negotiate a similar agreement with Turkey have stalled.

As is true in the United States, the influx of undocumented immigrants has slowed in response to the recession of the past two years, but as the economy picks up, so will the pace of immigration.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saving Social Security

In the United States, the Social Security system still takes in more money from workers than it sends out in checks to retirees. However, this surplus has not been safely tucked away for the future--it is used every year to fund the rest of the government. The Social Security Administration estimates that by 2014 the money flowing out will exceed the money coming in, and so the White House has established a commission composed of members of Congress and former government officials to work out a plan to save Social Security. The Wall Street Journal reports that the major items to be considered include raising the retirement age (but no higher than 70), cutting back on benefits (especially to higher-income retirees), and raising taxes on current workers (mainly by increasing the income ceiling--currently $106,000--on which taxes are paid into the system). None of these is a new idea, but it is important to have them out there being discussed.
"We're prepared to be quite supportive of a real engagement on the issue," said John Rother, director of public policy for AARP. Acting sooner allows for changes to be made gradually, he said, and will reassure younger workers that the program will be there for them.
Western European countries generally have more generous programs than the US and also have a more rapidly aging population, so the issue is even more acute there:
Germany raised its retirement age by two years, to age 67. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed raising the retirement age to 62, up two years. According to the World Bank, Hungary has raised its retirement age, while Poland has moved to reduce incentives for early retirement, and other nations have changed the way benefits are calculated.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Brain Train

The role of remittances from migrants to their country of origin is now well-understood. A new USAID-supported study from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, highlights a new aspect of giving back--the role that "diaspora" migrants play in volunteering their time and talent back in the country of origin, including even the pro bono training of professionals.

The argument that diaspora volunteerism can compensate for perceived development losses stemming from “brain drain” has been advanced for decades. But it remains controversial. Several high-profile initiatives target highly skilled and technical professionals from the diaspora for short- or medium-term consultancies in their countries of origin — often as volunteers. These programs grew out of the 1970s concern that the departure of highly skilled individuals represented a substantial human resource loss for many developing countries.

More recently, debates about the development implications of highly skilled migration have become more balanced, although they have certainly not disappeared. Scholars and policymakers have come to recognize three important points: (1) Many skilled migrants continue to contribute to and maintain ties with their countries of origin after departure (“brain circulation”);ƒ (2) Had their migration options been restricted, fewer people would have been able to develop their skill;ƒ and (3) The prospect of increased opportunities for skilled migrants may influence the educational decisions of youth in some developing countries, yielding higher overall educational outcomes and a more skilled domestic workforce.

In essence, we are witnessing the evolution of transnational migrants from simply having their boots in two countries to making significant contributions to both the country of origin and destination--i.e., having their roots in two countries. This can be a driver of social change in both places.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

20 Million People at Risk From Floods in Pakistan

The scope of damage from the floods in Pakistan has been growing, rather than diminishing. The BBC News provides a very informative map showing that a huge swath of the country has been affected by the summer floods--with more flooding still expected.
The authorities say as many as 20 million people are affected by the floods. The UN says six million desperately need emergency aid but most still have not received it. Ten of thousands of villages remain under water.

There are growing health concerns for those surviving without proper shelter, food or clean drinking water, three weeks after the country's worst natural disaster began.

Thus far, the Pakistani government has been overwhelmed by the disaster, and the global community has been slow to respond in terms of providing aid. It is likely to take a long time for the country to recover from this and a huge question will be whether this kind of disaster will lead to a higher, rather than lower, birth rate.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Will Be the Long-Term Health Effects of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf?

The National Academy of Sciences has published the findings from a workshop that brought together experts to assess the long-term physical, social, and economic health effects of the BP oil spill. As you would expect, there is no good news here.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is different from previous oil spills, which adds a layer of uncertainty that must be explored. In addition to the ongoing nature of the oil spill, the presence of underwater oil, and the use of dispersants, pressure washing, and controlled burns, the sheer volume of the spill distinguishes the Gulf oil spill from other spills discussed in the literature.

Gulf residents are still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Coupled with community concerns about the lack of transparency and paucity of information from various sources, the vulnerabilities suggest that long-term psychological and social impacts may be as significant as the physical impacts of the Gulf oil spill.

Workshop participants suggested a variety of surveillance procedures that need to be put in place to track the effects over the long-term, in order to protect the health of the populations at risk in the gulf states and, of course, to learn for the future, since this is unlikely to be the last big oil spill that the world will face.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Will the Boomers Go Bust?

A widely touted solution in the richer countries of how to pay for an aging population is to keep people working longer. Given the current recession that would certainly seem like good advice. But the Wall Street Journal has noted that this is not as easy at it might appear. The investments of baby boomers have taken a substantial hit, leaving them with less to spend, at the same time that the job market is as unfriendly as they have ever seen it.

Policy makers have long worried that Americans aren't saving enough for old age. And lately, current and prospective retirees have been hit on many fronts at once: They have less money, they earn less on what they have, their houses aren't rising in value and the prospect of working longer to make up the shortfall has dimmed significantly in a lousy job market.

Before the recession hit, many economists assumed people would solve their retirement problems simply by staying in the work force longer. Now, "the recession has blown that idea out of the water," says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and co-author of a 2008 book that advocated working longer.

The diminishing work prospects will require many older folks to make do with less—a discouraging outlook for firms hoping to sell them everything from restaurant meals to cars.

The impact isn't limited to people on the verge of retiring. Younger people, too, will have to reduce consumption now to save enough money to get by in retirement.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Will Better Fences Make Better Neighbors?

President Obama has signed a bill authorizing an additional $600 million to be spent on border security. This will include hiring more Border Patrol agents and purchasing two more drone surveillance aircraft. Will this tamp down the emotions in Arizona, Utah, and other states that have been legislating against undocumented immigrants? Probably not, since the issues are deep and wide. People and drugs come north and guns go south across the border without documentation. Supply and demand.

Massey's "perverse laws of immigration" say that these mechanical kinds of solutions won't work as long as there are jobs in the US for workers from Mexico. Indeed, they aggravate the problem by making it harder for labor to be mobile--once in the US, migrants now choose to stay, rather than going back and forth. Drugs and guns follow the same principle. As long as there are users in the US demanding goods that are unregulated, there will be a supply and those supply chains will violently compete with one another because of the huge profits involved. Border enforcement is likely to be less effective than either reducing drug use in the US (but this not very likely) or legalizing and regulating its sale (and this is not very popular).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Method of Emergency Contraception Approved by FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new emergency contraception pill called "ella" that is more effective than the method known as Plan B, although unlike Plan B it is only available by prescription.
Women who have unprotected intercourse have about 1 chance in 20 of becoming pregnant. Those who take Plan B within three days cut that risk to about 1 in 40, while those who take ella would cut that risk to about 1 in 50, regulators say. Studies show that ella is less effective in obese women.
The FDA approval was greeted by cheers and jeers depending upon which side of the abortion issue people stand. However, Dr. James Trussell, director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton, who has consulted without charge for ella’s maker argues that ““Emergency contraception has no effect on pregnancy rates or abortion rates. Women just don’t use them enough to make an impact.”

The pill was originally developed by researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), although it has been licensed to a pharmaceutical firm for production and distribution. It was approved for use in Europe in 2009.

Friday, August 13, 2010

US Births are Disproportionately to Undocumented Immigrants

The Pew Hispanic Research Center in Washington, DC, which is our main and best source for estimates of the undocumented population in the United States, has expanded the scope of its research to estimate the birth rate for this population:
An estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the offspring of unauthorized immigrants, Unauthorized immigrants comprise slightly more than 4% of the adult population of the U.S., but because they are relatively young and have high birthrates, their children make up a much larger share of both the newborn population (8%) and the child population (7% of those younger than age 18) in this country.
Of course this feeds into the increasingly acrimonious immigration debate in the US. The same state senator in Arizona who crafted SB1070 in that state has been calling for a change to the Constitution to prohibit children of undocumented immigrants from automatically becoming US citizens. The state of Utah is considering new legislation that would set up guest worker programs between Utah and specific states in Mexico. If passed, such a law would also infringe on federal prerogatives, as the Courts have ruled is the case in the Arizona law. In the meantime, the Obama administration has simply continued the policies of the Bush administration, and Congress has done nothing yet to deal with immigration reform.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Catching Colon Cancer Before It's Too Late

Avoiding an earlier than expected death from cancer is heavily dependent upon diagnosis. If cancer cells grow undetected in your body, it may be too late to do anything when they are finally discovered. Thus, there was good news reported recently in the New York Times about a new set of non-invasive tests for colon cancer that may help to raise the odds of early diagnosis and thus increase the chance of successful treatment.
Colorectal cancers tend to grow slowly and are easily removed if caught early. But many people over 50 do not comply with the recommendation to have a colonoscopy — a time-consuming procedure in which a tube is threaded up the intestine — and even colonoscopies do not catch everything. Colorectal cancer has become the second most common cancer in the United States; each year it causes more than 50,000 deaths and costs about $14 billion to treat.

Colon tumors provide considerable evidence of their presence by shedding blood and cells that are detectable in the stool. Tests for blood have reduced deaths from colorectal cancer only modestly, because they are not very sensitive to precancerous polyps, the stage at which cancer is best prevented.

The new tests being developed rely on measuring changes in DNA produced by cancerous cells and appear to be more effective than the stool sample tests currently being used.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Are US and UK Anti-Abortion Activities Stalling the Fertility Decline in Africa?

Abortion is not readily available for most women in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the BBC reports that UK and US right-to-life groups are actively undermining reproductive health programs in Africa because they believe that such programs promote abortion. Watch the video and see what you think.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Downside of High Fertility in Gaza

Yesterday I noted that the President of Chile was calling for a rise in his country's birth rate. Yasser Arafat famously asked Palestinian women to bear as many children as possible, and BBC News has chronicled a very sad side effect of the high fertility among women in Gaza (where the TFR is nearly 6 children per woman). Unemployment is very high and this leads to the exploitation of children, who are willing to work for substantially lower wages than adults. The economy of Gaza has been decimated by the blockades established by Israel and Egypt in response to the increased militancy and violence in Gaza, but you can see the vicious circle that embraces this population--too many children and too few jobs leads to frustration and desperation. Note that the BBC does not implicate the high birth rate in its story, but everything about the story is related to demography.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chilean President Pushes for More Children

President Sebastián Piñera of Chile used the occasion of the Day of the Child in Chile (8 August), to suggest that the country needed to return to the birth rates of the 1990s (when the TFR was about 2.5, compared to today's below-replacement level). He is quoted as saying that "children bring happiness, hope, optimism, and color, which are very necessary in the Chile of today." He chose not to emphasize that a higher birth rate could mean more people to pay the pensions of the aging Chileans. Ironically, he did choose to comment on the fact that one fourth of Chilean children live in conditions of poverty, and that three out of four young people have been victims of violence in their own home. It is difficult to imagine how having more children will fix either of those problems.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fish for Dinner?

Wild fisheries are rapidly diminishing due to over-fishing in response to the growing population and its demand for fish as a good source of protein. There have been two major responses to this, beyond simple hand-wringing: (1) regulate the amount of fishing allowed in order to conserve the stock of wild fish (which would, of course, drive up the price of fish and make it a luxury good); or (2) raise fish in farms in order to maintain a supply that would otherwise dwindle. The world has chosen the latter course (nearly half of all fish consumed in the world is farm-raised), but that raises a whole set of issues that are discussed by Paul Greenberg in Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (New York: Penguin Press, 2010). In particular, he notes that some fish are more easily domesticated than others. Salmon predominate because they are among the easier fish to farm, as are tilapia. Other popular fish, such as tuna, are much more difficult to raise in farms. The implication of this is that while we may be able to maintain the amount of fish available per person through aquaculture, the variety of fish available will almost certainly continue to decline.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Facebook Nation

Facebook has announced that it now has 500 million users. If it were a separate nation it would be the third most populous one. From a demographic perspective, we can think of this nation as being largely comprised of migrants--people migrate in when they become new users, and they can migrate out by shutting down their Facebook page. As is true with migrants, I suspect that the age structure of Facebook is pretty young, bulging in the teens and young adults. Of course, some may may die and leave the nation in that manner, but how would we know unless they are very famous? Indeed, how do we know how many "active citizens" there are in the Facebook nation. I have a Facebook page, because people told me I should, but I rarely visit it. It may be that Facebook follows the 80/20 rule--that 80 percent of the activity is accounted for by 20 percent of its "citizens." That would make it closer to a nation of 100 million, with a bunch of hangers-on.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fidelity Investments is Bullish on the Environment

Fidelity Investments--one of the largest investment companies in the world--is encouraging people to think positively about investing in companies that are oriented toward improving the environment:
“I believe environmental innovation will be one of the key growth drivers for the economy in the coming decades, similar to how information technology has been since the 1980s,” says Anna Davydova, portfolio manager of the new Fidelity Select Environment and Alternative Energy Portfolio. “Billions of people in the developing world are aspiring to achieve the developed countries' standard of living, including modern homes, automobiles, infrastructure, and a better diet,” says Davydova. “As a result, demand for the world's supply of energy, water, and other resources has been growing rapidly.” She believes these factors will drive global demand for a more diverse mix of energy resources–both traditional and alternative–as well as increased focus on energy independence and pollution control.
In other words, Fidelity wants us to think of dealing with an increasing number of people not only as a problem, but also as an opportunity--do good for the planet and make some money at the same time. It is hard to argue with that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yet More Agony in Afghanistan

The status of women is central to the pace and shape of demographic change anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has long been the poster child for the poor treatment of women, and a new story has emerged to highlight the plight of young women in that country.The July 29, 2010 cover of Time featured a photograph of and story about a girl who had been married at a very young age to a member of the Taliban. She had run away and when caught, her husband cut off her nose and ears. She survived and was taken in by a charitable organization that has brought her to the United States for reconstructive surgery. Women seem to be scarcely more than chattel in Afghanistan and it is a tragedy for humans to be treating other humans in this way here in the 21st century.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Easily Can We Feed the World?

It is encouraging to see that people are still talking about how to feed the world's growing population. However, the special report this week by is a little disconcerting. The emphasis is on what science can do, without any real consideration of the massive social, economic and political changes required to implement the hypothesized scientific advances, even if they were to come to fruition.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Populations at Risk in Pakistan

The northwestern region of Pakistan has been hit by its worst deluge and flooding in many decades, killing at least 1,200 people and leaving about 2.5 million people homeless, according to reports. There is now concern that cholera and other water-borne diseases will kill many others in the aftermath of the flooding, since thirsty people are lacking access to clean water. This is an area in the Himalayan foothills in Pakistan, adjacent to the border with Afghanistan, where people were already at risk from threats of terrorism, and the flooding will undoubtedly set the economy back even further and for a long time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Maid in Kuwait

Throughout the oil-rich Gulf States there are hundreds of thousands of women from Asia doing domestic work for wealthy families. They are legal guest workers, but there are many signs that they are not being treated as guests. The New York Times takes up the situation in Kuwait where hundreds of Asian women have sought refuge in their respective country's embassy because they have been abused by their employers. Kuwaiti families typically pay a fee to an agency that provides them with one or more women who are provided room and board and wages, with the latter usually being sent back home as a remittance to help support the girl's family in Asia (including Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka). The abuses suffered by some of these immigrants are not unlike those described among undocumented immigrants to the United States, with the difference that these domestic workers are in Kuwait legally, but have few legal protections. There are some who few the situation as nothing less than a form of human trafficking.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Will the 2011 Census be England's Last One?

Censuses are expensive data collection schemes and in rapidly changing times the data can grow stale quickly, which is why the US Census Bureau instituted the American Community Survey as a rolling survey to keep track of the US population. The Economist has reported that there is a movement afoot in the United Kingdom to replace the census with a computerized database of administrative records. However, the Economist is wrong in its statement that getting rid of censuses is "a global trend." Although censuses are often controversial, the proportion of the world's population that is counted in a census has been going up, not down. The Economist also suggests that census results are problematic because 0.7% of respondents to the religion question in the UK in 2001 reported that they were jedi knights. Less than one percent is not an alarmingly high percentage and, in all events, many countries avoid that problem by not asking about religion.