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:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More People Need More Forests

The Economist has a special section on forests--"the world's lungs." For the past 10,000 years we have been cutting down forests in order to clear the land for agriculture in order to support an ever larger (and generally better fed) population. More recently, we have intensified the "development" of land in order to raise cattle, and to grow plants for fiber and biofuels, not just food.

Across the world, forests and the soil beneath them absorb about a quarter of all carbon emissions.
This is an indispensable contribution to life as we know it, and forests offer many others, too. They house more than half the world’s species of animals, birds and insects...Indeed, the more that people learn about forests, the more perilous their mismanagement seems.
That forests regulate water run-off, mitigating risks of flooding and drought, has been recognised since ancient times. The ancients also understood that trees can increase rainfall and deforestation can reduce it. Cutting down trees leads to a reduction in evapotranspiration, which results in less downwind precipitation.
For these and many other reasons, the forests help to sustain life on the planet. Yet, there are significant threats to the forest. One is global climate change, and the second is closely related to global climate change--population growth and the demand for food and other agricultural products.
There are no easy fixes to the forest problem. It is hard enough to preserve what we have, much less to try to increase the fraction of the earth covered by forest back to something even a little closer to what it was a few thousand years ago. A small, but incredibly important part of the solution--a goal of the Economist special report--is awareness of the problem: Awareness of how huge an issue this is and that we are going to have to pay for it, whether we like it or not. The Economist opines that "eco-concerned consumers may want sustainable products, but they do not want to pay more for them." The marketplace does not work well when we can't quantify the true costs of what we extract from nature. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Malthusian Response to Bad Times--Postpone Marriage

The US Census Bureau has just posted the 2009 American Community Survey results to its website, and many journalists have focused directly on measures of employment, income, and poverty. The New York Times, however, picked up on a different thread in the social fabric--the delay in marriage that has accompanied the deep recession.

A long-term decline in marriage accelerated during the severe recession, according to new data from the Census Bureau, with more couples postponing marriage and often choosing to cohabit without tying the knot.
“People are unsure about their job security, and a lot of people lost their jobs,” said Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau, a private research group that analyzed census figures. “Getting married is obviously a big step and if you’re not comfortable about your future, it makes sense that you’d postpone a big decision like this.”
Two factors contribute to the decline in marriage among adults ages 25 to 34, said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University: less marriage and more cohabitation, which has become far more socially acceptable, even with children.
Malthus would have approved of people postponing marriage, and thus presumably childbearing, in bad times. He would have strongly disapproved of cohabitation, but on the other hand it still contributes to lower fertility in bad times because cohabiting couples have lower fertility than married couples.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do You Live in a Global City?

In "honor" of the fact that more than half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, Foreign Policy has linked up with management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs to create a ranking of what they call global cities. The concept of global cities was first laid out by Saskia Sassen of Columbia University:

Foreign Policy: What distinguishes a global city?
Saskia Sassen: A global city makes new norms. And two requirements for that happening are complexity and diversity. Quite often, in countries around the world, it's the most global city, especially New York, where new national and international norms are made.
FP: Is a global city always a megacity, and vice versa?
SS: I'm so glad you asked. Most global cities are really not megacities. Some are, but the question of size is a tricky one. Size is important for a global city because you need enormous diversity in very specialized sectors, a whole range of them. Some of the leading global cities are very large, like Tokyo or Shanghai. On the other hand, you have cities that are simply very large, like Mumbai or Sao Paulo. I don't think Lagos is a global city; it's just a huge city. You have a lot of very large cities that are not necessarily global cities. 
Despite her comment about Lagos not being a global city, the Foreign Policy list nonetheless ranks it as #59--oops.
Sassen goes on to describe the transformation of Miami from "a dreadful little spot" (her term) before the 1990s to a major global city--albeit as much a part of Latin America as of North America. Miami is now #33 on the Foreign Policy list of global cities, which is led by New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. Admittedly, there are not any surprises on that top part of the list.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Conundrum of the Congo

There is rarely good news out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaïre, and sometimes known as Congo-Kinshasa, to distinguish it from its smaller neighbor, the Congo, whose capital is Brazzaville). It is a geographically large and very populous nation of nearly 70 million. It is probably the poorest country on earth, yet it is growing very rapidly because of its very high fertility (a TFR over 6) that more than makes up for what is still one of the highest levels of mortality in the world. Contributing to that is the high mortality from violence, and violence is what is in the news this past week:

Three groups of armed militia raped at least 303 civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo over four days, said a UN initial report on the atrocities whose "scale and viciousness... defy belief."
"At least 303 civilians were raped, in many cases multiple times," said a statement issued by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the country in a preliminary report outlining the violations which took place between July 30 and August 2.
"While one group was looting and raping in a village... another would be setting ambushes to catch people fleeing through the forest, who were also then raped or taken away as forced labour," it added.
"The scale and viciousness of these mass rapes defy belief," said UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.
For the most part, the rest of the world has paid little attention to the Congo, but it is already in the top 20 in the world in terms of population size and it is projected to be in the top 10 by 2050. At some point, the international community is going to have to work out a plan to help the country improve life for its citizens.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Battling Poverty With Improved Contraception

Nicholas Kristoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, has written a column about one of the things missing at last week's UN summit on ending poverty in the world--the broader use of improved contraception for women who want to space or limit their children. 

The situation is particularly dire in poor countries, where some 215 million women don’t want to get pregnant yet can’t get their hands on modern contraceptives, according to United Nations figures. One result is continued impoverishment and instability for these countries: it’s impossible to fight poverty effectively when birthrates are sky high.
Yet impressive new contraceptive technologies are in trials and should address this problem. These new products are expected to hit the market in the coming years, in the United States as well as in the developing world.
One is a vaginal ring that releases hormones. There is already such a ring on the market, but it lasts only one month. The new one lasts a year and is being developed by thePopulation Council, an international nonprofit that researches reproductive health.
He goes on to list several other new contraceptives for women--mainly improvements on current ones, as well as some new ones for men. He points out that there are several key ingredients that are promising in the next generation of contraceptives: (1) high effectiveness without requiring frequent renewals; (2) low cost; and (3) especially for women, lack of need for her partner even to know that she is using a contraceptive. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vegetables are the new elite foods

It is not uncommon in many human societies to associate eating vegetables with being poor--it means you can't afford more expensive things like meat and prepared foods. These days, however, Americans are shying away from vegetables partly because they are relatively expensive, especially when compared to food available at fast food hamburger joints. That has sent vegetables into the elite category:
Vegetables are making strides in certain circles. Women, as well as people who are older and more educated and have higher incomes, tend to eat more vegetables,
The vegetable, especially when grown from heirloom seeds on small farms, is held in such high esteem that knowing the farmer who grows the food is a form of valuable social currency. 
As we push death to later ages and degenerative diseases take over from communicable diseases as the major causes of death, our diet becomes one of the features of life that may influence the onset of those degenerative diseases. Thus, the CDC, and First Lady Michelle Obama, have been making the case for eating vegetables. It seems that this is going to require a few key people to adopt this "innovation" in order to reach a tipping point that will carry us back into the world of a diet full of good veggies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Enlightened View on Immigration

"My grandfather did not travel 4,000 miles across the ocean from Ireland to America to see this country taken over by immigrants!" This was Stephen Colbert, testifying today at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, Chaired by Representative Zoe Lofgren of California. 
Staying in character as a Comedy Central news commentator, Colbert offered a House hearing his "vast" knowledge, drawn from spending a single day on a New York farm as a guest of the United Farm Workers.
The union launched its "Take Our Jobs" campaign to back up its claim that few Americans would do the work of farm laborers, the vast majority of whom are in the U.S. illegally. Only seven people accepted the jobs, the union said.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Worldwide War on Poverty

The United Nations has concluded its summit devoted to assessing progress on the Millennium Development Goals. President Obama made the case for the US that the world needs to promote development in poor countries and do whatever we can to promote democracy and get rid of corruption. 
"The purpose of development -- and what's needed most right now -- is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed," said Obama. "So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people."
There can be little argument with this approach in general terms, but figuring out exactly what it means is the hard part. For example, the World Bank estimates that 37 percent of people in developing countries live on less than $2/day (i.e., less than $730/year). Half of those people live in either China or India so, despite the widely hailed economic gains in those two countries, they both have a long way to go to help lower the overall world poverty level. And, of course, in none of the discussions that I could find did anyone mention that even if everyone alive today were lifted out of poverty, we don't know that we could keep the additional 2 billion expected to be added between now and the middle of this century out of poverty. That discussion will require another summit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

World's Oldest Man Celebrates 114th Birthday

The three oldest people in the world are women, but the fourth oldest person is a man, Walter Breuning of Montana, who just celebrated his 114th birthday. He was born in Minnesota in 1896, grew up in South Dakota, and then moved to Montana when he was 22, working for the Great Northern Railway. A few years later he married, but he and his wife (who died in 1957) never had children. His long life seems less than accidental. It is reported that his paternal grandparents lived into their 90s( and they would had to have been born in the mid-19th century, when life expectancy in the US was in the 40s). Furthermore, a sibling lived to be 100. 

This is consistent with research results reported recently by Paola Sebastiani of the Boston University School of Public Health:
In pursuit of a long life, expect the dismal prescriptions of clean living: exercise, moderation and a healthy diet. Indeed, such choices may help people exceed average lifespans by up to a decade. But when it comes to the oldest of the old, new research emphasises the biological rather than environmental factors behind longevity, suggesting that distinct genetic characteristics animate most centenarians.
So, remember, for a long life, choose your parents carefully!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Sad Story from Afghanistan

The 30 million residents of Afghanistan have been under a lot of scrutiny over the past few decades, and relatively few stories from there are happy ones. The most recent sad story to come to light deals with the fate of girls in some families without a son. The status of women in Afghanistan is generally as low as anywhere in the world, but it is still hard to comprehend disguising a girl as a boy because of the shame associated with not having a son.
Afghan families have many reasons for pretending their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressure to have sons, and in some cases, a superstition that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. Lacking a son, the parents decide to make one up, usually by cutting the hair of a daughter and dressing her in typical Afghan men’s clothing. There are no specific legal or religious proscriptions against the practice. In most cases, a return to womanhood takes place when the child enters puberty. The parents almost always make that decision.
It is a commonly held belief among less educated Afghans that the mother can determine the sex of her unborn child, so she is blamed if she gives birth to a daughter. Several Afghan doctors and health care workers from around the country said that they had witnessed the despair of women when they gave birth to daughters, and that the pressure to produce a son fueled the practice.
There is obviously a huge gulf between local Afghan culture and western culture, and many years of Russian and then American presence in the country have as yet done relatively little to improve the incredibly low status of women.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reform in Cuba, or How to Cope with the Age Transition

Cuba has signalled its intention to move away from a totally centralized economy to a more mixed one, along the lines of China and Vietnam. Much is made in the press of the many reasons why this is necessary, but the one missing piece from the discussion is the island's demographics--Cuba is an aging population and lacks the growing younger labor force that is necessary to sustain a strongly socialist economy. Someone has to pay the taxes that are distributed to everyone else and the ratio of taxpayers to tax beneficiaries has been steadily declining in Cuba. Cuba's life expectancy is nearly identical to that in the United States (despite the vastly greater sum per person spent in the US on health care, it might be noted!), and its total fertility rate is well below replacement (1.54), compared to the US rate which is very close to replacement (2.02). As a result, Cuba is aging very quickly in a pattern much closer to Europe and East Asia than to the United States. The United Nations Population Division projects that by the middle of this century almost one in three Cubans will be aged 65 or older, whereas less than one in ten will be moving into the labor force at ages 15-24. Indeed, the UN projects that Cuba will begin to depopulate by 2020. It doesn't take a genius to see that something is going to have to give, and the mixed economy strategy is exactly the response that China and Vietnam have made to cope with their similar demographic futures.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The Mexican government has consistently opposed the walls and fences erected by the US along the US-Mexico border. But, as my son, Gregory Weeks, has pointed out, Mexico is building a wall along its southern border with Guatemala in order to keep out "contraband" and, of course, illegal immigrants. Trying to fence off the US from Mexico has, by all available evidence, done nothing to deter undocumented immigrants from entering the country. Rather, it encourages them to stay once here, since the cost of going back and forth is now higher than it used to be. There is no reason to believe that Mexico's experience will be any different.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sex Ed, Yes; Birth Control Ed, Maybe

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a new report detailing the provision of sex education to teenagers. The CDC website highlighting the report emphasizes the finding that 97 percent of teen respondents to the survey indicate that they have received sex education from someplace, whether at school, church, community center or another setting. However, a more disturbing finding is that of all the things that are discussed in sex education classes, birth control seems to be discussed less than the others: 

  • Ninety-two percent of male and 93% of female teenagers reported being taught about STDs and 89% of male and 88% of female teenagers reported receiving instruction on how to prevent HIV/AIDS.
  • A larger percentage of teenagers reported receiving formal sex education on “how to say no to sex” (81% of male and 87% female teenagers) than reported receiving formal sex education on methods of birth control. 
  • Male teenagers were less likely than female teenagers to have received instructions on methods of birth control (62% of male and 70% female teenagers).
Even though the teenage birth rate is now lower than it used to be, teens still account for about one in ten births in the United States. That percentage is especially problematic because nearly 90 percent of births to teenagers in the United States occur outside of marriage, meaning that the lives of the mother and the children are going to be negatively impacted in ways that neither may ever overcome. A little more birth control education among teens could go a long way.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Muddling Toward the MDGs

As we approach the United Nations world summit on the Millennium Development Goals, various UN agencies are providing their assessments of where we stand. Given the worldwide recession, the signs are encouraging, although each agency adds its caveat that we are not on track to meet the goals set 10 years ago. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that world hunger has eased a bit in 2010 after having exceeded one billion undernourished people in 2009.

About 925 million people are undernourished in 2010, down from a record 1.02 billion last year, which was the highest number in four decades, the FAO said in its report.
It said most of the world's hungry people lived in developing countries, where they account for 16 percent of the population in 2010.
While that marks an improvement from a level of 18 percent in 2009, the FAO warned it was lagging a U.N. target to halve the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries from 20 percent in 1990-92 to 10 percent in 2015.
Meanwhile, UNICEF reports that the child death rate has declined:
The number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthday has fallen by a third since 1990, the United Nations said on Friday, but the decline is still way off a globally agreed target to be met by 2015.
The UNICEF figures showed that child deaths are increasingly concentrated in just a handful of countries. About half of global under-five deaths in 2009 occurred in India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China.
And the World Health Organization weighed in on improvements in maternal mortality:
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that fewer women die each year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than previously estimated, but efforts to sharply cut maternal mortality by 2015 are still off track.
A new WHO report found that 358,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirth in 2008, mostly in poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Last month, the outgoing Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) offered her assessment of progress since the ICPD--the program of action from which was at least partially merged with the MDGs:
Today there are still hundreds of thousands of women who die needlessly every year and more than 200 million with an unmet need for family planning. Though there is an increased acceptance of the reproductive health agenda, inequities are on the rise and progress has slowed in expanding the use of contraception, in meeting unmet need, and in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies amongst those who are poor and marginalized. During the past decade global health funding soared, but funding for reproductive health remained stagnant and funding for family planning actually declined.
To achieve MDG5, we have to reverse this trend and we have to reach women living in rural areas, those with little or no education, those from the poorest households and the largest generation of young people in human history.

There is, indeed, a lot of work to do...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last Year Was Not a Good One--But You Knew That Anyway

The US Census Bureau has released the results of the March 2010 Current Population Survey as they relate to income, poverty, and insurance coverage. The report covers income during 2009 and compares it to the results for 2008. Thus, it cuts through what we hope will have been the worst time of the current deep recession. The overall findings were as follows:

  • The median household income in 2009 was not statistically different from the 2008 median in real terms.
  • The poverty rate increased between 2008 and 2009.
  • The uninsured rate and number of people without health insurance increased between 2008 and 2009.

The press hyped the increase in the poverty rate, and these data will certainly be featured in this year's congressional election. At the same time, the fact that the median household income did not change between those two years has to be seen as an encouraging economic sign. To be sure, some groups dropped a bit and others gained a bit, but overall there was not much movement with respect to overall household income, and the Gini coefficient of income inequality was also unchanged between 2008 and 2009.

These data are not from the 2010 census, of course, and those data will not become available until New Year's Eve, according to the Census Directors's blog. In the meantime, though, we will have lots of other data coming our way as we prepare for the "big show."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whither the Blue Collar Jobs in the United States?

James Kelleher of Reuters has published a long essay discussing the withering away of blue collar jobs in the United States. This is part of the often-discussed hollowing out of the middle class. Those with relatively few technical skills sink to lower pay than in previous years, while those who succeed tend to be those with specialized skills and education. I can obviously be accused of bias when it comes to the importance of education and training, but the evidence is there to support that claim and, as Kelleher notes:

Consider, for instance, the job of a machinist. True, the basic job function hasn't changed: machinists produce precision metal parts. But the drills, lathes and mills and other tools they use on the modern factory floor are almost always computer numerically controlled -- CNC for short -- and only as precise as the instructions provided by their operators.
As a result, machinists today not only need to be able to write basic computer programs -- they're expected to be able to troubleshoot those programs, and rewrite them if necessary, if they encounter problems during production.
No section of the country has been more buffeted by the changes sweeping U.S. manufacturing than the Midwest, home to the largest concentration of factories making everything from passenger cars and commercial trucks to construction equipment and food products.
The irony is that as the sector's profit rebounds, employers here complain they can't find enough qualified workers -- despite the millions of former manufacturing workers desperate for a job. The problem, Crocker said, is the gap between the legacy skills most unemployed manufacturing workers have and the skills employers are looking for.
To help bridge that cap, groups like the National Association of Manufacturers are working with community colleges around the country to develop programs to give workers the skills and certifications employers want today.
Thus, it is not just a general education that matters--that must be layered with specific technical skills that manufacturers are looking for. And, of course, global competition in the labor market means that businesses are not always interested in hiring US workers.
First, the embrace of lean manufacturing techniques and investment in labor-saving technology -- both of which continued despite the slump -- means the industry does not need as many workers here as it did in the past. As Doug Oberhelman, the new chief executive of Caterpillar, told investors in New York this summer, "we will do more for less."
Second, when manufacturers decide they do need workers, they don't always need them here. Caterpillar, for instance, says it hopes to rehire a total of 9,000 workers before year's end. But only a third of the promised jobs will be inside the United States as the company continues to align its manufacturing footprint and headcount with its sales, 62 percent of which now come from overseas.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Little things still mean a lot when it comes to health

In richer countries where high life expectancy has come to be associated (only partly correctly) with high-tech medical diagnoses and treatments, it is easy to forget that we have arrived at this stage of health only by controlling communicable diseases. I thought of this when reading the story about the American Society for Microbiology's latest survey of hand washing in public lavatories. Most, but not all Americans, appear to wash with soap and water after going to the bathroom, but those who don't are the ones putting the rest of us at risk of spreading whatever infection they may have. This is all based on our knowledge of the germ theory which, like vaccinations, is a product of 19th century European science. A recent report from China revealed public resistance to childhood measles vaccination campaigns because parents were worried that the preventive treatment would be more deadly than the disease. Yet, it was simple things like vaccinations that allowed the "barefoot doctor" program to raise life expectancy in China even at a time when levels of living in that country were very low. Into that discussion has to come trust in the government regulation of drugs and treatments. The person in the United States who has been credited with establishing the credibility of the US Food and Drug Administration is Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, now 96, who is being honored for her pioneering regulatory work by her former agency.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Made in China? No, in Italy

Garment manufacturers in Prato, Italy (in Tuscany, just outside of Florence) could not compete with the low wages in China, but ultimately the Chinese came to Prato, to help write a new chapter in the tale of globalization and undocumented migration, according to a story in the New York Times.

The city is now home to the largest concentration of Chinese in Europe — some legal, many more not. Here in the heart of Tuscany, Chinese laborers work round the clock in some 3,200 businesses making low-end clothes, shoes and accessories, often with materials imported from China, for sale at midprice and low-end retailers worldwide.

Prato’s streets have slowly become more and more Chinese, as the Chinese have bought out Italian-owned shops and apartments, often paying in cash. Public schools are increasingly filled with Chinese pupils.

In a story highly reminiscent of what has happened in Arizona, the increasing visibility of the Chinese immigrant population has generated a backlash:

In 2009, the traditionally left-wing city elected its first right-wing mayor in the postwar era, whose winning campaign tapped into powerful local fears of a “Chinese invasion,” and who seeks a broader European Union response to Chinese immigration.
The mayor has also stepped up raids on Chinese businesses. Critics say they are little more than media spectacles, but local Chinese have seen them as unwarranted attacks.

The local Chinese community has responded by noting that:
Many Chinese in Prato are offended at the idea that they have ruined the city. Instead, some argue, they have helped rescue Prato from total economic irrelevance, another way of saying that if the Italian state fails to innovate and modernize the economy, somebody else just might.
“If the Chinese hadn’t gone to Prato, would there be pronto moda?” asked Matteo Wong, 30, who was born in China and raised in Prato and runs a consulting office for Chinese immigrants. “Did the Chinese take jobs away from Italians? If anything, they brought lots of jobs to Italians.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Japanese Elderly

It was recently discovered in Japan that there are more than 234,000 centenarians listed on government records who are, in fact, no longer around. Of course, someone should have raised a red flag after the 2005 census was completed, which enumerated "only" 25,353 people aged 100 or older, scarcely a tenth of those who are considered to be missing, much yet those still alive. However, according to a story in the New York Times, the issue was only recently brought to light:

The furor over Japan’s missing centenarians began in July when the authorities in Tokyo discovered the body of Sogen Kato, the man thought to have been the city’s oldest living man at 111, mummified in his bed, dead for more than three decades.
In late August, the police arrested Mr. Kato’s 81-year-old daughter and his granddaughter on charges of fraudulently collecting his pension and failing to report his death. They said Mr. Kato had gone into his bedroom after a family fight in the late 1970s and had never come out.
The authorities have found many similar cases of relatives collecting pension payments on behalf of aged residents who were missing or dead. In most cases, the older relative had moved away, but relatives failed to report this to keep collecting pension payments.

A report just out from the Japanese government suggests that the actual number of centenarians has now surpassed 36,000 and is quickly on its way up, with the UN Population Division projecting that there could be one million centenarians in Japan in 2050--almost all of them women, and almost certainly some of whom will go missing...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The North-South Divide in India

India's recent economic growth naturally attracts a lot of positive attention around the world, but the New York Times very astutely summarizes the fact that the southern states of India are doing much better economically than the northern states, and much of the difference has to do with the caste system (the Indian equivalent to racial stratification in the United States). 

India’s Constitution abolished caste, the social hierarchy that has ordered Indian life for millenniums, and instituted a system of quotas to help those at the bottom rise up. But caste divisions persist nonetheless, with upper castes dominating many spheres of life despite their relatively small numbers.
While in the south lower caste members concentrated on economic development and education as a route to prosperity, in the north the chief aim of caste-based groups has been political power and its spoils. As a result India’s northern lower castes tend to be less educated and less prosperous than their southern counterparts. Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states. Caste so thoroughly permeates politics in the northern half of the world’s largest democracy that it is often said that people don’t cast their vote; they vote their caste.
Although the NYT story does not mention the underlying demographic situation, the early emphasis on education among lower castes in the south meant that smaller family sizes and lower infant mortality rates came much earlier to the south, helping families to help themselves. In the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, fertility had dropped below the replacement level by the mid-1990s and has stayed there since. However, in the four most populous states in the north (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh), where 40 percent of the Indian population lives, the average woman was bearing more than three children, according to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey.

Friday, September 10, 2010

UN Seeks to End Poverty by 2015

The United Nations has organized a summit of world leaders later this month to address progress on the Millennium Development Goals. The website created for the summit even has the audacity to suggest that "We Can End Poverty in 2015." I am certain that everyone wishes that were possible, but there is nothing in the draft report prepared for the summit that would lead you to believe so, as Oxfam has already pointed out. For example, Paragraph 4 states that:

Our challenge today is to agree on an action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. With five years to go to the target date of 2015, the prospect of falling short of achieving the Goals because of a lack of commitment is very real. This would be an unacceptable failure from both the moral and the practical standpoint. If we fail, the dangers in the world — instability, violence, epidemic diseases, environmental degradation, runaway population growth — will all be multiplied.
And Paragraph 81 points out that:

Cities in developing countries around the world are home to rising numbers of poor people and do not have the capacity to create jobs to sustainably absorb the population influx and achieve the necessary progress needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In the face of rapid urbanization, these challenges will only become more acute unless adequate corrective actions are taken. These measures should include sound urban planning, which is essential for the sustainable growth of urban centres.

In between those paragraphs are many others detailing the genuinely sad state of affairs in many parts of the world. I agree that it is important to reassert the importance of these goals in the midst of the worldwide recession, but I'm not so sure that overhyping the expectations is the way to do it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Revisiting the Great Migration

The New York Times features an interview with Isabel Wilkerson, who has just published a book on the Great Migration of blacks out of the south beginning at the end of World War I and continuing through the 1960s, at which point it began to reverse itself in the "New Great Migration." The book is titled "The Warmth of New Suns" (Random House, 2010) and, at 622 pages it is not a short read, but then she did take more than ten years to write it! The Great Migration was an important part of the urbanization of the African-American population and certainly contributed to the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Ms. Wilkerson is a "daughter" of that migration in that her parents left the South and met and married in Washington, DC where she grew up. From there she went to Chicago, and now has participated in the "new" Great Migration by returning to her roots in Georgia. An important insight about the Great Migration came to her in an integrated school she attended in Washington, DC--her parents sending her there daily in a cab because it was across town from where they lived:

Many of the other pupils were children of diplomats or descended from immigrants to the United States. “I often felt left out because I didn’t have a story to tell,” Ms. Wilkerson said. “It took me a while to realize that people like me are descended from people who made a similar passage for similar reasons, with the same hopes and longings as the people who crossed the Atlantic in steerage.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Would be Accomplished by Ending Birthright Citizenship?

Legislation has been introduced into the US House of Representative that would deny citizenship to children if both of their parents were unauthorized immigrants. This would effectively seek to repeal the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that says that a person born in the United States is automatically a US citizen. The Migration Policy Institute has just published a report showing the probable impact of this law were it to be passed. The analysis by demographers Jennifer Van Hook (of Penn State University) and Michael Fix reveals that the proposed change in the law would dramatically increase the number of unauthorized immigrants in this country:

Rather than shrink the size of the unauthorized population in the United States, repeal would likely expand it — and expand it substantially. A second worrying finding is that repeal would set in motion a sizeable, self-perpetuating class of unauthorized immigrants for generations. This perpetuation of hereditary disadvantage based on the legal status of one’s ancestors would be unprecedented in US immigration law.

Supporters of the legislation have in mind that (a) people would no longer migrate to the United States if they knew that they could no longer produce an "anchor baby" and (b) that a family would be easier to deport if all members of the family are unauthorized immigrants. The MPI study suggests that, in fact, the unanticipated consequences of this proposed change would be radically different than expected by its supporters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Pox on Your House

Smallpox has been eliminated as a cause of death in the world, but new research by Anne Rimoin at UCLA and her colleagues has raised the disturbing possibility that the end of smallpox vaccination programs in sub-Saharan Africa (because they were considered no longer necessary) may have exposed the younger generation to the risk of monkeypox, a virus similar to smallpox, although not quite as deadly. Monkeypox, by the way, is not actually associated with monkeys, but rather is carried by rodents such as squirrels and rats. As the authors note in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Since the global eradication of smallpox in 1977, monkeypox has been con- sidered to be the most important orthopoxvirus infection in humans. Humans can acquire monkeypox infection through direct contact with infected animals or humans. Since its discovery in 1970, the majority of cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); however, reports of monkeypox have increased in neighboring Republic of the Congo and a cluster of cases were reported in Sudan for the first time in 2006. In 2003, the first report of human monkeypox outside of the African continent occurred in the midwestern United States and was associated with imported African rodents.

The data show that young males in the DRC are the most likely victims of the disease, probably because (a) males are more likely than females to be hunting the animals from whom they then contract the disease; and (b) the younger generation has not been vaccinated against smallpox, which also protects humans against monkeypox. This is a reminder that you can't be too careful out there!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Protests Against Burqa Bans and Roma Expulsion

President Sarkozy of France has created a stir as a result of his order to expel illegal Roma immigrants from France, and for his pushing for a ban on the public wearing of Burqas. This weekend there were organized protests in several European cities supportive of the right of Romas to not be summarily tossed out of France. The French have, in fact, been publicly criticized by the European Commission for at least some aspects of this policy. However, public opinion polls in France suggest that nearly two in three French support the expulsion policy, so the French government seems to be paying little heed to the protests.

The French Senate is considering a bill that would ban not simply burqas, but the public wearing of any face veil. The bill has already passed the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, and is expected to be voted upon by the Senate this month.

Ensuring gender equality, woman's dignity and security are the official reasons France wants to outlaw Islamic veils, most often worn as "niqabs" that hide all but the eyes. Authorities insist the global ban — which would include visiting foreigners — is not anti-Muslim.

That some other European countries like Belgium are considering similar legislation — and Muslim countries like Syria and Egypt have instituted their own limited bans on face veils — may help bolster the French argument, but not win the debate.
Moderate Muslim leaders in France and elsewhere agree that Islam does not require women to cover their faces, but many are uncomfortable with banning the veil. Scores of religious leaders have denounced the measure, and are struggling with what to advise the faithful.
The issue if obviously complex since some argue that the veil represents a very public symbol of societally-sanctioned subjugation of women. If women are required to have their face covered in public, as in Saudi Arabia, then that interpretation is almost certainly correct. However, if a woman chooses to cover her face, for whatever reason, it is hard to discern why she should be prohibited from doing so.
UPDATE--the French Senate did pass the bill banning the wearing of veils in public. If upheld Constitutionally by a panel of judges, it will become law early in 2011.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saved From the Silver Tsunami?

Oxford University demographer David Coleman has argued for years that Europe's aging population does not need to be saved by immigrants, but rather by higher productivity from its existing work force. Auto manufacturer BMW has been experimenting with this idea in its Bavarian plants. CBS News Sunday Morning featured the story as its Labor Day headliner, but the story first appeared in the Harvard Business Review last March. BMW has found that as workers reach their fifties, they slow down and experience more sick days, which lowers productivity. So, the company developed a pilot project in which it instituted a variety of assembly line adjustments, such as allowing workers to sit rather than stand, and providing opportunities for stretch breaks. The results have been impressive:
The direct investment in the project was almost negligible, approximately €20,000. But the 70 changes increased productivity by 7% in one year, bringing the line on a par with lines in which workers were, on average, younger.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

UN Responds to Food Riots

In response to the recent increase in food prices, and the food riots in Mozambique, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has called a meeting of grain experts from around the world to assess the supply situation. The problem in Mozambique may have been unique in that the government there had kept prices artificially low in order to garner votes before last year's election, and then had to face reality this month and raise prices back up to where they should have been. But the situation is a reminder of the global jitters that exist when most countries are not food self-sufficient and, in the face of growing populations, are increasingly dependent upon supplies especially from richer nations. Into this mix comes the unknown effects on agricultural productivity of global climate change.
But the world also has to come to grips with changing weather patterns due to climate change, argued Prof. Per Pinstrup-Anderson, an expert in international agriculture atCornell University.

“We are going to have much bigger fluctuations in weather and therefore the food supply than we had in the past, so we are going to have to learn how to cope with fluctuating food prices,” Professor Pinstrup-Anderson said.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Emerging Trends in Undocumented Immigration

[This is a guest-post from my son, Greg Weeks]

From the new Pew Hispanic Center report:

The annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005, according to new estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.

This sharp decline has contributed to an overall reduction of 8% in the number of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.-to 11.1 million in March 2009 from a peak of 12 million in March 2007, according to the estimates. The decrease represents the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades.

Several points to make here. First, demography accounts for some of this, as the supply for working age people gradually tries to meets demand, and so the pace slows down. Part of the reason for the huge influx in past years was because of the demographic fit between the U.S. and Latin America (plug again for
my forthcoming book). Put simply, the U.S. was old and Latin America was young. Once you get more young migrants in the U.S., and thereby fewer young people in Latin America, the fit is no longer so close.

Second, it's not always clear what people are doing. We know from many studies (including this one, though it remains a bit vague) that there is no evidence of mass return migration. There may still be circular migration, but not large scale permanent return. But if the flow of undocumented immigrants continues, and the undocumented population decreases, then how do we account for that?

Third, we won't be able to make very confident conclusions about causation until the U.S. economy picks up again. An essential policy question is how much of the drop is related to enforcement. Only once there is more hiring, new construction, etc. can we get a good sense of how much enforcement matters.