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:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Japan May be Wasting its Youth

As one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world, one might think that in Japan the older population would look approvingly on the younger generation that is helping to support them economically. A story in the New York Times suggests that this may not be the case, as young people are stymied by a system that protects older workers to the detriment of the young.

“There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get ahead,” said Shigeyuki Jo, 36, co-author of “The Truth of Generational Inequalities.” “Every avenue seems to be blocked, like we’re butting our heads against a wall.”
An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.
A nation that produced Sony, Toyota and Honda has failed in recent decades to nurture young entrepreneurs, and the game-changing companies that they can create, like Google or Apple — each started by entrepreneurs in their 20s.
Employment figures underscore the second-class status of many younger Japanese. While Japan’s decades of stagnation have increased the number of irregular jobs across all age groups, the young have been hit the hardest.
Last year, 45 percent of those ages 15 to 24 in the work force held irregular jobs, up from 17.2 percent in 1988 and as much as twice the rate among workers in older age groups, who cling tenaciously to the old ways. Japan’s news media are now filled with grim accounts of how university seniors face a second “ice age” in the job market, with just 56.7 percent receiving job offers before graduation as of October 2010 — an all-time low.
“Japan has the worst generational inequality in the world,” said Manabu Shimasawa, a professor of social policy at Akita University who has written extensively on such inequalities. “Japan has lost its vitality because the older generations don’t step aside, allowing the young generations a chance to take new challenges and grow.”
This is a reminder that it isn't just numbers that matter in the age structure. What also matters is how rigid the age stratification system turns out to be. And the story notes that this is a Japanese, not an East Asian, issue--young Japanese workers are finding more respect in Taiwan, for example. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are Demographics Involved in the Protests in Yemen?

The turmoil in Egypt, especially Cairo, has grabbed the headlines for the past few days, but protests have been ongoing in Yemen, as well, as reported by the BBC:

Yemen suffers from high population growth, unemployment running at 40%, rising food prices and acute levels of malnutrition.
Yemeni protesters are calling for a more responsive, inclusive government and improved economic conditions but - with oil production falling - the current economic trend is heading downwards.
Public demonstrations across the region are raising the stakes for change in Yemen.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh came to power in 1978, first as president of North Yemen and then, after unification with South Yemen in 1990, as leader of the newly united republic.
After 30 years in power, he faces widespread complaints of corruption and the concentration of power within his tribal sub-group, the Sanhan clan.
Large areas of the country are already in open revolt against his regime, with a breakaway movement in the south, attacks on the security services by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a de-facto semi-autonomous area under the control of northern rebels.
When Saleh came into power Yemen (both combined) had a population of 8 million, women were averaging 8.7 children each, and a whopping 70 percent of the population was under the age of 25. But since then the infant death rate has dropped to only a fourth of what it was in 1980 and life expectancy has increased by 15 years, while the TFR has dropped to only 5.3. The predictable result is massive population growth. There are now 24 million Yemenis--a tripling over Saleh's rule, and 66 percent of them are under 25, and more than one in five is between the ages of 15-24. In a country with limited resources, the pressure for change has been building steam for a long time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are Demographics Involved in the Egyptian Turmoil?

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, who has been lead reporter on the stories of the new revolutions in Arab states, has pointed out that the street demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt appear to have erupted among young people, and may be more secular in origin than necessarily being related to any specific influence from the Muslim Brotherhood, although the Muslim Brotherhood seems clearly to becoming more involved. As in Tunisia, social networking on the (now-disconnected) internet was an important means of spreading the message. But does this mean that demographic trends played a specific role?

I think that the answer to this question has to be 'yes.' When Hosni Mubarak assumed the Egyptian presidency in 1981, following the assassination of Anwar El-Sadat, the population of Egypt was 45 million and the average woman was bearing 5.5 children. Mubarak, like El-Sadat, Mubarak was generally in favor of family planning among married women and under his 30 years of rule, the total fertility has dropped to 2.8--albeit still well above the replacement level. However, the relative slowness of that decline, accompanied as it was by a rapid drop in infant mortality, has meant that the population of young people has grown enormously. As of this year, 52 percent of all Egyptians are under the age of 25, and one in five is between the ages of 15-24--the ages of many of those out in the streets demonstrating against the government. When Mubarak took office, there were 9 million youth aged 15-24, and now there are 17 million, according to data from the UN Population Division. That's a lot of people to be dissatisfied with the difficulty of finding jobs, paying the bills, and saving money to marry and raise a family. To be sure, the mere presence of this large youth population would not, on its own, spark a revolution. But it was dry tinder waiting for the spark, which seemed to have been lit in Tunisia.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Growth of the Muslim Population

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a project of the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, has just released a new, detailed report on the Future of the Global Muslim Population. Let me say immediately that their data confirmed my own estimates that Muslims are expected to remain as a very small fraction of Europe's population. Here are some of the highlights from the report's executive summary.
The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to new population projections by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades – an average annual growth rate of 1.5% for Muslims, compared with 0.7% for non-Muslims. If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4% of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4% of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
While the global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the non-Muslim population, the Muslim population nevertheless is expected to grow at a slower pace in the next two decades than it did in the previous two decades. From 1990 to 2010, the global Muslim population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2%, compared with the projected rate of 1.5% for the period from 2010 to 2030.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oldest African-American Died Recently

Just a few days ago, the oldest African-American, Mississippi "Sweetie" Winn (a woman, not surprisingly) died at age 113. Despite her name, she lived most of her life in Louisiana. At the time of her death, she was the seventh-oldest living person in the world, according to Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles, which verifies information for Guinness World Records. Her great-niece Mary Hollins described her as:

"A strong-willed person, a disciplinarian" who believed that elders should be respected. "She was living on her own until she was 103," Hollins said, cooking for herself and taking walks. "She just believed she could handle anything."
Winn, who never married, was a caretaker of children and a cook. She lived nearly her entire life in Louisiana, though she resided in Seattle, Wash. from 1957 to 1975, Hollins said. She had been a member of Shreveport's Avenue Baptist Church since 1927 and used to say, "I am gonna stay here as long as he wants me to stay here."
"One of the reasons for her longevity was that she just kind of took things as they'd come, everyday life and living. She didn't let nothing upset her and get all hyped up by some of the things as we do," Hollins said.
More likely her long life was attributable to a good gene pool--her sister died 11 years ago at age 100. With her death, the title of oldest African-American passes to Mamie Rearden, 112, of Edgefield, South Carolina. The Gerontology Research Group indicates the world's oldest person currently is Eunice Sanborn, 114, of Jacksonville, Texas, which is consistent with the information at

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Union and Tunisian Demographics

President Obama's State of the Union address this evening was focused almost entirely on US domestic policy, but among the very few references to international events was his comment that the US government supported the recent events in Tunisia. By coincidence, I have to think (since the president's speech was leaked to the press later in the day), Richard Cincotta today posted a lengthy discussion of the demographics of the Tunisian situation. Among the many interesting comments is the following paragraph, which helps you to contextualize what's going on in Tunisia:
To understand how age structure can directly influence a state’s chances of attaining and maintaining liberal democracy requires a discussion of two models of sociopolitical behavior: (1) the Hobbesian bargain and (2) the youth bulge thesis. Assuming, as the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes did in the middle of the 17th century, that citizens are willing to relinquish political liberties when faced with threats to their security and property (the Hobbesian bargain), it is not surprising that support for authoritarian regimes – especially among commercial and military elites – appears high when societies are very youthful and prone to political violence (the youth bulge thesis). When fertility declines, the population’s bulge of young adults ultimately dissipates over time. With much of society’s political volatility depleted, authoritarian executives tend to lose the support of the commercial elite, who find the regime’s grip on communication and commerce economically stifling and the privileges granted to family members and cronies of the political elite financially debilitating. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Should the Population of the US House of Representatives Increase?

The framers of the US Constitution designed the US House of Representatives to grow with the population, stipulating only that no congressional district should have fewer than 30,000 constituents. And the House did increase in size throughout the 19th century, in tandem with the growth of the American population. The original House of Representatives included 65 members and after the 1910 census it increased to 433, with two more being added shortly after that in 1912 when Arizona and New Mexico were added as states. It has stayed at 435 since then, without even additions in 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became states. What happened? Shouldn't Congress have kept growing right along with the population? Dalton Conley (a professor at NYU) and Jacqueline Stevens (a professor at Northwestern) think it should and have said so in an Op-Ed in today's New York Times. They argue that growth in Congress stopped because:

...the 1920 census indicated that the majority of Americans were concentrating in cities, and nativists, worried about of the power of “foreigners,” blocked efforts to give them more representatives. By the time the next decade rolled around, members found themselves reluctant to dilute their votes, and the issue was never seriously considered again. The result is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the country’s history. The average House member speaks for about 700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio that today would mean a House with 1,500 members — or 5,000 if we match the ratio the founders awarded themselves.
They offer a variety of reasons why this might be a good thing, focusing especially on the fact that having fewer constituents puts members of Congress into closer touch with constituents and would make it cheaper to run a campaign, thus dampening the influence of outside money. But they also note that it is highly improbable that Congress will itself decide to dilute the influence of individual members and so, if people believe that this is a good thing, it will have to be forced upon members of Congress.
So if such reform is to happen, it will have to be driven by grassroots movements. Luckily, we are living in just such a moment: the one thing Move On and the Tea Party can agree on is that the Washington status quo needs to change. So far this year, that has meant shrinking government. But in this case, the best solution might just be to make government — or at least the House of Representatives — bigger.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Demographics of the Rich and the Rest

This week's Economist has a special section on the global elite--"The Rich and the Rest." There are too many good demographic insights and comments for a single posting, so here is a start. How many rich people are there in the world? The consulting firm Capgemini defines anyone with "investable" assets (not including the home you live in) of at least $1 million (in US dollars) as a "high-net-worth-individual." They estimate that there are 10 million such people in the world--about one tenth of one percent of the human population. Credit Suisse has a less stringent definition of rich, calling anyone a millionaire if the sum of all net assets (value minus debt), including their house, exceeds $1 million.

The Credit Suisse “Global Wealth Report” estimates that there were 24.2m such people in mid-2010, about 0.5% of the world’s adult population. By this measure, there are more millionaires than there are Australians. They control $69.2 trillion in assets, more than a third of the global total. Some 41% of them live in the United States, 10% in Japan and 3% in China.
How did these people grow rich? Mostly through their own efforts. Only 16% of high-net-worth individuals inherited their stash, according to Capgemini. The most common way to get rich is to start a business: nearly half (47%) of the world’s wealthy people are entrepreneurs.
The global wealth pyramid has a very wide base and a sharp point. The richest 1% of adults control 43% of the world’s assets; the wealthiest 10% have 83%. The bottom 50% have only 2%. This suggests a huge disparity of influence. The wealthiest tenth control the vast bulk of the world’s capital, giving them a lot of say in funding businesses, charities and politicians. The bottom 50% control hardly any capital at all.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Poverty of Poverty Measures

How poor do you have to be to be poor? That is the question that is asked in many places around the world. The World Bank definition of living below $2/day is arbitrary, but it makes the point that a large proportion of the human population has very little in the way of resources. In the United States, as in most developed countries, there is an officially established poverty line that typically determines eligibility for government-subsidized benefits. In the United States, the official definition of poverty has been criticized since it was first formulated in the 1960s and in response to that the Census Bureau has spent 16 years developing a new "supplemental poverty measure." It is supplemental because it will not replace the official definition (at least not yet), but nonetheless has the goal of offering a more realistic picture of poverty in America. The Economist this week summarized the most recent results:
Census officials hope the new indicator will provide a better understanding of America’s poor, by measuring both the needs of families and the effect of government help. The SPM estimates the cost of food, clothing, shelter and utilities, then adds a further 20% for other expenses. This threshold is adjusted for the cost of living in different regions and for whether a family owns or rents its home. To assess a household’s ability to pay for basic expenses, the SPM counts cash income as well as food stamps, tax credits and other government support, minus tax payments, work expenses and out-of-pocket medical costs.
Final figures are due to be published in the autumn, but preliminary results were released this month. In 2009 15.7% of Americans were poor, compared with 14.5% in the official measure (see chart). The share of those in extreme poverty fell, relative to the official measure, thanks to the inclusion of government support. The poverty rate dropped in rural areas and rose in urban and suburban ones. It jumped in the north-east and the West, while staying almost level in the South and falling in the Midwest. The most dramatic rise was for the elderly—from 9.9% in the official measure to 16.1% in the SPM, in part because of their high medical expenses.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Politics of China's One-Child Policy

As I note in Chapter 6, the Chinese government recently decided to maintain its one-child policy for at least another decade. Richard Cincotta, Demographer-in-Residence at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC., has recently posted an analysis of what this might mean. The potential political implications of this decision are very interesting:

Could it be, however, that the direction of the 2008 decision reflected Beijing's ultimate vision of China as an intensely educated, more economically independent, and more respected great power? Slowed population growth, followed by a period of population decline, could-over the long term-reduce the country's exposure to, and impact on, international grain and petroleum markets that have become increasingly volatile. And a slowly growing (or declining), better-educated Chinese population could make it advantageous for Beijing to enter into a future carbon emissions trading regime.
It is not hard to imagine that Beijing would prefer to minimize tensions with weaker states, particularly regional neighbors, which it hopes someday to coax away from security relationships with the United States and its Western allies. However, the sheer size of China's population and its growing food and energy needs makes balancing its economic security against relations with smaller states extraordinarily difficult. For example, Beijing's efforts to dam the Mekong and to harness the river's power are already straining relations with governments further downstream, in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And the diplomatic pitfalls of China's overseas oil drilling and its African agricultural ventures have been nearly as difficult to manage.
Another point that Cincotta makes is that it probably wouldn't have mattered whether or not the government extended the one-child policy. The Chinese, like their East Asian neighbors, have settled into a long-term pattern of below replacement fertility:
The most interesting critique of the 2008 decision has been leveled by demographer Yong Cai and colleagues who argue that the OCP hardly matters at all. According to them, even if the policy were completely lifted tomorrow, China's current total fertility rate-which recent surveys indicate is between 1.5 and 1.6 children per woman-is unlikely to rise substantially. A recent survey among young couples in China finds that their ultimate childbearing goals average to about 1.6 children per family. Even in rural areas, where most couples can have at least two children without penalties, desired family size appears to be well below the 2.1 children per woman average needed for generational replacement.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A New Country Emerging in Southern Sudan

Although the count is still unofficial, there are reports that the vote by the population in the south of Sudan has exceeded the required 60 percent in favor of succession from Sudan. The vote, which was completed this week, but may take several weeks to ratify, was part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended the worst of the violence between the largely Arab-speaking Muslim population in the north of the country, and the largely Christian or traditional religion populations in the south. The BBC news has noted that:

North and south Sudan have suffered decades of conflict driven by religious and ethnic divides. Southern Sudan is one of the least developed areas in the world and many of its people have have long complained of mistreatment at the hands of the Khartoum government.
There are an estimated 3.8 million registered voters in the south of Sudan, out of a total population in the entire country of Sudan of about 44 million. Thus, the south is considerably smaller demographically than the north. This is exemplified by the size of the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, which has a population of 5 million, compared to the population of Juba, the new capital of the new country (which has yet to be named), whose population is estimated to be no more than 250,000--a number that I have drawn from this intriguing (albeit not well documented) entry from Wikipedia:
In 2005 its population was 163,442. Based on analysis of aerial photos, the best estimate of several donors working in Juba calculated the 2006 population at approximately 250,000. The 5th Sudan Population and Housing Census took place in April/May 2008 but the results were rejected by the government of Southern Sudan. Juba is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, and is developing very rapidly due to oil money and the Chinese coming for work and development.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Refugees From the American Revolution

The idealized story of the American Revolution is that Americans freed themselves from the tyranny of the British. But, as with most things in life, the story is more complicated than that. The Economist this week reviews a new book about the American Revolution looking at it from the side of the "losers" (but not, in this case, the British themselves): "Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War," by Thomas Allen (New York: Harper, 2010). What caught my eye, in particular, was this description of what happened to those people who were not generally in favor of battling the British:
History is written by the victors. Mr Allen points out that although Loyalists were a minority—in the end perhaps no more than one-fifth of the colonists—in many places they were a very substantial proportion of the population of the colonies. In the end, some 80,000 quit the new republic for Britain, the British colonies in the Caribbean and especially for Canada, where their influence has been lasting. One tragic group were the black freedmen, in danger of being re-enslaved on the orders of George Washington. (At least one of them had belonged to Thomas Jefferson.) They were eventually allowed to emigrate to Nova Scotia, but were so badly treated there that they moved on to West Africa, where they became Sierra Leone’s elite, founding the capital, Freetown.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Emergence of Latino Political Influence in the US

An important takeaway from the recently released census numbers (the state data used for congressional apportionment) was that the growing Latino population in the US made a difference, and Latino organizations such LatinoDecisions are very aware of this, but with a realistic outlook on what it means:
The difficulty for Latinos in the reapportionment and representation process is this: states will gain legislative representation due to surges in Latino population, yet millions contributing to the net population growth are not able to vote due to age or citizenship status.  One-third of all Latino American citizens are too young to vote, and another 12.8 million Latinos are not eligible due to citizenship status.   Furthermore, recent years have seen politics fueled with anti-Latino rhetoric and policy agendas that are diametrically opposed to Latino preferences.  Thus, it is uncertain how much substantive or descriptive representation Latinos stand to gain from upcoming redistricting despite their obvious national presence.  It would be a horrible irony to see states adding congressional seats because of Latino growth, only to design districts and/or elect representatives with legislative agendas antagonistic to Latino interests in the state.  Once states have re-drawn their new districts, it will be worth revisiting how Latinos factored into deliberations and the prospects for increased representation.

Thus, the Latino population is now the largest minority group in the United States (15 percent of the population), exceeding the black population (12 percent), but only if we count everyone of all ages and don't account for citizenship status. On the other hand, if we look at the voting age citizen population, Latinos account for only 9 percent of the population, compared to 12 percent for blacks. So, we can see that Latinos have influenced the number of seats in Congress, but they are still in the category of "emerging" when it comes to political influence based on potential voting power. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is There Really Global Warming? Do Glaciers Melt?

One of the clearest and most obvious signs of global warming is the rather startling melting of glaciers all over the globe. And it turns out that you don't need anything as sophisticated even as a yard stick to prove this. Rather, the proof lies in the uncovering of mysteries--missing airplanes and people, for example--as the ice layers melt. A story by Simon Romero from Bolivia in today's New York Times summarizes some of the evidence:

...on Huayna Potosí’s glacier [climbers last November found] crumpled fuselage, decades-old pieces of wings and propellers, and, in November, the frozen body of Rafael Benjamín Pabón, a 27-year-old pilot whose Douglas DC-6 crashed into the mountain’s north face in 1990.
“When I found the pilot, he was still strapped into his seat, crunched over like he was sleeping, some black hair falling from his skull,” said Eulalio González, 49, the climber who carried Mr. Pabón’s mummified body down the mountain. “There are more ice mummies in the peaks above us,” he said. “Melting glaciers will bring them to us.”
The discovery of Mr. Pabón’s partially preserved remains was one of a growing number of finds pulled from the world’s glaciers and snow fields in recent years as warmer temperatures cause the ice and snow to melt, exposing their long-held secrets. The bodies that have emerged were mummified naturally, with extreme cold and dry air performing the work that resins and oils did for ancient Egyptians and other cultures.
Up and down the spine of the Andes, long plagued by airplane crashes and climbing mishaps, the discoveries are helping to solve decades-old mysteries.
María Victoria Monsalve, a pathologist at the University of British Columbia who studies ice mummies said some of the most valuable discoveries in recent years include three Inca child mummies found on the summit of Mount Llullaillaco in northern Argentina and a 550-year-old iceman discovered by sheep hunters in northern British Columbia.
So, even if you are a person who isn't sure that humans are the single biggest contributors to global warming, the fact of global warming is virtually indisputable, and we are going to have to cope with that--if not now, then in the not too distant future.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Rebellion of the Young in Tunisia

The President of Tunisia, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country yesterday and sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, the victim what appears to be the first successful street demonstration rebellion in the Arab world. According to a story by David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times:
The antigovernment protests began a month ago when a college-educated street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in the small town of Sidi Bouzid burned himself to death in despair at the frustration and joblessness confronting many educated young people here. But the protests he inspired quickly evolved from bread-and-butter issues to demands for an assault on the perceived corruption and self-enrichment of the ruling family.
The self-enrichment issue related especially to Ben Ali's second wife "the former Leila Trabelsi, a hairdresser from a humble family whose relatives have amassed conspicuous fortunes since her 1992 marriage. 'Policeman, open your eyes, the hairdresser is ruling you,' they chanted, addressing Mr. Ben Ali."

But the protests themselves came from younger people who had grown up in the era of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first president after independence from France in 1956. Ben Ali was only Tunisia's second president since independence, but his regime was a clear contrast to the Bourguiba years:
“We are the Bourguiba generation,” [said one young woman], referring to Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president and the father of its broad middle class. He poured resources into Tunisia’s educational system and made higher education effectively free. He also pushed a social agenda of secularization, women’s rights, birth control and family planning that, in contrast to most countries in the region, slowed population growth, keeping the job of public education and social welfare manageable.
The lesson seems to be that a large, educated, internet-connected, but underemployed and frustrated young population can be a force for positive change.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Palestinians as a Political Force in Latin America

A half-century of political instability in the Middle East has created a huge Palestinian (and Lebanese) diaspora, with a large fraction of migrants from there having settled in several Latin American countries (think of Shakira, for example, the Lebanese-origin Colombian singer). My son, Greg Weeks, has posted several comments on this phenomenon. Chile has a large Palestinian-origin population, and this is almost certainly behind the decision of Chile's President Piñera to support an independent Palestinian state.

At the same time, a PhD student doing research for his dissertation in Honduras has talked about the rise of Protestant Evangelicals in Latin America who have an affinity for the Jewish state and who refer to Palestinians somewhat derogatorily as "turcos."

The Third Latin American-Arab Summit will be held in Peru in February, symptomatic in many ways of these new kinds of ethnic groups rising in Latin America. The feedback from that conference should be very interesting.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Look Out! The Baby Boomers Are Coming of Age

2011 is the year in which the first of the Baby Boomers reach age 66--the age at which their full Social Security benefits are available to them. The Economist covered this story in its 2010 end-of-year issue, and, although they didn't call it this, they did a very nice age-period-cohort analysis of the political impact that this is going to have. The age part is obvious. At 65 in America you qualify for Medicare, the government-funded health insurance program for older (as well as disabled) persons, and, as noted, at 66 the full Social Security benefits kick in. By "full" I mean that by waiting to age 66, baby boomers can collect Social Security and continue to earn other income without any reduction in their pension benefit. 

The cohort effect refers to "the notion that a person’s lifelong voting habits are established early on. Charlie Cook, a political analyst, says today’s retired were shaped by the perceived failure of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and the success of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. In 2008 some may also have identified more with the 72-year-old John McCain than the 47-year-old Mr Obama."

The period effect relates to the fact that President Obama's health care program has been perceived by many older people as potentially threatening to their own benefits and that is an important issue because "in the next two decades people aged 65 and over will rise from 17% of the voting-age population to 26%. Since the old vote more readily, their actual share of the electorate will be some three percentage points higher, reckons Robert Binstock, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland."

Andrea Campbell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believes it was the creation of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s that transformed the elderly into the most politically engaged age group in America. Ever more comfortable in retirement, they had the time and the means to follow politics and an issue to motivate them. But threats to the programmes seldom seemed significant or imminent. That may have changed in 2010 with Mr Obama’s health-care reform.
Last year Mr Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission recommended expanding the powers of Medicare’s cost-control panel and scrapping or reforming the CLASS Act, which creates a new entitlement for long-term care of the old and frail. Paul Ryan and Alice Rivlin, Republican and Democratic commission members, have separately proposed replacing traditional Medicare with vouchers for private care. All those proposals are complete anathema to the elderly.
They are not alone. Ms Campbell says that young and middle-aged voters are just as opposed to benefit cuts, perhaps because they have elderly parents or realise that they too will one day need the benefits. Polls find that, among all voters, the single most popular fix is to raise the cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax—no doubt because this would be borne by a minority of affluent working people. Yet to finance the boomers’ retirement with no cut in benefits would require unprecedented increases in taxes, which could be even more unpopular. The boomers’ capacity to upset the political apple cart is as great as it ever was.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Migration in US Slowed Along With the Economy

Demographer Bill Frey at the Brookings Institution has just released a report showing that interstate migration in the United States dropped to the lowest level since the Census Bureau first start collecting annual migration data in the Current Population Survey back in 1948. This is consistent, of course, with the fact that the current recession is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Migration is a signpost that there are opportunities out there somewhere, whereas bad times cause us to hunker down and stay put.

The New York Times picked up on this story today, but focused only on the cities that are attracting the most new residents that are young college graduates. In 2005-7, Charlotte had led with a rate of 2.77 new such migrants per 100 residents with college degrees, and five other cities were above a rate of 2 per 100. In the most recent period, 2007-9, only Austin had a rate above 2.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the US

This is a shameless self-promotion of a just-released book written by my son, Greg Weeks, and I called "Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and Its Effect on the South," published by the University of New Mexico Press. The book informs the discussion of the migration transition in the Population text and, as you might suspect, the Population text significantly informs our new book. However, the book also updates and advances the concept of political demography--the intersection of demographic change and policy choices that countries make. 
The central argument of this book is that only through an analytic combination of politics and demography can the dynamics of migration (and the reactions to it) be fully grasped.  This political demographic approach will demonstrate that irresistible forces are at work changing the face, quite literally, of the South--changes that are broader than often realized.  People in Latin America are not just moving to the traditional “gateways” in the United States (e.g. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida); they are also arriving in new areas of the country.  Furthermore, these new migrants are not only from Mexico, but are from all over Latin America. 
Our approach is a macro-level one, in that we are trying to understand the patterns of migration in the context of the interaction between demographic changes and political changes taking place simultaneously in countries of origin (focusing on Latin American origins), and the country of destination (focusing on the United States).

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Many Muslims Are There in Europe?

I recently received an inquiry from a researcher in the Netherlands, Morly Frishman, who was trying to track down the origin of a purported projection that by 2020 one in four Europeans would be Muslim. I quote part of the note with his permission:
This is what my question concerns. As you may know, one of the issues taken by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders is the present and future of Muslims in Europe (or, as he puts it, the "Islamization of Europe"). In this context, Wilders quotes a 'study by the University of San Diego', according to which "a staggering 25 percent of the population in Europe will be Muslim just 12 years from now." Wilders does not provide more information regarding this study, which makes it difficult to trace. Other sources seem to refer to the same study, attributing it to a 'Jan Wax' (see e.g.; or otherwise, see Google search results for the query "San Diego University researcher Jan Wax"). I suspect "Jan Wax" might actually be a failed attempt to refer to you; your name, lost in translation, so to say. Furthermore, I suspect that not only your name has been twisted, but also your data is presented by others in a deceiving way. But I do not know that for sure, as all my attempts to find such a study have failed. 
Since the San Diego State University International Population Center, which I direct,  has produced various estimates of the Muslim population in the world that have been published by US News and World Report as well as CNN, it is certainly possible that someone associated my name with Muslim population figures. However, I have never suggested, and I have never seen anyone else in academics suggest, that Muslims could account for 25 percent of Europe's population by 2020. Our estimates suggest that as of 2009 (the most recent date for which we have data), the 18 million Muslims living in the European Union account for about 5 percent of the total population. Even if we include Russia and Turkey in our definition of Europe, Muslims account for only 18 percent of the population and it is impossible to imagine that the figure could rise to 25 percent by 2020.

My own Google searches suggest that the origin of the misinformation might have been an article published in 2006 by Philip Jenkins at Penn State University ("Demographics, Religion, and the Future of Europe," Orbis, 50(3):519-539, Summer 2006), in which he disputes Bernard Lewis's suggestion that Europe could have a Muslim majority by 2100 by arguing instead that 
A Muslim population of around 25 percent by 2100 is more probable—a historically striking statistic, with enormous political implications, but nothing like a majority.(p. 533)
Even this comment, though, does not make a projection for the year 2020, but rather a date 80 years beyond that--2100. I do mention in my text that an estimated one in four humans globally is Muslim, but that is a far cry from suggesting that by 2020 one in four Europeans will be Muslim. 

This whole case of misinformation is a reminder that there is an enormous amount of information on the internet, but we must all be very careful about "reliable sources," as the founder of Wikipedia keeps saying.