This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Competing Perspectives on Global Food Security

The Economist's special report on the future of food in the world, which I discussed here, is clear about the fact that there are competing perspectives, especially in the rich world, on what should be done.

One group is concerned mainly about feeding the world’s growing population. It argues that high and volatile prices will make the job harder and that more needs to be done to boost supplies through the spread of modern farming, plant research and food processing in poor countries. For those in this group—food companies, plant breeders and international development agencies—the Green Revolution was a stunning success and needs to be followed by a second one now.
That perspective is, as you know if you have read Chapter 11 of my book, the view that flows most naturally from a demographic perspective. However, there is a competing perspective that I often hear from students and others and it is spelled out succinctly by the Economist:
The alternative view is sceptical of, or even downright hostile to, the modern food business. This group, influential among non-governmental organisations and some consumers, concentrates more on the food problems of richer countries, such as concerns about animal welfare and obesity. It argues that modern agriculture produces food that is tasteless, nutritionally inadequate and environmentally disastrous. It thinks the Green Revolution has been a failure, or at least that it has done more environmental damage and brought fewer benefits than anyone expected.
The Economist itself adopts the first approach, noting that:
...although the concerns of the critics of modern agriculture may be understandable, the reaction against intensive farming is a luxury of the rich. Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Food (Price of, That Is) Is On The Table Again

Food prices spiked again this year, as they did in 2008, and that has a lot of people worried again about how we are to feed a growing population. That is, indeed, the theme of a special report in this week's Economist.
An era of cheap food has come to an end. A combination of factors—rising demand in India and China, a dietary shift away from cereals towards meat and vegetables, the increasing use of maize as a fuel, and developments outside agriculture, such as the fall in the dollar—have brought to a close a period starting in the early 1970s in which the real price of staple crops (rice, wheat and maize) fell year after year.
The end of the era of cheap food has coincided with growing concern about the prospects of feeding the world. Around the turn of 2011-12 the global population is forecast to rise to 7 billion, stirring Malthusian fears. The price rises have once again plunged into poverty millions of people who spend more than half their income on food. The numbers of those below the poverty level of $1.25 a day, which had been falling consistently in the 1990s, rose sharply in 2007-08. That seems to suggest that the world cannot even feed its current population, let alone the 9 billion expected by 2050. Adding further to the concerns is climate change, of which agriculture is both cause and victim. So how will the world cope in the next four decades?
The answer to that question is obviously complex, and the Economist delves into it in some depth, emerging with what might be called a cautiously optimistic view that we could be OK, partly because we have to make the changes that are necessary. Food insecurity too easily leads to political insecurity, and that has to be a motivation to change the way we're doing things. One of the elements highlighted in the story is the absurdity of trying to substitute biofuel for oil in a world where we are, at the moment, unable to adequately feed the current 7 billion people. 
"THIS is the craziest thing we’re doing," says Peter Brabeck, the chairman of Nestlé. He is talking about government biofuels targets which require a certain proportion of national energy needs to be met from renewable fuels, most of them biofuels (ie, ethyl alcohol made from crops, usually maize or sugar).
That sentiment was echoed this week by former President Bill Cinton:

Specifically, Clinton told those at USDA's Annual Outlook Forum that producing more biofuels could bring food riots around the globe.
"If we produce more biofuels, that means less food and that will bring food riots," Clinton said, even while stressing that the U.S. needs to become more energy independent.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Libyan Violence Produces a Mass Exodus

Predictably, the mass violence in Libya has produced a mass exodus. Tunisia, which shares a border with Libya, was the first country affected, has helped to set up Libyan refugee camps, even while many of its own citizens have fled to Italy and elsewhere. It appears that many of those fleeing Libya for Tunisia are Egyptians who has been working in Libya.
In the meantime, the Italian foreign minister has expressed deep concern about the possibility of large numbers of people fleeing Libya and turning up in Italy:
Franco Frattini, the foreign minister, said Italy was bracing for an exodus 10 times bigger than the number of Albanians who fled to Italy in the 1990s when the Balkan nation descended into anarchy.
"We know what to expect when the Libyan national system falls – a wave of 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants," Mr Frattini said.
"These are estimates, and on the low side ... It is a Biblical exodus. It's a problem that no Italian should underestimate."
He said about a third of Libya's population, or 2.5 million people, are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who could flee if the popular revolt topples the government of Muammar Gaddafi.
Those living in the eastern part of Libya might try to reach Greece, rather than Italy, because it is closer, he said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

House Votes to Cut Funding to Planned Parenthood--Will the Senate Agree?

A major news item surrounding the US House of Representatives debates on amendments to HR1--the government funding bill passed last week--was the vote to prevent any Title X funding from being received by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 
The Title X Family Planning program ["Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Programs" (Public Law 91-572)], was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.
Although any organization receiving Title X funding is forbidden by law from using any of that money for abortion services, and Planned Parenthood has repeatedly said that no Title X money is used for that purpose, that was still the reason given by Rep. Mike Pence (R. Indiana) for introducing what has been called a vindictive measure against Planned Parenthood. As the Huffington Post noted:

The vote, which passed, 240 to 185, came after an emotional, late-night speech by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who revealed on the House floor that she had had an abortion. Speier criticized Republicans for vilifying Planned Parenthood and abortion-rights supporters.
"There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight," she said on the House floor. "Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide family planning services. Planned parenthood has a right to perform abortions. Last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country."
Democrats, particularly female members of Congress, came out hard against the Pence amendment, calling it an attack based on politics. It is not the first by the House GOP this year: Republicans have also proposed bills that would allow hospitals to turn away women in need of emergency abortions or would limit funding for abortions to rape victims who can prove their rape is "forcible." (The latter language was dropped amid outrage from women's rights advocates).
All of the available evidence suggests that the best way to reduce the demand for abortion in any country is to increase the availability of contraceptives to sexually active people. Withdrawing federal support from Planned Parenthood will only undermine that goal, and is likely to lead to an increase in abortions, rather than a decline. We will have to see if the US Senate sees the world from this perspective and votes to restore funding for Planned Parenthood in its version of the federal funding legislation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Will Demography Slow Down Economic Growth in the US?

As the world climbs out of a deep recession, people are naturally trying to figure out what lies down the road. The McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the large McKinsey & Company consulting firm, has just issued a report titled "Growth and Renewal in the United States: Retooling America's Economic Engine." A major takeaway from this report is that America's demographics will likely be a drag on the economy. Ben White of Politico summarized the report this way:
Should the nation be bracing for a new economic reality of slow growth, high unemployment and a declining middle-class standard of living? That’s what a provocative McKinsey Global Institute study suggests, arguing that without significant productivity gains, the United States faces decades of slow growth with possibly devastating implications.
The driving force behind the possible GDP decline, McKinsey said, is demographics. With the massive baby-boom generation retiring, the size of the labor force will not grow fast enough to drive significant economic expansion. In short, the U.S. will have to find ways to get more from a labor force that is growing more slowly.
“If, over the next 10 years, the labor force were to grow as currently projected and productivity increases at the average 1.7 percent annual rate that the United States has posted both over the long term (1960 to 2008) and more recently (1990 to 2008), U.S. GDP growth would decline to 2.2 percent per year,” McKinsey said. “With the working-age population declining from 67 percent to 64 percent, Americans, on average, would experience slower gains in living standards than did their parents and grandparents.”
The report then lays out a variety of specific ways to increase productivity. They note, for example, that only 40 percent of a typical nurse's time is spent caring for patients, with the being spent on paperwork. Reversing that ratio would certainly increase productivity in the health sector.
An important consideration for the global future is this: If the age structure of the US is calculated to be a drag on the economy, what about the situation in more rapidly aging societies such as most of Europe and much of East Asia?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Illegal Immigration Continues to Plague Europe

I have already noted that the revolution in Tunisia generated undocumented immigrants from Tunisia to Italy. That brought a spotlight back to the more general issue of continued illegal immigration into Europe. The Economist this week suggested that Greece, even more than Italy, is now the weak link in trying to fence people out of Europe.
In recent years Greece has become the main illegal migration-route into the EU. Its border controls have been lax and its asylum-processing system slow and questionable (the approval rate for asylum applications is tiny compared with other EU countries). Hundreds of thousands of foreigners are adrift in a semi-legal limbo, sleeping rough in Athens or in ports from which they hope to get to Italy. Greek xenophobes are beating up immigrants. Traditionally a country of emigrants, Greece is unready for a mass influx.
About 47,000 crossed the border last year. “They do not have any documents,” says Colonel Georgios Salamagkas, police chief in the town of Orestiada. “All the white people say they are from Palestine. All the Africans say they are from Somalia. They know we cannot send them back to those countries.” Most immigrants are trying to pass through Greece to reach richer countries.
Greece’s crisis is Europe’s problem. Frontex, the EU border agency, has deployed a rapid-response team—including border guards, dog-handlers and interpreters—to help. The flow has reduced, partly because the Turks are co-operating. But no sooner has one gap tightened than another is reopening on the Mediterranean. Some 5,000 immigrants, mostly young men, have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy stroppily accuses the EU of doing too little. Political oppression may push people to flee, but the end of dictatorship in Tunisia has also lifted an obstacle. Events on Lampedusa must alarm all EU countries about the popular revolts across the Middle East.
This is just a reminder that even if events in one part of the world might have few underlying demographic roots, they can generate significant demographic responses nonetheless.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Population Control in China

Tomorrow (22 February) the Population Reference Bureau will hold an on-line discussion on the topic of whether or not China is likely to loosen its one-child policy. The Economist this past week reported on a different kind of population control taking place in China, which I discuss in Chapter 9--the limitation of people coming into cities. In particular, the government seems very concerned about the rapid growth of Beijing and is clamping down on people migrating from rural places and living in "informal" places such as underground air-raid shelters.
Rarely since the 1980s, when China’s strict controls on migration from countryside to town began to break down, has the capital appeared so determined to reverse the tide. A key event was an investigation last summer which found that Beijing’s population (those living in the city for six months or longer) had topped 19.7m by the end of 2009. This was 2m more than official figures had suggested. In a development plan published seven years ago, the government had aimed not even to reach 18m before 2020. The figures are a bit misleading, because Beijing municipality covers an area half Belgium’s size, with far-flung satellite towns and a rural expanse. But even the city proper has grown to more than 10m, from 8.5m a decade ago.
This is a reminder of why China has a much higher level of poverty than Egypt even though per capita income in China is higher than in Egypt, as I reported earlier. China has what one person who was quoted in The Economist article described as an apartheid system in which the urban population thrives economically essentially at the expense of the rural population, because the latter is legally forbidden from moving to the city and trying to improve their life by doing so.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Are Demographics Involved in the Protests in Libya?

There are plenty of reasons for Libyans to be fed up with their government, but the role of demographics is not easy to tease out. When Gaddafi took over the country in 1969 there were fewer than 2 million people in Libya, but in the past 42 years it has more than tripled to 6.5 million--which is still smaller than many cities in the world. In 1969 the TFR in Libya was 7.6 and the IMR was 105. Since then the TFR has dropped to 2.7 and the IMR has plummeted to 18 per 1,000--accompanied by a 20 year rise in life expectancy from 52 to 72. Although it is a young country because fertility is still well above replacement, the percentage of the population that is in the critical ages of 15-24 is now only 17, down from 19 when Gaddafi too over. Most importantly, oil revenues have pushed up the average income in Libya and it is now $16,400 per person, according to World Bank data. Overall, then, it is a very different type of country than either Egypt or Tunisia, and if Gaddafi's regime is toppled, it would be difficult to say that demography was the most important reason.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is a Youth Bulge Coming to Texas?

The New York Times yesterday reported on the new census redistricting data showing that Texas grew more quickly than any other state between 2000 and 2010, largely as a result of an increase in the Latino population.

People who identify themselves as Hispanic accounted for two-thirds of the state’s growth in the last decade. Hispanics now make up 38 percent of the state’s 25.1 million people, up from 32 percent a decade ago.
“It’s not just a sea change, it’s a tipping point,” said State Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, where about two-thirds of the residents are Hispanic. “San Antonio looks like what Texas is going to look like in 15 years.”
Steve H. Murdock, a former director of the United States Census Bureau who is now a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston, said most of the growth among Hispanics stemmed from births to families already living here.
Still, migration played a big role, not just from Latin America, but from other states as well. Since 2000, Texas’s population has surged 20.6 percent, or by 4.2 million people, and nearly 45 percent of that growth was from migration, said the state’s demographer, Lloyd B. Potter.
The change has obvious implications for redistricting:
Texas is picking up four Congressional seats. “Most of the new population that drives the four additional seats is Hispanic, but in the Texas state government the people who draw the boundaries are all Republicans,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Many politicians in Austin expect the Legislature to carve out two new districts from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A third district is likely to be created among the suburbs southwest of Houston. The final district is expected to be in the Rio Grande Valley.

Since much of the growth is among younger Hispanics, the population of Texas is now younger than it was ten years ago, and this will have important impacts on the economy and government services over the next decade or more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Funding for the American Community Survey is Threatened

If you search back through this blog, you will see numerous references to the American Community Survey (ACS). It replaced the long form on the 2010 Census and is arguably the most important data collection effort in the United States. That is why it is so amazing that Congress could act to defund it. This week the House of Representatives is debating H.R. 1, which continues funding for the U.S. government. Among the 538 amendments proposed to this bill is No. 159 by first-term Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma that, if approved "would prohibit any funds made available in this Act from being used to carry out the American Community Survey." Contact your Congressional Representative and implore her/him to vote against this amendment. Killing the ACS would be a huge setback to policy decisions all over the country, to research efforts all over the country, and to the thousands of businesses who rely upon those data to figure out how to make a profit.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hispanics Now Outnumber Native Americans in Oklahoma

This really is one of those "only in America" stories. How is it possible that any minority group could outnumber Native Americans in a state whose history is bound up with Native Americans. Yet, that is the tale told by the 2010 census--there are more Latinos in Oklahoma than there Native Americans.

While Oklahoma is likely to maintain the nation's largest per capita population of Native Americans, their numbers are not growing nearly as rapidly as the booming Hispanic population.
Over the past decade, the number of Hispanics has nearly doubled from 179,304 in 2000 to 332,007 in 2010. Hispanics now account for 9 percent of the state's 3.75 million residents, compared to 8.5 percent for Native Americans.
"I suspect that Native Americans took a little bit of pride in being the largest minority population," said state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe. "Now it's the Hispanic population that can now take that pride."
A very interesting part of this story is that Oklahoma, like Arizona, has been actively discouraging Hispanics from living in the state.
Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, said the figures show some public policy efforts to curtail illegal immigration may not be having an impact on Hispanic immigration.
House Bill 1804, an anti-illegal immigration bill enacted in 2007, makes it illegal to knowingly transport illegal immigrants, creates state barriers to hiring illegal immigrants and requires proof of citizenship before one can get certain government benefits. The law is being challenged in federal court.
"For folks who thought HB 1804 would lead to an exodus of Hispanics from the state of Oklahoma, that doesn't appear to have happened," Gaddie said.
And, of course, the larger Hispanic population will have implications for Congressional and legislative redistricting. That process will consume the news over the next several months.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is Chicago Really Shrinking?

A headline in today's New York Times says that "Chicago is now smaller and less black, census shows." That is technically true if we are talking about the City of Chicago, and that obviously matters to the mayor and other elected officials. But if we step back from local politics, we see that the Chicago metro area is not shrinking, nor becoming less black. The real story here is not shrinkage in Chicago, but rather that Americans continue to prefer the suburbs.

While Chicago remains the nation’s third-most-populous city — with 2.69 million people — it lost more than 200,000 residents during the last decade, Census Bureau figures released Tuesday show.
That is about a 7 percent decrease, a sharper drop than some leaders had expected and gloomy news for the city’s budget writers (who have to worry about the tax base) and elected officials (who have to worry about who will bear the political brunt of redistricting).
The decline among blacks may be explained in part by migration to the suburbs, the demolition of thousands of high-rise public housing units and a broader population shift to the South.
Even as the city shrank, a ring of suburbs along its fringes expanded rapidly. In fact, two of those counties — Will and Kendall — will probably rank among the fastest-growing counties in the nation over the last decade, said Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
This is, in fact, a familiar story among America's cities. We saw it first in Cleveland as long ago as the 1950s, as residents left the inner city for the suburbs, and central city residents in many of the country's older cities, in particular, have been voting with their feet for past two to three decades. This is not the same, then, as the phenomenon in New Orleans, where people abandoned the metro area for other parts of the country.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Thoughts on Muslims in Europe

Joyce Armstrong, Editor at the Migration Information Source of the Migration Policy Institute, has put down some reactions to the Pew Research Center's report on the growth of the Muslim population, which I mentioned earlier. Her notes, which went out in a listserv email, but which I cannot find online, largely concern the issue of Muslims in Europe, and since they are referenced to sources, I am taking the liberty here of copying the entire set of her comments:
A recent study by the Pew Research Center projecting a 35 percent increase in the worldwide Muslim population over the next 20 years has been making headlines and stirring debate about the immigration and integration of Muslims in Western nations. (See MPI's Elizabeth Collett discuss this topic on Russia TV's CrossTalk program.) 
The Pew report, titled The Future of the Global Muslim Population, predicts that by 2030 the number of Muslims in Europe will grow by one-third and will represent roughly 10 percent of the population in France, 7 percent in Germany, and 8 percent in the Netherlands. 
This comes at a time of increased discussion and policy action surrounding the integration and culture of Muslims in European society, and the Pew projections may spark new concerns in countries where anti-Muslim sentiments run high. 
In Germany, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declared the nation's integration policy a failure, federal bank employee Thilo Sarrazin published an incendiary book blaming Muslims for many of the country's problems, and the state of Hesse has made the wearing of face veils by public-sector employees illegal
Last fall, France passed a similar ban on face veils, forbidding all Muslim women to wear them in public. Moreover, according to a recent poll, a plurality of French and German citizens oppose the building of mosques and believe that Muslims are a threat to national identity and culture. (See the MPI Facebook Note about the poll.) 
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders's anti-Islamic Freedom Party is gaining political momentum, and many claim that the 48 percent rise in anti-Semitism reported in Holland in 2009 is the fault of the country's Muslim population. The Swedish town of Malmo has also seen an increase in anti-Semitism that has been attributed by some to Muslim immigrants. 
The 2010 Transatlantic Trends in Immigration report, released last week by the US-based German Marshall Fund, indicates that majorities in Germany (67 percent), France (51 percent), and the Netherlands (56 percent) believe that Muslim immigrants in their countries are poorly integrated. 
According to the Pew Research Center, its projections on the growth of the Muslim population take into account migration and birth rates among Muslims, but do not consider political climates, which are highly variable and inevitably play a role in how welcoming a particular country is perceived. It remains to be seen whether the current climate in Europe and North America will spark a measurable change over time in the growth of the Muslim population emigrating to either side of the Atlantic. 
Joyce Armstrong
Editor, Migration Information Source 

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Do the Demographic Tea-Leaves Suggest About Algeria?

Protests have erupted in Algeria, following the successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. On the surface, the youth demographics in Algeria are similar to those in Egypt--slightly more than one in five Algerians is between the age of 15 and 24, and since 1980 the population has doubled from 18 to nearly 36 million, putting a tremendous strain on social and economic resources. At the same time, however, life has been improving more rapidly in recent years for Algerians than it has for Egyptians. The World Bank does not provide poverty data for Algeria, but the per person income in Algeria (in USD) is $8,110 per year--44 percent higher than the $5,680 in Egypt. Furthermore, since 1980, the fertility rate in Algeria has dropped from a level higher than Egypt at that time to a level now that, at 2.4, is lower than in Egypt. This has been accompanied by a similarly more rapid drop in infant mortality in Algeria than in Egypt, and life expectancy is higher in Algeria than in Egypt. These comparisons are not meant to suggest that Algerians have no reason to complain about their government, but they do suggest that the level of frustration of the average Egyptian has probably been more intense than among Algerians.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Demographic Spillover from the Tunisian Revolt

Not everyone in Tunisia sees a bright future after the recent youth-led revolt that toppled the government--and I am not referring to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who fled the country. Others are fleeing, as well, and are turning up as undocumented immigrants in the south of Italy.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Europe was not doing anything to help stop the flow of migrants, the Italian news agency Ansa reports.
More than 4,000 migrants are reported to have arrived on the island of Lampedusa in the past few days.
Italy has declared a humanitarian emergency and called for EU assistance.
Mr Maroni, who is a member of the anti-immigration Northern League party, said the Tunisian system was "collapsing".
"I will ask the Tunisian foreign ministry for permission for our authorities to intervene to stop the flow in Tunisia," Ansa quoted him as saying.
"Europe is not doing anything, I am very concerned," he said.Mr Maroni accused other EU states of leaving Italy to deal with the situation alone, despite the impact it could have on other countries.
According to the Migration Information Source, there were more than 50,000 Tunisians living in Italy in 2003 (the most recent year available) out of more than 250,000 Northern Africans in the country (immigrants from Morocco lead the list). Thus, there may be communities of Tunisians that can cushion the impact, and possibly absorb these immigrants, but it is not clear that they will necessarily find jobs in Italy any more easily than they were able to in Tunisia.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Children in Rural India Have Democracy, But Need Food

As the world waits to see if the youth-led revolt in Egypt will lead ultimately to a democratic form of government there, the world's most populous democracy, India, is struggling with the mismatch between its agricultural policies, soaring food prices, and a constantly growing population. As the NY Times reports today, the focus on growth in the "glamor" industries has left agriculture behind.
Four decades after the Green Revolution seemed to be solving India’s food problems, nearly half of Indian children age 5 or younger are malnourished. And soaringfood prices, a problem around the world, are especially acute in India.
Western investors may take eager note of India’s economic growth rate of nearly 9 percent a year. But that statistic rings hollow in India’s vast rural areas. Agriculture employs more than half the population, but it accounts for only 15 percent of the economy — and it has grown an average of only about 3 percent in recent years.
Critics say Indian policy makers have failed to follow up on the country’s investments in agricultural technology of the 1960s and ’70s, as they focused on more glamorous, urban industries like information technology, financial services and construction.
There is no agribusiness of the type known in the United States, with highly mechanized farms growing thousands of acres of food crops, because Indian laws and customs bar corporations from farming land directly for food crops. The laws also make it difficult to assemble large land holdings.
Yet even as India’s farming still depends on manual labor and the age-old vicissitudes of nature, demand for food has continued to rise — because of a growing population and rising incomes, especially in the middle and upper classes.
Clinging to traditional agricultural practices may seem attractive to many, in order especially to maintain the historical culture of rural India. The problem is that population growth has essentially thrown that model under the bus, and new ways of becoming agriculturally more productive seem inevitable if India is to survive. This will be, in many ways, as revolutionary as the changes taking place in Egypt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Multiracial Categories Mess Up Government Statistics

One of the interesting side-effects of the Census Bureau's decision (with approval from the Office of Management and Budget) in 2000 to include a multi-racial question on the census is that government bean-counters (and, to be fair, researchers as well) have more difficulty pigeon-holing people in terms of their race. Of course, that was the whole idea--the United States is an increasingly multi-racial society and the statistics should reflect that fact. This gets more complicated when government agencies, or other organizations, do not follow the Census Bureau's practice of keeping race separate from Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. Thus, the New York Times today chews over how to categorize a young woman--
"a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent — as “Hispanic.” But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her “Asian” and "Hispanic." And what does Ms. López-Mullins’s birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn’t mention her race. Ms. López-Mullins, 20, usually marks “other” on surveys these days, but when she filled out a census form last year, she chose Asian, Hispanic, Native American and white."
If you have looked at the census data or ACS data on race and ethnicity, you know that the Census Bureau provides nearly all possible combinations for examination, but most people who gather the data from the public do not do this--at least not yet.

The mixing of racial and ethnic groups in the United States is almost certainly a societally integrating phenomenon, and The Economist this week reports that David Cameron, the UK's Prime Minister, is at least implicitly unhappy that the UK has not moved in that direction. 
ON FEBRUARY 5th David Cameron gave a speech about Islamism and British values at a conference in Munich. Back home, the rows have not stopped since. Much of the fuss has a distinctly synthetic tang. Absurdly, Sadiq Khan, the Labour shadow justice secretary, accused the prime minister of “writing propaganda” for a far-right group that held a rally on the same day. Conservatives chortled that Mr Cameron had hailed the end of multiculturalism. What he actually said was that a doctrine of “state multiculturalism” had encouraged Britons to live segregated lives. In its stead, he proposed a “muscular liberalism” that confronts extremism and promotes a British identity open to all.
Although the thrust of his argument is that integration is needed to combat Islamic terrorism, there can be little argument that people who keep themselves separate from others, or are kept separate from others, are less likely to feel integrated into the broader society. This probably works for those in the demographic majority, not just the minority.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Good News and Bad News About Health

First the good news. A new study published in the Annals of Oncology and reported by BBC News uses data from the World Health Organization to suggest that death rates from cancer are about to go down in Europe.

Based on cancer trends between 1970 and 2007, they predict there will be 1,281,436 cancer deaths in the EU in 2011 (721,252 men and 560,184 women), compared with 1,256,001 (703,872 men and 552,129 women) in 2007.
When these figures are converted into world standardised rates per 100,000 of the population, this means there will be a fall from 153.8 per 100,000 to 142.8 per 100,000 in men, and from 90.7 to 85.3 in women - a drop of 7% in men and 6% in women - since 2007.
The overall downward trend in cancer death rates is driven mainly by falls in breast cancer mortality in women, and lung and colorectal cancer in men.
"Lung, colorectal and breast cancers are the top causes of cancer deaths, and these are showing major changes," say the researchers.
The bad news comes from the United States, where data suggest that strokes are rising rapidly among younger and middle-aged persons, although they are going down for the older population (so there is some good news mixed in there). Researchers attribute the rise in the incidence of stroke largely to the increase in obesity among younger people.
At the University of California at Los Angeles, doctors are seeing more strokes related to high blood pressure and clogged arteries in younger people, said Dr. Jeffrey Saver, director of the stroke center at UCLA.
Early estimates from 2007 death certificates suggest that stroke is now the nation's fourth leading cause of death instead of the third, partly because of better treatments and prevention among the elderly. "But at the same time we're seeing this worrisome rise in mid-life," Saver said.
Allison Hooker, a nurse who coordinates stroke care at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said her hospital also is seeing more strokes in younger people with risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, alcohol overuse and diabetes.
"I'd say at least half of our population (of stroke patients) is in their 40s or early 50s," she said, "and devastating strokes, too."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whither New Orleans?

It has been obvious in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans was withering, but the new census data confirm the shrinkage.

The Census Bureau reported on Thursday that 343,829 people were living in the city of New Orleans on April 1, 2010, four years and seven months after it was virtually emptied by the floodwaters that followed the hurricane.
The numbers portray a significantly smaller city than in the previous census, in 2000, though it should be said that New Orleans had been steadily shrinking even then. In 1990, it was the 24th-biggest city in the country, in 2000, the 31st, and now it has surely dropped from the top 50.
According to Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens Collegesociologist who analyzed the census results for The New York Times, the city has roughly 24,000 fewer white residents than it did 10 years ago, though the proportion of the white population has grown to 30 percent.
The city has 118,000 fewer black residents. New Orleans, once more than two-thirds black, is now less than 60 percent black.
It is commonplace among humans to assume that bigger is better than smaller, but not everyone buys that argument:
“It’s not an unqualified good thing to have big numbers,” said Mark VanLandingham, a professor at Tulane University who has expressed frustration with frequent calls from local officials, sometimes successful, for the Census Bureau to raise the city’s population estimate. “It made it very difficult to figure out what was actually going on.”
The story about this in the NY Times has a very nice interactive map that allows you to visualize the geography of change in New Orleans.

Monday, February 7, 2011

World Food Prices Hit Record High--This is Not Good

Among the complex of causes of the protests in the Middle East, the rising cost of food has played an important, even if unheralded role. 

On a day of bloody confrontation in Egypt, where protesters are demanding an end to the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, the WFP's [UN World Food Program] Sheeran said the world was now in an era where it had to be very serious about food supply.
"If people don't have enough to eat they only have three options: they can revolt, they can migrate or they can die. We need a better action plan," she said.
As Paul Krugman points out in a NYT Op-Ed piece today, the single most important cause of the rise of food prices is the "supply problem" created by bad weather that has ruined crops. But, the evidence is mounting that the bad weather is symptomatic of global climate change and we really have not adjusted to that fact. As I keep reminding you, we are expecting an additional two billion people at the table three or four decades from now, and the food situation is only going to get more troublesome.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

US Census Data Highlight the Growing Diversity

The US Census Bureau is in the process of releasing the first set of detailed data from the 2010 Census that are required for congressional redistricting, and each new release of data generates headlines (often with a good quote from William Frey at the Brookings Institution). This past Thursday the race/ethnic data by state were made available and they highlight a now common theme in the United States--immigration patterns since the 1965 changes to the immigration law, combined with high levels of undocumented immigration--have produced an ever more ethnically diverse society.

The result has been a changed American landscape, with whites now a minority of the youth population in 10 states, including Arizona, where tensions over immigration have flared, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
“This is a huge demographic transformation,” Mr. Frey said. “A cultural generation gap is emerging.”
The growing divide between a diverse young population and an aging white population raises some potentially tricky policy questions. Will older whites be willing to allocate money to educate a younger generation that looks less like their own children than ever before? How will a diverse young generation handle growing needs for aging whites?
The rapid change has infused political debates, and they have been noisiest in the states with the largest gaps.
Arizona is the leader, with whites accounting for just 42 percent of its young people, compared with 83 percent of its residents 65 and older, according to Mr. Frey. Over all, the state’s Hispanic population nearly tripled between 1990 and 2009, and is now a third of all residents. Nevada ranks second in the gap between aging whites and diverse youth, Mr. Frey said.
A very nice visualization of this process can be seen by visiting a new website hosted by the National Geographic to display the geographic diversity in the most common surnames. Spanish surnames, for example, now dominate the American southwest. The group at University College London that created this map also has been mapping names for other parts of the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011

How Poor is the Average Egyptian?

If you have been watching the talking heads on television discussing the situation in Egypt, one number keeps popping up--that half of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day. Since this number is usually tossed out with crowds in Cairo as the background, the implication is that about half of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square are living on this small amount of money. It seems very unlikely that very many people in Cairo have an income this low and, in all events, the World Bank estimates that only 18 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, as I note in Chapter 10. Most of these people are living in rural villages, not in Cairo or Alexandria. By comparison, 36 percent of Chinese and 76 percent of Indians are living on less than $2 per day. Almost certainly the greater frustration in Egypt is that it is very difficult to reach a reasonably high level of living. The average per person income in Egypt (in current US dollars) is $5,680 per year (about $16 per day), but in China it is $6,890. So, Egypt has fewer desperately poor people (as a percentage of the population) than China, but the average income in China is higher than in Egypt. Will a change in government in Egypt change this situation? A lot of people on the street seem to think so.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Will the Protests in the Arab World Have a Demographic Impact?

With the sudden and unexpected momentum of street demonstrations in Arab nations, especially in Egypt, many people are trying to take stock of what it means for the future. Anthony Shadid in the New York Times gets at what seems to be the heart of the matter throughout the region--people are tired of repressive and corrupt governments that are holding the people back from accomplishing what they believe they can do with their lives, if only given a chance.

“Dignity” was a word often used Wednesday, and its emphasis underlined the breadth of a movement that is, so far, leaderless. Neither the Brotherhood nor a handful of opposition leaders — men like Mohammed ElBaradei or Ayman Nour — have managed to articulate hopelessness, the humiliations at the hands of the police and the outrage at having too little money to marry, echoed in the streets of Palestinian camps in Jordan and in the urban misery of Baghdad’s Sadr City. For many, the Brotherhood itself is a vestige of an older order that has failed to deliver.
“The problem is that for 30 years, Mubarak didn’t let us build an alternative,” said Adel Wehba, as he watched the tumult in the square. “No alternative for anything.”
The lack of an alternative may have led to the uprising, making the street the last option for not only the young and dispossessed but also virtually every element of Egypt’s population — turbaned clerics, businessmen from wealthy suburbs, film directors and well-to-do engineers. Months ago, despair at the prospect of change in the Arab world was commonplace. Protesters on Wednesday acted as though they were making a last stand at what they had won, in an uprising that is distinctly nationalist.
History suggests that, when given a chance in a region where education is already highly prized and where there is a long history of business and commerce, the freedom to be more economically productive will likely lead to an improvement in the overall level of living--the rising tide that may lift all boats. This could allow people to reverse the steep trend toward delayed marriage for both males and females. This might, in theory, lead to an increase in the birth rate unless married women remain highly motivated to have small families. But, of course, the opportunity costs of children are bound to rise with an improved standard of living, and that may well have the effect of accelerating the decline in fertility in the region, rather than raising it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Quiet End to World Population Conferences

Quietly and under the radar screen just before Christmas in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly seemed to pull the plug on any vestige of hope that there would be another world population conference any time soon. I was first aware of this in an email sent out a few days ago by the UN Population Division, which noted that:

The United Nations General Assembly debated last month the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) beyond 2014. 
A resolution was adopted, acknowledging that many Governments may not meet all the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action by 2014, and extending the Programme of Action and the key actions for its further implementation beyond 2014. 
The General Assembly also decided to convene a special session in 2014 to assess the status of implementation of the Programme of Action and to renew political support for actions required for the full achievement of its goals and objectives; it also called for the Commission on Population and Development to convene an interactive discussion in 2014 on the assessment of the status of implementation of the Programme of Action.

The full resolution is available at the UN website and it is clear from the language that the Commission on Population and Development is charged with all responsibility for oversight of the programme of action. Of course, some of those items were incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals, so monitoring the MDGs also monitors progress on some of the population issues. Monitoring is important, though, because the population projections made by the UN Population Division and used by all of us depend upon a particular trajectory of events that have been set into motion at least in part by world action on population issues.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The US Continues to be a Melting Pot, Not a Salad Bowl

The detailed data from the 2010 US Census, based on the American Community Survey, will start coming out later this month and journalists are trying to get a head start on some of the stories by mining the most recent set of ACS data. One trend that has emerged was the subject of a lengthy story recently in the New York Times. It dealt with the increase in the number of young people who are multi-racial and who see themselves that way, aided by the question on race in the census form that, since 2000, has allowed people to choose more than one racial category to identify themselves. This seems to be an increasingly popular option.

The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States, and they are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage.
One in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to data from 2008 and 2009 that was analyzed by the Pew Research Center. Multiracial and multiethnic Americans (usually grouped together as “mixed race”) are one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups. And experts expect the racial results of the 2010 census, which will start to be released next month, to show the trend continuing or accelerating.
No one knows quite how the growth of the multiracial population will change the country. Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.
Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans.
And some sociologists say that grouping all multiracial people together glosses over differences in circumstances between someone who is, say, black and Latino, and someone who is Asian and white. (Among interracial couples, white-Asian pairings tend to be better educated and have higher incomes, according to Reynolds Farley, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.)
Along those lines, it is telling that the rates of intermarriage are lowest between blacks and whites, indicative of the enduring economic and social distance between them.