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:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Federal Judge Upholds Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law--Hispanic Students Disappear

The extremely harsh law passed earlier this year in Alabama that targets undocumented immigrants has been upheld by a Federal judge, and the Associated Press reports that in its wake schools have witnessed the disappearance of Hispanic students.

Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.
There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments — from small towns to large urban districts — reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they planned to leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students' immigration status.
The Obama administration has filed suit to overturn that court ruling, but in the meantime it is likely that many Latinos will leave Alabama--exactly what the law was intended to accomplish. But there is a certain hypocrisy in the Obama administration's actions, as Greg Weeks noted today
The only reason the Obama administration is suing left and right is that it has utterly failed to pass any meaningful immigration legislation.  These lawsuits only seek to re-establish the status quo ante, which was already broken.  They don't do anything to advance federal reform.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Diversity is Getting More Diverse in the US

The US Census Bureau just released a new set of data from the 2010 census showing the detailed breakdown of the population by racial and ethnic categories based on data from the 100 percent short form. In this census, as in the several most recent ones, the Census asked two questions to elicit race/ethnicity. The first question asked "Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?" and right after that was the question "What is this person's race?" Over time, people's perceptions of their own identity tend to change, and the statistics have to keep up with those changes. For a great example of this, by the way, you should read the article by Mara Loveman and Jeronimo O. Muniz, "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Inter-Census Racial Reclassification" American Sociological Review 72 [6] (2007): 915-939. Anyway, it turns out that over time Hispanics in the US have been increasingly checking the "white" box on the census form rather than the "some other race" box.

The share of Hispanics identifying themselves as white increased over the past decade from 48 percent to 53 percent, while the proportion of those who marked "some other race" dropped from 42 percent to 37 percent. Many Hispanics previously preferred to check the "some other race" category to express their nationalities — such as Mexican or Cuban.
The Census Bureau has been examining different ways to count the nation's demographic groups. One experiment is a possible change to the questionnaire that would effectively treat Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group. It would allow people to check off just one of five race or ethnic categories — white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native — rather than asking people who identify themselves as Hispanic to also check what race they are.
Of course, the Census Bureau publishes, and encourages us to use, the so-called Hispanic-exclusive categories, in which Hispanic origin and Race are cross-tabulated, thus producing the non-Hispanic White category. Still, these census data show us that things are evolving.
"There is no question that racial lines are blurring in the United States, especially among `new' minorities — Hispanics, Asians and growing mixed race generations. Yet it's particularly significant that we are seeing breakdowns in white-black separation," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. "Strong gains in interracial marriages and higher mixed-race identification among youth suggest that past racial categories will need to be radically changed or even dispensed with in the next two or three decades."

The Associated Press also came up with this nugget of information:
In the 2010 census, President Barack Obama was among those who identified himself only as African-American, even though his mother was white.
Keep in mind that this information had to have come from the President himself, since the census data are confidential for 72 years, and any Census Bureau employee who released such information would be in big trouble.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Families and Households Continue to Diversify in the US

The US Census Bureau has just released data from the 100 percent short form for the 2010 census showing that the percent of households that are gay couples, indeed married gay couples, has been increasing in the United States. The census form (Figure 4.2 in my 11th edition) asks that the first person to be listed is one who owns or rents the house (or, it could be anyone). Then everyone else's relationship to that person is requested, including the category of "husband or wife." 

Some 131,729 same-sex couples checked "husband" or "wife" boxes on their decennial census forms, the first time people could do so, after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts starting in 2004.
That 2010 tally of married gay couples is higher than the actual number of legal marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships in the U.S. Even after New York legalized gay marriage in June, a Census Bureau consultant, Gary Gates of UCLA, put the actual number of legally recognized gay partnerships at 100,000.
"There's no dispute the same-sex population increases from 2000 and 2010," said Martin O'Connell, chief of the fertility and family statistics branch at the Census Bureau. In cases of couples who reported they were living in a marriage relationship, "they basically responded that way because that is truly how they felt they were living."
The total of 646,464 gay couples in the U.S. was a downward revision of the Census Bureau's count of 901,997 released last month. The bureau said Tuesday it had to make the adjustment after determining that coding errors resulted in an exaggerated count for the initial number.
There were also some fairly predictable regional variations in the results:
The highest share of households with reported same-sex couples — both married and unmarried — was in Washington, D.C., at nearly 2 percent. Washington was followed by Vermont, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Delaware, New Mexico and Washington state. On the other end of the scale, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming had the smallest shares, each with less than one-third of 1 percent.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

OK--You Can Vote In 4 Years, But Don't Try to Drive

Only two days after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that women would be allowed to vote (and run for office) in municipal elections in 2015, a women was sentenced to a penalty of ten lashes by a whip for driving herself in the city of Jeddah.
Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.
Note that this taboo on women driving has nothing to do with Islam per se:

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.
Activists say the religious justification is irrelevant.
"How come women get flogged for driving while the maximum penalty for a traffic violation is a fine, not lashes?" Zein el-Abydeen said. "Even the Prophet (Muhammad's) wives were riding camels and horses because these were the only means of transportation."
Since June, dozens of women have led a campaign to try to break the taboo and impose a new status quo. The campaign's founder, Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on Facebook, was detained for more than 10 days. She was released after signing a pledge not to drive or speak to media.
Since then, women have been appearing in the streets driving their cars once or twice a week.
Until Tuesday, none had been sentenced by the courts. But recently, several women have been summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general and referred to trial.
This is definitely a case of steps forward and backward--hopefully there are more steps forward than backward...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Having a Child May be Good for the Health of Men

Getting pregnant is one of the most dangerous things for her health that a woman can do in life. For men, however, parenthood may be good for health, according to a study just published in the journal Human Reproduction and reported by the Associated Press

New research suggests that dads are a little less likely to die of heart-related problems than childless men are.
The study — by the AARP, the government and several universities — is the largest ever on male fertility and mortality, involving nearly 138,000 men. Although a study like this can't prove that fatherhood and mortality are related, there are plenty of reasons to think they might be, several heart disease experts said.
Marriage, having lots of friends and even having a dog can lower the chance of heart problems and cardiac-related deaths, previous research suggests. Similarly, kids might help take care of you or give you a reason to take better care of yourself.
Also, it takes reasonably good genes to father a child. An inability to do so might mean a genetic weakness that can spell heart trouble down the road.
Keep in mind that differences are not dramatic, so the search for better health is probably not a good reason in and of itself for a man to father a child. However, this research does come on the heals of a study published last week suggesting that testosterone, the main male hormone, drops when a man becomes a father, so these two studies together suggest some intriguing biological linkages to male reproduction.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Women to be Allowed to Vote in Saudi Arabia

In what has to be thought of as a major breakthrough for women in Saudi Arabia, the Associated Press reports that King Abdullah has officially given women the right to vote and to run as candidates in the round of municipal elections to be held in 2015. To be sure, this is four years down the road, but in fact Saudi Arabia held its first ever municipal elections only in 2005, so this is a fairly early adaptation of the system.

In an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council, the Saudi monarch said he ordered the step after consulting with the nation's top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.
"We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect, within the rules of Sharia," Abdullah said, referring to the Islamic law that governs many aspects of life in the kingdom.
The right to vote is by far the biggest change introduced by Abdullah, considered a reformer, since he became the country's de facto ruler in 1995 during the illness of King Fahd. Abdullah formally ascended to the throne upon Fahd's death in August 2005.
This move seems very clearly related to the protests that Saudi women have been making about the government's continued unwillingness to let them drive.
Seizing on the season of protest in the Arab world, Saudi women's groups have also staged public defiance of the kingdom's ban on female driving. Saudi authorities went relatively easy on the women, who took to the roads earlier this year and gained worldwide attention through social media.
Abdullah said the changes announced Sunday would also allow women to be appointed to the Shura Council, the advisory body selected by the king that is currently all-male.
The council, established in 1993, offers opinions on general policies in the kingdom and debates economic and social development plans and agreements signed between the kingdom and other nations.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, follows deeply conservative social traditions and adheres closely to a strict version of Islam. Despite Abdullah's attempts to push through some social reforms, women still cannot drive and the sexes are segregated in public.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Old and Rich--The Latest List of the 400 Richest Americans

Forbes magazine has released its latest list of the richest 400 Americans. It continues to be the case that the rich are disproportionately older people. The average age among the 10 richest, for example, is 69 years old. At the same time, the richest person, Bill Gates, is only 55 (the youngest of the ten richest), whereas his good friend Warren Buffet (second richest and oldest among the top 10) is 81. The youngest of the rich is Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, who at age 27 is already the 14th richest American.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Crime Rate Drops in US--Age Structure NOT a factor

The FBI has reported that the crime rate in the United States has continued its downward trend, with a special note on the decline in violent crimes. This result is counter-intuitive in at least two respects: (1) there is a general sense that crime rates go up, not down, in bad economic times; and (2) historically there have been important links between changes in the age structure--especially the percentage of the population that is comprised of young men. Yet, the Great Recession is associated with declining crime and, at the same time, the percentage of the population in the US that is aged 15-24 has remained quite steady for the past twenty years. So, if those economic and demographic changes cannot explain the drop in the crime rate, what is the explanation?
Attorney General Eric Holder said the new figures showed that federal law enforcement agencies had made progress on the crime fighting priorities of President Barack Obama's administration.
"We've targeted gang leadership in communities from Florida to New York, and from Tennessee to North Carolina," he said in a statement. "We've renewed our commitment to fighting organized crime, whether it is traditional La Cosa Nostra or Mexican drug cartels."
The only problem with the Obama Administration taking credit is that the decline in crime rates goes back to previous administrations, so no one can really take full credit. For the moment, the answer has to be that it is not clear to me, at least, why the crime rate has been dropping, but I haven't heard anyone complaining about it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What are the Real Demographics of the South?

The New York Times has a very good Op-Ed piece today written by Karen Cox, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte (UNCC). She highlights the continuing stereotyping of the American South in television programs.
If you go by the sheer number of programs and casting calls, reality television has become thoroughly Dixiefied. Whether it’s Lifetime’s “Glamour Belles,” truTV’s “Lizard Lick Towing” or CMT’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” series purporting to show a slice of Southern life are huge, and getting bigger: more than a dozen new programs have been introduced so far this year, while others have been renewed for second or even third seasons.
Such shows promise new insight into Southern culture, but what they really represent is a typecast South: a mythically rural, white, poorly educated and thickly accented region that has yet to join the 21st century. If you listen closely, you may even hear banjos. [Note: I personally like banjos, so let's not go there!]
These stereotypical depictions are insulting to those who live in the region and know that a more diverse South exists. Even worse, they deny the existence of a progressive South, or even progressive Southerners.
In fact, the last decade has brought dramatic demographic changes to the region. The South’s population is more ethnically and racially diverse than it ever has been. Hispanics are the fasting-growing ethnic group in the country and, according to census statistics, most of that growth has been concentrated in the South.
These are demographic issues that my son, Gregory Weeks (also of UNCC) and I write about it in our book "Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and Its Effects on the South," so I am not a disinterested reader of Professor Cox's Op-Ed. Still, she asks the good question of why should anyone get upset over this stereotyping? Aren't we all just having a good time here?
First, it gives non-Southerners license to point their fingers at a supposedly culturally deficient region, while ignoring their own shortcomings.
And second, it reinforces a message to Southerners themselves, particularly whites, that they are in fact benighted and backward — so why change?
To present the full scale of the South’s diversity would do more than just undermine negative popular perceptions of the region. It would also ruin the stock in trade that has long been used by the dominant media to represent the South as a place that is culturally different from the rest of the country. Although of course, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is the US Trying to Mimic Europe's Demography?

Joel Kotkin is a writer who tends to focus on demographic issues and, indeed, last year published a book on "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050." However, this week he published an article in Forbes which has a bit of an alarmist tone with the title "Declining Birthrates, Expanded Bureaucracy: Is U.S. Going European?" 
The gravity of Europe’s demographic situation became clear at a conference I attended in Singapore last year. Dieter Salomon, the green mayor of the environmentally correct Freiburg, Germany, was speaking about the future of cities. When asked what Germany’s future would be like in 30 years, he answered, with a little smile, ”There won’t be a future.”Herr Mayor was not exaggerating. For decades, Europe has experienced some of the world’s slowest population growth rates. Fertility rates have dropped well below replacement rates, and are roughly 50% lower than those in the U.S. Over time these demographic trends will have catastrophic economic consequences. By 2050, Europe, now home to 730 million people, will shrink by 75 million to 100 million and its workforce will be 25% smaller than in 2000.
Now, the cynic might say that this will alleviate their jobless problem, but that was not Kotkin's point.
The fiscal costs of this process are already evident. Countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, which rank among the most rapidly aging populations in the world, are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. One reason has to do with the lack enough productive workers to pay for generous pensions and other welfare-state provisions.
And, to be sure, I have discussed this point before. The United States is the world's largest reception area for immigrants, and Europe is much less immigrant-friendly. Since immigrants are typically young adults who then have children, it is their children who will help prop up the economy of the future. But in this economy, the flow of immigrants has slowed down and this worries Kotkin:
Finally the weak U.S. economy is also depressing birthrates to levels well below those of the last decade — birthrates that could soon reach its lowest levels in a century. Generally, people have children when they feel more confident about the future. Confidence in the American future is about as low now as any time since the 1930s.
This is probably an overblown conclusion. While data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the birthrates at all ages of women were higher in 2007 (just before the Great Recession) than in 2009 (when the Great Recession was hitting very hard), the total fertility rate in the United States is still higher than it was in the 1990s. And, as Andrew Cherlin at The Johns Hopkins University told the Associated Press:
...the U.S. birth rate "is still higher than the birth rate in many wealthy countries and we also have many immigrants entering the country. So we do not need to be worried yet about a birth dearth" that would crimp the nation's ability to take care of its growing elderly population.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We've Got to Teach These Kids How to Drive

Half of all accidental deaths in the United States are due to motor vehicle accidents. In general, the younger you are, the worse your driving and the more likely you are to have an accident. As a result, many states have made it harder for teenagers under the age of 18 to get a license, and this has in fact lowered the death rate among the under-18 group. But a new nationwide study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that some teenagers are simply waiting until age 18 to get their license without having to pass driving classes, and they have become a new dangerous group of drivers.

"There's an incentive right now to skip out and just wait until you're 18," said Scott Masten, the study's lead author and a researcher with California's Department of Motor Vehicles. "In most states you don't even need to have driver education or driver training" if you obtain a license at 18, he said.
"I was actually bummed by my own findings — to find out we're offsetting the benefits" in young drivers so much, he said. "It was quite unexpected."
Most previous studies have also linked graduated licensing programs with a decline in fatal crash rates among young teens, but evidence on effects in older teens is mixed.
A journal editorial by researchers with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the potential effects in older teens "is a serious issue deserving attention by researchers and policymakers." The editorial noted that New Jersey is one of the few states where graduated driver's licensing restrictions apply to all first-time applicants younger than 21. That has led to lower crash rates among 17- and 18-year-olds.
Whether these programs should be extended to include older teens merits further study, the editorial said.
In truth, I don't think further study is necessary. Everyone under 21 should have to complete a rigorous training program before being able to drive a potentially lethal weapon. Why is this unlikely to happen right now, though? Because such a program is expensive. More expensive than the injury and death caused by these young untrained drivers? That's what we need to study. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Impact of Speculators on World Food Prices

There has been a lot of concern over the past few years about the volatility and general rise in global food prices, as I have commented on before. Without question the demand for food is rising at a pace greater than the rate of population growth, and prices are influenced by weather-related events that affect harvests. But, according to a story in The Guardian in the UK, there appears to be a more sinister force working in the background--financial speculators.
The activity of financial speculators is overwhelming agricultural commodities markets, fuelling global food price inflation and hunger, according to new analysis from the anti-poverty group the World Development Movement (WDM).Its report, Broken Markets, published on Tuesday, finds that financial speculators with no interest in the physical goods traded now dominate agricultural commodity markets. Financial speculators now account for more than 60% of some agricultural futures and options markets, compared to just 12% 15 years ago, the development group says. Those with direct commercial interests in food production used to be the main participants, but now hold less than 40% of the market compared with 88% in 1996. The result is that agricultural markets no longer respond to underlying fundamentals of supply and demand and fail to provide producers with an effective way to hedge their risks.
Those people who constantly worry about government over-regulation need to be aware of the dangers lurking behind under-regulation. William Godwin was worried about the effect of greed and accumulation on the poor in the UK more than two hundred years ago--in a treatise that led to Malthus' famous book on Population. We obviously still need to be worrying about such things.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poverty is Knocking on More American Doors

Big news the past two days has been the just-released Census Bureau analysis of income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the US. There is little in this report to be encouraged about. The percentage of Americans living below the poverty is higher than it has been since the 1990s and average income, adjusted for changing prices, is also back at the level of the 1990s. The obvious reason for this is the Great Recession and the jobless rate that has come in its wake. At the same time, the report had very few surprises--the most vulnerable populations are those that have been hit the hardest, especially African-Americans, Latinos, and within all demographic groups it is the children growing up in a family without a father that are most at risk of living below the poverty level. I commented in more detail about this report on yesterday's Midday Edition on KPBS radio here in San Diego.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Spatial Demography of the Recent London Riots

The riots in London in early August erupted very suddenly in a "flash mob" style, and there has been almost endless discussion about the causes (skim for many of these stories). Last week, two reporters for the Financial Times (FT) of London published their quantitative analysis of the addresses of those people who were arrested. The findings show that there were clear spatial patterns reflecting the demography of London.

More than a third of suspects charged with offences related to the riots in London last month live in the poorest fifth of the city’s areas, research by the Financial Times has found.
The analysis, based on unpublished court papers detailing the addresses and charges against more than 300 suspects, appears to confirm a strong link between rioting and deprivation.
Overall, two-thirds of all suspects live in neighbourhoods with below-average income, and only 3 per cent hail from the wealthiest 20 per cent of areas.
In total, 1,354 suspects have now been charged in the capital. The FT’s research shows that when London’s neighbourhoods are clustered into 10 groups on the basis of their average income, there are 11 additional riot suspects for every step down in the deprivation ranking.
The story includes an interactive map showing the neighborhoods from which disproportionate shares of the rioters came. If you are at all familiar with London (or even if you aren't), you will want to take a look at this.

What was going on in these places that laid the kindling that was eventually ignited? A lot of reasons have been put forth, but the FT reporters brought this point to the table:
However, young men from the area told the FT that if any single motivation to riot could be isolated, it was existing methods of police control – particularly the practice of stop-and-search, in which officers search people regardless of whether or not they have grounds for suspicion.
Black people in the borough of Southwark experience one of the highest rates of stop-and-search in inner London, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
People will be sorting this out for a long time, I suspect.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Demographics of Social Security

Debates among the Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, especially Texas Governor Rick Perry, have been hammering Social Security lately, calling it fraudulent, unconstitutional, and a Ponzi scheme. At root, of course, there are really only two issues with Social Security--the age structure and Congress. The age structure matters because Social Security has always been a pay-as-you-go plan. Current income from payroll taxes pays the benefits to the current retirees. If there are plenty of workers for each retiree, then the tax burden on each worker is not too large. However, in the years since Social Security was passed in 1935, fertility has gone up, and then down again, while life expectancy at the older ages has pretty steadily increased. The result of low fertility and high life expectancy is the "bad curve" that was foreseen even by the writers of the original Social Security legislation--fewer workers per retiree. 

Congress has responded to this over time by increasing taxes on workers and by raising the age at which a person can begin receiving full benefits. But Congress has also made matters worse by not being able to keep its fingers off the surpluses that were generated during the time that baby boomers were making lots of money and were pumping much more into the system than was being paid out. That surplus was designed to hold off the day when the age structure would be less favorable--in essence the baby boomers were helping to pay for their own retirement, not just the current retirees, because the government was supposed to be saving those excess taxes. But the government (by which we mean Congress--not the President or some nameless bureaucrat) chose to dip into those surpluses for current spending on other things having nothing to do with retirement. At the end of the day, Social Security will have to be reformed and the reforms are well known--(1) raise the retirement age; and (2) raise the payroll taxes on workers, largely by eliminating the current ceiling on income that is taxed, which winds up increasing the taxes only on the higher-paid workers. This is a clear instance in which we can say that we don't have a spending problem--we have a revenue problem.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Have all the Jobs Gone?

This past week President Obama unveiled his plan for creating new jobs in the United States. These are not the kinds of jobs, of course, that are currently held by undocumented immigrants, because no one else really wants those jobs. A good deal of discussion in the media (but not so much in the political sphere) has revolved around the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the US. An important part of this phenomenon is related to the rapid increase over the past few decades of the labor force in developing countries, especially in countries like China with a favorable age structure (from falling fertility) that encourages those workers not just to make stuff for lower wages than might be paid in the US, but also to spend their earnings on the very products that they are making, rather than spending it on feeding more family members, as would happen in a high fertility country. In other words, there has been a global shift not just in who is making things, but also in who is buying things. Louis Uchitelle has a lengthy article in today's New York Times discussing this transformation of manufacturing.
It may seem remarkable that America’s fall — or impending fall — from first place in manufacturing isn’t generating all that many headlines, certainly not when compared with the controversies over the national debt or persistent unemployment. One reason may be that the nation’s political leaders don’t see manufacturing as a problem. Put another way, they don’t necessarily regard making an engine, a computer or even a pair of scissors as having as much value as investment banking or retailing or a useful Web site.
“You have a culture within the elites of both political parties that says manufacturing does not matter, and industrial policy will do more harm than good,” says Ronil Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. 
“The reason you no longer get much of an outcry over this exodus has to do mainly with jobs,” says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “Less than 12 percent of the American work force is in manufacturing today, down from 30 percent in the 1970s. So there isn’t the same level of public concern.” 
The bottom line seems to be that China, in particular, has subsidized the relocation of factories from the US (and Europe) to China, and that has raised local wages and local buying power and has essentially reconfigured the world's manufacturing landscape. Given the global population trends, not to mention the complex political landscape discussed in the article, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Is College Worth it? You Bet It Is!

Every now and then someone comes along to suggest that maybe a college education really isn't important any more. Beyond the genuine improvement in one's understanding of how the world works, a college education is, in fact, a good financial investment. These are the clear findings of a study just released by the US Census Bureau. The authors, Tiffany Julian and Robert Kominski, use data from the American Community Survey to show that "education levels had more effect on earnings over a 40-year span in the workforce than any other demographic factor, such as gender, race and Hispanic origin." Mikoto Rich at the New York Times picked up on the story and added these comments regarding the persistent gender bias in earnings:

Among full-time, year-round workers, white men with professional degrees make nearly 49 percent more in lifetime earnings than white women with a comparable education level. The gender gap is narrower for blacks with professional degrees: black men with professional degrees earn 24 percent more in lifetime earnings than their female counterparts.
That gap is still pronounced at the bachelor’s degree level, where white men working full time and year round earn 40 percent more than white women with the same level of education. Black men with bachelor’s degrees earn 13 percent more than black women who also hold bachelor’s degrees.
Hispanic women appeared at the biggest disadvantage. Among those full-time, year-round workers with professional degrees, white men make 104 percent more than Hispanic women over their working lifetimes.
So, the lessons here are (1) no matter who you are, a college education is going to improve your lifetime earning power; but (2) we still have a ways to go in leveling the income playing field for women.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Would You Want to Hide in Niger?

Niger has been in the news lately because of reports that some of Col. Gadaffi's loyalists have driven south there across the desert to seek refuge from the rebels who are now in control of Libya. Most of us do not know a lot about Niger, and so I was reminded of a recent article about the country published in the journal "International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health," by demographers Malcolm Potts, Virginia Gidi, Martha Campbell, and Sarah Zureick. Their major point is that although Niger is currently a country of only about 16 million people, it is growing at a pace that will reach 55 million by the middle of this century! Yet, no one knows what exactly how Niger is going to cope with this growth, since it is almost unimaginably poor.
In 2008, Niger ranked 174 out of 178 countries on the Human Development Index, with more than 60% of its population living on less than US$1 per day,  and the country’s Gross National Income that year ($330; purchasing power parity, $680) was among the world’s lowest. Furthermore, recent economic growth (approximately 2% per year) has been lower than population growth (more than 3.9%). Niger’s high dependency ratio (i.e., the ratio of dependent people to the working-age population) of 108 per 100 undermines the potential to build up the savings needed to expand the country’s infrastructure.
Levels of education are extremely low and it is one of the few countries in the world in which women are having fewer children than they desire because their desired family size is so high. The authors suggest that nothing short of an immediate implementation of a strong program aimed at limiting family size can save the country from genuine ruin.
Population growth at the pace found in high-fertility African countries like Niger undermines any plausible strategy to lift people out of poverty through economic development. If education fails to catch up with demographic growth, then there is no possibility of educating ever-increasing numbers of young people. Finally, even if education could be expanded significantly, it would take a generation to affect population growth, as there is a long delay between the beginning of education and a woman’s maximum fertility. By contrast, improved access to contraception can have an impact within a very short period of time. The adoption of family planning can prevent in- fant and maternal deaths,  even before any improvements are made in clinical services.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pensions are a Problem in a Global Recession

There has been a lot of discussion in the United States and Europe about the cost of state-funded pensions--which are almost always PAYGO (pay as you go--current workers are paying for current retirees). The age structures of richer countries are heavy on the elderly of retirement age and light on the younger people of working age. This is why schemes are promoted to have workers pay into their own private pension plans over their lifetimes. In the current global recession, however, investments in the stock market, which are the major ways to "grow" your own pension, are going down, not up. As a report by Reuters notes, this may wind up forcing a delay in the retirement age even if governments don't push such a legislative agenda.

Pension funds in developed economies are facing a new crisis as falling equities and tumbling bond yields widen their deficits, threatening the incomes and retirement dates of future retirees.
At the heart of their problems is a steady move by pension plans in the United States, euro zone, Japan and the UK to cut exposure to risk after the financial crisis.
But this "de-risking" may end up depressing their long-term returns from stock market investment and challenge the conventional wisdom that shares generate higher returns than bonds.
With weaker holdings and increased liabilities, companies will find it more difficult to fund existing pension schemes. They may cut new business investments as they use more cash to pay pensions.
For future pensioners, it means they will potentially face a lower retirement income and a longer working life -- or both.
Private pensions are more important in the United States than the public discussion about Social Security would have you believe. Consider this: In 2011 the average annual Social Security payments in the US add up to just $14,124 per year. For a single person, this is only a bit above the official poverty level of $10,890. And when you consider the medical costs associated with aging, it is no wonder that the thought of cuts to Medicare have the elderly in the US very worried.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Contagion--Ripped From the Headlines

The new movie "Contagion" hits the movie theaters this coming Friday, but Keith Darce of the San Diego Union has seen it already and obviously likes it--partly because it aims to be "true," and partly because it has a local connection to biotech firms in the region.

The film likely benefited from a trip to the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta taken late last year by one of its stars, Kate Winslet, and producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, who previously worked together on “Erin Brockovich” and “Pulp Fiction.”
Winslet, who plays a member of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, met with Dr. Anne Schuchat, the assistant surgeon general and director the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Although the genre has an ignoble track record for reflecting reality, the makers of “Contagion” appear to have gone to great lengths to ensure that their film rings true with public health experts as much as it might with moviegoers when it opens Friday.
One scene highlights genetic sequencing, a powerful biological tool that promises to revolutionize the way disease outbreaks are fought.
A pair of San Diego County companies have led the way in creating a new generation of machines capable of mapping the DNA of viruses and bacteria in a matter of hours instead of days and weeks.
Stories like these have been in the news lately, perhaps not coincidentally, and the Centers for Disease Control are all over this:
In an effort to make the most out of “Contagion,” CDC officials are planning a live chat on Twitter Friday night to answer questions from people who see the movie.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Haiti Tries to Turn the Tide on the Urban Transition

In the wake of last year's devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is experimenting with de-urbanization--trying to get people out of the city and back into the countryside. At the time of the earthquake the city was home to nearly a third of the country's 10 million people, but as the Associated Press story about this notes, you have to understand why Port-au-Prince was so crowded in order to appreciate why this might just work.

Part of the reason was that Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the late dictator, shut down ports and tore up roads to undermine his opponents in the countryside. And in the 1980s, new factories lured farmers to the city from fields where they were struggling to survive.
When the magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, some 300,000 people died, according to government figures. Densely packed neighborhoods became death traps. Whole neighborhoods were flattened. Many in Haiti have speculated that the death toll would have been lower had there been jobs and basic services in the countryside to keep people there.
Of course, trying to accomplish anything in one of the world's poorest and most crowded countries is not going to be easy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Plague is Still the Plague

The Black Death arrived in Europe in the 14th century and devastated the population. It finally left Europe in the 17th century, after which the population and economy rebounded. As the New York Times reminds us:
The agent of the Black Death is assumed to be Yersinia pestis, the microbe that causes bubonic plague today. But the epidemiology was strikingly different from that of modern outbreaks. Modern plague is carried by fleas and spreads no faster than the rats that carry them can travel. The Black Death seems to have spread directly from one person to another.Victims sometimes emitted a deathly stench, which is not true of plague victims today. And the Black Death felled at least 30 percent of those it inflicted, whereas a modern plague in India that struck Bombay in 1904, before the advent of antibiotics, killed only 3 percent of its victims.
The different reactions of populations to the plague in more recent centuries has led researchers over time to assume that the medieval microbe must have been different from the modern one. New DNA analyses, however, suggest that they are in fact the same. Studies into the DNA of the plague are continuing, but if the microbe really is the same, then we are going to have to conclude that people reacted differently somehow in medieval times than now. But since we don't know why this might be true we are once again reminded that we need to protect ourselves from these dangerous microbes in any way possible.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Portugal's "Lost Generation"

Who would have guessed a few years ago that if you lived in Portugal your job opportunities might be better in the former colonies of Brazil, Angola, or Mozambique? Yet, a story in BBC News suggests that there is a new generation of young professionals in Portugal who are looking to these places for work, given the really tough economic times in which Portugal finds itself. This is sort of a brain drain in reverse (since it is usually the former colonies whose brains are drained).

One in 10 graduates now leaves the country, leading many to talking about Portugal's "lost generation".
"This is the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s," says Filipa Pinho of the government's newly established Emigration Observatory.
Portugal has traditionally exported some of its manpower - it has a diaspora around the world of three million. But in the past, it was blue-collar workers and villagers who left for a better life. Now it's the skilled and well-educated.It is a historic role reversal, because for decades Portugal lured immigrants from its former colonies in Latin America and Africa.
Note, however, that this situation might not be as bad for Portugal as it seems on the surface. As I noted here previously, sometimes the brain drain is really a brain gain. Or at least a gain of some kind which could mutually benefit Portugal and its former colonies--Portugal has the pressure taken off its labor market, and the former colonies are injected with professionals who may be able to make real difference in improving those economies.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Diversity Paradox

The Diversity Paradox is the title of a recently published book by Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean of UC-Irvine. At this summer's annual meeting of the American Sociological Association it received the Otis Dudley Duncan award from the Population Section. The awarding committee praised the book in these terms:
"The Diversity Paradox" uses census, survey, and in-depth interview data to examine patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.  Lee and Bean analyze where the color line, and the economic and social advantage it demarcates, is drawn today and on what side of it members of these groups fall.  They show that Asians and Latinos with mixed racial ancestry are not constrained by strict racial categories in several geographic areas of the United States.  Racial status often shifts according to situation, with individuals choosing to identify along ethnic lines or as white, and their decisions are rarely questioned by others.  Asians and Latinos also intermarry with whites at moderate to high rates, which is viewed as part of the process of becoming American. African Americans, in contrast, intermarry at significantly lower rates than Asians or Latinos.  Multiracial blacks often choose not to identify as such and are typically perceived by others as being black only, underscoring the stigma still attached to being African American and the entrenchment of the one-drop rule.  Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean conclude that many Asians and Latinos, on the other hand, are relatively successful at disengaging their national origins from the concept of race. Their book will change the way we view immigration, the second generation, race and racial politics.
Thus, we see the conjunction of race, ethnicity, assimilation, self-identification, and intermarriage. A good read...