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, December 30, 2011

Parlez Vous Démographie?

I recently received a note from Laurent Chalard, a French population geographer, letting me know of the magazine Population & Avenir : He thought I might be interested in this and he was right. This is a classic twofer--you learn about demographic issues in France and other areas of the world while improving your French reading comprehension at the same time. Dr. Chalard also contributes columns to Les Echos that are related to population geography.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's in a Name? Your Roots, Perhaps

Who can forget the way that Henry Higgins, in "My Fair Lady," could pinpoint the origins in England of anyone by listening to them speak. Your accent was the guide to the place from which you came. On a global scale, names tend to serve that function. A large database of names and their geographic locations can be found in the UK at the Public Profiler website. Here I find that, consistent with my own family history information, someone with the surname of Weeks is likely to have roots in southern England. But it is not so easy if your ancestors were Africans brought as slaves to the Americas. According to the Associated Press, a new project just announced at Emory University is trying to help with that.
"The whole point of the project is to ask the African diaspora, people with any African background, to help us identify the names because the names are so ethno-linguistically specific, we can actually locate the region in Africa to which the individual belonged on the basis of the name," said David Eltis, an Emory University history professor who heads the database research team.
There are some problems, however:

Most of the millions of Africans enslaved before 1807 were known only by numbers, said James Walvin, an expert on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Once bought by slave owners, the Africans' names were lost. Africans captured by the Portuguese were baptized and given "Christian" names aboard the ships that were taking them into slavery.
But original African names — surnames were uncommon for Africans in the 19th century — are rich with information. Some reveal the day of the week an individual was born or whether that individual was the oldest, youngest or middle child or a twin. They can also reveal ethnic or linguistic groups.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Not a Time of Peace in Nigeria

For a long time Nigeria has been divided demographically between the largely Muslim north and the largely Christian south. This divide led the predominantly Christian Igbo to leave Nigeria between 1967 and 1970 in the so-called Biafran War (because the Ibgo wanted to set up a separate Republic of Biafra) that was actually a civil war costing the lives of three million Nigerians before the Igbo rejoined the country. Tensions have remained over the years, punctuated most recently by bombings on Christmas Day in which Christians were targeted by Muslims. Reuters reports on the story:
Northern Nigerian Christians said on Tuesday they feared that a spate of Christmas Day bombings by Islamist militants that killed over two dozen people could lead to a religious war in Africa's most populous country.The Boko Haram Islamist sect, which aims to impose sharia Islamic law across Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the blasts, the second Christmas in a row it has caused carnage at Christian churches.Saidu Dogo, secretary general for the CAN [Christian Association of Nigeria] in Nigeria's 19 northern provinces called on Muslim leaders to control their faithful, saying Christians will be forced to defend themselves against further attacks.
"We fear that the situation may degenerate to a religious war and Nigeria may not be able to survive one. Once again, 'enough is enough!'," Dogo said.
The attacks risk reviving tit-for-tat sectarian violence between the mostly Muslim north and the largely Christian south, which has claimed thousands of lives in the past decade.

You will recall that religion is so sensitive an issue in Nigeria that the question is not asked in the census. Other surveys, however, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys, do ask about religion and help us estimate that the country is still roughly evenly split between Muslims and Christians.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Enlightenment Thinking About Population

I think that I can safely say that most people would not expect a connection between Catherine the Great of Russia and demography. Yet there is one and it came to my attention in Robert Massie's new book, "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman." Catherine ruled Russia throughout most of the second half of the 18th century (1762-1796) and turned out to be a financial supporter of the Enlightenment through her purchase of the library of Denis Diderot, who was a friend of Rousseau and Voltaire--major intellectual contributors to the Enlightenment. Diderot is most famous for the Encyclopedia, through which many of the ideas of the Enlightenment came to public attention and for which Diderot had the aim of changing the way people think about the world. It accomplished that goal and in the process made a lot of enemies, which is why Diderot wound up needing the outside financial support that Catherine provided.

Among many other things, Diderot was fascinated by the stories published by the French Admiral and explorer Bougainville of the very open sexuality and high birth rate among the Tahitians. This contrasted with the very secretive sex lives and relatively low birth rate among the elite of France. In Diderot's treatise on the Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville he considers the relationship between population growth and resources in ways that clearly presaged and may well have influenced the debate between Malthus and Godwin that still rages to this day in various ways.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Demographics of Christmas

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and so is an obviously important day on the Christian religious calendar. To be sure, it has been somewhat hijacked by the gift-giving Santa Claus, but people are amazingly clever at wrapping (pun intended) Santa up with the birth of Christ--witness the story from Reuters that:
Thousands of foreign pilgrims and Palestinian Christians, some in Santa hats, gathered at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity Saturday to pray for peace at the place where Jesus was born.
How many people would show up if everyone who considered themselves to be Christian were to descend upon Bethlehem? The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that you would need to set up 2.18 billion seats, thus accommodating 31 percent of all humans.
Taken as a whole, Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world’s population, according to previous studies by the Pew Forum.
Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.
A century ago, this was not the case. In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).
I suspect that Santa is pretty tired--talk about traveling at Christmas... 

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Continuing Dangers of Illegal Migration

The desperation of people is exhibited as brightly as possible in the dangers faced by migrating without documentation to a richer country where they hope something better awaits them. The latest tragedy played out off the coast Indonesia as a boat loaded (actually, overloaded) with "asylum seekers" headed to Australia sank. As the Associated Press reports:

Nearly 250 people fleeing economic and political hardship in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Turkey were trying to reach Australia in search of a better life when they ran into a powerful storm 20 miles (32 kilometers) off Java's southern coast on Saturday.
After being slammed by a 15-foot- (3-meter-) high wave, the fiberglass ship — carrying more than twice its capacity — broke apart, survivors said, disappearing tail first into the dark waters.
Many risk a dangerous journey on rickety boats in hopes of getting to Australia, where they face years in crowded, prison-like detention facilities. Australia's harsh immigration policy has loosened up in recent months, however.
Those on the ship that sank Saturday had passed through Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, days earlier without any legal immigration documents, according to police.
An unidentified group loaded them onto four buses and took them to a port, promising to get them to Australia's tiny Christmas Island.
As is so often the case with people smugglers, the smugglers themselves got out fast at the first sign of danger. Reuters reports that:
The crew and captain of an Indonesian boat packed with illegal immigrants grabbed life vests and swam away as it sank during a heavy storm, leaving more than 200 passengers missing, Australian media reported on Monday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Population Growth Slows in the US

It has been a year since the first results from the 2010 census were made available, initially for the purpose of Congressional Apportionment and Redistricting. To celebrate the anniversary, the US Census Bureau has released its estimates of population growth in the US in the year following the census. The results are somewhat sobering, as noted today by the New York Times:

“The nation’s overall growth rate is now at its lowest point since before the baby boom,” the Census Bureau director, Robert M. Groves, said in a statement.
The sluggish pace puts the country “in a place we haven’t been in a very long time,” said William H. Frey, senior demographer at the Brookings Institution. “We don’t have that vibrancy that fuels the economy and people’s sense of mobility,” he said. “People are a bit aimless right now.”
Underlying the modest growth was an immigration level that was the lowest in 20 years. The net increase of immigrants to the United States for the year that ended in July was an estimated 703,000, the smallest since 1991, Mr. Frey said, when the immigrant wave that dates to the 1970s began to pick up pace. It peaked in 2001, when the net increase of immigrants was 1.2 million, and was still above 1 million in 2006. But it slowed substantially when the housing market collapsed, and the jobs associated with its boom that were popular among immigrants disappeared.
“Net immigration from Mexico is close to zero, and we haven’t seen that in at least 40 years,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. “We are in a very different kind of immigration situation.”
I was asked by a local reporter about the seeming doom and gloom surrounding the announcement of slow growth. "Isn't it good to have slower population growth?" And, of course, this is the classic conundrum. We understand the Malthusian dilemma that the population cannot grow forever, or even more specifically that rapid population growth creates all kinds of problems with which we may be unable to cope...and yet we are still imbued with the notion that growth is good, rather than the reverse.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Russians Are Not Rushing to Cope With HIV

Russia has a large and growing problem with heroin and HIV, and has the resources to do something about it, yet seems unwilling to do so. Reuters has a story today trying to unravel this mystery.

Separated from world no. 1 opium producer Afghanistan by former Soviet Central Asia, whose borders are porous, Russia has more heroin users than any other country. Moscow puts the total at two million, although the United Nations says there are half a million more, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) say there could be as many as three million.
This year, Russian health officials estimate 62,000 people were newly infected with HIV, a 10 percent increase on 2010 and the upper limit of a prediction made last year by the International AIDS Society. Officially, Russia has had almost 637,000 cases, including over 100,000 deaths in the year to November.
The UN puts the number of people living with HIV today in Russia at over a million.
The problem is that Russia has rejected the global community's findings that harm reduction programs really do work. Needle exchange programs really do reduce the transmission of HIV among drug users, and methadone also helps because it can be taken orally rather through a needle. But the Russian position seems to be the following:
"Working on drug dependency is more effective than needle exchange and methadone programs," said Alexei Mazus, who heads the Moscow Centre for HIV/AIDS Prevention, one of around 100 such venues across the country run by the health ministry.
In areas where needle exchanges have taken place, he said the health ministry had seen new HIV cases increase, not fall. Russia's health ministry said last year it had evidence that HIV rates have tripled in areas where foreign-run needle exchange programs were running.
These "findings" are almost certainly wrong or even bogus, given UN data showing the opposite kinds of results in a variety of global settings. It is not clear why the Russian government is in denial about the best way to cope with HIV. But the last time we saw a nation's leadership in denial about HIV/AIDS was in South Africa and we can certainly ask "How was that working for them"?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Useful Reminder About Africa's Demography

This week's Economist is the year-end double issue and, as always, there are more good articles than can be reasonably discussed. The first article to catch my eye was, not surprisingly, the one titled "Africa's population: Miracle or Malthus?" Although there is nothing really new in the article, it is important and useful for the world to periodically be reminded that things are not alright in Africa. The header of the article gives you a taste of this: "Some Africans think they face demographic disaster [this is the Malthus part], others that they could reap a demographic dividend [this is the miracle part]. They will probably get neither." Here are some of the highlights:
African demography is unique. It is the only continent that will double in size, reaching 2 billion people by 2045 at current rates. Some countries, such as Liberia and Niger, are growing faster still, doubling in size in less than 20 years—a stunning increase that is causing forecasts of Malthusian disaster for countries that cannot feed themselves. With 12% of the world’s population, sub-Saharan Africa has 57% of the deaths of mothers in childbirth, 49% of its infant mortality and 67% of HIV infections.
Yet Africa is also showing signs of embarking on the same transition towards smaller families that has occurred everywhere else. In north Africa families of two are the norm. Even if you exclude that region, the sub-Saharan part includes areas of relatively low fertility such as southern Africa, where families of three prevail. Big cities, such as Zambia’s Lusaka and Congo’s Kinshasa, have fertility rates below four; the rate in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa is probably just two. Evidence of lower fertility is raising hopes that Africa can reap a “demographic dividend”, the economic benefit countries get when the share of the working-age population rises relative to children and old people.
Family planning is much less readily available in Africa than it was in Asia. By some estimates, a quarter of married women want contraceptives but cannot get them. That reflects reduced aid for family planning in the past 15 years and political ambivalence about cutting fertility in Africa itself. Uganda’s president once told a student gathering “your job is to produce children”; a Ugandan village chief says “to avoid having intruders grab our land we must keep producing many children.”
But cultural resistance, lack of contraception or weak political will cannot be the sole explanations. Malawi increased modern contraceptive use from 17% of women in 1998 to 42% in 2010 but fertility fell only a bit, so something else must be going on. To generalise wildly, there are two ways to control fertility: to have children quickly and then use contraception to stop having more, or to space out births, leaving longer intervals between each. Many Africans have traditionally used the second method—and may now be using contraception to make birth intervals even longer. The average lapse between first and second births in South Africa is almost four years. This method of control does cut fertility, but not as much as the other.
Mortality also plays a role. The demographic transition is the shift from high mortality and high fertility to low mortality and low fertility—and infant mortality in Africa remains stubbornly high: 85 babies die for every 1,000 live births. True, that is half the level of the 1950s, but more than four times East Asia’s current rate. By increasing mortality, the spread of HIV/AIDS probably kept fertility higher than it would have been. Last, female education in Africa, like contraceptive use, has lagged behind the rest of the world, and there is a close connection between educating girls and having fewer children.
All this explains why the fall in African fertility has been modest so far. It implies the decline could accelerate if Africa were to get the conditions right. But it also suggests Africa’s demographic transition may end up different from the “gold standard” of Asia: it will be patchier (with occasional fertility stalls) and led by cities and a few countries (South Africa, Rwanda). It also means that until Africa reduces rural fertility, it will not reach replacement levels.

This is a very nice overview of a region of the world that is demographically (and in many other ways) very complex and for which there are unlikely to be easy answers for how to move forward productively.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Demographic Divergence of the Two Koreas

The death of Kim Jong-il, the dictator of North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) provides an opportunity to reflect on the demographic trajectories of the two Koreas since the end of WWII. North Korea has arguably the most repressive government in the world--a Stalinist-style regime put into place by the Soviets at the end of WWII when the Korean peninsula was divided between the Soviet-sponsored North and the American-sponsored South (the Republic of Korea). At that time, South Korea had twice the population of North Korea. Today that is still true, according to data from the United Nations Population Division, but the two countries have taken somewhat different routes to arrive at that demographic outcome. 

Although the World Bank has no economic data for North Korea, all reports indicate that the level of living is very low--vastly inferior to South Korea, which has been one of the "Asian Tigers" in terms of economic development. The best evidence of this difference lies in life expectancy--estimated to be 83.3 years for females in South Korea (higher than in the United States), but only 71.8 in North Korea (about the world average). With the dramatically lower mortality, you might have expected the south to have grown considerably faster than the north. But that divergence is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the 1990s, when South Korea emerged economically, the two countries had very similar levels of mortality.

There has also been a recent divergence in fertility trends. At the time of the Korean War in the early 1950s, South Korea had a TFR of 6.3 compared to 3.8 in North Korea--Soviet-style regimes have historically had below-average fertility levels. It was not until the 1980s that fertility in the South dropped to a level below that in the North. Since then it has continued to drop to a level well below replacement in the South (estimated now to be 1.3) compared to a drop in the North to just replacement level (2.1).

The very rapid fertility decline in South Korea created a youth bulge in the 1980s that represented a significant threat to political stability in that country, described in a now classic article by Gary Fuller and Forrest Pitts ("Youth cohorts and political unrest in South Korea,"Political Geography Quarterly, Vol. 9. No. I, January 1990, 9-22). The country survived that threat and used the youth bulge as a demographic dividend that helped create their economic miracle. The North could have done the same, but Kim Jong-il obviously was not interested in such an outcome. Will his son lead the country to a different future? The demographics are actually in favor of that, with an already low level of fertility and a level of mortality that is actually not as bad as you might think given the overall level of repression that is widely reported to exist. I don't know of anyone who expects improvement, however.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Whew! We're Not Quite as Poor As Some Thought

A couple of days ago, I woke up to a report on TV that the income of nearly half of Americans had dropped to a level at or near the poverty level. The economy may be bad, I thought, but not quite that bad. Here is what the Associated Press had reported:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.
The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.
This story was even quoted in an Op-Ed piece by Charles Blow in today's New York Times. 
I spent a lot of time searching the Census Bureau website for data that would support this view, but couldn't find any. The most recent set of data showing trends in poverty and income over time are here, and you won't find corroboration of that "nearly 1 in 2" number anywhere in that report. Fortunately, the Census Bureau did come out yesterday and clarify the fact that the interpretation of the poverty and income data in the press had been wrong.
Officials at the U.S. Census Bureau moved Friday to clarify widely reported figures meant to estimate the number of Americans living in poverty.
Dueling Census reports – one based on official poverty estimates that was released just last week and another based on an experimental calculus used in November – differed from one another by 20 percent [note: this is 20 percent; not 20 percentage points] regarding the number of people viewed as living in poverty.
That’s because the experimental measure, a supplement to the official poverty figures meant to take into account such factors as whether a family is receiving food stamps and how much people pay in taxes, uses a poverty level of $24,343 for a family of four instead of the $21,113 used by the official measure.
However, Kathleen Short, the Census Bureau economist who spearheaded the supplemental report, said it would be wrong to extrapolate from those numbers that Americans are falling into poverty at greater rates.
In fact, she said, the experimental calculation indicated that poverty among children is actually lower than the official poverty rate shows.
On Thursday, reports in multiple news outlets suggested that people making roughly twice the poverty level under the experimental program were “scraping by” and should be considered low-income.
The Census Bureau does not support that interpretation of the data, Short said.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Is Marriage Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

Pew Research has plumbed the 2010 census data on marital status and produced a report showing that marriage among adults in the US is at an all-time low. The Christian Science Monitor has picked up the story:

The decline in the number of newly married adults – from 4.4 million in 2009 to 4.2 million in 2010 – was shared by all age groups but was especially sharp for the youngest adults.
The decline in the proportion of currently married adults is most dramatic for the young. Only 9 percent of adults ages 18-24 were married in 2010, compared with 45 percent in 1960.
The proportions currently married diverge notably by racial and ethnic group. More than half (55 percent) of whites are married, a decline from 74 percent in 1960. Among Hispanics 48 percent are married, compared with 72 percent in 1960. Among blacks, only 31 percent are married, compared with 61 percent in 1960.
Of course, if you've read my book or otherwise looked at global trends, you'll know that what is happening in the US is not unique--it is virtually a global phenomenon. Indeed, our own research in the Middle East and Africa suggests that one of the single most important reasons for the decline in fertility is that women, in particular, are delaying marriage in order to improve their level of education and to try to establish themselves in the labor market. Among most people looking at the data, the issue is less the delay in marriage than it is the concern that increasing fractions of children may eventually grow up with only one parent in the household. That issue was not dealt with in the Pew report. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A "Fox" in the Data House

Thanks to my son, John Weeks (Professor of Organizational Behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland), for pointing me to a blog item about a rather gross case of "lying" with statistics. In this case, the "lie" is a visual, in which Fox News created a graph of unemployment rates in the US in the past year. The actual data (themselves reported correctly by Fox), derived from the Current Population Survey, show clearly that in January of 2011 the unemployment rate was 9.0% and that the most recent data for November 2011 from the CPS show that it has dipped to the lowest level in quite a while, at 8.6%. The graph, however, visually shows the 8.6% to be virtually the same as 9.0%--suggesting no improvement over time. You'll have to decide for yourself why someone would do that, but you should see it for yourself in all events.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Exodus of the Rich?

[This is a guest post by Milo Vejraksa]
Recently published studies have shown that there is an increasing trend of migration among skilled workers.  A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that international migration of highly educated people from above middle income nations rose by 44% between 2000 and 2006, with low income nations showing an increase of cross-border movement of 28%.  These numbers do not include nations within the European Economic  Area. BBC News notes that a new field of relocation firms has arisen to help facilitate the movement of the highly educated workforce in the world today, including the firm Brookfield Global Recruitment Services.
Brookfield conducts annual surveys among its 250 corporate and business clients, helping them to relocate 50,000 people a year around 110 countries.

Its latest survey concluded that 61% of them expected to transfer more employees in 2011 than last year. ECA's (Employment Conditions Abroad) own survey has produced similar figures, suggesting that companies will grow their expat workforce 67% over the next two years.
It seems as if the demand for services is driving these professionals to relocate.  Shortages of trained and experienced people in developed nations of the world are increasing, following the unwillingness of companies to invest in youth during the peak baby-boomers working years.  This has created a “skills gap”, mainly existing in the nations of the UK, US, and Australia, however, the fast expansion in developing markets in nations such as Brazil, India, and China are also drawing in expatriate professionals.  

There is also a demand for employees educated in the environmental sector, as the discipline of green energy expertise is developing tremendously.  These new opportunities to work abroad could serve as somewhat of a “brain-drain” for developed countries in economic distress, especially in Europe. However, this wave in migration is not set to last long, as corporations and businesses are slowly filling up these positions for the next generation of the emerging economy. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Supreme Court Steps Into Redistricting in Texas

It is common for the maps drawn for congressional redistricting from each new census to wind up in court, but it is less common for a case to make its way to the US Supreme Court. That has happened, however, to the maps drawn for Texas. As I had noted here previously, there had a been a court challenge to the redistricting maps drawn and approved by the predominantly Republication legislature. That led a Federal Appeals Court to redraw the maps. Those maps were subsequently challenged and now, as the New York Times reports, the Supreme Court has decided it will step in.
The Supreme Court’s decision late Friday to hear arguments on the issue on Jan. 9 has turned the boundaries of Congressional and State Legislature districts — the basic blueprints of Texas politics — into a great unknown.
Until the justices determine the legality of the two dueling sets of maps, much of the political machinery for both Democrats and Republicans has been thrown into limbo. The uncertainty, and a dissatisfaction over the shape of political districts, has led some incumbents to not seek re-election, put some campaigns on hold, altered the dynamics in numerous races and left donors baffled about whom to contribute to and when. 
Here we are almost 200 years after the first case of "gerry-mandering" and we're still at it.