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:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's Your Label?

As the population of the United States has become increasingly diverse, the Census Bureau has added to the list of categories that you might label yourself in terms of "race" or "ethnicity." As you might expect, a lot of people don't want to be pigeon-holed in the way that the Census Bureau had in mind. The Associated Press had a look at some of the responses that people had to the 2010 census:

When the 2010 census asked people to classify themselves by race, more than 21.7 million — at least 1 in 14 — went beyond the standard labels and wrote in such terms as "Arab," "Haitian," "Mexican" and "multiracial."
The unpublished data, the broadest tally to date of such write-in responses, are a sign of a diversifying America that's wrestling with changing notions of race.
The figures show most of the write-in respondents are multiracial Americans or Hispanics, many of whom don't believe they fit within the four government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native. Because Hispanic is defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos used the "some other race" category to establish a Hispanic racial identity.
This latter point is not news, as it turns out. In every census since 1980, when the Census Bureau started asking this question, people of Latin American origin have been the vast majority of people who have indicated "some other race" beyond the ones listed on the census form.
More than three million write-ins came from white and black Americans who appear to have found the standard race categories insufficient. They include Arabs, Iranians and Middle Easterners, who don't fully view themselves as "white" and have lobbied in the past to be a separate race category. They are also Italians, Germans, Haitians and Jamaicans who consider ancestry a core part of who they are.
This is one of the problems of the separation of the short form from the American Community Survey. The latter includes questions about ancestry, where people can let that hang out, whereas the short form does not.
Roughly half a million black Americans — between 1 and 2 percent of their total population — wrote in answers to signify their preferred term for black. Among them: African-American, Afro-American, African, Negro, mulatto, brown and coffee. More than 36,000 described themselves as "Negro" in whole or in part. The term, which was listed as an example on the 2010 census form, drew criticism from some black groups for being outdated and insensitive.
While the issue of racial identity can be deeply individual, it is also highly political: census data are used to enforce anti-discrimination laws, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid for roads, schools and health care, and to draw political districts based in part on a community's racial makeup. Over the past decade, the number of people identifying as "some other race" jumped by 3.7 million, or 24 percent. Experts say an increase in the write-in responses could signify limitations to the form and potentially skew government counts.
In an interview, Census Bureau officials said they have been looking at ways to improve responses to the race question based on focus group discussions during the 2010 census. The research, some of which is scheduled to be released later this year, examines whether to include new write-in lines for whites and blacks who wish to specify ancestry or nationality; whether to drop use of the word "Negro" from the census form as antiquated; and whether to possibly treat Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group to the four main race categories.

Monday, January 30, 2012

World is Running Out of Food and the Japanese

Two demographic news stories popped up from the Associated Press today and they are oddly related. The first is a summary of a new UN report suggesting that we don't actually have enough food and fuel for the projected population increase over the next few decades.

As the world's population looks set to grow to nearly 9 billion by 2040 from 7 billion now, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.
Even by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when a changing environment is creating new limits to supply.
And if the world fails to tackle these problems, it risks condemning up to 3 billion people into poverty, the report said.
Efforts towards sustainable development are neither fast enough nor deep enough, as well as suffering from a lack of political will, the United Nations' high-level panel on global sustainability said.
"The current global development model is unsustainable. To achieve sustainability, a transformation of the global economy is required," the report said.
These are things I've been saying for quite a while, but as a species we tend not to want to think long-term. We are more into short-term gain and long-term pain, than the other way around.
However, at the same time, the Japanese are doing their part to help, so to speak, because they are essentially on the road to demographic extinction. 
Japan's population of 128 million will shrink by one-third and seniors will account for 40 percent of people by 2060, placing a greater burden on a smaller working-age population to support the social security and tax systems.
The grim estimate of how rapid aging will shrink Japan's population was released Monday by the Health and Welfare Ministry.
In year 2060, Japan will have 87 million people. The number of people 65 or older will nearly double to 40 percent, while the national work force of people between ages 15 and 65 will shrink to about half of the total population, according to the estimate, made by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
Since older people eat less and have a smaller carbon footprint, this should be an environmentally good thing for the world, even if it will present enormous challenges for Japanese society.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A London Baby Boom

Can that be right? A baby boom in one of the world's largest cities? That's the news from this week's Economist.
Births in the capital each year have soared by 25% since 2002, as British women who delayed childbearing finally got down to it and London’s many immigrants produced in Stakhanovite quantities. London contributed fully 37% of England’s natural population increase (the surplus of births over deaths) between 2009 and 2010. Many parents are now staying put, thanks to a sticky mortgage market that makes it hard for buyers to get a loan and a sticky labour market that makes it hard for anyone to be sure of a job. Half as many London properties were sold in 2010 as in 2004. Grandparents, too, are less keen on leaving than they were. Black and Asian immigrants who settled in London in the 1960s and 1970s are disinclined to move away from their families in London for the pleasures of, say, Margate.
I admit that I did a genuine double-take at this news, since this kind of phenomenon goes entirely against the grain of most demographic theory. But it seems to be true, and as with all baby booms there will have to be adjustments in London to accommodate these babies as they grow up.
Primary schools have been the first to cry havoc. Since 2008 London Councils, a lobbying group representing London’s 32 boroughs, has warned of the coming gap between the number of wriggling young bodies and the number of school places available for them. Now it is undeniable. School places are in short supply all over England, but the problem is especially acute in the capital. By 2015-16 greater London will need around 70,000 more school places, London Councils says. In November central government agreed to give the capital £250m ($390m) to increase school places—a step in the right direction, but nothing like what is needed.
We would expect that the next step will be a flight of young families to the suburbs, but perhaps London is enough of a world leader to defy that expectation. The Economist is not sure what to expect:
How permanent are these new demographic trends? Will birth rates turn down again as the daughters of immigrants adopt British ways? Will foreigners find greener economic fields elsewhere? Will native Londoners? Flyers touting emigration services are beginning to appear in parts of town.
What do you think? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Demographics of Your Ecological Footprint

Ecological footprints are an important set of algorithms by which we are able to put a number on our environmental impact. Our use of resources (and the resulting pollution of the environment from the use of those resources) obviously rises with income. The more of us there are who are economically well off the worse it is for the environment. The Economist reports on a paper published recently in Demography, the prestigious journal of the Population Association of America, dealing with a new twist on this issue. Emilio Zagheni of the Max Planck Institute in Rostock, Germany, has shown that carbon footprints (a key indicator of resource use) rise steadily by age from the teen years until peaking in the mid-60s and then declining a bit after that. This demonstrates that it is not simply a matter of how many people there are, if we want to know the environmental impact--the age structure also matters.

Carbon emissions ebb as people enter old age. Because most rich countries are ageing, demography should therefore reduce atmospheric pollution. And it will—eventually. But the reduction does not begin until people are in their mid-60s and for the next decade or so, the number of people in the most polluting age group (60 to 64) will rise even more than the number of less-polluting geriatrics. In America in 2020 there will be 2.4m more people aged 75-79 than at present; but there will be 4.4m more 60- to 64-year-olds.
The growth of heavily polluting age groups will be still more marked in younger countries which are beginning to reap the economic benefits that come from an increase in the relative size of the working-age population. Members of this cohort will produce more pollution until they retire, meaning that the climate-change benefits of ageing populations will not kick in until 2050 at the earliest.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Decline (and Fall?) of Chinatown in the US

Ethnic enclaves have traditionally served as local gateways for new immigrants, allowing them to learn enough about the new environment so that they can successfully negotiate their new life. Some immigrant groups have been more obvious about this than others over time--think of Little Italy and Chinatown. With time, however, immigrants become part of the mainstream--at least if the host society allows that to occur (which doesn't happen all over the globe), and those places lose their principal function. A story in the Washington Post (and Washington DC has a famous Chinatown) suggests that as Asians join everyone else heading for the suburbs, Chinatowns are losing their importance.

“The traditional Chinatown is changing, and in most cities it is no longer the residential, political and cultural center of Asian-American life that it once was,” said Wei Li, an Arizona State University professor [of Geography] who chairs the Census Bureau’s advisory committee on the Asian population.
She explained that urban Chinatowns continue to serve a role for newly arrived immigrants with less education or lower skills who seek entry-level work, as well as for elderly residents with poor English skills who can’t drive. But middle-class families are almost nowhere to be found, and in many cities, rising downtown property costs and urban gentrification threaten their traditional existence.
“Some have become functional as tourist attractions,” Li said.
Of course, there are new ethnic attractions in the 'burbs:
Signs of Chinatown decline can be seen in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, home to the nation’s largest Asian-American population at 1.9 million. There, Monterey Park, deemed part of an “ethnoburb” outside Los Angeles after it became majority Asian-American in the 1990s, has long been a first stopping point for newly arrived Chinese seeking bigger houses away from downtown Los Angeles.
Due to fast growth, the Asian-American suburban population has spread to other areas of California’s San Gabriel Valley and more recently to Irvine, where their share of the population jumped from 30 to 39 percent over the last decade.
“Irvine is one of the new wave of Asian communities, but it is not overtly Chinatown,” said Ralph Lee, 28, of Irvine. Lee, whose immigrant parents reared him in the affluent seaside community of Newport Beach, Calif., has never been to the Los Angeles Chinatown.
My own experience of Irvine contradicts that latter view, if truth be known. My daughter and son-in-law live in that area and we have been to strip shopping malls where every sign was only in Chinese (or some other Asian language).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Polio Survives in the Midst of Violence

This year marks fifty years since Jonas Salk, then at the University of Pittsburgh, developed the first vaccine against polio--a devastating disease that leaves even its survivors maimed for life, as anyone knows who has read a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is no known cure, so the only way to avoid its consequences is to not get it--which is facilitated by immunization. Over the past several years the world has been on the verge of extinguishing polio. Indeed, last week, India, where polio was once rampant, celebrated one year of being completely free of new cases. However, the Nature News Blog reports that there has been a jump in polio cases in Afghanistan.

When Afghanistan instituted a door-to-door polio vaccination policy in 2000, the complete eradication of the disease seemed within reach. Between 1999 and 2004, the number of new cases fell from 63 to 4.
However, with the escalation of violence in the country in 2005, hopes for complete elimination diminished as vaccinating became more difficult. Figures just released by the Afghanistan Ministry of Health indicate that between 2010 and 2011 the number of new infections tripled, from 25 to 76 cases.
The disease remains endemic in only three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — and has recently re-emerged in Chad, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s no coincidence that each of these countries is also a region of ongoing conflict. Political insecurity, violence and poor infrastructure each have a major role in the persistence of the last 1% of the disease.
I became personally aware of this risk in west Africa when it was recommended to me by Kaiser Permanente here in Southern California that I receive a booster vaccination before I left for Ghana a couple of weeks ago. I readily agreed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can We Feed 9 Billion?

The bottom-line question in the world is whether we are going to be able to feed the 9 billion people we expect to be alive on the planet in 2050 (with perhaps a billion more to follow after that). Over the past decade or so, it has seemed to me that we have generally had our heads in the sand on this issue--especially when there was a huge push to use grains to fuel machines rather than humans. The Economist, however, is bringing the issue to the foreground with a big conference planned in Geneva on 8 February of this year. The conference is called "Feeding the World--the 9-Billion People Question," and the details can be found online here. The conference is a bit pricey, but I'm assuming that the best bits from it will be made available to all of us. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can India Catch Up With China?

India is about to overtake China in terms of sheer population size, but it lags behind China with respect to overall levels of living, as I have noted before. Reuters has been publishing an opinion series on India and the most recent post touches on India's demography. The article begins by suggesting that as India grows to 1.7 billion while China remains at 1.3 billion, and while India's population  continues to swell at the younger ages while China's continues to age--the opportunities will exist for India's economy to take off and close the gap with China. I read that part with some alarm, but then the authors come around and see the tremendous challenges imposed by this unprecedentedly large population in India. Can even the current level of living in India be sustained as 400 million more people are added, much less trying to reach higher levels of well-being than currently prevail? If you've read my book, you know my opinion, which is: No--it just seems impossible to imagine that we have enough resources on the planet for the 1.7 billion Indians to live at a significantly higher level of living than prevails today. Something has to give.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese Baby Boom in the Making

January 23rd is the first day of the Chinese New Year and we will be moving into the year of the dragon, which is a good thing, as it turns out. BBC News reports that there are expectations of a baby boom in the making among Chinese couples.
The dragon, the only mythical creature among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, is regarded as a symbol of might and intelligence. In ancient China, the dragon was associated with the emperor.
Boys born in the year of the dragon, especially, are said to be destined to be successful and wealthy. 
 In previous dragon years, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and countries such as Singapore with a strong Chinese diaspora have experienced baby booms. In 2000, Hong Kong saw more than 5% rise in the number of births, according to official data.
This turns out to be propitious for the children, and good for certain kinds of retailers.
Makers of baby products and companies offering pre-natal and infant care services are fired up by the business prospects.
A Bloomberg report, citing Euromonitor International, estimated that sales of nappies in China will grow about 17% to 28.4 billion yuan ($4.5bn, £2.9bn) this year.
On the other hand, the downside of every bulge in births is that eventually there will be crunch in the schools and more competition within the cohort at exam time. Still, at the societal level, many people see the boom as a good thing, since ethnic Chinese fertility levels are very low. 
This would be a boon to Taiwan, which had the lowest fertility rate in the world last year. The average number of children born to women was 0.9, a drop from 1.03 the previous year. Similarly, Singapore also saw its lowest fertility rate in 2010 with 1.15 babies per female.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

China Is Now an Urban Majority Country

The Chinese government has just released data indicating that the country's urban population is now in the majority. The story comes from the New York Times:
The statistics bureau stated that China counted 690.79 million urbanites at the year’s end, an increase of 21 million, compared to 656.56 million rural-dwellers, down 14.56 million.
The shift furnishes a ready labor force for the factories that power China’s export-based economy, and better wages in cities have contributed to raising hundreds of millions from poverty.
But it also has fueled an urban underclass of migrants and jobless without proper housing and social services, and the hollowing of the countryside has left the elderly without family close by and deprived farms of needed labor. 
In the United States, the view we most often have of China is of large cities and factory workers making all of those things that we buy. But, as you can see from these numbers, there is still a genuinely large "hidden" population. Here in Ghana, where I am at the moment, the population also passed the urban majority mark last year, although there was not any particular global fanfare over that accomplishment. Still, Ghana is not that far behind the giants of China and India when it comes to economic indices. World Bank data show that 54% of Ghana's population lives below $2/day, compared to 36% in China and 76% in India (the figure is zero for the US, by comparison). Those data also show that the average Ghanaian makes $1,190 per year, compared to $1,180 in India and $3,650 in China (the US is at $46,360). So, despite all of the press that China gets, Ghana is not that far behind, and despite all the press that India gets, Ghana is ahead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do Prisoners Count in Redistricting?

Here's a new wrinkle on redistricting that had eluded me over the years. At what location do you count prisoners when it comes to drawing lines for redistricting after each census--at the prison location, or at the address where they would normally live? The New York Times today reported in an editorial that the Maryland Supreme Court had made the right decision by agreeing with the state of Maryland that prisoners should not be counted at their prison address, but rather should be assigned to their pre-incarceration home address. This had, in fact, been the approach that the state had taken, but it had been challenged by a small group of people in the prison-heavy counties who thought that they could gain a bit more political power by claiming the prisoners as members of their community. Nice try!
The practice of counting inmates as local “residents” — even though they lack the right to vote — has been used to inflate the power of mainly rural areas where prisons tend to placed. It undercuts the power of the urban districts where the inmates actually live and where they generally return when they are released.
There are about 1.5 million people in prison nationally. Prison-based gerrymandering can easily be used to unfairly shift power from one part of a state to another. In Maryland, this gerrymandering distorted the political landscape. In one county commission district, for example, inmates made up 64 percent of the population. In one state legislative district, nearly a fifth of the population were inmates. 
Having said this, however, keep in mind that the argument is bit more nuanced than it might seem, since college students are counted where they live at college, not where their parents might live, and members of the Armed Forces are likewise counted at their home base, not at their pre-military home address.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Religion and the Role of Women in Society

The status of women in society has emerged as an issue in what seems like an unlikely place--Israel. Today's New York Times reports on the increasing influence of the ultra-orthodox Jews in that country. The attitude of this particular religious group with respect to gender roles in society is very similar to those of fundamentalist Islam--the group that has been most often criticized in the modern world for its stance on the place of women.
The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women’s health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.
Mr. Carmon [president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem research organization].compared the strictly religious Jews of Israel to the Islamists in the Arab world, saying that there was a similar dynamic at play in Egypt, with tensions growing between the secular forces that led the revolution and the Islamic parties now rising to prominence.
“Today there is not a city without a Haredi community,” said Rabbi Abraham Israel Gellis, a 10th-generation Jerusalem Haredi rabbi, as he sat in his home, an enormous yeshiva on a hill outside his window. “I have 38 grandchildren and they live all over the country.” 
And in that sentence one can see the influence of demography in this situation--the fertility rate among the ultra-orthodox Jewish population is very high.
Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said fertility rates in the Haredi community made the issue especially acute; the very religious Jews are the only group in Israel having more children today than 30 years ago.
“They make up more than 20 percent of all kids in primary schools,” he said. “In 20 years, there is a risk we will have a third-world population here which can’t sustain a first-world economy and army.” 
This is just another reminder that the future is a foreign country.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Demography of Accra, Ghana

Since I am in Accra, Ghana, for the week, it seemed appropriate to describe aspects of this sprawling city of 2 million people. The original villages that eventually formed the city were scattered along the coastline because the Ga were, and still are, active in the fishing trade. Newer neighborhoods have generally been created inland. In the 1880s a “zongo” (quarter) was built north of Ussher Town. This was by Salaga market (the first and largest market in the city) and the area was settled by Hausa (Muslim) settlers from northern Nigeria. Another predominantly Muslim quarter, Sabon Zongo, was settled in 1907, in order to relieve some of the congestion in the older quarter. The village of Nima (now the most famous slum in the city) was built outside of the city boundaries after WWII for returning Hausa soldiers. It became part of the municipality in 1953, and by 1958 it was officially designated as a slum needing remediation. The post-WWII era saw the building of the airport to the northeast of Nima, and the University in Legon to the north of the airport. 

You can read about the research that I and my colleagues are doing in Accra at the website of the SDSU International Population Center.

You can also read about the conference that specifically brought me and my colleagues to Accra this week at the PopPov website.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Demographics of the Republican Primary

A post by Dylan Scott on provides a very nice summary of a project called Patchwork Nation that, among other things, keeps track of the geography and demography (which combined comprise spatial demography or geodemographics) of elections in the United States.
Last week, I spoke with Dante Chinni, project director for Patchwork Nation, a project by The Christian Science Monitor, WNYC, Politico and PBS NewsHour that analyzes the votes by geography and various demographics, about the results in Iowa. After a very different set of results in New Hampshire, I caught up with Chinni again to analyze what the New Hampshire win means for Romney and the rest of the Republican field and looked ahead to the upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Florida. A full demographic breakdown from Patchwork Nation of the New Hampshire results can be found here.What about the make-up of New Hampshire's electorate led to Romney's resounding victory there after an extremely thin win in Iowa?Chinni: Essentially the demographics of New Hampshire were excellent for Romney as viewed through our breakdown. More than 60 percent of the state's population lives in counties we call the Monied Burbs, higher than average household incomes and education levels, and that looks like it is Romney's sweet spot. He won the vote from those counties in Iowa and has raised most of his money from those counties overall. In fact, his fundraising footprint looks different from all the other GOP contenders. Add in the fact that he was governor of neighboring Massachusetts and that he has a residence in New Hampshire and you could see a big win coming for him. It's just a very different set of communities than Iowa.With two sets of state data to analyze, what demographics should be comforting or disconcerting for Romney, looking ahead to both the remainder of the primaries and perhaps the general election?Chinni: I maintain that Romney's best news out of Tuesday was how well he did in the Monied Burbs. He won 43 percent of the vote in those four counties. that's better than he or John McCain did in 2008 and his next closest rival was Ron Paul, who won 22 percent of the vote in the Burbs. That's a real thrashing and it shows Romney is the best candidate for the GOP to go after President Obama. Obama won the Burbs by double-digits in 2008 and any GOP challenger who wants to win in November has to do a lot better there.
However, this Bain dust-up is really interesting and it could hit Romney in the Service Worker Center counties. He won only 32 percent of the vote in those places in New Hampshire. Those counties are less well-off than others and they are the kind of place where the Bain/populist attacks could do damage. There are also a lot of Service Worker Centers in the swing Great Lakes states -- like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. That could be critical in a general election match-up.

This is a very nice geodemographic analysis, and I encourage you to follow this project as we move through the primaries.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Good News on the Death Front

The US Centers for Disease Control have come out with the preliminary set of death statistics for 2010 and it's all good. The news that has received most attention in the press, such as the Associated Press, is the drop in the homicide rate, which has taken it off the top-15 list.

Homicide was overtaken at No. 15 by pneumonitis, seen mainly in people 75 and older. It happens when food or vomit goes down the windpipe and causes deadly damage to the lungs. This is the first time since 1965 that homicide failed to make the list, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The government has been keeping a list of the top causes of death since 1949. Homicide has historically ranked fairly low. It was as high as 10th in 1989 and in 1991 through 1993, when the nation saw a surge in youth homicides related to the crack epidemic.
Murders have been declining nationally since 2006, according to FBI statistics. Falling homicide rates have been celebrated in several major cities, including New York City, Detroit and Washington.
Criminologists have debated the reasons but believe several factors may be at work. Among them: Abusive relationships don't end in murder as often as they once did, thanks to increased incarcerations and better, earlier support for victims.
"We've taken the home out of homicide," said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist who studies murder data.
But, of course, demographics plays a role. The population of the US is aging, even if more slowly than in other rich nations and it is the young, not the old, who are likely to commit murder. The two biggest killers of Americans remain diseases common among the elderly--heart disease and cancer, which account for about half of all deaths. However, the death rates from these diseases are also on the decline, helping to account for a slight rise in life expectancy in the US--albeit still lower than in virtually all other rich countries, despite the fact that we pay more for health care than anyone else...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Best iPhone App Ever?

Everyone has their own opinion about which iPhone app is best, and new apps come out all the time, so popularity is always churning. But my favorite app of all time is the one that my 15-year-old grandson, Andrew Weeks, just created for the 11th edition of my Population text. Check it out on the iTunes store:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chinese Condom Market Heats Up

The average person probably thinks of abortion when thinking about family planning in China, partly because of the fuss that Republican administrations in the US have made over the implementation of the one-child policy in China, and partly because a wide range of other forms of contraception have not been so readily available to Chinese couples (few couples use the pill, for example). In truth, however, the abortion rate in China is not much higher than in the United States, and married couples have a very high rate of contraceptive use, with the IUD being most popular (and abortion as a backup if that fails), and then couples are likely to go for sterilization after their one child is born. Few couples have been using condoms, however, and a Chinese firm is trying to reverse that trend. According to this week's Economist, Safedom is producing a new "virus-safe" condom that claims to outperform condoms made in the West, and it is aimed not just at married couples, but at an increasing number of people engaging in premarital sex.

Even with its claim to produce the first entirely virus-proof condom—yet to be verified by international bodies—Safedom reckons it needs a European brand for success outside China. Joining a list of Chinese companies recently striking deals in Europe, it will shortly announce a partnership with a European firm.
Safedom then aims to take on Durex and other giants in Europe and elsewhere. Founded in 2006, it has grown rapidly at home. It expects to sell 1 billion condoms in China this year, giving it about 8% of the domestic market. Most Chinese used to take free condoms from the government. Now, those who can afford to buy their own. When in a party mood, who trusts the Party?
Brian Fu, Safedom’s boss, praises European brand expertise and business management, but has his own clever strategy to raise sales: targeting women. Four-fifths of customers for Safedom’s condoms in China are women, whereas in most big markets, including China, only an estimated 40-50% of condom-buyers are female.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

College is Good For You--But Then You Knew That!

A huge issue in the current presidential primary season in the US has to do with jobs. Most economists seem to think that we are out the other side of the Great Recession, but jobs have not bounced back in great numbers, although the trend seems generally upward, as the Department of Labor just reported. Unemployment is not a random thing, however, and the Associated Press has put together a demographic composite of unemployment rates. The results are not surprising, but it is useful to be reminded of them, nonetheless:

For workers without a high school diploma, seasonally adjusted unemployment slid from 15.1 percent to 13.8 percent. Among high school graduates with no college experience, it fell from 9.8 percent to 8.7 percent.
Unemployment among those with a college degree-- an associate's, a bachelor's or more — did tick down but not as much. The rate for those with a bachelor's degree or beyond declined from 4.8 percent to 4.1 percent. Five years ago, it was just 1.8 percent.
So, even though the average amount of debt carried by college students is increasing (due largely to cutbacks in government funding of colleges and universities), it is still the case that the best way to assure yourself of a decent future is to get a college education. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Migration Merry Go-Round

The slow economy in the United States has dramatically reduced the flow of undocumented immigrants, especially from Mexico, into the country. It turns out, however, that this has not necessarily stopped the movement of people into and around Mexico and other Latin American countries. Damien Cave of the New York Times has put together a fairly lengthy story that touches on the increase in the regional migration within Latin America generally, although the focus of the story is on Mexico.
Throughout Mexico and much of Latin America, the old migratory patterns are changing. The mobile and restless are now casting themselves across a wider range of cities and countries in the region, pitting old residents against new, increasing pressure to create jobs and prompting nations to rewrite their immigration laws, sometimes to encourage the trend.
The United States is simply not the magnet it once was. Arrests at the United States’ southwest border in 2011 fell to their lowest level since 1972, confirming that illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, has reached what experts now describe as either a significant pause or the end of an era.
But this is not a shift in volume as much as direction. Nearly two million more Mexicans lived away from their hometowns in 2010 than was the case a decade earlier, according to the Mexican census. Experts say departures have also held steady or increased over the past few years in Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru and other Latin American countries that have traditionally been hubs of emigration.
Note that the old issue of xenophobia and distrust of strangers is a universal theme. Communities everywhere in the world have trouble accommodating new migrants, no matter where they come from.
[T]he greatest impacts are being felt in fast-growing towns like Santa María Atzompa, where thousands of mostly poor, rural families have chosen to seek their fortunes. In the case of this town and the surrounding area, the growth has been “fast, barbaric and anarchic,” said Jorge Hernández-Díaz, a sociologist at the Autonomous University of Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.Residents say the population boom accelerated around 2006, as opportunities in the United States fell away and the dangers and cost of crossing the border became prohibitive amid drug cartel violence and stepped-up border security. Now, more than 27,000 people live in Atzompa, according to the 2010 census, and more keep coming.And yet, as many Americans in communities with immigration growth have learned, new residents mean new challenges. Poverty in Atzompa remains high. A drug rehabilitation center sits down the block from Mr. Espíritu’s workshop; strip clubs promising “bellas chicas” are nearby, and longtime residents now complain about having too many young men with different values in their midst.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

History Lesson: You're Only as Good as Your Water Supply

Famous civilizations, such as the Mayans and the Mesopotamians, have crumbled from apparently overusing their local water supplies. Researchers this week added another civilization to that list, as reported by the New York Times:
Angkor, the ancient city in Cambodia that was the seat of the Khmer empire, flourished from the 9th to the 15th century. Today, tourists still appreciate the remnants of its architecture and sophisticated hydro-engineering systems, composed of canals, moats and large reservoirs known as barays.Researchers now studying sediments from one of the reservoirs report that prolonged droughts and overuse of the soil may have interfered with Angkor’s water management system and led to the empire’s decline.
“When Angkor collapsed, there was a drop in water levels,” said Mary Beth Day, an earth scientist at the University of Cambridge in England. “And much less sediment was delivered to the baray at the time.”
Angkor’s population may have been growing, and the soil may have been stressed from aggressive use, she said.

This is, of course, a Malthusian-style reminder that it is indeed possible for a population to grow beyond its resources. It may not always happen everywhere, but it can and has happened. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Residential Segregation Iraqi-Style

Every city in the world has some level of residential segregation--different groups clustering together spatially in ways that go well beyond a random distribution of the population. The most often identified type of residential segregation is by race/ethnicity/tribal group. "Ethnicity" can cover a host of characteristics, however. In general, it can be thought of as anything that can be used against you. In Baghdad, that turns out to be religion, as the Associated Press recently reported.

Ahmed al-Azami, a Sunni Muslim, has owned a house in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Shaab since 1999. But when Shiite residents recently began questioning why he, a Sunni, was living among them, he decided it was time to leave.
His story and similar tales by other Sunnis suggest Iraqis are again segregating themselves along sectarian lines, prompted by a political crisis pulling at the explosive Sunni-Shiite divide just weeks after the American withdrawal left Iraq to chart its own future.
"People started to question my origins. Why don't you live in Azamiyah?" said al-Azami, referring to the Sunni-dominated enclave in northern Baghdad where he has a shop. He felt so nervous and unwelcome that he began looking for a house in Azamiyah a few weeks ago. Once he moves, he'll either rent out or sell his Shaab house.
"I will always be a stranger to them," he said, referring to his Shiite neighbors.
In a sign that he is not alone, rental prices in Azamiyah have risen by about $200 a month, said real estate agent Abu Abdullah al-Obeidi. Other Sunni neighborhoods of the capital like Adel and Khadra have also seen rent increases, he said.
"The people who are coming to Azamiyah to rent or buy are afraid that they will be killed during any possible sectarian war if they stay in the mixed areas," al-Obeidi said.
Iraq is the second largest Shia Muslim majority country in the world, right after its next-door neighbor Iran. Indeed, the regime of Saddam Hussein was as awful as it was partly because he, a Sunni Muslim, was holding together a very fractious country in which he was a member of the minority religious group. Now, the "bottom rung is on top," and the demographic mix of the country is likely to be an issue for a long time to come.
When Iraq's violence was at its worst, hundreds of thousands of people fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria. Most of them were Sunnis, and more than a million remain there.
But with a crisis in Syria and tightening visa requirements for Iraqis in Syria and Jordan, Sunnis now seem to be relocating around Iraq. Some, like al-Azami, are moving from Shiite to Sunni neighborhoods, others are going from Baghdad to Sunni-dominated cities such as Fallujah or Mosul or the relatively safer Kurdish region.
This means Iraq's sectarian map will have even more sharply drawn boundary lines. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brazil Battles 21st Century Slavery

The Brazilian government last year rescued 2,270 workers from "slave-like" conditions, according to BBC News.

An official "dirty list" of employers using slave labour was extended to include 294 companies and individuals.
It is the highest number since officials began compiling the list in 2004.
Most of the victims were working on farms and ranches, but the Labour Ministry said it was also finding slave-like conditions in urban areas.
Keep in mind that Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish traditional slavery back in 1888, at which time more than a million African slaves were freed. So, these numbers are obviously not in that same ballpark. However, what is worth contemplating is the Brazilian government's definition of slave-like conditions:
Brazil defines slave labour as work carried out in degrading conditions for less than the minimum wage.

If we were to apply that definition in the United States and took a look at the conditions of undocumented immigrants, we could almost certainly come up with at least a million people living in slavery.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Demographic Targeting Taking New Turns in US

Segmenting markets and then targeting different "demographics" is now a mainstay of advertising products and services. The question is: Which demographic characteristics matter? This will obviously vary depending upon what is being sold, but this week's Economist notes that the latest census data for the US highlight the fact the country is on the path to becoming a minority-majority population. 
Advertisers have noticed. Many now favour cross-cultural ads that emphasise what black, Hispanic and Asian-American consumers have in common. This approach is thought to work well with the young, who often listen to the same music, eat the same food and wear similar clothes regardless of their ethnic background.
Ogilvy & Mather, a big ad agency, formed OgilvyCulture in 2010 as a unit specialising in cross-cultural marketing. “The ethnic ad model has not changed since the 1960s,” says Jeffrey Bowman, head of OgilvyCulture. It was the census data that made Ogilvy change its model. In 2010 Burger King stopped employing ethnic agencies such as LatinWorks, which specialised in the Hispanic market, to address its consumers as a whole rather than taking a segmented approach.
Nestlé, a huge food firm, aims some ads at Hispanics, America’s largest minority. It recruited four Hispanic mothers to blog on a new bilingual website, El Mejor Nido(The Best Nest), offering tips about parenting and healthy eating. Hispanics are younger than other Americans, have more children and spend more on food, says Juan Motta, who heads the California-based unit running Nestlé’s Hispanic campaign in the United States, which promotes both the firm’s Latin American brands, such as La Lechera and Abuelita, and the rest of its larder.
It is a bit of an understatement to call Nestlé a "huge food firm." They are a giant (by which I mean bigger than huge) food and drink firm, and their global reach offers them unusual sensitivity to demographic trends, including differences within ethnic groups, for example, that advertisers should probably take into account:
Getting the right ethnic perspective is tricky. Hispanics are a varied lot. An ad that delights Cuban-Americans may irritate migrants from Venezuela. Asians are hardly monolithic, either. Even the wittiest Korean catchphrases will provoke only bafflement in Chinatown.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How Scary is the Future?

New Year's Day seems like a good time for reflection on what the future might hold. Some of the thinking is scary when we contemplate how we are going to (or won't be able to) cope with the projected rise in population. The Associated Press has reported on a concern that a very popular hybrid corn may be losing its ability to resist insects sooner than expected:

The U.S. food supply is not in any immediate danger because the problem remains isolated. But scientists fear potentially risky farming practices could be blunting the hybrid's sophisticated weaponry.
When it was introduced in 2003, so-called Bt corn seemed like the answer to farmers' dreams: It would allow growers to bring in bountiful harvests using fewer chemicals because the corn naturally produces a toxin that poisons western corn rootworms. The hybrid was such a swift success that it and similar varieties now account for 65 percent of all U.S. corn acres — grain that ends up in thousands of everyday foods such as cereal, sweeteners and cooking oil.
Scientists say the problem could be partly the result of farmers who've planted Bt corn year after year in the same fields.
Most farmers rotate corn with other crops in a practice long used to curb the spread of pests, but some have abandoned rotation because they need extra grain for livestock or because they have grain contracts with ethanol producers. Other farmers have eschewed the practice to cash in on high corn prices, which hit a record in June.
So, the problem may have more to do with human greed than with science per se. But, of course, that is a common theme in the world. 
Threats to the food supply also put me in mind of a National Geographic TV Channel special that first aired in 2010 but was replayed this past week: Aftermath: Population Overload. The premise is: what would happen to the world if all of a sudden there were 14 billion of us, instead of "only" 7 billion. I won't keep you in suspense if you haven't seen it. The writers image that the world economy collapses, mass migration occurs, and the population crashes back to something closer to today's level. This is sort of a graphic reenactment of the Club of Rome study--"The Limits to Growth"--put together by a team of researchers at MIT in the early 1970s. As I note in Ch. 11 of Population, their conclusion was that by the 2100 resources will be exhausted, the world economy will collapse, and the world's population size will plummet. We all hope that these future scenarios are way off the mark, but it is always useful to work out the worst-case scenario in any situation, and know how you would deal with it.
On that note, Happy New Year!