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:

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fantasy Versus Facts in Estimating a Local Arab Population

The murder of an Iraqi-born women in El Cajon, California, has continued to resonate in the US and in Iraq, as well. There is the obvious fear--not yet confirmed by police investigations--that this was a hate crime. Nonetheless, it was a terrible event and has focused attention on the very community that is the subject of the essay in Chapter 12 of my text (the 11th edition). Sifting fact from fancy in news stories is not always easy, however, and this is a cautionary tale in terms of believing the news media. has a story today in which they make the following statement:
El Cajon is in eastern San Diego County, which is home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the United States, behind Detroit. More than half of El Cajon's 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent.
Now, it is certainly true that El Cajon is the home to the second-largest Iraqi Chaldean Christian population in the US, behind Dearborn, Michigan. It is not necessarily the second largest Iraqi community in general. And remember that the slain woman was a Shia Muslim, not a Christian. More importantly, it is utterly wrong to suggest that "more than half of El Cajon's 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent." Data from the most recent American Community Survey suggest that the number of people of Middle Eastern origin in the entire County of San Diego (with a population of 3 million) is not even 50,000, and in El Cajon is not likely to exceed 25,000--including the foreign-born and their children. This is not a trivial number, but is far less than reported in the press.

My guess is that this number has its origins in a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter's story a few years ago that there were 40,000 Chaldeans in San Diego County. Even though I told her at the time that this number was badly inflated, she and others have continued to use it, because it was provided to her by the local Bishop of the Chaldean church, albeit based on nothing more than his guess. Since the number was said to be 40,000 a few years ago, it must be higher now, right?? Wrong, it wasn't that high back then, and it still isn't.

UPDATE: On 9 November 2012 the husband of the murdered woman was arrested at his home in El Cajon, charged with murdering his wife because he found out that was intending to divorce him. Thus, it was a case of domestic violence, not a hate crime.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Clearing Up the Mystery of the Missing Japanese Centenarians

In September 2010 there was a media frenzy over the finding that a bunch of Japanese centenarians had gone missing--as I noted at the time. This month a paper was published in the online demographic journal Demographic Research that seeks to explain what happened and what it might mean for calculations of life expectancy in Japan. The authors, Yasuhiko Saito, Vanessa Yong, and Jean-Marie Robine, worked to sort out fact from mere speculaton. The 234,000 missing centenarians were, in fact, still in the Japanese Family Register System without having been crossed off that list when they died, but the authors found that there were several other sources of records where the "truth" might lie, including especially the census. So, while there really was some fraudulent activity going on with respect to older family members who were really dead, but whose death had not been reported to the Family Register System so that pensions would keep rolling in, for the most part this was much ado about nothing.

Even more importantly, according to a press release from the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare’s Vital and Health Statistics Division, which compiles the nation’s life expectancy statistics, the estimates of life expectancy are computed based on Census data, the Resident Registry, and vital statistics. Because the 234,354 missing centenarians, as reported, were based on the Family Register System, which was not used as a data source in the life expectancy calculation, their impact on life expectancy statistics is effectively nil. 
Thus, the mystery appears to be solved and, from a demographic perspective, the important takeaway is that Japan still has the world's highest life expectancy, even after we account for the missing old folks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

China on the Move

There was a huge amount of publicity a few years ago as China began moving 1.3 million people to make room for the Three Gorges Dam, designed to provide hydroelectric power to about 10 percent of China's population. This week's Economist notes that rural Chinese are once again being forcibly relocated--this time to provide a clean water supply to Beijing. The article notes that forced internal migration has been almost commonplace over the past half-century.
Mass relocations are a staple of Chinese development. China News Weekly, a state-controlled magazine, reported last year that more than 70m people have been moved this way since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. The southern province of Guizhou plans to move some 1.5m people out of poor, mountainous areas by the end of the decade. The western province of Ningxia aims to resettle more than 350,000 of its poor by 2015. Strong-arm tactics are common, such as when the government moved more than 1.3m people for the building of the Three Gorges dam on the Yangzi River from the 1990s. 
Ostensibly, the reason for the move is to move people into safer places and to reduce poverty in the process.
The government has attempted to sell the project as a way of bettering citizens’ lives. Of those to be resettled, some 85% will be from the province’s mountainous south, which in recent decades has become prone to flooding and landslides caused by extensive deforestation. “This will not just be a move from danger to safety but a leap from poverty to a more comfortable life,” said Shaanxi’s governor, Zhao Zhengyong, in the wake of floods that ravaged southern Shaanxi in 2010, killing more than 300 people. One academic in Xi’an, the provincial capital, says Mr Zhao is using the project, which the government says will cost nearly $19 billion, to burnish his political credentials. The governor looks likely to win a promotion later this year to the post of provincial Communist Party secretary.
But the Economist suggests that the real reason lies in Beijing's thirst for clean water.

Huge public slogans in southern Shaanxi offer a clue to what may be another impetus for the relocations. “Prevent erosion, build an ecological water-conservation system, and ensure that a river full of clean water enters Beijing” shouts a line of giant red characters near Bajiao village. Southern Shaanxi is the source of the Han river, which will provide much of the water for one of the huge projects to divert water from southern China to the dry north (see map on previous page). In particular, the scheme aims to alleviate drought around Beijing. The Han flows into the Danjiangkou reservoir in Hubei province from which water is due to be channelled to the arid capital by 2014. The government has nearly finished moving 350,000 people around Danjiangkou to make way for this project. Many grumble about corruption and poor compensation.
Officials in Beijing are concerned that the water coming from the Han river and other sources will be polluted. Local officials often ignore environmental regulations, believing that implementing them would saddle businesses with extra costs and limit economic growth. But officials in southern Shaanxi are under immense pressure to ensure the water they send to Beijing is clean. Strict controls have been imposed on polluting industries in the area. But farming on valley slopes and contamination from agricultural chemicals still pose a big threat to the water quality on the Han and its tributaries. For many years officials have been trying, with limited success, to encourage peasants to give up growing crops on the slopes and reforest the mountains. After the flooding in 2010, the government turned this into a more organised attempt to move the farmers off the land altogether.
It's obviously good to be in charge, but not so much fun to be at the bottom of the influence ladder. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Israel's Internal Demographic Revolution

I commented before on the rapid growth of the ultra-orthodox Jewish population in Israel, due to their unusually high level of fertility. The Associated Press reports that the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics has just published its latest population projections (not yet on the web, as of this writing), and they suggest that by the year 2059, the Arab and ultra-orthodox Jewish populations could together comprise a majority of the Israel population. This is important largely because these two population groups have much lower rates of labor force participation than the rest of the Israeli population, prompting the finance minister to call for change.

More Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews must join the work force to spureconomic growthIsrael's central bank chief said Wednesday.
In his annual report, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said the government must help to make that happen. He called for better schooling to help the two fast-growing sectors enter the labor market.
Fischer said these sectors' low work participation "will have notable effects on the future growth rate, as well as on the scope of public expenditure and the ability to finance it."
Discrimination and substandard education have long limited economic opportunities for Israel's Arabs. Many ultra-Orthodox Jewish men opt for a life of religious study, don't work and live on state handouts instead. Together, the two sectors make up about 30 percent of Israel's population.
That latter figure is the current situation, but the high fertility rates of both of these groups keeps pushing that number up on virtually a daily basis, creating a very different Israel than it used to be.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Electorate is Smarter than Politicians on Immigration Issues in US

I suppose that it is not really a surprise to learn that the American voting population is smarter than the politicians, but occasionally we have to be reminded of that. Here I reprint a blog post from my son, Greg Weeks, that provides good evidence:

Rasmussen has a new poll on gaining control of the border, and the question is a mess.
In terms of immigration legislation, which is more important - gaining control of the border or legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States?    

Several problems here. First, "gaining control" isn't defined and on one has ever defined it. So many people will think it's more important, even though they're not sure what it is and it may not be possible. Second, the question clearly leads respondents to believe that border security and adjustment of status are mutually exclusive, when they're not. So if you read a news article saying 60% people want to control the border, be careful about what conclusions you take from that.

For example, a Republican polling firm, Tarrance, reports that the overwhelming majority of Republicans--even Tea Partiers--support a guest worker program.

The Wall Street Journal reporter sums up exactly what I've been writing on this blog for years.

The electorate seems to appreciate that foreign nationals fill niches in the workforce that help grow the U.S. economy -- and that giving these economic migrants more legal ways to enter the country means that fewer will come illegally. Could it be that voters have a more sophisticated understanding of human capital and labor markets than politicians give them credit for?

Absolutely. Americans are far less divided on this issue than many politicians would have you believe, and there is more support for common sense than the presidential primaries would suggest.

Monday, March 26, 2012

No Sign of "Self-Deportations"

The New York Times has noted a new report from the Department of Homeland Security researchers suggesting that the size of the undocumented immigration population in the United States is holding steady at about 11.5 million. We know from previous information that arrests along the border are down, indicating that fewer people are trying to enter the country from Mexico, but these numbers on the undocumented immigrant population confirm the lack of any data showing a sizable return of people from the US to Mexico. 

In summary, an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States in January 2011 compared to a revised 2010 estimate of 11.6 million.These results suggest little to no change in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2010 to 2011. It is unlikely that the unauthorized immigrant population increased after 2007 given relatively high U.S. unemployment, improved economic conditions in Mexico, record low numbers of apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants at U.S. borders, and greater levels of border enforcement. Of all unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011, 55 percent entered between 1995 and 2004. Entrants since 2005 accounted for only 14 percent of the total. Fifty-nine percent of unauthorized immigrants in 2011 were from Mexico.
The DHS report also noted that they have been working with the group that first brought us regular reports on the size of the undocumented immigrant population--Pew Hispanic Center--to make the correct adjustments for differences in estimates from the American Community Survey when based on the 2010 census compared to the previous estimates based on the 2000 census data. This assures us that we are seeing the best available figures.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Ugly Sides of Migration

Migration is not easy for the migrant, it often creates resentment in the receiving community, and it often causes heartache in the sending community among those left behind [on this latter point, I direct you to a poignant article by Ernesto Castañeda and Lesley Buck just published in a special issue of the Latin Americanist edited by Greg Weeks and me]. But people continue to migrate for myriad reasons (although most reasons are economic, at root). Today's New York Times recounts stories of the difficulties of Iraqi refugees returning home now that the war there is over--even if the turmoil is far from ending.
Across the country, near-record numbers of displaced families are pouring back, but instead of kindling a much-needed reconciliation they are in some cases reviving the resentments and suspicions created by bloody purges that carved Iraq into archipelagos of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds after the American-led 2003 invasion.In 2011, the number of returnees to Iraq soared by 120 percent from a year earlier, to 260,690, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They were drawn back by improving security and larger government payments to Iraqis registering as returnees. It was the most since 2004, when the fall of Saddam Hussein opened the gates for thousands who had fled his brutality, forced relocations and a decade of crushing sanctions.
As they continue to come home, they will test whether Iraq can move beyond a sectarian prism that distorts its politics and undercuts its security. 

Back here in the US, an Iraqi immigrant was brutally murdered in her home in San Diego County, in the neighborhood highlighted in the essay on Iraqi Chaldeans that is in Chapter 12 of my 11th edition, although it appears that she was Muslim, not Christian. The death is being treated as a hate crime because a note near her body said "go back to your country, you terrorist."
And my son, Greg, blogged today about the ridiculous behavior of officials in a small town in Texas who have spent $5 million unsuccessfully defending their attempt to keep immigrants from renting homes in their community--all because they claimed that undocumented immigrants cost the city too much!
But, if you want to put numbers into perspective--irrespective of the human misery (or triumph--that happens, too) that may lie behind them, I refer you to a new set of migration maps prepared by the Migration Policy Institute--there's a lot of food for thought there.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Demographics of Conflict in Syria

Syria has been ruled by the authoritarian father-son team of the al-Assads since 1971--father Hafez from 1971 until his death in 2000, and son Bashar (a physician, trained as an ophthalmologist) since that time. When Hafez al-Assad took over the government, there were 6.5 million Syrians, women were having 7.5 children each, the infant mortality rate was 77 per 1,000, and 66 percent of the population was under the age of 25. When Bashar al-Assad took control, there were 16 million Syrians, fertility had dropped to 3.4 children per woman, the infant death rate had dropped to 17 per 1,000, and the percentage under 25 had dropped slightly to 62 percent. In the twelve years of his rule, the population has continued to grow--it now exceeds 22 million, and the birth rate has gone down only slightly to 3.2 per woman, the IMR has stayed at 17, and the percent under 25 has dipped only slightly to 58 percent. These demographic trends have put tremendous pressure on the Syrian economy, which is heavily dependent upon oil and gas exports, which cannot obviously increase in tandem with population growth.

But underlying the tension in the country are the demographic differences among the religious/ethnic groups in the country. Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd talk about this in their book on the Convergence of Civilizations, written before the current violence began. The al-Assad family and most members of government are from the Alawite sect, connected to the Shiite branch of Islam, and represent only 11 percent of the population. They tend to be well-educated and have low fertility. A majority of the country's population belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam, but Courbage and Todd suggest that "the opposition between the Sunnis of Damascus and the Sunnis of Aleppo is a part of national folklore and an element in the popular consciousness. The Sunnis of Damascus no longer have anything to do with their coreligionists from Aleppo. In terms of culture (schooling of children, length of time in school), anthropology and demography (family structure, exogamy, mixed marriages, fertility, residential arrangements), and even cuisine, they have moved to the other side, completing the disaggregation of the Sunni group" (pp 56-57).

Demographic patterns are also spatial in nature. Most of the country's population is on the western side toward the Mediterranean and as you go north from Damascus (which is not far from Lebanon), to Homs, Aleppo, and then the border with Turkey, the demographic/ethnic/religious composition changes. These are among the many reasons why it has been hard for outsiders to intervene--it is a very complex society.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Conflict in Syria Complicates Lebanon's Demographics

The Arab Spring of a year ago spawned violence in Syria that is ongoing--unlike the resolution of conflict that has occurred in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. BBC News has an story today illustrating the spillover effect of the Syrian conflict in Lebanon, a country that was occupied by Syrian troops within recent memory.
Sectarian divides in Lebanon's second largest city [Tripoli] mirror those in neighbouring Syria, and loyalties are being severely tested.
A large Sunni majority in the city, which feeds into the growing Free Syrian Army network, smaller Alawite and Christian populations, and increasingly vocal Islamist groups all vie to support their respective allies just over the border.And as the violence continues, each have established Tripoli as a base of operations for their work in Syria.The religious nature of Syria's uprising is difficult to gauge, but a number of Islamist groups, from Hizb ul-Tahrir to the Muslim Brotherhood, are said to be supporting a growing number of individual local militias, gangs and brigades in Syria's restive towns and cities.
With Islamist pitted against Alawi, Syrian operatives scouting for FSA members and a growing refugee problem, members of the city's large Sunni population are somewhat caught in the middle.
The stories they hear and images flooding in from nearby Homs are clearly disturbing, but worries that a power vacuum would provoke a civil war arouse painful memories.
"We had a long and bloody war here and we don't want this to happen again," says Bader Hassoun, owner of the city's well-known soap factory Khan Saboun.
Already witnessing the growing flood of refugees, Mr Hassoun is concerned that Syrians forced to beg and steal will swamp Lebanon and drive away business.
"There are 25 million people in Syria - if only 2% of their population arrives here in Lebanon, it will be a disaster for us," he says.
"They should be careful. About 80% of my business is outside of Tripoli. If it gets much worse, people like me will do what the Lebanese do best in troubled times - leave."

Keep in mind, as well, that Lebanon has a very low fertility rate (TFR just at replacement level of 2.1), and only 25 percent of its population is under age 25. Its next-door neighbor Syria, by contrast, has a TFR of 3.2 and 37 percent of its population is under 25. The demographic threat to Lebanon of continued conflict in Syria is thus very real.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't Breathe That Air! It Could Kill You!

Last November there was a UN-sponsored conference in Durban, South Africa, aimed at finding solutions to the increasingly serious problems of environmental pollution and climate change. The dangers of the air we breath were brought home again this week by a report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based think tank. The Guardian reported on the story.

Urban air pollution is set to become the biggest environmental cause of premature death in the coming decades, overtaking even such mass killers as poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water, according to a new report.
Both developed and developing countries will be hit, and by 2050, there could be 3.6 million premature deaths a year from exposure to particulate matter, most of them in China and India. But rich countries will suffer worse effects from exposure to ground-level ozone, because of their ageing populations – older people are more susceptible.
The warning comes in a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is a study of the global environmental outlook until 2050. The report found four key areas that are of most concern – climate change, loss of biodiversity, water and the health impacts of pollution.
If current policies are allowed to carry on, the world will far exceed the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are safe, the report found. "I call it the surrender scenario – where we would be if governments do nothing more than what they have pledged already?" said Simon Upton, environment director at the OECD. "But it could be even worse than that, we've found."
It is almost stunning to think about the current scenario in which we are trying desperately to save children from early death due to malaria, poor sanitation, and bad water, only to have those efforts wiped out by the particulates in the air. If children are the future, then governments need to get on board to do whatever can be done (and the OECD report offers policy recommendations) to turn this pollution tide.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Population in Film

The buzz has quieted down from last fall's announcement by the United Nations that the world's population now exceeds 7 billion. So, it is time for a sober and thorough view of what population growth and change really means for the planet and for the future of human society. An award-winning independent film-maker in Oregon, Jane Turville, has a plan for such a film:

THE PEOPLE PROBLEM poses the question “Are there too many of us?”  And, while I don’t intend to arrive at a definitive answer, the film will present population issues in a way that (a) alleviates fear about discussing population and (b) translates compelling data into stories that resonate with mainstream citizens.
How will the film achieve this?Using the nesting basket sustainability model as a framework, the film will weave interviews with professionals into the stories of three families located in America, Brazil and China.  Set up like this, data explained by professionals is immediately illustrated through each family’s story.  By bringing the data into homes located in diverse countries, and showing data’s real-world applications for real families, the film will help viewers relate with statistical information and at the same time, bring to light the role of affluence and consumerism in population issues, dispelling the myth that it is a third world problem.   In order to lay a foundation for the discussion, we’ll also take a look at population throughout history.  What have the dynamics been and just how did we get to where we are today?
I encourage you to visit her website to see if this is something that you would like to help her launch. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

TerraPop is Coming Our Way

The Minnesota Population Center--the organization that already brings us census microdata samples from around the world through today that it has embarked on a new project called "Terra Populus" (TerraPop, for short). This is a very nice implementation of spatial demography, with the aim of spatially integrating data on populations and the environments in which people live.

To understand the dramatic transformation of the earth’s inhabitants and their environment, we must have data that are interoperable across time, space, and scientific domain. Accordingly, TerraPop will integrate IPUMS data with environmental data, including land cover information from remote sensing, climate records from weather stations, and land use records from statistical agencies. Further information about the project appears on our website,
I encourage you to visit the website, sign up to be supportive, and keep checking back for some innovative ways of viewing the world demographically.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Get Ready for the 1940 Census!

US law allows individual census returns, with personally identifying information, to be made available to the public 72 years after the census date. Thus, on 2 April 2012 the 1940 census returns will be coming our way. The Associated Press has done a nice background piece on the event.

It was a decade when tens of millions of people in the U.S. experienced mass unemployment and social upheaval as the nation clawed its way out of the Great Depression and rumblings of global war were heard from abroad.
Now, intimate details of 132 million people who lived through the 1930s will be disclosed as the U.S. government releases the 1940 census on April 2 to the public for the first time after 72 years of being kept confidential.
More than 120,000 enumerators surveyed 132 million people for the Sixteenth Decennial Census — 21 million of whom are alive today in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet — but they will not be immediately name searchable.
Not to worry, though, several groups are working hard to create the name indexes that will allow you to search for the people you are interested in. Here's what says:
At midnight on April 2, 2012, the National Archives will hand off the 1940 census records to Then we will start working around the clock to get each census page online so you can browse it with our new image viewer. And will also provide you with updates, advice and custom guidance throughout the process, allowing you to make your discoveries as quickly and easily as possible.
There are many social science questions that can be asked with these data--they are not simply useful for personal family histories.
Margo Anderson, a census historian, said the release of the records could help answer questions about Japanese-Americans interned in camps after the outbreak of WWII.
"What we'll be able to do now, which we really couldn't do, is to take a look at what the Japanese-American community looked like on the eve of evacuation," said Anderson, a professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Keep in mind that you can also now put your own family data into broader historical context by downloading data from the 1% sample of census records of the 1940 census that are already available at the website of the University of Minnesota's Population Center.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Illegal Immigration to Europe Continues to be an Issue

This past week, President Sarkozy of France threatened to pull France out of the visa-free European zone (the Schengen zone) unless the European Union works harder to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the region. The Associated Press has the story.

Sarkozy's pledge on the hot-button theme of immigration came in a wide-ranging speech to thousands of supporters at a boisterous campaign rally, as polls show he faces a tough battle for re-election in April and May.
Unchecked immigration would thwart Europe's ability to take in and integrate new entrants, putting strains on social safety nets for the most disadvantaged across the continent, Sarkozy said to chants of "We're going to win!" against a sea of blue, white and red French flags.
"It's urgent because we cannot accept being subjected to the shortcomings of Europe's external borders," Sarkozy said, calling reform the "only way to avoid the implosion of Europe."
During the Arab world uprisings last year, Italy infuriated France and some other European countries by granting temporary residence permits to thousands of Tunisians who fled the violence at home. Many sought to join up with relatives and friends in France — Tunisia's former colonial overseer.
The Schengen zone applies to all 27 EU member states except Britain and Ireland. On Wednesday, bloc members Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden called for an action plan to stem the tide of illegal migration into the union. The EU's executive commission is due to submit in May a report on the functioning of the Schengen system.
As all of this was going, yet another small boat was pulling away from Libyan shores heading for Italy, as reported by the Associated Press.
Five migrants were found dead on Saturday on a small boat off the coast of Libya while another 51 were rescued after the vessel sent out an SOS when its engine stopped working, according to the Italian coastguard.
Thousands of migrants from Africa and Asia have died attempting to cross by sea into Italy, mainly travelling in overloaded and unsafe fishing vessels.
In 2011 a record 1,500 migrants, mainly from Somalia and other parts of Africa, died trying to reach European shores, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
And, as this was going on, Greece began building a razor-wire topped fence along its border with Turkey to try to deter illegal migrants from entering Europe through Greece, according to the New York Times.
The fence will be coupled with a network of fixed night-vision cameras providing real-time video to a new command center, Mr. Papoutsis said.
Most of Greece’s 125-mile border with Turkey runs along a river known as Evros in Greece and Meric in Turkey. The new fence, which Turkey’s government has not opposed, will block a short stretch of dry land between the two countries.
“Traffickers should know that this route will be closed to them,” Mr. Papoutsis said. “Their life is about to get much harder.”
This sounds a lot like the US-Mexico border, and we know about its deterrent effects...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Indian Census Data: More Cell Phones Than Toilets

The 2011 census data from India are coming out now, and some of the findings have been reported in the New York Times. Catching the headlines has been the finding that more people have a cell phone in India than have toilets.
India’s households have, overall, become more comfortable in the past 10 years, but hundreds of millions of people still lack basics like electricity, toilets and a convenient water source, according the Housing Census that was released Tuesday by Home Secretary R. K. Singh. The survey looks about 330 million households in India.
A few highlights:Communication: A telephone, whether a land line or mobile, is used by 63 percent of total households – 82 percent in urban areas and 54 percent in rural areas, an increase of 54 percentage points from 2001. A mobile phone is owned by 59 percent of households.Sanitation: Kitchen facilities are present in 61 percent of households, but 53 percent have no toilet facilities, down from 63 percent in 2001. Just over half of all households, or 51 percent, are connected to some sort of drainage facilities. Bathing facilities are present in 58 percent of homes, up from 21 percent in 2001.
The more rapid penetration of cell phones than toilets is probably true throughout the developing world--it is certainly true in Ghana, where my current research is focused. And that makes sense, since the infrastructure required to create a wireless phone service is considerably less expensive than is required for modern plumbing--including a reliable water supply and a sewerage system.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eat Less Red Meat, and Live Longer

I was delighted many years ago by the news that drinking red wine could help you live longer. Now I am equally delighted by the recent study suggesting that eating less red meat can help you live longer. These results come from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), who have just published their findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The news release from HSPH provides these details:
A new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers has found that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. The results also showed that substituting other healthy protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, was associated with a lower risk of mortality.
“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies,” said lead author An Pan, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.
The researchers, including senior author Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, and colleagues, prospectively observed 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for up to 22 years and 83,644 women in the Nurses’ Health Study for up to 28 years who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer at baseline. Diets were assessed through questionnaires every four years.

The results are impressive because the study began before the relatively recent rise in popularity in being vegetarian or even vegan. Humans are, of course, omnivores, and can obtain the daily requirement of protein from a large variety of plants. On NPR's "All Things Considered" today, hosts Melissa Block and Robert Siegel were reading emails from their listeners, who were reminding us that meat is not a necessary part of the diet. Left unsaid on NPR, but a point that I have made before, is that if we all cut back on meat (and I'm not saying that you have eliminate meat--although that would be best), we would, in fact, be in a position to feed more people, not to mention lowering the methane pollution in the environment.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Migration and Religion

This week's Economist pulls a story from a new report by the Pew Research Center, "Faith on the Move," which examines the religious backgrounds of people around the world who are not living in the same country in which they were born. Thus, the study is about the stock of migrants, rather than the current flows. Still, the conclusions are interesting. The Pew report notes that:
About 3% of the world’s population has migrated across international borders. While that may seem like a small percentage, it represents a lot of people. If the world’s 214 million international migrants were counted as one nation, they would constitute the fifth most populous country on the globe, just behind Indonesia and ahead of Brazil.
Christians comprise nearly half – an estimated 106 million, or 49% – of the world’s 214 million international migrants.

[This is heavily influenced by the world's largest migration flow--that from Mexico to the United States.]
Muslims make up the second-largest share of people who have migrated across borders – almost 60 million, or 27%, Hindus (nearly 11 million) account for 5%) and Buddhists (about 7 million) account for 3%.
There are more than 3.6 million Jewish migrants living around the world (nearly 2%). Adherents of all other faiths – including Sikhs, Jains, Taoists, Chinese folk religions, African traditional religions and many smaller groups – collectively account for an estimated 9 million migrants (4%).

What drives people to a particular location? The Economist summarizes the report's finding by noting that:
Migrants favour countries that are both economically vibrant and culturally familiar—fewer tempting destinations may be one reason why Muslims are less inclined than Christians to up sticks.
The Pew Research Center website has several interesting resources to accompany this report, including an interactive map and data tables that allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Ongoing Myth of a Fertility Implosion

David Brooks of the New York Times has a column in today's paper suggesting that we are in the twilight of population growth on this planet:
For decades, people took dynamism and economic growth for granted and saw population growth as a problem. Now we’ve gone to the other extreme, and it’s clear that young people are the scarce resource. In the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.
This is simply nonsense, and comes from seeing the world with blinders that exclude the developing nations, especially in Africa and Asia, that will likely be adding two billion more people to the planet between now and the middle of this century. It ignores the reasons why the US and Europe are struggling with the cultural issues surrounding immigrants--those people are coming from countries with rates of growth that exceed rates in the rich countries precisely because birth rates--even if lower than they used to be--are still well above replacement level. 

Furthermore, the idea that declining fertility, even in poor countries, is automatically associated with young people becoming a scarce resource ignores the mortality side of things. Kids are surviving in ever greater numbers, so a lower birth rate may mean simply that the same number of children are now surviving to adulthood because both fertility and mortality are lower than they used to be.

Another major problem with the column is that in his introduction, Brooks cites a recent report by Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah called "Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed." On the contrary, this trend has been importantly noticed and analyzed by Youseff Courbage and Emmanuel Todd in their book "A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World," which I use in my class, and which would be a much better source of material for a column by Mr. Brooks.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Immigration Reform at the Local Level

An editorial in the New York Times a couple of days ago pulled together a very nice map showing all of the states that have introduced anti-immigration legislation, largely on the rationale that the federal government has failed at immigration reform.

The zeal to crack down locally is based on several fallacies. One is that the federal government hasn’t enforced immigration laws, even though it has greatly expanded border security in the last decade and the Obama administration is deporting immigrants at a record clip. Another is that illegal immigration is soaring, when it has ebbed in the last few years.
The final myth is that voters really want unrelenting harshness. In fact, polls show broad support for a comprehensive federal solution with tougher border and workplace enforcement, but also a path to legalization for the undocumented and a streamlined process for new legal immigrants.

The editorial misses a major point, however, which is that the federal government has not, in fact, addressed immigration reform. It has only tried to strengthen border controls. The fact that the polls show a desire on the part of Americans for there to be a path to legalization suggests that the problem with migrants is not them, per se, but their legal status. Yet, no one is willing to stand up and challenge the premise of the current immigration laws that overwhelming favor family members as legal immigrants, rather than favoring workers. Until we deal with this issue, migration will continue to be "broken," and local areas will continue to try to figure out ways to "fix" it--often with clearly racist undertones.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants and the Crime Rate

The New York Times has a story today suggesting that crime rates along the border have decreased along with the drop in the number of people attempting to cross the border without documents. The story focuses almost exclusively on the situation in Arizona, the state that was among the first to "get tough" on undocumented immigrants. However, as Rubén Rumbaut and Walter Ewing have shown, undocumented immigrants themselves--the ones who come to the US to work--are less likely to commit crimes than are US natives. Typically their only crime (and it is a misdemeanor, not a felony) is to be in the US without documentation. When they are arrested for that crime, they wind up in jail until being deported and that is an expense that goes down as the number of undocumented immigrants goes down.

The reality, though, is that the major sources of crime associated with undocumented immigrants does not come from people coming here to work and then doing something like robbing Americans at gunpoint. Rather, crime is associated with smuggling people and drugs. The smuggling of people has become big business largely because of the increased border enforcement that makes it harder and more expensive for people to enter the country. Those people smugglers (the coyotes) are much more likely than the immigrants themselves to be committing crimes. The second source of crime, alluded to in the NY Times article, is drugs. As long as there are drug users in the US where the activity is illegal, and producers in Latin America ready to supply the need, there will be a big business in smuggling drugs. Even Evangelist Pat Robertson understands that the US would be a safer place if at least marijuana were legalized, and Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has supported throughout his presidential campaign the full legalization of drugs in order to better take control of the market and, of course, provide a source of tax revenue. 

So, we need to keep border violence and crime in perspective. It is much less related to undocumented immigrants per se, than it is to US government policies (border enforcement and the war on drugs) that have created crime where little used to exist.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where Do Muslims Fit In India?

When the Indian sub-continent gained independence from British rule after WWII, the region was partitioned into India (to be the home of Hindus and Sikhs) and Pakistan (to be home to Muslims--eventually divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh). Of course, life is never so neatly contrived. India remains home to the third largest population of Muslims in the world. Only Indonesia and Pakistan have more Muslims than India. So, what happens to Muslims in India clearly matters. As the New York Times reports, a recent election has created a call for quotas to be established for Muslims, in the same way that they have been established for the lower castes, which have been traditionally discriminated against in India.

For decades, the issue of affirmative action for Muslims has been a politically fractious one in India. Many opponents, including right-wing Hindu groups, have long argued that affirmative action policies based on religion violate India’s Constitution and run counter to the country’s secular identity. Quotas, they said, should be strictly reserved for groups that have suffered centuries of caste-based discrimination.But these arguments have been steadily countered by an undeniable and worrisome byproduct of India’s democratic development: Muslims, as a group, have fallen badly behind, in education, employment and economic status, partly because of persistent discrimination in a Hindu-majority nation. Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities, a landmark government report found in 2006, and less likely to qualify for bank loans.Now, the issue of Muslim quotas has bubbled to the surface in the recent election in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the winner, the regional Samajwadi Party, has promised to carve out a quota of jobs and educational slots for Muslims, an idea first raised by theIndian National Congress Party. Legal and political obstacles remain, and some Muslims are skeptical that leaders will muster the political will to push through a quota, even as many consider such preferences justified and long overdue.
The irony in this is that many of the Muslims now living in India descend from families that converted from Hinduism to Islam precisely to escape the discrimination aimed at the lower castes.
Yet those caste affiliations never fully disappeared, meaning that a hierarchy lingered among Muslims in India. Two government commissions sought to include “backward” Muslims in the quota system by using their former Hindu caste identity, along with educational and economic indicators.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Ray of Hope at the Bottom of the Income Ladder

The World Bank recently updated its global poverty estimates (bringing them up to 2008 from 2005), and there is good news, especially for those at the bottom--defined as people living on less than $US 1.25/day. In 1990, according to the World Bank, 43 percent of the world's population lived at that level of poverty, but by 2008 it had dropped to 22 percent. That was enough of a drop that, despite the growth in the world's population, the absolute number of people living at that level dropped from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 1.3 billion in 2008. Not surprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia continue to have the highest poverty levels. The Economist picked up the story.
Most of the progress has been concentrated among the poorest of the poor—those who make less than $1.25 a day. The bank’s figures show only a small drop in the number of those who make less than $2 a day, from 2.59 billion in 1981 to 2.44 billion in 2008 (though the fall from a peak of 2.92 billion in 1999 has been more impressive). According to Mr Ravallion, poverty-reduction policies seem to help most at the very bottom. In 1981, 645m people lived on between $1.25 and $2 a day. By 2008 that number had almost doubled to 1.16 billion. Even if many of these middling poor move up, their places are often taken by those who have just escaped from absolute poverty; population growth does the rest. The poorest of the poor seem to have escaped the worst of the post-2007 downturn. But the growth in the middling poor shows there is much to be done.
And they add this interesting tidbit:
The poverty data chime with other evidence. Estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation that the number of hungry people soared from 875m in 2005 to 1 billion in 2009 turned out to be wrong, and were quietly dropped. Derek Headey of the International Food Policy Research Institute has shown that despite the world food-price spike, people’s assessment of their own food situation in most poor and middle-income countries was better in 2008 than it had been in 2006.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Celebrating International Women's Day

Women's rights have been taking a hit from Republication candidates for President in the US, so it is a good time for International Women's Day to be celebrated. In recognition of this, David Bornstein has an article in The New York Times that focuses on activities of an organization called CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), that works to energize "Africa's girl power."
Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education) was founded in 1993 by a Welsh social entrepreneur named Ann Cotton, who began by raising money at her kitchen table to send 32 girls from poor families in Zimbabwe to school. Today, the organization works with 3,667 schools in rural parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and Malawi, and has provided direct support for more than half a million children to attend primary school. Camfed has also provided grants to enable 60,000 girls to complete secondary school, supported 15,000 more who attend university or receive business training, and provided financing for 8,000 of their enterprises.In recent years, leaders in the field of international development have come to agree that the most powerful way to bring lasting social benefits to a country is to expand educational and economic opportunities for girls. What has become known as the Girl Effect is dramatic: A girl who doesn’t attend school or marries young, for example, is at far greater risk of dying in childbirth, contracting H.I.V., being beaten by her husband, bearing more children than she would like, and remaining in poverty, along with her family. By contrast, an educated girl is more likely to earn higher wages, delay childbirth, and have fewer, healthier children who are themselves more likely to attend school, prosper, and participate in democratic processes. 
As I read this, I was taken back in my mind to Harare many years ago when I was there working with the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council. I met one day with Dr. Marvellous Mhloyi, a Professor of Sociology with a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. She mentioned that she had only one child, and preferred to keep it that way, but despite her genuinely amazing academic accomplishments, she was under tremendous pressure from her family to have more children. At the time, her country was poised to take off to much higher economic levels, precisely because of the accomplishments of people like her. But that was subsequently beaten back by HIV and corruption. Africa needs more girl power, to be sure.