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

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spain Struggles With Complexities of Illegal Immigration

Spain has seen a huge increase in its foreign-born population over the past decade and a half. According to the Migration Information Source, the percent foreign-born boomed from 3 percent in 1999 to almost 14 percent in 2009 (slightly higher than the United States). An estimated 500,000 of these people (about 8 percent of the foreign-born) are undocumented immigrants and, according to the AFP news source, life is about to get harder for them than it already is.
Spain takes pride in its universal health care but Europe's debt crisis has spurred tough budget cuts that will bring sometimes life-saving treatment for illegal immigrants to an abrupt end.Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government, faced with soaring unemployment, rising debt and a slide into recession, has launched an austerity plan aimed at cutting the deficit from 8.5 percent of GDP last year to 5.3 percent in 2012.
To achieve the package's target of cutting health expenditure by seven billion euros ($9.3 billion), onlylegal immigrants will retain health coverage as of September 1.
Among illegal immigrants, only children, pregnant women and emergency cases will qualify for free treatment.
"This will only put Spain on a par with other European Union countries," according to Health Minister Ana Mato.
The measure will leave half a million illegal immigrants who have been counting on Spain's health coverage with no safety net, and several organisations have been sounding alarm bells.

Of course, readers in the US will say: What? Illegal immigrants have had access to health care? However, the fact that even minimal health care is provided--rather than just throwing them out of the country--exemplifies the realization in Spain and other rich countries that this is a badly exploited group of people. They have filled labor holes in countries that are aging demographically, but which are not willing to face up to that demographic reality by changing the laws regarding who can migrate legally. We might call it something like "compassionate xenophobia."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

There's Still a Fortune to be Made From Babies

And, no, I don't mean selling babies--I mean selling to the parents of babies. The Economist this week reports that the Swiss food giant (and I mean giant--check your pantry) Nestlé announced that is buying the infant-nutrition division of American drug company Pfizer for $11.85 billion. Why?
Kurt Schmidt, the boss of Nestlé Nutrition, says it will be worth it. Mr Schmidt is a baby-food veteran, having joined Nestlé in 2007 when it took over Gerber, an American maker of baby food, of which he was the boss...Mr Schmidt is excited about China. “That’s where the births are,” he says. That is not strictly true: Africa has twice as many. But China is where the largest number of mothers are newly rich enough to buy pricey mush. Last year they bought baby food worth $6 billion; by 2016 that number is likely to double, according to analysts at Citigroup, a bank.The baby business is lucrative in China. Chinese mothers dote on their solitary moppets: those who buy packaged baby food typically choose the most expensive type. And they prefer foreign brands: they still remember the melamine scandal of 2008, when at least six babies died because Chinese firms had added a toxic chemical to raw milk to make it appear higher in protein.
When it comes to making money, the birth rate is less important than the number of first (or, in China's case, only) babies with parents and grandparents who have money to spend. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Unaccompanied Child Migrants to the US on the Increase

One of the more disturbing new migration trends is the increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the US. The Associated Press notes that:
On any given day this year, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has been caring for more than 2,100 unaccompanied child immigrants.While the issue of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. isn't new, the scale of the recent increase is. From October 2011 through March, 5,252 kids landed in U.S. custody without a parent or guardian — a 93 percent increase from the same period the previous year, according to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services. In March alone, 1,390 kids arrived.
When apprehended, these kids are not just automatically sent back across the border.

Unaccompanied children are first processed by the Department of Homeland Security, and then turned over to the ORR while the deportation process begins. Once in a shelter, the search begins for their relatives or an acceptable custodian, while nonprofit organizations try to match the children with pro bono attorneys. When a custodian is found, the child can leave the shelter and await immigration proceedings.
Eighty percent of the children referred to the ORR end up in a shelter, according to a report released last month by the Vera Institute of Justice — a nonprofit that developed a program to better provide access to legal services for children. The average shelter stay is 61 days, and the report found that at least 65 percent of the kids end up with a sponsor in the U.S.
On this side of the border, people seem to be shaking their heads about this trend--not being sure what's going on. However, the Associated Press notes that the first ladies of the three countries most likely to be sending kids--Guatemala, Hondura, and Mexico--were in Washington, DC talking about this issue at a conference on unaccompanied minors (attended, in fact, by one of our doctoral students):
Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala, and Honduran counterpart Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo noted that tougher U.S. border security made it more difficult for parents working in the U.S. to return for their children, a suggestion as to why parents increasingly would put their children in a smuggler's care.
"The statistics are worrisome," said Rosa Maria Leal de Perez, Guatemala's first lady. "We've had 6,000 unaccompanied children repatriated in the last year."
So, as undocumented immigrants get stuck in the US because of tougher border enforcement, the children they have left behind get a bit more desperate to be reunited with their parents. This is unlikely to explain the entire situation, but it may well explain the recent increase.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Berries May be Berry Good for You

Since I happen to like berries, I was very pleased by the report of new research suggesting that eating berries will slow your cognitive decline. It seems that too often the nutritional benefits are greatest from those foods that we may not care so much about (kale comes to mind). Elizabeth E. Devore, Jae Hee Kang, Monique M. B. Breteler, and Francine Grodstein have published a study in the Annals of Neurology that described results from the analysis of longitudinal data.
Based on a survey of more than 16,000 women who filled out regular questionnaires on their health habits from 1976 through 2001, the findings showed that those who ate the most berries delayed cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years.Every two years from 1995 to 2001, researchers measured mental function in subjects over age 70, according to the study published in the Annals of Neurology.
"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," said Elizabeth Devore, a doctor with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."
In the published article, the authors mentioned blueberries and strawberries, in particular, so we should all be putting those regularly on our shopping lists. And, keep in mind, that you are never too young to establish good nutritional habits. Indeed, improved nutrition has been the leading edge of the health transition all over the world. It takes modern medicine to reach high life expectancies, but it is important to build on a platform of a good diet and exercise regime.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Women's Empowerment and Maternal Mortality

Although child marriages are illegal in India, they happen anyway. BBC News reported today on the highly unusual circumstance of a teenager having her child marriage annulled, of course against her parents' wishes! This lack of respect for the wishes of girls and women undermines all aspects of a woman's life in many countries in the world, and is at the heart of high levels of maternal mortality. This was a point made in particular by the Director of Maternal and Child Health in Rwanda's Health Ministry. The presentation was one of several made earlier this week at a standing-room-only event in Washington DC--"Learning From Success: Ministers of Health Discuss Accelerating Progress in Maternal Survival." My thanks to Debbie Fugate, who attended the meeting and alerted me to the online resources made available for all to share, including a video of the meeting and downloadable Powerpoint presentations. Here is the setup for the meeting:

Progress towards Millennium Development Goal Five – reduce maternal deaths by three-quarters worldwide – has been the slowest of any, according to the United Nations. Maternal deaths are declining, but not fast enough: every year 350,000 women often die due to preventable causes during childbirth. Greater political willpower is needed if the global maternal health agenda is to move forward.
This discussion will feature the Ministers of Health of Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Rwanda – countries where there has been tremendous progress in the face of challenge – on the drivers of successful maternal health programs and how such efforts can be accelerated and sustained throughout the developing world.
Declining fertility is a key to lowering maternal mortality, as is an increase in the number of births that occur in hospitals with trained attendants. But underlying these issues is the status of women, which is a cultural, not a medical issue. When women are thought of more as family property than as individuals in their own right, their well-being is not perceived to be as big an issue as it should be. But can we just sit back and expect culture to change? As several presenters point out, the key is education. The better educated an entire society is--men and women--the better protected will be everyone's health. I know, I know--college professors are expected to say something like that, but it is true.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Undocumented Migration to the US Comes to a Halt

The Pew Research Center released a new report yesterday suggesting that the flow of undocumented immigrants to the US has come to a halt. The analysis relies on a "triangulation" (my term, not theirs) of several sources of data from both Mexico and the United States. Here are some of the highlights:
In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
Keep in mind, however, that at least 400,000 of those who "moved" did so because they were deported, especially in the years of the Obama administration.
Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.
But keep in mind that the increased border enforcement keeps people in as well as keeping them out. Border enforcement has made it more costly not only for new immigrants to cross, but it has also "trapped" existing undocumented immigrants in the US--they are largely staying here riding out the economic storm. Without the enhanced border enforcement, many of those people would have "self-deported" and would have ridden out the storm in Mexico (where the cost of living is lower), waiting for better economic times, at which point they might have re-crossed the border. Border enforcement has completely changed the dynamic along the border, but not in the expected or intended way.
Looking back over the entire span of U.S. history, no country has ever sent as many immigrants to this country as Mexico has in the past four decades. However, when measured not in absolute numbers but as a share of the immigrant population at the time, immigration waves from Germany and Ireland in the late 19th century equaled or exceeded the modern wave from Mexico.
This is a really important point because it reminds us that the percent of the US population that is foreign-born has only recently climbed back to the level of the 19th century. This is not really new ground we're covering here. 

The New York Times weighed in on the story by asking two experts about their reaction to the assertion that a fairly significant number of Mexicans have returned home from the US:

Steven A. Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that advocates reduced immigration, noted that he had first reported an outflow of Mexicans in 2009. “The evidence is very strong,” Mr. Camarota said, “that there is a slowdown of people coming from Mexico and a big increase in people leaving.”
Wayne A. Cornelius, a director of the Center of Expertise on Migration and Health at the University of California, said that in his most recent field research, which drew on interviews with migrants in Mexico and California, there were no signs of increased return migration. The “overwhelming pattern,” he said, “is that migrants who have made it to the United States and found employment, particularly if it is relatively stable despite the recession, are hanging in there and riding it out.”
Personally, my vote goes to Wayne Cornelius on this issue...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Young Children Are Still Dying Needlessly in Developing Countries

One of my favorite books about Africa is Chinua Achebe's best-seller, "Things Fall Apart," describing, among other things, the European impact on Nigeria. The book was first published in 1958 and it refers to a time in West Africa that was several decades before that. Many things have changed over time, but the fragility of human life in the youngest ages is still an issue. Achebe describes this in terms of a mother talking about her willingness to invest time and energy in a young daughter:
“I think she will stay. They usually stay if they do not die before the age of six” (p.42)

Children in developing regions are still dying needlessly at young ages, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and USAID today announced a new initiative to help push these rates down. The roll-out, with many global partners, will be in June, but they are starting the hype. Here are some of the kinds of things they have in mind:
Over 70% of under-5 deaths occur within the first year of life. We will improve nutrition during the critical "1,000-day" window of opportunity from pregnancy until the child is 2 years of age, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, provide essential newborn care, and promote healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.We will stop children from dying because of a mosquito bite or vaccine-preventable diseases. We will make it easier to treat non-severe cases of illness, and we will work to improve sanitation and hygiene to prevent diseases in the first place.
The research in Africa that my colleagues and I have been doing is closely related to these themes of bringing down child mortality, especially in urban areas, where populations are increasingly crowded into slums. The resources to deal with these issues are very limited at the local level, and so global initiatives like this greatly increase the odds that progress will not stall.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Backsliding?

I'm a big fan of Earth Day, having been there at its birth in 1970, as I have noted before. But there is some disturbing evidence from a colleague of mine here at SDSU that young people who have grown up in a world that has had an Earth Day every year of their life may have sort of zoned out on its importance. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology and author of Generation Me, published a paper last month in which she and other researchers analyzed attitudes of young people today compared to baby boomers at the same age. The San Diego Union-Tribune saved the story for Earth Day:
Conventional thinking has it that young people are more interested in preserving the environment than their elders, but a new analysis by San Diego State researchers has turned that idea on its head and sparked debate about how Millennials view the world.
The social scientists say a desire to save the environment has fallen sharply among high school and college students since the 1970s, when the first Earth Day was celebrated and the modern environmental movement was born.
On the 42nd Earth Day, marked today around the globe, that downbeat assessment raises an important question about the future of green: Will the next wave of leaders care enough about the natural world to maintain momentum that has been won in courtrooms and boardrooms over decades?
“It doesn’t bode well,” said Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me” and a psychology professor at SDSU. “The generational trends toward more political disengagement, less environmental concern and more materialistic values could have a meaningful impact on society. It will be interesting to see how Millennials are affected by the recent recession and whether future generations will reverse the trends.”
Needless to say, the research has provoked both criticism and anger. One of the criticisms is that this finding is at odds with a recent Pew Research report showing that younger people were more likely than older people to think that global warming is a serious issue. But Twenge responds by noting that her research suggests that baby boomers started out not caring about the environment and now do care in higher numbers than when younger; whereas younger people today are increasingly concerned about themselves, rather than about the environment. The anger comes from people who don't want to hear any naysaying when it comes to support for the environment. But we all need to be waking each other up on this issue. In looking at the Pew report, I was frankly astonished that only 38 percent of Americans think that global warming is a serious issue. The truth is that Earth Day needs to be every day, not just once a year.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why Are We Deporting These Parents of US Citizens?

Thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing out to me an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times written by Hirakazu Yoshikawa and Carola Suárez-Orozco. In the absence of any Congressional action on immigration reform, the Obama administration has been out there rounding up undocumented immigrants in unprecedented numbers, seemingly without regard to whether or not the people being deported are parents of US citizens.
Research by the Urban Institute and others reveals the deep and irreversible harm that parental deportation causes in the lives of their children. Having a parent ripped away permanently, without warning, is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in human development.
This is bad enough on the face of it, but it turns out to be even contrary to what President Obama said his administration was all about.
Last May, President Obama told an audience in El Paso that deportation of immigrants would focus on “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.”Two weeks ago, however, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that flatly belies the new policy.  From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen.In contrast, in the entire decade between 1998 and 2007, about 100,000 such parents were removed. The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results.
Now, to be sure, in the "old days" (a few decades ago) the children would have been deported along with parents. The government technically has no right to deport a US citizen without due process-- although this certainly happens on a regular basis--so it is administratively easier to deport the undocumented immigrants and leave the US citizen children behind in the US. After all, when the child reaches age 18, he or she can apply to have the parents legally admitted to the US (although that will be frowned upon since they have been deported...).

Yoshikawa and Suárez-Orozco draw on their research for the following observations about what is going on:
In the long run, the children of deportation face increased odds of lasting economic turmoil, psychic scarring, reduced school attainment, greater difficulty in maintaining relationships, social exclusion and lower earnings. The research also exposes major misconceptions about these parents.
First, statistics about those who were deported in 2011 show that 45 percent were not apprehended for any criminal offense. Those who were, were usually arrested for relatively minor offenses, not violent crimes.
Second, most American-born children of undocumented parents are not “anchor babies”; most of the parents have lived and worked in the United States for years before having their first child. “Birth tourism” is a xenophobic myth.
What can one say? It seems almost unbelievable that things like this can be happening. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Demography is China's Achilles Heel (and Its Source of Strength)

I have been reading The Economist for a long time and it is one of my favorite sources of information about the world. So, I was extremely disappointed by the article in their China section this week highlighting the demographic issues that face China.

Alongside the other many problems it faces, China too has its deadly point of unseen weakness: demography.
Unseen? Really? You don't have to have read my book, or have kept up with my blog to know that the aging of the Chinese population is not "unseen." The Economist has been on top of this for a long time, but this week its writing staff seemed to have lost that institutional memory.
As a reminder, the rapid drop in fertility that is now the country's Achilles heel was the very source of strength that allowed the Chinese economy to build steam (see the discussion of this in Chapter 8 of my book). The Chinese government very deliberately applied the brakes to the already declining fertility in the 1970s precisely so that the population would not overreach the country's ability to feed itself. As the economy took off in the wake of the advantageous age structure (the "demographic windfall") the Chinese government began planning for the time when the population would age. Hence the push into Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere for resources and assets that can sustain a population as its labor force ages. Indeed, as The Economist itself points out:
Sarah Harper of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing points out that China has mapped out the age structure of its jobs, and knows for each occupation when the skills shortage will hit. It is likely to try to offset the impact by looking for workers abroad. Manpower, a business-recruitment firm, says that by 2030 China will be importing workers from outside, rather than exporting them.

A huge issue faced by every aging population is how to support the older population after people leave the labor force. 

In the traditional Chinese family, children, especially sons, look after their parents (though this is now changing—see story on next page). But rapid ageing also means China faces what is called the “4-2-1 phenomenon”: each only child is responsible for two parents and four grandparents. Even with high savings rates, it seems unlikely that the younger generation will be able or willing to afford such a burden. So most elderly Chinese will be obliged to rely heavily on social-security pensions.
China set up a national pensions fund in 2000, but only about 365m people have a formal pension. And the system is in crisis. The country’s unfunded pension liability is roughly 150% of GDP. Almost half the (separate) pension funds run by provinces are in the red, and local governments have sometimes reneged on payments.
The story of filial piety in "the traditional Chinese family" is, of course, largely mythical because in the traditional family of rural peasants for most of Chinese history, mortality was high and the probability was very low that parents would survive to an age where they would become dependent, so few people really had to make good on that idea. Furthermore, even though the burden technically falls to the son, it is usually his wife who is assigned the real chores of looking after her aging in-laws.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Th Curious Case of the Missing Babies

Today's New York Times has an Op-Ed piece by Steven Philip Kramer, who is professor of grand strategy at the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. The grand strategy under discussion is how to raise the very low birth rates in southern and eastern Europe, Russia and east Asia (in the article he says developed nations of southeast Asia, but China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea are in east Asia unless he divides up the world differently than do most of the rest of us). The main point of his article is that France and Sweden have avoided very low birth rates by having public policies that support the ability of women to have children and a career at the same time. On this point I am in agreement, as you know if you have read Chapter 10 of my population text. But Professor Kramer pushes his evidence a bit too hard:
France and Sweden, for example, have crafted thoughtful, comprehensive and consistent policy responses that have largely reversed their declining birthrates over the long run...Today, both countries enjoy healthy birthrates — near replacement level in France and slightly below replacement level in Sweden.
It is not exactly true that Sweden and France have "reversed" declining birth rates. Rather, the social policies put in place decades ago (and I emphasize the length of time they have been in place) did not keep birth rates from falling to low levels--they kept on dropping in both countries long after these policies were in place. Rather, they have eventually helped to keep the birth rate from dropping well below replacement level. Furthermore, the idea that "near replacement" level birth rates in France and "slightly below replacement" levels in Sweden are "healthy" is a curious use of the term "healthy." Without immigration these countries would also be on the road to eventual extinction. It is also curious that no mention is made of fertility rates in the UK and Ireland, which according to data from the Population Reference Bureau are virtually identical to Sweden's, but without the same sort of public policies that are in place in either Sweden or France. 

He does, however, touch on the crux of the issue:
Gender equality is also an important ingredient, as are carefully managed immigration and the acceptance of non-traditional family structures, such as unmarried cohabitation. After all, the countries most committed to the traditional family, such as Germany, Italy and Japan, have the lowest birthrates. Countries with high birthrates, in contrast, usually also have large numbers of children born out of wedlock.
Note that when he says "high birthrates" he means those northern European countries that are closer to replacement level (even though still below it) than are the other countries that he is discussing. But, more importantly, let me say that in my opinion the single most important cause of very low fertility in rich countries is the same as the cause of high fertility in less developed countries--the role of women in society. In the truly high fertility societies of today (especially in Africa, western and south Asia), women are not full partners with men in a society and under these circumstances they have more children than they might otherwise have given preferred. In the more developed societies with lower fertility, women have been given the power to become educated and to join the labor force, but in those countries where they do not have the power to be equal to their husbands at home, they will choose other options rather than having children. Thus, lack of power at home creates high fertility when women's rights are completely trampled upon, but it creates very low fertility when women can participate in society, but are not equal in the family.

Public policy may help with this, but it is not a panacea. The policies in Sweden and France have been used by women to gain more control over all aspects of their life, but that really has to happen culturally from the bottom-up. The legislation is likely to be consequence of changes taking place in the societal roles of men and women, rather than the cause of such changes. 

If you want to raise the birth rate in the short-term without a major cultural shift inside the family, you will have to bring in the migrants. That, of course, has been the American way thus far.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Another Twist on the Brain Gain from Migration

Like most countries, the United States does not keep statistics on people who leave the country voluntarily. So, we have only a vague notion of who the ex-pats are. The New York Times has leapt into this void with a story about children of immigrants in the US who have chosen to go back to the country of their parents' origin because opportunities exist there that are more elusive in the US.

In growing numbers, experts say, highly educated children of immigrants to the United States are uprooting themselves and moving to their ancestral countries. They are embracing homelands that their parents once spurned but that are now economic powers.Some...had arrived in the United States as young children, becoming citizens, while others were born in the United States to immigrant parents.Enterprising Americans have always sought opportunities abroad. But this new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration, and the challenges to American economic supremacy and competitiveness.For generations, the world’s less-developed countries have suffered so-called brain drain — the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That has not stopped, but now a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia.
This is what has been called the brain gain--young people become educated in the US or Europe and then head off to the less developed countries of their recent ancestors, and help to move the economic ball forward in those places. My own view is that this is ultimately good for everyone. If this is a "challenge" to American economic supremacy and competitiveness it is a positive challenge because it means that the rest of the world is catching up with us, and we are going to have to be even more creative if we want to stay ahead of the pack. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Even More Population Resources

My general goal is to provide a daily link to news items related to demographic trends and processes in the world, keeping in mind that almost everything is connected to demography in some way or another. In fact, there are many more things going on every day than I can keep track of. That is why it is valuable that my colleague here at San Diego State University, Shoshana Grossbard of our Economics Department, has a Facebook page to which she regularly posts items of demographic interest. Today, for example, she noted that:
from 2007 through 2009 marriages between Emiratis & foreigners rose 10% while the number of marriages between two Emiratis dipped 2%. cause seems to be that brideprice required to marry Emirati women is about 4 times higher.
Who would have guessed? Even if the prime motivation might be economic, this will almost certainly change the sociodemographics of the Emirates down the road.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nigeria: Poster Child For Why Too Many Children Can Be Problematic

Nigeria is already the 7th most populous country in the world, with more than 160 million people. The United Nations Population Division projects that by 2050 it will have more than doubled to 390 million and this could make it the 4th most populous country. Two other sub-Saharan African countries--Ethiopia and Congo (Kinshasa) are also poised to be among the top twenty in population size by 2050. This is probably not good for anyone, and that point was made strongly in an article in today's New York Times.
As graduates pour out of high schools and universities, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent for people in urban areas ages 15 to 24 — driving crime and discontent.In Nigeria, experts say, the swelling ranks of unemployed youths with little hope have fed the growth of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which has bombed or burned more than a dozen churches and schools this year.
Internationally, the African population boom means more illegal immigration, already at a high, according to Frontex, the European border agency. There are up to 400,000 undocumented Africans in the United States.
These comments point to the classic issues surrounding a youth bulge, as Debbie Fugate and I discuss in our book of that name (yes, a shameless plug!). 
“Population is key,” said Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University in the small central city of Ile-Ife. “If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”
Fertility is declining very slowly, but it is coming down from very high rates, and at the same time infant and childhood mortality rates are declining and that more than compensates for the modest drop in fertility.
There are signs that the shifting economics and lifestyles of middle-class Africans may help turn the tide, Dr. Ogunjuyigbe said. As Nigeria urbanizes, children’s help is not needed in fields; the extended families have broken down. “Children were seen as a kind of insurance for the future; now they are a liability for life,” he said.
Certainly in Ghana it is true that women in the capital city of Accra have fertility levels that are approaching replacement level. So we know that this can happen in a West African country, and it seems that much of this is due to the willingness and ability of women to delay marriage and avoid out-of-wedlock births. This is not something that can be imposed--it has to come from within, and it is not yet clear whether Nigeria will move in this direction. Of course, we used to say that about Brazil...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Copenhagen as a Beacon of Urban Sustainability

We humans increasingly live in cities, separate from nature and often paying little attention to the resources required to maintain our lifestyle. According to BBC News, Copenhagen, Denmark, has made a concerted effort to create a sustainable urban environment. This is pretty important, if you think about it, since if most of us live in cities and we want to sustain that life, then our urban life must be sustainable. Duh! 
While Denmark’s capital may not be perfect, its successes in a few key areas provide teaching points for metropolises around the world. Family is central to Danish life. According to BBC News, parents typically receive an entire year of maternity/paternity leave (which can be spread out over nine years), half fully paid and half up to 90% paid. In addition, government subsidies often cover 75% of pre-kindergarten childcare costs and the majority of education and healthcare. Culturally, BBC News adds, there is little pressure to work overtime, leaving people more time to spend with their families. 
As is true in other northern European countries, these measures help to keep fertility higher (close to, albeit slightly under, replacement) than in southern or eastern Europe.
The importance of liveability in Danish culture is exemplified in the sustainable infrastructure of its capital city. Copenhagen is friendly to pedestrians, and perhaps even friendlier to cyclists. Nearly 35,000 people (40% of residents) commute by bike each day, causing some to call Copenhagen the number one cycling city in the world. Sustainable architecture is also central to city policy. Most new buildings, for example, are required to have roofs covered with plants and vegetation, and most old buildings have been retrofitted to meet these standards. Green roofs reduce storm water runoff and help control the building’s interior climate, reducing both utility costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition city plans say that by 2015, 90% of residents will be able to walk to a green space in just 15 minutes.Copenhagen is also trying to diversify its energy portfolio, purchasing some wind energy, for instance, from the nearby Danish island of Samsø. Samsø is an inspiration for Denmark’s capital, as it is an entirely carbon-neutral island that produces 100% of its electricity with wind power.  
Here is the rub, of course:
While all of this leads to much higher taxes (Denmark has the highest income tax in the world), Danes are willing to bear the cost since, studies show, they have a high degree of trust in their government.
Now, the lesson is well-known, but one we regularly forget--TANSTAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Illegal Immigrants Become Scapegoats in Greece

Xenophobia means "fear of strangers" in Greek, and the Greeks are currently having a major spell of this. The financial crisis has allowed right-wing extremists to gain a voice, and are taking aim at undocumented immigrants in Greece, who are largely from South Asia, Albania, and Africa, according to a story in today's New York Times. 
With what critics say is a poorly policed border with Turkey, Greece is seen as an entry point for illegal immigrants, some of them asylum seekers but most intent on moving to more promising economic terrain in Northern and Western Europe. But many of the immigrants remain in Greece or are returned there after being deported from other countries in Europe. This has stoked fears here of an onslaught of illegal immigrants, who economists say bear little or no responsibility for Greece’s economic troubles but who make easy scapegoats for politicians across the spectrum.
The Socialists, who were in power when Greece asked for a foreign bailout, have seen their popularity plummet, and they are desperate for a way to reconnect with voters. This month, Greece’s public order minister, Michalis Chrisochoidis, a Socialist in the interim government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, said Greece would set up detention centers for illegal immigrants. And the Socialist health minister caused a stir when he said that Greece would require illegal immigrants to undergo checks for infectious diseases.
This is a familiar story, of course, for those of us in the US who have watched anti-immigrant legislation be introduced in state after state in response to the economic crisis of the past few years.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Video on the Census from UNFPA

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provides financial and technical assistance to governments undertaking censuses around the world. This is obviously a crucial task in our quest to know what is happening demographically in the world. They have created a video that highlights census activities in six very different kinds of countries.

As the film shows, conducting a census requires overcoming an array of different challenges in very different circumstances.
  • In Chad, it has meant mapping vast, sparsely populated regions in the midst of political upheaval.
  • In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it involved overcoming barriers that restricted mobility.
  • In Bolivia, or the Plurinational State of Bolivia as it is now so aptly named, conducting the census required fine-tuning questions and translating them into multiple languages to meet the needs of dozens of ethnic groups.
  • In Indonesia, the census tracks extremely rapid growth and urbanization.
  • In Belarus, it counts the nation’s dwindling population.
Counting the World, which was produced through the generous support of the Government of Luxembourg through the Demographic Evolutions project, documents the many stages of the census process, from deciding what technologies to employ, mobilizing and training legions of enumerators, conducting public awareness campaigns, canvassing all households, collecting individual information, compiling hundreds of thousands or millions of completed questionnaires, monitoring procedures and results, and analyzing and disseminating the data.
It is available in a 21-minute version as well as a shorter 4-minute trailer
If you click on either of the links in the above line you should be taken directly to the online video.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Migration to the US is Good for Mexico--For a While Yet

Remittances home have dramatically changed the dynamics of migration over time. Migrants don't just help the families in the place of origin by getting out of the way, they help the local economy back home by sending money. This is the not-so-surprising, but still important, lesson from a new report published by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. The authors of the study, Raymundo Campos-Vazquez and Horacio Sobarzo, are professors at the prestigious El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. Of particular interest is their insight that this pattern is unlikely to continue into the future:

The dynamics of migration from Mexico to the United States are rapidly evolving. Mexico’s population is growing more slowly than in the past and its youth are better educated than ever before. At the same time, US economic growth is slowing — in part due to the recent recession and preceding consumption bubble, but also due to shifting demographics and the exit of the large baby boom generation from the workforce. The US economy is expected to slow in the coming years and the flow of migrants from Mexico has responded to these more limited prospects. Individual migrants are likely to continue sending remittances to their families back home even after new inflows slow. But in the long term, as the Mexican population in the United States shifts from a population primarily born in Mexico to a population primarily born in the United States, these cross-border ties will inevitably weaken. The consequences of these changing migration dynamics for Mexico’s development prospects will be an important trend for the next decade.
In other words, the demographic fit between the US and Mexico is changing and it is dangerous to try to generalize from any short-term trends that we are seeing right now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Interaction of Environment and Population in the Arab Spring

Thomas Friedman recently had a very interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times discussing some of the potentially important underlying causes of the Arab Spring. He focuses attention on the environment. The Middle East is not an area that has the natural resources to easily accommodate a large population. Yet, the population is growing, and the environment is deteriorating. The interaction of these two things is undoubtedly at the root of the Arab Spring. Importantly, the situation is not likely to be getting better any time soon.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, the executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development in London, writing in The Beirut Daily Star in February, pointed out that 12 of the world’s 15 most water-scarce countries — Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Israel and Palestine — are in the Middle East, and after three decades of explosive population growth these countries are “set to dramatically worsen their predicament. Although birth rates are falling, one-third of the overall population is below 15 years old, and large numbers of young women are reaching reproductive age, or soon will be.” A British Defense Ministry study, he added, “has projected that by 2030 the population of the Middle East will increase by 132 percent — generating an unprecedented ‘youth bulge.’ ”
As Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of “World on the Edge,” notes, 20 years ago, using oil-drilling technology, the Saudis tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat, making themselves self-sufficient. But now almost all that water is gone, and Saudi wheat production is, too. So the Saudis are investing in farm land in Ethiopia and Sudan, but that means they will draw more Nile water for irrigation away from Egypt, whose agriculture-rich Nile Delta is already vulnerable to any sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.
If you ask “what are the real threats to our security today,” said Brown, “at the top of the list would be climate change, population growth, water shortages, rising food prices and the number of failing states in the world. As that list grows, how many failed states before we have a failing global civilization, and everything begins to unravel?”

There is an increasing amount of research on the effects of climate change on migration--environmental refugee movements. To be sure, a lot of people have migrated out of the Middle East, but another recent story in the New Scientist quotes David Thomas of the University of Oxford reminding us that most people will not migrate, and it is the people who stay behind who bear the full brunt of the interaction of population growth and environmental degradation. This would certainly buttress Friedman's argument about the Arab Spring.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Do We Get Wiser As We Grow Older?

Populations are aging throughout the more developed world--low mortality means that a greater fraction of people born are reaching the older ages, and low fertility means that a greater fraction of the population is older. Does that mean that these societies will be increasingly wiser? Maybe. This week's Economist features research by Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Canada, that builds on his doctoral dissertation in Psychology at the University of Michigan. He and his colleagues have created scenarios to which subjects of different ages give responses that are then rated by a panel of experts in terms of how "wise" those responses are judged to be, based on a set of "wisdom" criteria. Grossmann's first study looked only at Americans and found that older people were generally wiser. The latest study, referred to by the Economist, but not yet available online, replicated the study in Japan and found that age differences were less obvious there than in the US sample. However, since the studies are cross-sectional, rather than longitudinal, we cannot really say that higher wisdom scores among older people in the US are a function of increasing wisdom. They could be due to cohort differences arising from educational attainment and/or changes in the educational systems or cultural/world view systems of the respective countries. 

What struck me, in particular, though, was the set of criteria used by the authors to define wisdom or, more specifically, "crucial aspects of wise reasoning":
willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict; willingness to search for compromise; recognition of the limits of personal knowledge; awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist; and appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.
If you compare this list with current political rhetoric in the US, you will see that there is not very much wise reasoning in today's political arena.

On a happier note, it is encouraging that these studies at least show that, on balance, we can expect an older population to be at least as good at wise reasoning as a younger population.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Agriculture?

The bottom line for any effort to "sustain development" relates to feeding the population. Nothing else matters if people don't have enough nutritious food to eat. So, it was helpful that a New York Times editorial this morning pointed out a new report by a prestigious international body detailing a "road map" for agricultural sustainability.
Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.
In the Foreword to the report "Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change," which should probably be mandatory reading for everyone, the Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change lays out the case very nicely:
Humanity faces difficult tradeoffs in producing sufficient food to feed our growing population and stabilizing our climate system. Globally our food system is not sustainable, does not provide adequate nutrition to everyone on the planet and, at the same time, changes to our climate threaten the future of farming as we know it. Agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change. We must seize every opportunity to shift away from inefficient farm practices, supply chains and diet choices towards long-term sustainability, profitability and health.
The message over and over again in this report is that we cannot simply continue with business-as-usual. The "marketplace" will not solve the problem in some automatic way. This is partly because we probably lack the resources on earth for everyone in the world to have the kind of diet "enjoyed" by those living in rich countries. The sharp shift in diets away from vegetables to meat, in particular, has devastating effects: "A high proportion of animal products in diets translates into larger land areas required for food production and greater impacts on the climate."

There is little in this report that is actually new--there is no magic solution to feeding a growing population. Rather, the report carefully outlines different strategies for different parts of the world--strategies that need to be worked on starting yesterday...