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

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

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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Immigrant Nostalgia From Mitt Romney

Given the general antagonism toward immigrants that is expressed by Republicans in the US, especially Republican governors and state legislators, I was genuinely astonished last night that, in giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney mentioned immigration within the first few moments:
That very optimism is uniquely American. It's what brought us to America. We're a nation of immigrants, we're the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life. The driven ones. The ones who woke up at night, hearing that voice telling them that life in a place called America could be better.
Of course, he wasn't referring to recent immigrants, who come especially from Latin America and Asia (although he did toss off a passing reference to Cubans). Rather, it was clear that he was thinking back to past immigration from Europe. Indeed, MSNBC's Chuck Todd echoed my sentiments completely with his tweet that:
I feel like the theme of this speech is "optimistic nostalgia"
At the same time, even as I was contemplating this nostalgia on the part of the Republicans, I was drawn back to the fact that the Obama Administration has deported more immigrants than did the Bush Administration. We like to think about being a nation of immigrants, but we seem to be a little unsure about how the concept.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Republican View of Immigration and the Economy

With the Republican National Convention in progress, attention naturally turns to the things that are presented to the public in terms of what Republicans stand for. My son, Greg Weeks, noted today in his blog that:
Tucked into the Republican platform on immigration is the following:
"We recognize that for most of those seeking entry into this country, the lack of respect for the rule of law in their homelands has meant economic exploitation and political oppression by corrupt elites."
This is pretty remarkable because immigrants come overwhelmingly from countries the United States considers allies, e.g. Mexico. And Republicans were at the forefront of protecting corrupt elites in Honduras who overthrew the president in 2009, which in turn prompted more turmoil and emigration. If indeed corrupt elites are the problem, then perhaps we need to see less ironclad support for corrupt elites.

And a few days ago, Jack Goldstone was prompted in his blog to counter the Republican claims about what's gone wrong with the American economy.
If I had to sum things up, I would try to answer this question: How in the
world did Americans become convinced that the Federal government — which prior to 1980 cleaned up the environment, protected unions, prevented unscrupulous lending, promoted social mobility and expanded the middle class through support for college education while fighting discrimination, is the problem, while private sector CEOs — who drove down wages, offshored jobs, undermined pensions, watered down health care, shifted all benefits from productivity gains away from workers and into their own pockets, destroyed the solvency of our national banking system and then sought and gained huge government bailouts when their bets went bad — embody the solution.
And don't forget that the Democratic National Convention is coming right up, and it will have its own demographic food for thought, as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Texas Redistricting Still Up in the Air

Even as the Republican National Convention is being held tonight in Tampa, Florida, the issue of redistricting that may have been aimed at helping the Republicans win in Texas has been thrown a curve ball. BloombergBusinessweek reports that:
Texas’s remade congressional and state assembly districts were rejected by a federal court in Washington, dealing a blow to Governor Rick Perry and the Republican-controlled legislature’s efforts to redraw the state’s political landscape.
The three-judge panel, in a decision today, said Texas failed to show that the maps for state assembly and congressional districts created by the legislature last year “do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It turned out that the maps were drawn in such a way that two African American members of Congress (both Democrats) were essentially redrawn out of their former districts. But this did not happen to any white Republicans.

The election will proceed as planned under the interim maps, which were drawn up by a federal court in San Antonio and used for the primary election on May 29, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement.
Abbott also said his office “will immediately take steps to appeal this flawed decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Perry supports the appeal, Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an e-mail.
Despite the Texas Attorney General's statement about using the interim maps in the general election, it isn't actually clear that those maps will be implemented without some further adjustment. It is clear, however, that this redistricting fight is far from over.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Demographics of Race in the Presidential Election

For the second time in US history, the presidential race includes a black and a white. The first time, in 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain. Now, the question is whether President Obama can keep the presidency when confronted by another white, Mitt Romney. The 2008 race seemed generally not to be about race, although that was obviously a factor in the minds of many voters. But Thomas Edsall of Columbia University opines in today's New York Times that the Republican Party is putting the issue of race directly into the race, so to speak.
The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.
Edsall argues that this strategy seems consistent with the data on party identification posted online by the Pew Research Center.
There is extensive poll data showing the depth of Republican dependence on white voters.
On August 23, Pew Research released its latest findings on partisan identification, and the gains that the Republican Party has made among older and non-college whites since 2004 are remarkable.

Most importantly, the Pew surveys show that 89% of voters who identify themselves as Republican are white. Faced with few if any possibilities of making gains among blacks and Hispanics — whose support for Obama has remained strong — the Romney campaign has no other choice if the goal is to win but to adopt a strategy to drive up white turnout.
However, if you look at those data posted by Pew, you see that white, non-Hispanic Republicans account for only 27 percent of registered voters. Assuming that equal proportions of people in all parties and racial groups vote (and, of course, that's a big assumption), that is clearly not enough to win the election. Other factors besides race are going to have to play a role.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Tragedy of Unaccompanied Children in the Migrant Stream

In the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied minors entering the US and being detained. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although I suspect that it has to do especially with the tightening of border controls since 9/11, combined with the bad economy since 2008. The tightening of the border has made it much more difficult for undocumented immigrants to go back and forth between their home in Mexico or Central America and their job in the US, often forcing parents to be separated from their children for protracted lengths of time. The bad economy has had a dampening effect on remittances, at least according to data from the World Bank for Mexico, as reported by the Migration Policy Institute. At the level of the individual family, it may well be that money sent home to care for children left behind has diminished. Furthermore, as the tightening of the border and the poor economy has slowed migration north, those who do try to cross, such as the unaccompanied minors, have a higher chance of being apprehended than in the past.

No matter what the reasons, the problem is growing, and the New York Times has a lengthy story on the issue in today's edition.

The young people, mostly from Mexico and Central America, ride to the border on the roofs of freight trains or the backs of buses. They cross the Rio Grande on inner tubes, or hike for days through extremes of heat and chill in Arizona deserts. The smallest children...are most often brought by smugglers.
The youths pose troubling difficulties for American immigration courts. Unlike in criminal or family courts, in immigration court there is no right to a lawyer paid by the government for people who cannot afford one. And immigration law contains few protections specifically for minors.
I would personally know much less about this problem than I do were it not for one of our PhD students here in Geography at SDSU who is quoted in the article: 
“The children at home feel unloved, they feel empty,” said Elizabeth G. Kennedy, a researcher at San Diego State University who studies child migrants. “If parents know their child is feeling empty and is in danger, they will make a decision.”
The decision, of course, is to encourage their children to come to the US, but too often things go awry. This seems to be a bad situation with no immediate solution in sight.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tracing Migration Through Linguistic "DNA"

We have no demographic data for most of human history, so we infer the past from whatever we can find. This is especially true for migration which is hard enough to track accurately in the modern world. But language is a powerful clue to your roots and a paper recently published in the journal Science reports on a sophisticated computer algorithm that has traced the roots of Indo-European languages back to Anatolia, in what is now Turkey. The article is not available without a subscription to the journal, but Nicholas Wade of the New York Times has provided a summary.
Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea about 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, about 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword.
This latest study suggests that the evidence is strongest that Anatolia is the source of this linguistic family that "includes English and most other European languages, as well as Persian, Hindi and many others." This tends to make sense since other evidence suggests that the eastern end of the Mediterranean was the site of domesticated agriculture among humans. Since the dissemination of that revolution was key to the modern world, with dissemination likely taking place through migration from there to other places, it isn't surprising that the linguistic "DNA" should take us back there.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cholera and Computer e-Waste in West Africa

My colleagues and graduate students and I have been working for several years in Accra, the capital of Ghana, examining spatial inequalities in health. A huge issue is the depth and scope of health issues--well beyond the threat of malaria, which is what most people probably think of when they hear of health problems in West Africa. But among the other health concerns are: (1) cholera and (2) computer e-waste. The New York Times reported yesterday on the new outbreak of cholera in slums of West African cities.
A fierce cholera epidemic is spreading through the coastal slums of West Africa, killing hundreds and sickening many more in one of the worst regional outbreaks in years, health experts said.Cholera, transmitted through contact with contaminated feces, was made worse this year by an exceptionally heavy rainy season that flooded the sprawling shantytowns in Freetown and Conakry, the capitals of Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea.“If your area is flooded with rainwater, and if people are defecating in the open, it will get into the water supply,” said Jane Bevan, a regional sanitation specialist for Unicef. “We know governments have the money for other things. I’m afraid sanitation is never given the priority it deserves.”
The story does not reference Ghana, but our own experience is that cholera outbreaks are fairly frequent in Accra, especially during the rainy seasons.

The story on computer e-waste actually was aired by PBS on its Frontline program more than two years ago, but Justin Stoler, who did his doctoral dissertation research in Accra, just brought it to my attention and it is too good a story and 20-minute video to ignore. All of us working in Accra have been in or near the neighborhood shown in this program where old computers from the US and other rich countries come to die--almost certainly then contributing to earlier than expected deaths for those dealing with the toxic waste. And, not surprisingly, this is the same slum neighborhood in which cholera outbreaks are most common. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Older Fathers May Be More of a Problem Than Older Mothers

One of the classic mantras of reproductive health is that the health of mothers and their young children is promoted by the following list of things not to do when it comes to childbearing: not too early, not too late, not too close, and not too many. But the role of the father was rarely examined. In general, men are fertile to a much later age than women, so the assumption was that their contribution to health could be ignored. New evidence suggests that this is wrong.
Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age, scientists reported on Wednesday, in the first study to quantify the effect as it builds each year. The age of mothers had no bearing on the risk for these disorders, the study found.
The study was done by a research group in Iceland and just published in the journal Nature, albeit reported in today's New York Times, and elsewhere. To be sure, the effect is not huge, but it seems clear, nonetheless.
The overall risk to a man in his 40s or older is in the range of 2 percent, at most, and there are other contributing biological factors that are entirely unknown.
But the study...provides support for the argument that the surging rate of autism diagnoses over recent decades is attributable in part to the increasing average age of fathers, which could account for as many as 20 to 30 percent of cases.
So, the lesson seems to be that delaying childbearing is not just a decision that a woman needs to contemplate, but men are also an important part of the equation. This is a new kind of gender equality.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No Room for Slums

Nigeria is a country with a lot of natural resources (especially petroleum, of course) and a lot of people. This week's Economist reckons that Lagos alone has an economy larger than all of Kenya's. Money attracts people and so Lagos has now outgrown its most famous slum--Makoko. Lagos is located right on the Gulf of Guinea, and the city surrounds much of the Lagos Lagoon. Thus, it is essentially built on a swamp and good land is at a premium. Makoko has become prime real estate that the city wants to turn into something besides a slum.
A quarter of a million people live in Makoko, learn to swim before they have walked on land, go to school, buy goods from traders drifting down the main channels, build fishing boats and go to sea. A few narrow bridges connect elevated platforms anchored, like everything else, six feet below the waterline. They say the only thing you won’t find in Makoko is a grave.
Will razing this huge slum help the situation? The city government hopes that this can be part of a huge effort to change the city and its image, since they project that Lagos could eventually be the largest city in the world.
Lagos has long been a byword for urban chaos. Traffic is legendarily bad, crime is a perennial sore and public services reach few. 
Even if change does occur, however, most American citizens are unlikely to witness it in person, since the US State Department discourages Americans from traveling there on any but essential business.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Keeping an Watch on the World

Since 1974 the Worldwatch Institute has been watching the world for us, perhaps most famously with its annual State of the World publication. Under the initial direction of Lester Brown and more recently Robert Engelman, the Institute has played an important role in keeping the public aware of our intimate but still tenuous relationship with the natural world around us. Recently they have developed a new blog that, similar to their other efforts, is very innovative, useful and readable, and is called Nourishing the Planet.
The Nourishing the Planet project assesses the state of agricultural innovations—from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy—with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, as well as productivity. The project aims to both inform global efforts to eradicate hunger and raise the profile of these efforts. The project also considers the institutional infrastructure needed by each of the approaches analyzed, suggesting what sort of companion investments are likely to determine success—from local seed banks to processing facilities, from pro-poor value chains to marketing bureaus.
This gets down to the nitty-gritty issue that we humans have been dealing with forever, and which made Malthus famous--Can we sustainably feed ourselves not just at a subsistence level, but at a level that promotes health and longevity? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Can Anyone Really Believe That Rape Cannot Produce a Pregnancy?

It is genuinely beyond the pale that here in the 21st century there would be anyone in the world, and I mean the entire globe, who could seriously believe that the stress of being raped would cause a women not to conceive. Yet, this is exactly the scenario that came out of the mouth of US Congressman Todd Akin, who is running as a Republican to be the next US Senator from Missouri. The importance of this argument is that it serves as a rationale for why no exceptions should be made for abortion even in the case of rape or incest. His argument was that if a woman was "legitimately raped" then it would be impossible for her to conceive. Thus, any woman who becomes pregnant after claiming to be raped could not have actually been raped. This is utter nonsense, as Reuters, among many others, was qucick to point out.
The claim that rape is unlikely to lead to a pregnancy has "no biological plausibility," said Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The claim is "not grounded in any physiology or scientifically valid data."
But the story does not really end with Rep. Akin because this position is, at least implicitly, held by a number of people in the Republican Party. Indeed, a quick read of the Republican Party Platform for 2012 reveals the following statement:
We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it.
And what exactly is the "human life amendment." According to NPR, it would grant legal status and rights to an embryo, thus making abortion for any reason (including rape and incest) a crime. So, despite the fact that Rep. Akin called his comments "ill-conceived" (and I hope he did not intend a pun here) and "wrong," and even though the Republican party leaders scrambled to distance themselves from his comments, his view of the world is not that far away ideologically from  what the Republican Party claims its stance to be. And that is genuinely beyond the pale.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Are We Going to Lose Our Cool?

If you trace the rise of the Sunbelt in the United States, you will see that it coincided with the rise of air conditioning. Indeed, all over the world, cities in the warmer climates are growing because of the availability of air conditioning. But, as Elisabeth Rosenthal points out in today's New York Times, this is a two-edged sword.

Today’s humans probably need air-conditioning if they want to thrive and prosper. Yet if all those new city dwellers use air-conditioning the way Americans do, life could be one stuttering series of massive blackouts [like the recent one in India], accompanied by disastrous planet-warming emissions.
We can’t live with air-conditioning, but we can’t live without it.
Projections of air-conditioning use are daunting. In 2007, only 11 percent of households in Brazil and 2 percent in India had air-conditioning, compared with 87 percent in the United States, which has a more temperate climate, said Michael Sivak, a research professor in energy at the University of Michigan. “There is huge latent demand,” Mr. Sivak said. “Current energy demand does not yet reflect what will happen when these countries have more money and more people can afford air-conditioning.” He has estimated that, based on its climate and the size of the population, the cooling needs of Mumbai alone could be about a quarter of those of the entire United States, which he calls “one scary statistic.”
What we have to hope is that sounding the alarm will stimulate new (and potentially very lucrative) innovations to cool workplaces and homes more efficiently. Otherwise, a lot of people will be losing their cool, and that's not cool. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The World is Still Smokin' Hot

And, no, I'm not talking about global warming, although the world is clearly getting hotter. The smoking in this case is tobacco use, which is generally on the decline in more developed countries, but on the rise in less developed countries and that is a troubling trend for global health levels. A paper just published in The Lancet and reported on NBC News analyzes a new set of survey data.
Between Oct 1, 2008, and March 15, 2010, GATS used nationally representative household surveys with comparable methods to obtain relevant information from individuals aged 15 years or older in 14 low-income and middle-income countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Vietnam). We compared weighted point estimates and 95% CIs of tobacco use between these 14 countries and with data from the 2008 UK General Lifestyle Survey and the 2006—07 US Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey. All these surveys had cross-sectional study designs.
Women in developing countries are starting to smoke at younger ages, according to a study that found "alarming patterns" of tobacco use around the world.
Despite years of anti-smoking measures being encouraged across the world, most developing countries have low quit rates, and tobacco is likely to kill half its users.
The key to lowering tobacco use is to prevent people from starting in the first place and since teenagers are more susceptible to the peer pressure to smoke than are most other ages, preventing teenage smoking is probably the single most important strategy. I was thinking about that today because tomorrow is my high school's 50th reunion. My wife and I went to high school together and none of our friends smoked then, and none do now. Not ever starting was the key. Of course there were people who smoked, but they mainly did it behind the gym and in other covert ways because there was a clear normative proscription against it. As I noted before, 10 percent of our classmates have died, and I suspect that a disproportionate share of them were smokers...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Baby Boomers Might Ease the Social Security Burden

Social Security Administration projections in the US assume that people will continue to live ever longer lives. This naturally adds to the amount of money that is projected to be shelled out over the years for the older population. But a new study has questioned whether or not the Baby Boomers can reasonably be expected to follow the trend of the past several decades. MSNBC picked up the story from Reuters, whose reporters did an excellent job of rounding up the demographic experts on the topic.

One new study, led by Rice University professor Justin Denney, concludes that it would be a mistake to project the longevity gains of the last century throughout this one. Yet that is about what the trustees who estimate the future solvency of the U.S. Social Security retirement program have been doing.
Denney notes a "huge increase" of 30 years in U.S. life expectancy from 1900 to the 2000s. But he and fellow researchers see a mere three-year increase over the next 50 years, with improvements in longevity concentrated among the well-to-do, while poorer people will not share in the same benefits.
Among the people weighing in are following:
"It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all," says S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has been studying boomer longevity under a MacArthur Foundation grant. "If you look at the health status of the baby boom versus the generation that just preceded them, they are in worse shape," says Olshansky.
"Boomer women are about the heaviest smoking cohort in U.S. history and they are suffering big time," says Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology and demography at the University of Pennsylvania. Like many of his colleagues, Preston believes that a declining rate of smoking will eventually extend women's life expectancy; however, he isn't projecting that until today's young women turn 40 in 2020. By 2040, obesity will reduce life expectancy by 0.733 percent for men, and 0.677 percent for women, according to Preston. Those are trends that he believes will be offset by other gains as people stop smoking.

"Rich people live significantly longer than poor people do," says John Bailey Jones, an associate professor of economics at the University of Albany, State University of New York. In the United States, the wealthy live nearly five years longer on average than do the most destitute, according to Denney's research.
On the other hand, the impact on Medicare, which is in the political limelight right now, is not so clear:
"The net effect (of slower longevity improvements) might not be large," agrees Ronald Lee, director of University of California, Berkeley's Center for the Demography and Economics of Aging. "There will be fewer elderly people to provide health care for... (but) those elderly people who are alive will be less healthy and have higher healthcare needs."
The lesson seems to be that if you are baby boomer, you might want to think about taking better care of yourself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Mathematical Demography Milestone

Mathematical demographers probably would not agree with my characterization of yesterday's milestone as being in their realm, but it has a mathematical element to it. What was that milestone? The Huffington Post reports the story:
Shortly after 2:29 p.m. on Tuesday, August 14, 2012, the U.S. population was exactly 314,159,265, or pi (π) times 100 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. The U.S. Census Bureau's Population Clock projects the real-time size of the U.S. population based on monthly population estimates.
This is kind of a trivial milestone, you might say, especially since it is an estimate, not a precise count. But what is not trivial is the sheer size of the US population. Although dwarfed by the populations of China and India, the US population is nonetheless the third largest in the world and larger than the combined countries of Northern and Western Europe. As the most populous rich country, the math we do rocks the rest of the world and not always for the better.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Water is in Ever Shorter Supply Relative to Demand

This will not really be news to people who pay attention to the world's environment, but a new study published in Nature has nonetheless provided better estimates than before of the extent to which major agricultural regions of the world are using up groundwater at a faster rate than it can be replenished.

Across the world, human civilizations depend largely on tapping vast reservoirs of water that have been stored for up to thousands of years in sand, clay and rock deep underground. These massive aquifers — which in some cases stretch across multiple states and country borders — provide water for drinking and crop irrigation, as well as to support ecosystems such as forests and fisheries.
Yet in most of the world’s major agricultural regions, including the Central Valley in California, the Nile delta region of Egypt, and the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan, demand exceeds these reservoirs' capacity for renewal.
“This overuse can lead to decreased groundwater availability for both drinking water and growing food,” says Tom Gleeson, a hydrogeologist at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and lead author of the study. Eventually, he adds, it “can lead to dried up streams and ecological impacts”.
A nice world map of water stress accompanies the summary of the story that is available to the public free of charge. Look at the map and remember when you turn on the tap that you don't really have water up the ying yang, even though it may seem like it. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Does Declining Fertility Explain Inequality in Developing Countries?

This week's Economist has a "Free Exchange" column (with an expanded online version) in which findings from recent demographic studies are cited showing that income inequality in developing countries is made worse by a decline in fertility. Declining fertility is nearly always associated with a rise in per person income because even if wages don't rise, there are fewer people with whom a worker has to share his or her income.

But not every result of lower fertility is so beneficial and a new study by David Bloom, David Canning, Gunther Fink and Jocelyn Finlay at the Harvard School of Public Health link to come identifies an unexpected effect: in the short term, lower fertility can lead to higher inequality.
It is no surprise that fertility and wealth should be connected. Countries with the highest fertility rates (such as Niger, Mali and Chad, where women can expect to have six or seven children in their lifetimes) are also among the poorest. And, with some significant exceptions (such as China), low-fertility countries tend to be rich. And that pattern is replicated within countries. As a general rule, the poor tend to have larger families.
However, the author goes on to suggest that somehow this drop in fertility "helps to explain the rise in income inequality in developing countries." The problem with this huge conclusion is that the Demographic and Health Surveys, from which the data in the study were drawn, do not capture the range of income in developing countries. It doesn't actually measure income at all--only household assets, and it is unlikely that the very wealthy are included in most of the surveys. So, while the effects noted are almost certainly real, they also almost certainly do not tell us why income inequality exists in developing countries. That explanation is more likely to take us to the question of who controls the resources--typically a relatively small group of people who have most the of the assets, leaving the remainder of the population to exhibit differences amongst themselves demographically, but not to a great enough extent to explain income inequality. 
Needless to say, I hate to dampen a good demographic story, and the author does circle back around to reality with the final comment that "Lower fertility is a boon to poor countries, but it cannot do everything by itself."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Demographics of Risk in Iran's Latest Earthquake

Iran lies along major earthquake fault lines and has an unfortunate history of deadly quakes. Yesterday's killed at least 300 (more will doubtless be discovered as the rubble is uncovered) and injured thousands more. The devastation was exacerbated by the fact that the villages hit were largely comprised of mud brick homes that had no reinforcement and so simply collapsed from the force of the earthquake, killing or at least injuring anyone inside. And who was most likely to be inside?
“Most of the dead are women and children, as the earthquake happened during the day, when many men were out working,” said Marjan Lagaei, an Iranian reporter who traveled to the area.One Iranian seismologist, Bahram Akasheh, said that Saturday’s temblor was relatively mild, and attributed the loss of life to shoddy construction and poor oversight. “Nowhere in the world would a magnitude 6 earthquake kill so many people. There shouldn’t have been more than 10 injured,” he told the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency on Sunday.
Mr. Akasheh, who has long predicted millions of deaths if an earthquake were to strike the capital, said Iran needed to prepare for even worse disasters in the future.
“Soon we will be hit by a 7 or higher quake,” he said. “I am very worried.”

Would there be greater concern about preparing for the "big one" if the people disproportionately at risk of injury or death were males?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Families Continue to Diversify

Pew Research reports that public support for gay marriage has increased quickly over the past few years, with nearly half of respondents (48%) favoring it, while 44% are opposed and the remainder are undecided. This is a huge leap forward from just 2004 when the ratio was 31/60. This is a phenomenon that is closely linked to birth cohorts. Among people born in 1945 or earlier, only 33% favor gay marriage, whereas among those born since 1980, 63% are in favor, with in-between cohorts being in-between in their approval.

The next logical step is children within gay marriage and acceptance of this is also on the rise, as noted by a story in today's New York Times. Lesbian couples have always had an easier time having children than gay males couples, who obviously have to go the adoption route, but male couples are now actually facing some pressure from friends and family members to think about building a family.

Popular culture is helping rewrite that script. Gay men who have children, or are considering having children, are becoming increasingly visible on network television. In “Modern Family,” the nation’s most popular television show, the couple Mitchell and Cameron considered adopting a second child this past season. In “Scandal,” a new ABC series, a middle-aged White House staff member groused about his partner’s desire to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. And this fall, a new NBC sitcom called “The New Normal” will feature a gay couple and their surrogate.
The shift is also reflected in census data. Between 2000 and 2010, among same-sex couples raising children, the percentage of couples with adopted children increased to 20 percent from 9 percent, according to an analysis by Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Most same-sex couples with adopted children are lesbians, but gay men make up a growing share, accounting for nearly a third of such couples in 2010, up from a fifth in 2000.)
“The definition of family is unquestionably evolving,” Dr. Gates said.
But as Gates also notes, this doesn't mean that these changes are going to be universally accepted without a fight from those who are deeply opposed to homosexuality in general, starting with people in states like Utah and Mississippi, where it is illegal for gay couples to adopt children.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"I'm Talking About Making a Baby"

This is the title of an advertisement in Singapore encouraging residents to make babies on National Day. It has gone viral, according to a story in the yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Singapore's birth rate has been very low for a long time--a TFR of 1.2 according to the brand new 2012 PRB World Population Data Sheet, and the government has been doing all it can think of to get couples to have more children. 

When this small Asian city-state celebrates its independence Thursday, Singaporeans are encouraged to show their patriotic fervor by displaying their country's flag proudly, sharing snapshots of their favorite local foods and dancing along to a fresh new national theme song.
But there is another, distinctly unofficial, national song in Singapore these days. It is asking locals to try something else on their country's big day: Make love for Singapore.
"It's National Night, let's make Singapore's birthrate spike," a female vocalist sings over jittery synthesizers and drumbeats, as her male counterpart shouts phrases like "that's right" and "the birthrate won't spike itself!"
"Singapore's population, it needs some increasin', so forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking," the rap continues.
This clearly sets a new standard in population policy. Whether the standard is high or low, I will leave it to you to judge. But, in another twist, this was not devised by the government, but rather by an ad agency for Mentos candy. 
The song, devised by ad agency BBH Asia-Pacific and spread via social media, is part of Mentos's plan to launch a special "I Heart SG" pack of their signature mints for this year's National Day. The agency was asked to come up with a campaign to "prove how much Mentos really 'hearts' " Singapore, according to the project's creative director, Adrian Chan.

So, does the popularity of this rap song mean that governments should privatize their population policies? We'll have to wait nine months to know the answer to that question.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Corn on the Hot Seat

The current drought throughout the middle of the US has focused a lot of attention on the corn crop, which is wilting in the heat, creating a high likelihood of higher food prices and increased food insecurity. William Mosely, a Professor of Geography at Macalaster College in Minnesota has a very good Op-Ed piece in today's NY Times in which he lays out the case for (a) why we have so much corn instead of other crops; and (b) why that needs to change. 
The No. 1 culprit behind our overreliance on corn is the federal farm subsidy program. While subsidies are not categorically bad, they become a problem if they leave farmers with little choice but to focus on a few crops. The proposed farm bill now before Congress would make some progress by ending direct payments to farmers for certain commodities (most notably corn) in favor of expanded crop insurance. Even with that critical change, a floor price (below which farmers receive payments from the government) and a more robust crop insurance program for certain commodities will still mean that farmers narrowly concentrate on corn and soybeans in the Midwest.
While this system clearly favors those interests that benefit from an oversupply of cheap corn (fertilizer and pesticide providers, feedlots and food and ethanol producers), it is not good for taxpayers, our food system or the environment.

And we need to change this system because over-reliance on any single crop is a bad idea for an economy, in which diversity is a sensible risk-averse strategy, and it's a bad idea for consumers, for whom a varied diet is more nutritious and healthy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Aging in Asia: Charting the Territory

The number of older people is increasing rapidly throughout the world as the declines in mortality, especially since the end of World War II, have kept people alive longer than ever before. This is genuinely uncharted territory and the issue is very large in the world's most populous region--Asia. A new book out by the National Academies Press, "Aging in Asia," explores this issue with new data for five of the Asian 'biggies'--China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand. The report was a project of the National Research Council's Committee on Population and is edited by James P. Smith of RAND and Malay Majmundar of the National Research Council. 

Survey data show that in China and India, the elderly have many undiagnosed diseases, which could complicate old age with potentially avoidable disabilities. Most older people outside of Japan are not well covered by pensions and so there is a strong and consistent flow of money from children to their aging parents. This will be increasingly burdensome on young Asians, who have few siblings with which to share the expense. Where pensions do exist, policy analysts promote the sensible idea that retirement ages must go up as life expectancy goes up. However, in Japan few males seem to be employed past age 60. These are just a few tidbits from a 17-chapter book.

The beauty of the books published by National Academies Press is that you can read them on-line or download them as a PDF or buy them the old fashioned way, and I encourage you to at least peruse the chapters in this volume.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How Many Sikhs Are There in the US?

Yesterday's news produced a horrible example of a hate crime--another situation of xenophobia and its byproducts. A gunman entered a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and killed six people and wounded three others. The New York Times reports that the shooter (who was killed by police during a gun battle) "had long been among the hundreds of names on the radar of organizations monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of his ties to the white supremacist movement and his role as the leader of a white-power band called End Apathy. The authorities have said they are treating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism."

Sikhs are members of a religious group that originated in the Punjab region of India, and males are characterized by wearing turbans. This has the unfortunate side-effect of setting them apart and, in particular, creating a situation in the US where they have been mistaken for Muslims and discriminated against on that count, if not on others.

Of some interest demographically is that the first reports of the tragedy indicated that there are 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. My first thought on hearing this was that it is almost certainly way too high. An Associated Press story in the Washington Post notes that:

The exact number of Sikhs living in America is not known. Estimates range from 200,000 to 500,000. Many left their homes in the agricultural Punjab province, known as the breadbasket of India, and arrived first in the West and Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s.
The first major temple was built in 1912 around Stockton, Calif., but like other immigrants, Sikhs were not allowed to bring their spouses to the United States, which restricted their numbers. When President Lyndon Johnson eased immigration quotas in the 1960s, Sikhs began arriving in larger numbers with their families. Temples were built around Boston, Chicago and other parts of California.
It is a reasonable assumption that a large fraction of Sikhs in the US were born in India. The Migration Policy Institute shows that the 2010 ACS data from the census indicate that there are about 1.6 million people living in the US who were born in India. How likely is it that one-third of them are Sikhs? We can't know for sure, of course, since questions on religion are not asked on the US census. However, starting in 2001, the UK census has asked about religion. The 2001 data suggest that there were 552,000 Hindus in the UK and 329,000 Sikhs. If we assume that Hindus and Sikhs represent the vast majority of immigrants from India, then Sikhs account for 37 percent of those of Indian origin in the UK. If we then assume that the regional pattern of migration from India to the UK is the same as from India to the US, we could easily arrive at the idea that at least a third of the people of Indian origin in the US are Sikhs--a number very close to 500,000.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Wide World of Discrimination

Many of the evils and problems of the world stem from xenophobia--the fear of strangers. People too often hate and mistrust people who are different from them for the simple reason that they are different in some way or another. When we call these differences "demographic characteristics" they seem harmless enough, but in real life they are often very poisonous. Yesterday's New York Times had two unconnected examples of this, and you can probably find examples any day on any news medium. The first story comes from Saudi Arabia where the minority Shia Muslim population lives under constant threat of discrimination in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country.
Saudi Shiites mostly live in the Eastern Province, also home to the kingdom’s oil industry, and complain that they lack access to government jobs, education and full rights of worship. The government denies those charges.
The second story is perhaps more egregious and comes from Russia. 
The governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region, which will host the Winter Olympics in 2014, has enlisted the area’s Cossacks as an auxiliary police force, urging them to prevent darker-skinned Muslims from the North Caucasus from moving there.He said ethnic Russians there were “already feeling uncomfortable,” and that the people who settled the region, Cossacks among them, “year after year are losing their position.”
“Who will answer when the first blood is spilled, when interethnic conflicts start? And sooner or later it will happen,” Mr. Tkachev said. 

These migrants are internal migrants, by the way, not people coming from another country. And the kicker is that in the United States the term "Caucasian" is often used to mean "White, non-Hispanic." It doesn't seem to mean that in Russia these days.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Government of The Philippines Gets Real About Birth Control

Yesterday I noted that the government of Iran is abandoning its subsidized family planning program because it wants a higher birth rate. Today's news is about protests in The Philippines because the government is proposing to do exactly the opposite--to subsidize birth control in order to push the birth rate lower. 
The proposal, which is expected to face a tough time getting through parliament, has angered the influential Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines which has led opposition and called Saturday's protest.President Benigno Aquino has strongly backed the law, saying in a statement before the rally that in a situation where couples "are in no position to make an informed judgement, the state has the responsibility to so provide".The law would use a government health insurance fund to provide birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives for free.
It would give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals, while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage license.

The article also notes that both abortion and divorce are illegal in The Philippines--another reminder of the issue of women's rights in so many countries in the world. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Iranian Government Responds to Census Results

The results of the 2011 Census of Iran have just recently been released and the government immediately responded with a move to encourage larger families. There are 75 million people in Iran, three-fourths of whom live in urban areas and, although the population is still quite young (55 percent under age 30), it is highly educated and this educated urban population has very dramatically reduced its fertility levels over the past two decades. The census data indicated that the total fertility rate is now down to 1.3 children per woman, even lower than the 1.6 found in the 2006 census.

Upon seeing these data, the government wasted no time in dropping support for its longstanding birth control program.

Iran has scrapped its birth-control program in a radical policy reversal intended to produce a baby boom that could more than double its population.
The health ministry confirmed the shift days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, said that the two-decade-old policy of controlled growth must end and that Iran should aim for a population of 150 million to 200 million. A recent census revealed the country has just over 75 million people. According to the UN in 2009, Iran topped the list of countries experiencing the greatest drop in fertility rates since 1980.
The reduction was achieved with the help of an extensive publicly backed initiative that included vasectomies, contraceptives issued by the health ministry, statutory family planning advice for newlyweds and even a state-owned condom factory.
It was introduced in the early 1990s when officials feared a population explosion that occurred after the 1979 Islamic revolution could stretch resources to the breaking point.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously called on Iranians to have more children, saying it would help Iran to defeat the west. 

As you can see, President Ahmadinejad's call to Iranians has been widely ignored, but it is possible that the birth rate will go up if couples find it increasingly difficult to avoid a pregnancy due to the loss of government subsidized programs. And, of course, this could divert a little attention away from the Iranian nuclear program...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Divorce on the Rise in Iraq--Is This a Good or Bad Trend?

My colleague Shoshana Grossbard has an interesting item today on her Economics of Love Facebook page, linking to a story about the rise in divorces in Iraq. The clear tone of the article is that this rise in the number of divorces per year is a bad thing. The facts of the article suggest a different interpretation, however.

While divorce rates are on the rise, they are still significantly lower than during the last years of Saddam’s regime.
In 1995, there were 121,294 divorces but only 33,161 marriages, while in 2003, the year Saddam was overthrown, the country saw 175,579 divorces and only 20,649 marriages.
In 2004, meanwhile, there were 262,554 marriages, compared with 28,690 divorces, and there were 230,470 marriages in 2011, compared with 59,515 divorces that year.
In particular, it is possible that the recent rise in divorces is due to an increasing awareness of the rights of women, since the article indicates that divorces are especially common among women who married at a young age, and among women whose husbands are marrying a second (or perhaps third or fourth) wife, as is permitted for men  in Islam.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Can AIDS be Cured?

The 19th International AIDS Conference was held last week in Washington, DC. The Economist reports that the question being whispered around the conference was "Can AIDS be Cured?" This is obviously a titillating headline, but the story makes it clear that we may still be a few scientific breakthroughs away from being able to answer 'yes' to that question.
The conference’s formal business was to keep up the momentum behind the most successful public-health campaign of the past 30 years: the taming, at the cost of a few pills a day, of an infection that was once an inevitable killer. It still kills. About 1.7m people succumbed last year. But that figure is down from 2.3m in 2005 (see chart 1), and is expected to continue falling. Now, therefore, some people are starting to look beyond the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs which have brought this success. They are asking if something else could do even better.
As The Economist notes, the problem with the ARVs is that they don't get rid of the virus, they just keep it in hiding, so you have to stay on the medication all of your life, and that is very expensive.
A race is therefore on to work out how to flush the virus from its hiding places and get rid of it completely. Several clues suggest a cure may be possible. But no one knows which route will lead to it.
In the meantime, the disease continues to spread, even in the US, as noted in a recent story in the Charlotte Observer:

What 30 years ago was a disease that primarily affected white gay men now has a significant effect on far more populations, including gay and bisexual black and Latino men and heterosexual black women. And while HIV was, and still is, considered a big-city problem, it affects impoverished rural communities at an alarming rate, especially in the Deep South.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, blacks are eight times more likely to contract HIV than whites are. Black women are 15 times more likely to become infected than white women. Black youths are 10 times more at risk for HIV than their white counterparts are.
Latinos don't fare that much better. The nation's fastest-growing and largest minority population - at 16 percent - is infected with HIV at a rate three times that of whites.
The fact that people with HIV no longer have a nearly automatic death sentence does not diminish the importance of seeking a cure nor of continuing to push for prevention, including circumcision and using condoms. 

Read more here: