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:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Unusual Kind of Economic Development "Strategy" Between Ghana and China

For the past decade my own research has focused especially on Ghana, so I was naturally drawn to an article in today's NY Times detailing the travails of Chinese peasants who were investing in and working in illegal gold mines in Ghana. I don't claim to know anything about gold mining in Ghana, but since I do know of estimates suggesting that much of the wood exported from Ghana is harvested illegally, and so it seems reasonable to believe in the existence of illegal gold mines. What is much harder to believe from this story is that the Chinese government encouraged rural peasants to invest money in these gold mines (whose legality must have been in question in some form or another) and, even more unbelievably, that these same rural peasants from China went to Ghana to work in the mines. 

With a population rate of growth of 2 percent (a doubling time of 35 years), and a relatively young population, there is no shortage of labor in Ghana. Does a pig farmer from China make a contribution to the Ghanaian economy as a miner in a way that a cassava farmer in Ghana could not? Very unlikely. Indeed, although the story is about the plight of the Chinese peasants, the underlying story is of non-governmental foreign direct investment in Ghana, in which the workers are also Chinese and the money earned from the mining is being sent directly back to China. I don't see where Ghana benefits from this in any way that would be thought of as sustainable development.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Dose of Demographic Reality About the US

David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, has a generally conservative bent, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I started reading his column today titled "A Nation of Mutts." But, in fact, he walked his readers through the reality of modern America--a nation composed of people from a lot of different origins who, thankfully, tend to intermingle and intermarry (thus, the "mutts"--this is a good thing, not a pejorative term).
If you grew up between 1950 and 1985, you grew up at a time when only about 5 percent or 6 percent of American residents were foreign born. Today, roughly 13 percent of American residents are foreign born, and we’re possibly heading to 15 percent.
Of course, he neglects to mention that if you grew up between 1900 and 1930, you grew up when about 14 percent of American residents were foreign-born. We are going back to our roots, in that sense.
Moreover, up until now, America was primarily an outpost of European civilization. Between 1830 and 1880, 80 percent of the immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe. Over the following decades, the bulk came from Southern and Central Europe. In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born population came from Europe, with European ideas and European heritage.
Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling. Americans of European descent are already a minority among 5-year-olds. European-Americans will be a minority over all in 30 years at the latest, and probably sooner.
This, of course, is true, and it came about after President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation ending decades of a deliberately racist exclusionary immigration policy.
On the whole, this future is exciting. The challenge will be to create a global civilization that is, at the same time, distinctly American. Immigration reform or not, the nation of mutts is coming.
In most respects, we started out that way. Early Europeans did not see themselves as a homogenous group. English, Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles--you name it--all eventually came together to create the earlier version of the mutt-society.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senate Passes Immigration Bill--Will It Ever See the Light of Day in the House?

The big demographic news today was the passage by the US Senate of a comprehensive immigration bill. It passed by a vote of 68 to 32, with bipartisan support. But it's way too early to celebrate because, as the New York Times reports:
The strong 68-to-32 vote in the often polarized Senate tossed the issue into the House, where the Republican leadership has said that it will not take up the Senate measure and is instead focused on much narrower legislation that would not provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. Party leaders hope that the Senate action will put pressure on the House.
A cynic might say that Republics in the Senate knew that they could vote for it pretty readily, no matter what they thought of it, since the odds of passage in the House are so slim. As BBC News noted, House Speaker John Boehner had his own ideas about the bill:
On Thursday, Mr Boehner, the Republican House speaker, said the House would not take up the Senate bill directly.
"We're going to do our own bill... that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people," he said.
Mr Boehner's comments cast doubt on the chances legislation will quickly reach Mr Obama's desk, and could portend failure for immigration reform entirely, analysts say.
It seems pretty clear to me that Boehner is watching the wrong polls (again?) if he thinks that the American people oppose the bill passed by the Senate.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Abortion and the Sanctity of LIfe...or Not

People who oppose a woman's right to have an abortion typically invoke the idea of the sanctity of life, despite the fact that they often oppose an abortion even if the woman's life is in danger. I don't really get the logic of that argument, but I do get the fervor with which people supported Wendy Davis, a state senator in Texas, as she filibustered to stop the passage of a very restrictive abortion law in that state. Indeed, the bill was not passed--at least not last night, although Texas Republicans say it will come up for a vote again in the near future. In the meantime, of all the news coverage of this story, the one that really hit it on the head for me was from The Onion:
AUSTIN, TX—Following state senator Wendy Davis’ successful filibuster of sweeping abortion restrictions last night, disappointed Texans told reporters they are looking forward to tonight’s scheduled execution of convicted murderer Kimberly McCarthy to cheer them back up. “I was completely devastated after learning that abortion providers throughout the state would remain open, but thankfully, there’s nothing better to lift up our spirits than an old-fashioned execution,” said Fort Worth anti-abortion activist Caroline Hinton, who added that the impending lethal injection of McCarthy was “more than enough” to put a smile back on her face. “And as soon as I remembered that the state of Texas is preparing to take a woman’s life this evening by strapping her onto a gurney and shooting a cocktail of deadly chemicals into her arteries, I just perked right up and put those failed abortion restrictions out of my mind. And it’s our 500th execution, too, so it’s going to be a real celebration! I guess this week won’t turn out all bad after all.” At press time, Hinton reported feeling “even better” after learning that Governor Rick Perry is expected to call a special session to reintroduce the anti-abortion legislation and that political analysts say it will likely pass.
You don't really know whether to laugh or cry at this. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Demographics of Kids' Books Don't Match the Demographics of Kids

You only have to go to the local mall on a weekend to appreciate what the census data tell us--the younger the population, the more ethnically diverse it is. But, as NPR pointed out in a story today, the ethnicity of characters in books for children has not yet caught up with American demographic trends.
When it comes to diversity, children's books are sorely lacking; instead of presenting a representative range of faces, they're overwhelmingly white. How bad is the disconnect? A report by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that only 3 percent of children's books are by or about Latinos — even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino.
Does this really matter to kids? The consensus is that it does matter, although the story does not refer to any studies done on the subject. It just seems common-sensical that children will be more engaged in stories about people who look like they do.
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson wrote Bad News For Outlaws, as well as several other books about African-Americans. She is also a librarian at the public library in Rio Rancho, N.M. She says that young people need to see themselves represented on the page so that they will continue reading.
"If they don't see that then perhaps they lose interest," Nelson says. "They don't think there's anything in books about them or for them."
Nelson adds that it is also important for white children to see characters of different races. "Not only do they learn to appreciate the differences," she explains, "but I think they learn to see the sameness, and so those other cultures are less seen as 'others.' "
The obvious point here is that there is a market for ethnically diverse books that really didn't used to exist, and we can expect authors and publishers to start responding soon to these changing demographics.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Overhaul the One-Child Policy: A Chinese Perspective

Readers of this blog know that my younger son is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Today he was entertaining a delegation from China and it turns out that one of the delegates recently published a paper discussing her thoughts about how to overhaul her country's One-Child Policy. She is Yijia Jing and is Professor and Associate Dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her paper appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis & Management. Since you can't read this without a subscription, I am going to list some of the highlights here:
A first adjustment is to fundamentally change the missions of population policy. Since the 1970s, China’s population policy has developed a narrow focus on birth control that has become increasingly separate from the vastly different socioeconomic realities. New population policy should put people first by shifting its focus from control to development and from regulation to service. Population policy should first aim to improve the lives of citizens physically, mentally, and intellectually, and to meet their demands for both basic rights and a capacity to compete in the global arena. It should helpmaintain social morale and solidarity by coping with the serious imbalances in age, gender, and other aspects. Further, population policy should also helpmaintain China’s economic momentum and sustainability in a time of economic restructuring and low fertility by keeping the population rate steady. It is important to avoid population problems bringing China into the middle-income trap. 
The corresponding important [second] adjustment is to embrace a two-child policy. Despite the worry of “population rebound,” a two-child policy will not significantly spur population growth as the policy-driven sharp drop in fertility rate hides the accompanying decrease in fertility desire.
The third adjustment is to improve the decision-making and implementation of the new population policy. Being related to the fundamental welfare and happiness of every citizen, public participation in policy debates and formulation should be encouraged, and a consensus of citizens should be reached.
These "overhauls" seem enlightened to me and, since they are coming from inside China, rather than from the outside, we can only hope that they might gain some traction.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

New UN Population Projections Push the Number a Bit Higher in 2050

The United Nations Populations Division recently posted its latest round of world population prospects--its projections for the countries of the world--and the global expectation is a bit higher than before, going up to a projected 9.6 billion in 2050 instead of 9.3 billion as they projected a couple of years ago. This is largely due to the realization that fertility is not declining as quickly as UN demographers had previously thought. USA Today covered the story:
John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division in the U.N.'s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the projected population increase will pose challenges but is not necessarily cause for alarm. Rather, he said, the worry is for countries on opposite sides of two extremes: Countries, mostly poor ones, whose populations are growing too quickly, and wealthier ones where the populations are aging and decreasing.
While I might agree that these projections are not alarming, they do provide some wake-up calls, especially with respect to the continued high rates of growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
Among the fastest-growing countries is Nigeria, whose population is expected to surpass the U.S. population before the middle of the century and could start to rival China as the second-most populous country in the world by the end of the century, according to the report. By 2050, Nigeria's population is expected to reach more than 440 million people, compared to about 400 million for the U.S. The oil-rich African country's population is forecast to be nearly 914 million by 2100.
The report found that most countries with very high levels of fertility — more than 5 children per women — are on the U.N. list of least-developed countries. Most are in Africa, but they also include Afghanistan and East Timor.
The future will be challenging, indeed, if these projections are anywhere close to reality.

Friday, June 21, 2013

World-Wide Epidemic of Violence Against Women

One of the sad truths about the world is that we still have a long way to go in terms of equality of men and women. The status of women is an important "behind-the-scenes" driver of many demographic phenomena in the world, and the empowerment of women is a huge health, not just social justice, issue. This latter point was highlighted today by a new report just out from the World Health Organization on "Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women."
The report details the impact of violence on the physical and mental health of women and girls. This can range from broken bones to pregnancy-related complications, mental problems and impaired social functioning.
The report’s key findings on the health impacts of violence by an intimate partner were:
* Death and injury – The study found that globally, 38% of all women who were murdered were murdered by their intimate partners, and 42% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner had experienced injuries as a result.
* Depression – Partner violence is a major contributor to women’s mental health problems, with women who have experienced partner violence being almost twice as likely to experience depression compared to women who have not experienced any violence.
* Alcohol use problems – Women experiencing intimate partner violence are almost twice as likely as other women to have alcohol-use problems.
* Sexually transmitted infections – Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire syphilis infection, chlamydia, or gonorrhoea. In some regions (including sub-Saharan Africa), they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV.
* Unwanted pregnancy and abortion – Both partner violence and non-partner sexual violence are associated with unwanted pregnancy; the report found that women experiencing physical and/or sexual partner violence are twice as likely to have an abortion than women who do not experience this violence.
* Low birth-weight babies – Women who experience partner violence have a 16% greater chance of having a low birth-weight baby.
Overall, the report showed that violence against women was highest in Africa (46 percent prevalence rate against women), and the lowest was in Europe (27 percent). Clearly, even that "lowest" figure is way too high.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Conundrum of Desert Deaths

Four bodies were found today in the Arizona desert, probably undocumented migrants from Mexico, according to CNN. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual thing because we have a conundrum here: (1) if all of the easy places to cross the border are not patrolled, the flow of immigrants is likely to be larger than anyone in the US really wants; (2) if you make it impossible to get across at the easy places, people will take bigger risks with their life crossing through more dangerous territory, such as the Arizona desert, because (3) it is impossible to completely seal the southern border of the US.
According to a recent study by the Binational Migration Institute at the University of Arizona, more than 2,230 migrants have died in the state's desert area along the border in the past 22 years.
In the border region of Pima County, Arizona, deaths of unidentified migrants in the desert have become so common the Medical Examiner's Office has helped create a website to track the deaths and assist family members searching for their loved ones' remains.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators announced a proposal to add 20,000 more border agents, complete 700 miles of fence along the boundary with Mexico, and deploy $3.2 billion in technology upgrades similar to equipment used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, since we can't completely seal the border, people who want to cross without documentation will just keep finding the holes--which are increasingly dangerous places. There seems to be no good answer to this problem.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ireland Takes Some Baby Steps Toward Reproductive Rights

Ireland has had one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws of any developed nation for a long time--no abortion, any time, for any reason. In February of this year, the Economist put the situation into its current context:
THE Irish Supreme Court ruled 21 years ago that abortion was legal if the risk that pregnancy might prompt suicide put the life of a woman in grave danger. The case involved a sexually abused and suicidal teenager whom the lower courts stopped from travelling to England for an abortion, a decision the Supreme Court reversed. Yet successive governments ignored the court’s decision. Ireland still has one of the rich world’s most restrictive abortion regimes. Every year over 4,000 Irish women go to Britain to terminate their pregnancies: a British solution to an Irish problem.
Three years ago, however, the European Court of Human Rights embarrassed the politicians into taking action by calling on Ireland to clarify its abortion law. More recently, the debate was reignited by an international outcry when an Indian-born dentist died in a Galway hospital after a miscarriage, despite her repeated requests for an abortion.
Yesterday's New York Times reports that the Irish Parliament finally is poised to pass a law that will, for the first time in Irish history, allow abortion under at least some circumstances:
The measure, called the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, would allow for an abortion when the life of the mother was threatened or if there was a possibility of suicide.
While this is obviously still very restrictive, it is clearly a step in the right direction, and stands in stark contrast to the many Republican Party legislators in the US who would prefer the old Irish way.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Immigrants Are Not a Burden--The Evidence Is In

Instead of just admitting to their xenophobia, most people who oppose immigration (no matter which country) will list a variety of disadvantages associated with letting foreigners in. In the US, there is still a belief among anti-immigrant folks that crime rates are higher among immigrants. The evidence does not support this contention, as Kathleen Dingemann and Rubén Rumbaut of UC-Irvine have demonstrated. Almost anywhere you go, the claim is made that immigrants are simply after rich-country welfare benefits and they take more than they give. Once again, the evidence does not support this contention, as shown in an OECD report just released, and discussed in this week's Economist.
The study casts light on one big worry—that immigrants are welfare junkies. In fact, their net direct contribution to the public purse is generally positive. The big exception is Germany, which has many foreign-born pensioners who came from Turkey as guest workers in the 1960s and from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Although immigrants generally pay their way, their net direct contribution does tend to be smaller than that of the native-born. But this arises from their paying less tax rather than receiving more benefits. And the main reason for this shortfall in taxation is lower employment, especially among women. If host countries want to squeeze the most out of immigrants, the answer is to get more of them into work.
Keep in mind that this is a cross-sectional static view, so it does not take into account the long-term effect that immigrants have of keeping an economy going by injecting younger people into the labor force of otherwise aging nations. So, it might be said that not only are immigrants not welfare junkies, they are life-savers. But, of course, xenophobes don't want to hear that kind of talk. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Fertility Argument for Immigration Reform

There is no question that the US has a growing population because it accepts more immigrants than any other country in the world. To be sure, that is why (a) the non-Hispanic white population is moving into the minority status demographically. yet (b) why the country is not on the road to depopulation despite the fact that there are more deaths than births among the non-Hispanic white population. But, despite this demographic reality, that is rarely mentioned in the public debate about immigration--until a couple of days ago, when Jeb Bush put it on the table, as reported in a Washington Post blog by Aaron Blake:
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) argued Wednesday that the United States should pass immigration reform because the U.S. economy needs the labor of young immigrants, and immigrants are “more fertile.”
“Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans,” Bush said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority conference. “Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.”
Bush is married to an immigrant from Mexico, and they have three children, so he obviously walks the talk on this issue, no matter what you might otherwise think about him.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A New Kind of Demographic Human Rights Issue in China

Since China has been the world's most populous country for centuries, any human rights abuse related to demography is bound to be BIG. That is certainly the case with the One-Child Policy, as I have often and recently mentioned. Today's New York Times lays out the next big demographic push in China--pushing 250 million rural peasants into cities.
The government, often by fiat, is replacing small rural homes with high-rises, paving over vast swaths of farmland and drastically altering the lives of rural dwellers. So large is the scale that the number of brand-new Chinese city dwellers will approach the total urban population of the United States — in a country already bursting with megacities.
This will decisively change the character of China, where the Communist Party insisted for decades that most peasants, even those working in cities, remain tied to their tiny plots of land to ensure political and economic stability. Now, the party has shifted priorities, mainly to find a new source of growth for a slowing economy that depends increasingly on a consuming class of city dwellers.
The story makes it appear that people are being moved whether they want to or not, which would put this closer to the category of forced migration than urbanization. At the same time, the story makes only the barest of references to the household registration (hukou) system which has officially separated rural and urban populations. CNN commented on this a few months ago:
The institutionalized restriction of people's movement in China goes back for centuries, and was re-introduced by the Communist Party after 1949. Labor rights activist Han Dongfang of China Labor Bulletin says China's booming economy in recent years has made many hukou restrictions disappear, especially those that restrict the freedom of movement.
"But restrictions on access to education, welfare, medical and housing benefits still exist and disproportionately affect the poorest and least educated citizens," he says.
Presumably the people being moved into cities will have their registration status changed from rural to urban and will be given the same rights as currently registered urban residents. Only if this occurs will a related demographic human rights issue be alleviated.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Twilight of Whites in America?

The demographic changes taking place in the US have been well known for a long time, but when new numbers come in, it is always good to contemplate what they tell us about the present and portend for the future. The US Census Bureau today released its latest estimates of the population by age, sex, race and ethnicity for "vintage" 2012, as they now call it--pretty trendy, I must say. Anyway, among the many changes noted by the Census Bureau, one of the more startling was the estimate that as of 2011, the number of deaths exceeded births among the non-Hispanic white population, albeit by a very small margin. That ethnic group continued to increase in number only because of international migration. The Census Bureau's news release contains many of the details, and the story was covered by many outlets, including the New York Times, with comments from the go-to guy on stories of this kind--Dr. William Frey:
“These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Dr. Frey said. In fact, the situation may be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.
The viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare, Dr. Frey said, “will be reliant on the success of waves of young Hispanics, Asians and blacks who will become the bulwark of our labor force.” The issues of minorities, he added, “will hold greater sway than ever before.”
Keep in mind that these are estimates, not exact counts of anything, so there is at least some small margin of error. However, the US vital statistics data show that fertility dropped significantly among the non-Hispanic white population during the recent Depression. Although there might be some rebound as the economy improves, the aging of the non-Hispanic white population means that a rebound would affect an increasingly smaller number of women, so this trend towards the relative decline of the non-Hispanic white population seems pretty clearly to have accelerated a bit over the past few years, and it is hard to imagine that it will reverse itself. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Continuing Concern About China's One-Child Policy

In the history of family planning, there has never been anything like the One-Child Policy in China--a state-controlled regulation of reproduction that has featured, by all accounts, a great deal of brutality toward pregnant women. There is nothing good about this policy from a human rights perspective, and history has suggested very clearly that it was not necessary. Fertility was already declining in China in 1979 when the policy went into effect and all the evidence suggests that it would have continued its downward trend without state intervention, as happened in Taiwan, for example. One of the people trying to raise a continuing level of concern about this is Ma Jian, a Chinese novelist living in London, who has just published a book called "The Dark Road," which is about rural Chinese couples on the run from population enforcers, and is reviewed in today's New York Times. I have not yet read the book because it won't be released until tomorrow, but Ma Jian published an article in the Guardian last month that lays out the kinds of information he gathered in his wanderings through China in search of the stories that went into the novel.
Dressed in scruffy jeans and a frayed shirt, I posed variously as a migrant worker, a tramp, or a traveller in search of adventure, and lived among family-planning fugitives in their dilapidated barges on the Yangtze. Most of the families had three or four daughters born "out of quota". They live abnormal lives on the margins of an even more abnormal society, picking up menial jobs in the river towns, raising ducks, scavenging refuse sites, hoping to produce a longed-for son who will carry on the family name; all the while nervously scanning the banks, ready, at the first sight of a police van or family-planning squad, to pull anchor and set sail.
The saddest thing about this is that the tragedy has two prongs: (1) local officials who choose to administer the policy in grotesque ways (enforcement is decentralized, so not every place is as bad as every other place); and (2) the unequal status of males and females that encourages parents to put their lives at risk having a third or higher-order birth in order to have a son (in rural areas, a couple can have a second child if the first is a girl). There is thus more than one change that China really needs to implement.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Getting Going on Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue

Guns and gun violence have been big political and social issues in the US for a long time, but now a new report from the National Research Council has laid out a research agenda to deal with the public health issue of guns--who is being injured/killed and why and what we can do about that? This is a complicated issue, as it turns out, but more complicated than it might otherwise be because of the fact that Congress had suppressed research in this area for a long time.

The report stems from executive orders issued by President Obama in January 2013 directing federal agencies to improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, interventions that might prevent it, and strategies to minimize its public health burden. One of these executive orders charged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with identifying the most pressing firearm-related violence research needs. In turn, CDC and the CDC Foundation asked IOM and the Research Council to recommend a research agenda on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence. The committee determined potential research topics by surveying previous relevant research, receiving public input, and using expert judgment.

With any luck, the focus on health instead of constitutional rights will help direct attention to what is really going on. As I have noted before, survey data do show that gun violence is declining even as gun ownership has increased and this seems to be mainly due to the paradox of fewer people owning guns, but those who do own guns own more than ever. This is a sad bifurcation of American society and anything that can be done to bring common sense to the issue will be very welcome.


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Argument for Only Children

Until very recently the world was almost insistently pronatalist. It had to be that way because until death rates dropped--a very recent phenomenon in world history--several children had to be born to ensure that at least two would survive to adulthood and maintain the group's size. That necessity is a thing of the past in virtually all parts of the world, but some of the prejudices that arose in the pronatalist world are still with us. One of these is that you do a disservice to your child if you deprive it of siblings--only children are bound to be defective in some way or another. My wife is an only child and I reject that argument based on her experience, but we don't need just anecdotal evidence--scientific evidence is strong that only children are not disadvantaged. 

I thought of these things as I was reading an Op-Ed in the New York Times by Lauren Sandler, who is an only child who has an only child, and has just written a book defending only children. This is a topic that has been well studied by sociologists and demographers and she quotes two of the more prominent researchers on the topic--Toni Falbo at the University of Texas, Austin, and Judith Blake, who was teaching at UCLA when she died in 1992. I mention the latter date because Ms. Sandler refers to her as though she might still be alive, and thus fails to emphasize that science put the only child myth to rest long ago, even if the public has not. And, of course, the biggest natural experiment on this score has been taking place over the past three decades in China. So far, so good, by most accounts.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Switzerland Gets Uncomfortable With Too Many Asylees

Switzerland has long been a place known to be comfortable sheltering both people and money. The US has been pushing Swiss banks to drop their secrecy with respect to bank accounts, but the Swiss themselves have decided to change their rules about asylum seekers. BBC News reports the final results of a referendum held last September, in which 80 percent of Swiss voters approved tightening up the eligibility rules.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, says Switzerland has a long tradition of generosity towards asylum seekers - its proportion of refugees per head of population is twice the European average.
But the number of asylum seekers is rising sharply and is at its highest in a decade.
That, coupled with sharp rises in immigration overall, has led to public concern that too many people are coming to Switzerland, our correspondent says.
Switzerland counts one asylum seeker for every 332 inhabitants. The European average is one asylum seeker for every 625 inhabitants.

Human rights groups were naturally upset about this result and are trying to gain support to overturn the new rules, but as I have often mentioned, the increasing number of refugees and asylees in the world has forced European countries, especially a smaller one such as Switzerland (population about 8 million), to deeply contemplate their demographic futures.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Syria Continues to Explode and Implode

With Hezbollah having entered the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime, violence seems to have escalated even more, creating an ever large refugee problem. Foreign Policy Magazines notes that the United Nations responded yesterday with what it says is its largest appeal ever for humanitarian aid. According to Reuters:
The United Nations expects 10.25 Syrians, half the population, will need humanitarian aid by the end of 2013 at a cost of more than $5 billion, U.N. humanitarian agencies said in an updated Syria response plan published on Friday. The new forecasts include more than a doubling of the refugee population over the next six months.
The Guardian adds that:
The civil war in Syria has led to the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world amid a conflict in which hospitals, schools and water and sanitation infrastructure have been targeted.
But some fear that the $5bn appeal will not be enough as aid agencies have struggled to keep pace with the three-year crisis which has left more than 80,000 people dead.
"Unfortunately, several of the former appeals for the humanitarian response inside Syria and in neighbouring countries have underestimated the scale of the crisis," said Toril Brekke, acting secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
It is very clear that we will be living with the demographic, economic, and political consequences of this for a long time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What's in the Immigration Bill?

Very few of us are apt to read all of the provisions of the Immigration bill that will be debated in the Senate next week. It is unlikely that even the senators voting on the bill will have read it all, although I suspect that one or more staff members of each senator will have done so. So, we need to be thankful for the fact that Migration Policy Institute has provided a detailed analysis of what's in there.
“If enacted, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill would represent the most significant restructuring of the U.S. legal immigration system since 1965,” said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who directs the institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program. “The legislation would rebalance the system away from temporary and toward more permanent employment-based immigration, provide new pathways for middle- and low-skilled workers to gain work visas, reduce future backlogs and wait times, and add much-needed flexibility.”
In particular, because of the new emphasis on bringing in people with specific labor force skills, the fraction of visas for legal immigration each year that go to family members will decline, but largely because more visas will be issued, not because family reunification would be cut back.
Among the brief’s findings:

* Total admissions in the employment- and merit-based categories combined could increase almost four- or even fivefold under the Senate legislation, from approximately 140,000 green cards to 554,000-696,000 per year.
* The large increase in skills-based green cards would likely reduce waiting times for many applicants already in the country on temporary work visas — re-orienting the system away from temporary and toward more permanent employment-based immigration, especially for those applying in newly uncapped, high-skill categories.
* The Senate bill would dramatically expand options for low- and middle-skilled foreign workers to fill year-round, longer-term jobs and ultimately qualify for permanent residence. * Under the current system, low-skilled immigration has been largely limited to temporary and short-term (less than one year) visas.
*The share of immigrants selected on the basis of their skills would rise from 6 percent of all green cards for principal applicants in 2012 to as much as 19 percent in 2018.
* While most workers would require a job offer or significant U.S. experience, the legislation would permit PhD holders (in any field) from U.S. or foreign schools to apply for a green card without an offer of employment. The PhD provision has no numerical cap.
What is most striking about this analysis is the lack of focus in the bill on undocumented immigrants and securing the border. Those have been the hot button issues, but the MPI analysis offers a glimpse into a much more sophisticated and, we can hope, more useful immigration policy than we currently have. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Feed the Growing Urban Population

My wife and I just planted our summer garden. and while our small garden falls far short of feeding us, it supplements our diet and is part of a growing (no pun intended) movement to bring agriculture back into urban areas. BBC News has a nice summary of some of the technological advances that are coming online to facilitate this.
Included in the mix of successful city-based agricultural projects are rooftop gardens, rooftop greenhouses (both low tech and hydroponic), above-ground planting beds, the use of empty lots as farmland, and vertical farms that occupy tall buildings and abandoned warehouses. Collectively, these examples show the validity of growing food in the city. Not only could be they be carried out efficiently – such as rooftop greenhouses giving much higher yields than outdoor farms – but they could also operate without the pollution associated with outdoor farming.
Urban agriculture has the potential to become so pervasive within our cities that by the year 2050 they may be able to provide its citizens with up to 50% of the food they consume. In doing so, ecosystems that were fragmented in favour of farmland could be allowed to regain most of their ecological functions, creating a much healthier planet for all creatures great and small.
The biggest problem, alluded to in the article, is that many cities of developing countries are densely settled places with poor infrastructure, and it may require a heretofore unseen commitment to planning and building in order to bring about this kind of urban agricultural revolution.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chilean President Wants to Pay Women to Have Children

The total fertility rate in Chile has dropped below the replacement level, mirroring fertility trends in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, with Colombia not too far behind. In general, those South American countries with relatively small indigenous populations, and relatively large shares of the population with some European origin have been experiencing European-style declines in fertility. Brazil and Chile have the lowest fertility at the moment, and this bothers Chilean President Sebastián Piñera--so much so, that according to The Economist, he is sending a bill to Congress to pay mothers $200 per month for a third child, $300 per month for a fourth, and $400 per month for each one above four. There are no eligibility limitations in this proposal.
The announcement prompted a good deal of ribaldry. Chilean men asked hopefully if they would be paid to father three children with different mothers. The payment was quickly dubbed “the Opus Dei bonus”, after an influential conservative Catholic sect. It was designed, its critics said, to reward wealthy, conservative families, renowned for their prodigious fecundity. Critics say there are more constructive ways to encourage women to have larger families, such as better child care.
Like all such schemes that have been proposed over the years, this is unlikely to motivate very many women to have additional children, even if the Chilean Congress were to pass such a law. As I argue in my book, the best way to keep fertility levels near replacement level is to level the playing field for women relative to men. Providing women access to education and the labor force, while at the same time trying to maintain traditional family norms of a wife and mother doing all of the work at home is basically the recipe for very low fertility that countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Japan have all put into place.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Can We Lower Poverty Levels in the World?

Poverty is an interesting concept because of its relativity. For most of human history, most people lived in what we would now consider to be poverty. Even kings and queens of hundreds of years had levels of living that people in rich countries now would consider abominable. But, as economies have grown over the past two hundred years and standards of living have risen in much of the world, many people have been left behind. This week, world leaders meet to prioritize a new set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and The Economist has pushed the idea that continuing to reduce poverty should be a very high priority.
In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years.
That raised an obvious question. If extreme poverty could be halved in the past two decades, why should the other half not be got rid of in the next two? If 21% was possible in 2010, why not 1% in 2030?
It turns out that much of the poverty reduction has taken place in China, fueled in part by its demographic dividend. To get rid of poverty, at least as defined by a level of consumption of $1.25/day per person, things have to happen in India and most of Africa.
The world now knows how to reduce poverty. A lot of targeted policies—basic social safety nets and cash-transfer schemes, such as Brazil’s Bolsa Família—help. So does binning policies like fuel subsidies to Indonesia’s middle class and China’s hukou household-registration system that boost inequality. But the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries (Africa is still cruelly punished by tariffs) and within them (China’s real great leap forward occurred because it allowed private business to grow). Both India and Africa are crowded with monopolies and restrictive practices.
And, we should remind the Economist, dramatically reducing fertility is part of the package. This has happened in China, but also in Brazil (and recently in Mexico). India and most of sub-Saharan Africa are lagging behind on reducing population growth, which is an important reason why they are lagging behind on poverty reduction.