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

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

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Childlessness in the US

Recent news on the fertility front in the US has included the fact that the birth rate seems to have stopped its recent decline, and the speculation that there might even be a baby boom on the horizon. Into this mix of ideas is a paper just published by Sarah Hayford in the journal Demography, trying to understand the factors underlying the increase in childlessness in the US (the applied manifestation of which is the increase in child-free zones in the US). In particular, she is interested in knowing how much the dramatic increase in education among women may have contributed to that increase in childlessness. I won't leave you in suspense. Using data over several decades from the Current Population Survey, she finds that increasing education contributes only very modestly to childlessness. Late marriage (after age 40) among women is much more important, despite the fact that there has been an increase in the likelihood of unmarried women having a child. This latter fact gets a lot of publicity, but she argues that childlessness among women who have postponed marriage is really a bigger deal. However, the single most important cause of childlessness is what Hayford calls "secular trends." 
Members of a birth cohort make decisions about childbearing and family formation in response to shared social and economic conditions. Dramatic changes in the social environment faced by cohorts over the late twentieth century, as well as changes in the composition of cohorts of U.S. women, have the potential to explain long-term trends in childlessness in the United States.
In other words, women do not make decisions about marriage and childbearing in a vacuum. They are responding to social cues all around them. On that note, one of the most important points she makes in the article, at least in my opinion, is relegated to a footnote:
Postponement is, of course, mechanically linked to childlessness: women who have an early birth cannot then be childless, and childless women are those who have avoided having children first at young ages and then at successively older ages. Research also suggests that intentions to be childless are rare at young ages, and most permanently childless women reach terminal childlessness by repeatedly postponing the first birth.
This is a key point--few women start out with a preference for no children--they arrive at the situation of childlessness a step at a time as they pursue the increasingly wide range of options open to them in modern western society. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Maybe There Will be a 2021 Census in the UK After all

More than three years ago, I commented on an article in the Economist discussing the UK government's  consideration of replacing the 2021 census with data from administrative sources, largely as a way of saving money. At the time, the Economist seemed generally to be in favor of such a move. This week they came to their senses, as it appears to them that the government is unlikely to abandon the census.
EVERY ten years since 1801 the British government has conducted a census, counting every man, woman and child. Is this elaborate and costly exercise still necessary? The most recent census, conducted in 2011, cost £480m ($770m)—a 35% increase in real terms over the 2001 census. On September 23rd the Office for National Statistics (ONS) began a three-month public consultation to evaluate two new ways to count the population. 
Unlike surveys based on random sampling, the census provides extremely accurate and fine-grained data. Researchers can look up the results for a single street. Counting everybody is also the most reliable way to determine the size of the total population: the 2011 census revealed that there were 500,000 more people in England and Wales than statisticians had thought. But this accuracy is expensive and short-lived.
The ONS proposes two alternatives. The first option is to conduct the census as normal every ten years, but to collect the bulk of responses online. When the ONS offered the option to respond online in 2011, 16% of households took it up. This would preserve the detail and accuracy of the traditional census, and at £625m would cost less than another paper-based census (estimated to cost £800m). But the information gathered would still go out of date just as quickly.
Canada has been successful with online responses and it would probably work in the US as well, but so far it is has not been tried. It seems likely, as the Economist notes, that the online option will win out, saving money and allowing the census to move forward. If the UK is smart, they will also move to a continuous survey like the American Community Survey to keep the data updated between the complete counts.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Birth "Tourism"

One of the advantages of hanging around students is that you learn stuff you might not otherwise know. No, I don't mean that. I mean things like "birth tourism," which refers to pregnant women who travel to a country besides their own to give birth, so that their child will automatically be a citizen of that country, offering the child (and maybe later the parents) some "options" in life. NPR had a big story about this almost three years ago, talking about wealthy Chinese women coming to the US to deliver their baby.
A whole host of middlemen have sprung up in China to facilitate the booming trade, foremost of whom is Robert Zhou, a Taiwanese businessman.
For roughly $15,000, his company can arrange the hospital in Los Angeles, the doctor, the house and car rental, and any number of other extras for wealthy Chinese parents-to-be.
Since then, government agencies have gotten wise to this and are cracking down. Just last month the International Business Times ran a story about this:
Many wealthy Chinese parents have for years tried to deliver their babies first in Hong Kong, now in the United States, so they could get around China's one-child law and make sure their children are granted either Hong Kong or U.S. citizenship. But now, many of these parents have to get more creative than ever as authorities wise up to the tactic.
But it's not just the Chinese and it's not just the US. Canada is also in the news:
Carrying fraudulent, forged and stolen passports, dozens of Nigerian women began making their way to Toronto not long ago — so many that last year the Canada Border Services Agency identified it as a “trend.”
The women were between the ages of 20 and 35, and were traveling with the help of “facilitation” agents. “The city of Toronto is the main destination for these women because many Nigerians live there,” the CBSA wrote in an Intelligence Bulletin.
These women were, of course, pregnant, and since 1947 any person born in Canada is automatically a Canadian citizen, just as has been true in the US since 1868. I suspect that the average person in the US assumes that most of this kind of activity takes place among Mexican women crossing the border illegally to have their baby in the US. However, as USA Today reported a couple of years ago, there is no evidence that this is widespread.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Concise History of Human Longevity

Laura Helmuth, Science Editor of Slate, has a very nice article that rather concisely summarizes (with good references) the history of human longevity, in which her main point is one that few make--celebrating the rise in the number of older people.
After the increase in child survival, the other major demographic change to come from the doubling of average human lifespan is a robust population of old people. In 1850, the proportion of people age 60 or older in the United States was about 4 percent. Today they account for about 20 percent of the population.
Now, to be sure, increases in longevity (not lifespan--that's fixed by biology) lead to increases in the NUMBER of older people, but it is the drop in fertility that leads to the increase in the PERCENT of the population that is older. She seems to understand that point, however, because in the next paragraph she says:
Economists fret about declining birth rates in the developed world and the challenge of financially supporting large elderly populations. But old people are awesome. Having a high ratio of older to younger people isn’t just a consequence of living in peace and prosperity—it’s also the foundation of a civilized society.
Old people aren’t merely less bellicose and impulsive than young people. They’re also, as a group, wiser, happier, and more socially adept. They handle negative information better, have stronger relationships, and find better solutions to interpersonal conflicts than younger people do.
As a parent and a grandparent, I have to say 'yes' to that. Stop worrying about whether or not there are too few young people and revel in the older population. They won't be around for ever, you know.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Infant Mortality Rate Continues its World Wide Decline

The demographic transition has historically been put into motion by the ability of children to stay alive longer. This obviously is not something that infants do on their own. They need a bit of help from adults and in today's world UNICEF leads the charge in globally promoting the survival of children. Their success was heralded this week in their report estimating that:
The annual number of under-five deaths fell from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. But much faster progress is needed to reduce preventable diseases that cause child mortality.
You get the point--let's not believe that the war is over just because we are currently winning the battle. The Bill and Melinda Gates has also been solidly behind this effort, as Melinda Gates pointed out:
Two of my passions are child health and statistics. So I look forward to mid-September every year, to the day when UNICEF reports how many fewer children died the previous year.
Every single year—for at least the last 50 years—the number has gone down. Every. Single. Year.
I challenge you to name something else that gets better on that kind of schedule. The stock market goes up and down. Sprinters keep getting faster, but they don’t set new records every year. The 100 meter record set in 1968 didn’t get broken until 1983.
Meanwhile, the child mortality record set in 1968 got broken in 1969. And 1970. And 1971. And so on.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about the most important statistic in the world—who is alive.
Of course, declining infant mortality means higher rates of population growth unless fertility declines proportionately, and UNICEF is also the UN agency promoting birth control around the world, and to her credit, Melinda Gates also joined this campaign last year, as I noted at the time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

US Sees a Slight Rise in Undocumented Immigration

The Pew Hispanic Center yesterday released its latest analysis of the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. You will recall that these estimates start with the total number of foreign-born persons living in the US (drawn from the American Community Survey, or in earlier days from the Current Population Survey) and then subtracts from that the number of people who have been legally admitted to the US. The residual is assumed (almost certainly correctly) to represent the undocumented immigration population. I mention the method mainly to remind you that there is unknown error in the estimate, but all evidence suggests that these are pretty good numbers. The bottom line is:
The sharp decline in the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population that accompanied the Great Recession has bottomed out, and the number may be rising again.
With an emphasis, on my part, on the "may be." I wouldn't bet much on one year's worth of data, but if things are going the same direction next year, I'll buy it. Most noteworthy to me was that the trend in undocumented immigration closely mirrored the latest poverty and income numbers from the Census Bureau, in which we see that the economy is not bouncing back very vigorously. The story was picked up by Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Five of the six states with the most unauthorized immigrants, including California, experienced a dip in that population during the Great Recession. Only Texas saw no drop in that time.
“California is not where the economic gold seems to be,” said John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University. “It’s in Texas, North Carolina, other states where there have been increases in the Hispanic population. If you want to know what is happening economically, you follow the migrants and that is where they take you.”
I felt like I was repeating myself...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Destination Mexico, or As the World Turns

Damien Caves has a very lengthy and interesting article in today's New York Times in which he lays out the case for Mexico as a new migration destination. I cannot do it justice, but here are some highlights:
Here in the capital, too, immigrants are becoming a larger proportion of the population and a growing part of the economy and culture, opening new restaurants, designing new buildings, financing new cultural offerings and filling a number of schools with their children. Economics has been the primary motivator for members of all classes: laborers from Central America; middle-class migrants like Manuel Sánchez, who moved here from Venezuela two years ago and found a job selling hair products within 15 days of his arrival; and the global crème de la crème in finance and technology, like Mr. Pace, 26, whose first job in Mexico was with a major French bank just after graduating from the University of Reims.
Europe, dying; Mexico, coming to life. The United States, closed and materialistic; Mexico, open and creative. Perceptions are what drive migration worldwide, and in interviews with dozens of new arrivals to Mexico City — including architects, artists and entrepreneurs — it became clear that the country’s attractiveness extended beyond economics.
The numbers are not yet huge, but they seem clearly to be on the increase:
Mexico’s immigrant population is still relatively small. Some officials estimate that four million foreigners have lived in Mexico over the past few years, but the 2010 census counted about one million, making around 1 percent of the country foreign-born compared with 13 percent in the United States. Many Mexicans, especially among the poor, see foreigners as novel and unfamiliar invaders. 
The shift with Mexico’s northern neighbor is especially stark. Americans now make up more than three-quarters of Mexico’s roughly one million documented foreigners, up from around two-thirds in 2000, leading to a historic milestone: more Americans have been added to the population of Mexico over the past few years than Mexicans have been added to the population of the United States, according to government data in both nations.
Mexican migration to the United States has reached an equilibrium, with about as many Mexicans moving north from 2005 to 2010 as those returning south. The number of Americans legally living and working in Mexico grew to more than 70,000 in 2012 from 60,000 in 2009, a number that does not include many students and retirees, those on tourist visas or the roughly 350,000 American children who have arrived since 2005 with their Mexican parents.
Will this be a long-term trend? That's hard to tell, obviously, but it does show how perceptions of migrant opportunity can change in a heart-beat. It is probably sound demographic advice that if you want to know what's going on in the world, follow the migrants.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

When Deutsche Bank Talks About Fertility Rates, Should We Listen?

Earlier this month, Sanjeev Sanyal, Global Strategist for Deutsche Bank, came to the conclusion that the UN Population Division's population projections are way too high. He thinks fertility will be at replacement level in 15 years, and that world population size may peak at about 8.7 billion people and then decline from there. This is in contrast to the projections by demographers at the UN who this summer concluded that fertility was not declining as quickly as they had previously thought, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and that the world was likely headed to a number perhaps as high as 11 billion before leveling off. Mr. Sanyal's contrary opinion was picked up in a variety of places, including yesterday's New York Times, in the Business section, by Floyd Norris:
But it is possible that the U.N.’s latest forecast is too pessimistic. An analysis of population trends by Sanjeev Sanyal, the global strategist for Deutsche Bank, concludes that population growth is likely to be much slower than the U.N.’s estimate.
“In our view, global fertility will fall to the replacement rate in less than 15 years,” Mr. Sanyal wrote. “Population may keep growing for a few more decades from rising longevity but, reproductively speaking, our species will no longer be expanding.” He forecasts that world population will peak in around 2055, at 8.7 billion, and decline to 8 billion by the end of the century.
Now, it is always important to keep in mind that projections are just that--possibilities about what the future might hold, not predictions. So, there is always the possibility that Sanyal will be right and the UN demographers will be wrong. But I wouldn't bet on it. Why not? The UN demographers are highly qualified experts with a long history of knowledge about how the world works demographically. Mr. Sanyal seems like a very smart person, based on his online biosketches, but there is no evidence of any background in demography on his part, nor on the part of Deutsche Bank, either, for that matter.

You might also contemplate how this projection squares with that of Peter Berezin of BCA Research who recently was predicting a baby boom in developing countries? Or, with the ideas of Erle Ellis, who recently argued that there is no such thing as overpopulation because we will always come up with alternative sources of resources? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Beware the Drug-Resistant Bugs

The US Centers for Disease Control has released a new report reminding us that bugs are constantly waiting in the wings to kill us, if we drop our vigilance. In this case, dropping our vigilance actually means being too vigilant in using antibiotics when we don't need them. This leads bacteria to build up resistance to those drugs, and then we're toast.
Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result...

Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”

The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance. Up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately.
The report notes that antibiotics are routinely administered to animals raised for slaughter, and the New York Times picked up on this part of the story:
One point of contention has been the extent to which industrial-scale animal farming contributes to the problem of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The government has estimated that more than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals. Companies use them to prevent sickness when animals are packed together in ways that breed infection. They also use them to make animals grow faster, though federal authorities are trying to stop that. 
The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.
In general, this sounds like a good argument to stop eating meat.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Were You Better Off in 2012 Than in 2011? Probably Not.

The Census Bureau has released its latest poverty and income numbers from the American Community Survey and the news is not necessarily bad, but it isn't good, either. The "good" news: the poverty level held steady at about 15 percent of the population, but that works out to be 46 million people, which really isn't good news. In terms of household income, the numbers were as follows:
Median household income in the United States in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different in real terms from the 2011 median of $51,100. This followed two consecutive annual declines.
A comparison of real household income over the past five years shows an 8.3 percent decline since 2007, the year before the nation entered an economic recession.
So, maybe the best news out of this is that we have hit bottom in terms of sliding income. That is small comfort to most people, especially when the news was alive with the figures that I mentioned a few days ago, that the top 1 percent of earners scarfed up 95 percent of all income growth in that same period of time when most people were just hanging on to where they were the year before.

The release of poverty data came, coincidentally, just as the latest round of the Forbes 400 richest Americans hit the "newstands." The rich have gotten so rich that even a net worth of $1 billion won't cut it. This year's list required $1.3 billion for admission, and there are 400 Americans who have that much. To put that in perspective, if you had $1.3 billion in the bank, and it was only earning 1.18% per year, the current yield on new US government bonds, your annual income would be $15,340,000, and you wouldn't have had to lift a finger for that. That is the equivalent of 300 families bringing in the US median household income of $51,017, and almost certainly lifting a lot of fingers to do that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Latino Americans

Tonight was the first of three consecutive Tuesdays in which PBS is airing a three-part six-hour series on Latino Americans, based on a new book by Ray Suarez, a long-time reporter for PBS. The motivation for his book came straight out of demography, as he notes in an on-air interview with Michel Martin:
MARTIN: Now, as journalists, we often ask ourselves, why this topic and why now? So let me pitch the question to you. Why do you think this is the right time to tell this story this way?
SUAREZ: You know, the 2010 Census came along, and some of the best Hispanic number crunchers I know are at the Pew Hispanic Center and they had an in-house poll. And they all put numbers based on their best guess into a hat, and, you know, the Census Bureau released the Hispanic population numbers three states at a time over 17 weeks. And only one member of the staff guessed a number over 50 million, and when it came in - securely, 51 and a half million - well, that staff member won the pool. 
But it just shocked everybody. It's a huge number. It was one out of every six Americans, and sociologist Marta Tienda from Princeton University [and Past President of the Population Association of America] calls this the Latino moment. And what better moment to get started with a Latino series and a book on the history than now? I mean, people have to take the measure of what it means to have one out of six trace their heritage, not to Europe, not to Africa or Asia, but to the other countries of this hemisphere. It's a big deal.
There is no question that this is an important story--the face of the nation is literally changing. Some who have previewed it say the only missing piece is that the substantial migration from South America (a key part of Latin America!) is largely ignored, but I suppose that could be the next book and set of TV programs.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reproductive Rights for the Poor--Trying to Get it Right

Medicaid is the federal health insurance program for the poor (funded by both the federal government and states) and back in the 1970s Medicaid rules were established that prohibited a woman on Medicaid from receiving a tubal ligation (then, and still now, a very popular form of female sterilization) without a 30-day waiting period and some other safeguards against being forced into an unwanted sterilization. No problem, right? Well, maybe not. A new study just published in the journal Contraception and reported by suggests that by now the policy is working in the wrong direction--creating a situation where women are winding up with unwanted pregnancies. The research team, which included demographers from Princeton and UT-Austin, concluded that:
With the implementation of a revised Medicaid sterilization policy, we estimated that the number of fulfilled sterilization requests would increase by 45%, from 53.3% of all women having their sterilization requests fulfilled to 77.5%. Annually, this increase could potentially lead to over 29,000 unintended pregnancies averted and $215 million saved.
Sounds like policy-change time to me...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Are You Telling Me That There is No Population Problem?

"Overpopulation is Not the Problem" is the title of an Op-Ed in today's New York Times by Erle Ellis, who is a professor of geography and really should know better than this. He claims that he used to believe that populations could outrun resources (based apparently on a strict reading of Malthus), but then he discovered Ester Boserup, who convinced him that population growth stimulates the kind of change that advances society. Only a few days after the publication of the book on "The Bet" between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, Ellis is channeling Simon's idea that there is no limit to human population growth because we will just keep substituting new resources for the ones that we have exhausted. Thus Ellis concludes that:
The only limits to creating a planet that future generations will be proud of are our imaginations and our social systems. In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.
Well, yes, it will be what we make it, and at the moment we are making a mess of it. Will we be able to adjust in time for the next two or three billion people? The answer is that we really don't know. But we do know that without MAJOR changes in the way human society operates, virtually all new inhabitants of the planet in the future will have a standard of living well below that of people in the now rich parts of the world.

If you've read my book, you know that there is, to be sure, strong evidence to show that over the slow progress of human history, population growth probably did stimulate technological advances and improve the level of living. That is what Boserup (and many others) were seeing historically. At the same time, Malthus was wrong that population growth "naturally" exceeded the rate of growth of the food supply. The wrongness of that idea helped to inspire Darwin's thinking that all living things have the potential for geometric growth. But here's the rub: All of that transpired before the transfer of death control technology after WWII. Population growth is no longer tied to economic development--it is tied to international efforts to lower the death rate, and we have been increasing numerically at historically unprecedented rates. The solution is not to hope that we can somehow magically create new, currently unknown, resources. The solution is to lower the birth rate immediately. Ellis says that "It was only after years of research into the ecology of agriculture in China that I reached the point where my observations forced me to see beyond my biologists’s blinders." Wait a minute! The Chinese knew the answer to the puzzle--dramatically lower the birth rate. Ellis seemed to have had his blinders on to that development. The other thing we need to do, of course, which the Chinese have not done--nor have the rest of us--is to lower the rate at which we are extracting resources from the earth. This is how we can try to revive the environment.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Life is Lived Mainly at Mid-Latitude

Thanks to Tim Fraher for pointing me to a pair of maps posted on Slate yesterday by Joshua Keating that graph the world's population by latitude and (separately) longitude. Now, in truth, you get the same idea if you look at night lights images (See Figure 1.1 in my text), but these maps provide a different and more dramatic visual. Note that the originator of the map was cartographer Bill Rankin.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Great Recession Produced Same Income Inequality as the Great Depression

It is hard to wrap your mind around this statistic just released by a study done by researchers at UC Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics, and Oxford University: In 2012 the top 10 percent of earners in the US took home nearly half of the total income earned in the country. The top 1 percent alone claimed almost 20 percent of the total household income last year. NPR reported the story, noting that this was the widest income gap since 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression.
The richest Americans were hit hard by the financial crisis. Their incomes fell more than 36 percent in the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 as stock prices plummeted. Incomes for the bottom 99 percent fell just 11.6 percent, according to the analysis.
But since the recession officially ended in June 2009, the top 1 percent have enjoyed the benefits of rising corporate profits and stock prices: 95 percent of the income gains reported since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent.
Table 1 of the report shows that the last time that the bottom 99 percent of households had a reasonably high rate of income growth was during the Clinton presidency, but even then the top 1 percent was far outstripping the rest. It is an old adage that it takes money to make money, but these numbers seem extraordinarily out of line, and Figure 1 in the report shows that inequality was at its lowest level between 1942 and 1982 when the top 10 percent were never bringing home more than a third of all the income. Since the early 1980s, however, there has been a steady rise in inequality, roughly in line with the drop in taxes paid by the richest segment of American society (I know, correlation isn't necessarily causation, but it sure seems like a compelling story).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Coming Baby Boom?

Today I was downloading a recently published paper (on urban-rural differences in infant mortality in India) from the Demographic Research website when I noticed an item listed there among the "news from around the web." It was an article that I had not yet seen, published just yesterday by the Economist--"Demography: The Coming Baby Boom?"
IT IS always interesting to see an argument that goes against the consensus, and that is true of the (privately-circulated) note from BCA Research, entitled "The Coming Baby Boom in Developed Economies". It starts with the bold statement that
Developed economies are about to experience a baby boom that will be bigger and longer-lasting than even the one that followed the Second World War.
before adding that
Faster population growth implies stronger aggregate demand in the near term and more rapid supply growth over the longer haul. Equities, housing and commodities should all benefit.
and, most intriguingly of all, dismissing worries about the US's long-term fiscal position on the grounds that government projections already underestimate fertility trends.
Our estimates imply a fiscal surplus of 4% of GDP by the end of the century, even if current entitlements are not scaled back.
BCA Research is an independent investment firm based in Montreal that, according to its website, has been in business since 1949. To be fair, BCA didn't come up with their idea totally in a vacuum. According to the Economist's "Buttonwood" the inspiration came from a paper published last year (and more recently revised) by demographers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany--a very prestigious organization and home of the very same online journal "Demographic Research" from which I was downloading a publication. The paper shows that if we look at cohort fertility rates rather than cross-sectional total fertility rates, we find that fertility levels in many developed countries are not quite as low as they seem. I see nothing in that paper, however, to suggest a coming baby boom.

I do see that Nate Silver is going to be one of the speakers at BCA's upcoming investment conference in New York City and I would love to see Nate calculate the probability that developed economies are about to experience a huge baby boom. Those are, in my opinion, very long odds. This strikes me as the kind of advice being given to people in the early to mid-2000s that they should buy a home, no matter how outrageously priced, because the price would be even higher in the future and they could turn a nice profit. How did that work out? [correct answer--poorly for most, but some people did make a killing--more later on the rising income inequality...]

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Wait is Almost Over! 2013 PRB World Population Data Sheet Soon to be Unveiled

The Population Reference Bureau has been around since the 1950s and, although it has vastly expanded its scope of activities and influence over time, its signature contribution in my mind has always been the World Population Data Sheet. In the years before the internet, this was an especially valuable resource for faculty and students alike, and for many years I routinely required my students to buy a copy. The internet changed the way in which information is delivered, but the PRB has done an extraordinary job, in my view, of moving with the times and continuing to provide a unique service to those of us seeking good demographic data. The World Population Data Sheet is now available for download and includes an interactive map--very cool. These comments are a preface to the unveiling of the 2013 World Population Data Sheet this coming Thursday, 12 September, with a Go-To-Meeting Webinar about it on the 13th.
Wendy Baldwin, PRB president and CEO
Carl Haub, PRB senior demographer and co-author of the Data Sheet
Here are the pre-publication highlights: 
Africa, by far the world's poorest region, will record the largest amount of population growth of any world region between now and 2050. Africa's population is expected to more than double, rising from 1.1 billion today to at least 2.4 billion by 2050.
This year’s Data Sheet also has a special focus on wealth and income inequality.
PRB's 2013 World Population Data Sheet provides detailed information on 20 population, health, and environment indicators for more than 200 countries. The Data Sheet, interactive world map, and infographic will be released on Sept. 12, 2013, at 10 a.m. (EDT), at

Monday, September 9, 2013

Urbanization Continues to Take a Toll in China

A few months ago I commented on the fact that the Chinese government was forcing rural populations to relocate to cities. In today's New York Times, Ian Johnson continues the saga, but looking this time at what is happening to people who don't want to move in order to make way for the growing cities. The stories are tragic.
As she drove down a busy four-lane road near her old home, Tang Huiqing pointed to the property where her dead sister’s workshop once stood. The lot was desolate, but for Ms. Tang it lives. 
Four years ago, government officials told her sister that Chengdu was expanding into the countryside and that her village had to make way. A farmer who had made the transition to manufacturer, she had built the small workspace with her husband. Now, officials said, it would be torn down. “So my sister went up to the roof and said, ‘If you want to, tear it down,’ ” Ms. Tang said. Her voice trailed off as she recalled how her sister poured diesel fuel on herself and after pleading with the demolition crew to leave, set herself alight. She died 16 days later. 
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
“My sister’s sacrifice brought a change,” she said. “Right now they don’t dare tear down so many homes. There’s more consultation. At least here, they don’t tear down as much. Maybe in this village it’s better.” The effect on her family, however, was grim. The sisters’ mother joined the Communist Party shortly after it took power in 1949, elated at its promise to take land from landlords and redistribute it to poor peasants like the Tang family. Her daughter’s death broke her will to live, and she died a few months later. “She was heartbroken,” Ms. Tang said. “She couldn’t understand how they could act like this to unarmed, ordinary people.”
From a broader historical perspective, we can see that if China had not held back urbanization for so long, institutionalized in the hukou household registration system, China would have urbanized in a more natural, organic way, as has the rest of the world. Now it wants to urbanize in a hurry and so that has introduced a whole new set of human rights abuses.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Betting on the Planet--and Simon Won (or Did He?)

In one of the most famous wagers of all time, Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon bet on the price of several precious metals back in 1980. Ehrlich contended that population growth would put pressure on resources that would raise prices, whereas Simon contended that the threat of scarcity would lead to the substitution of other resources and so prices would not rise. As it turned out, over the ten years of the bet, those particular metals fell in value, rather than rising, despite the rise in population. Ehrlich paid up, as described at the time by John Tierney of the New York Times. The bet has made the news again this month with the publication of new book about it by Paul Sabin of Yale University. Sabin has an Op-Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, and was also featured yesterday on BookTV, which has the following intro to the hour-long interview:
More than 30 years ago, economist Julian Simon made a bet with biologist Paul Ehrlich on the future prices of five metals, asserting that technological change and a booming market would keep the country prosperous. But Ehrlich predicted that rising populations would lead to overconsumption, taxed resources and famine. Paul Sabin analyzes this bet and argues that the opposing perspectives of the bettors - faith in free markets versus fear of environmental exploitation - are at the heart of the battle over climate change that continues today. He discusses the history of these opposing sides and the current status of the debate with Associated Press Energy & Environment Reporter Dina Cappiello.
If Paul Ehrlich is paying any attention to this, I suspect that he is yelling at the TV wondering why the subject almost never is turned back to population growth. History suggests that Simon was very lucky (and to his credit Simon admitted it at the time) about the timing of precious metals prices, and Ehrlich should never have gone along with such a narrowly circumscribed wager. Population growth is creating scarcity and scientifically demonstrable environmental damage, yet the discussion about population growth always seems to slip into the shadows and people just want to debate the merits of one or another environmental issue. A classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

US Birth Rate Stops its Decline

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) yesterday released their preliminary data on births in the nation in 2012. The news was that the birth rate was essentially the same in 2012 as it had been in 2011, suggesting that the drop that we had seen since the onset of the Great Recession may have bottomed out. The CDC just reports the facts, ma'am, but the New York Times filled in some of the explanation.

The sharp decline in the country’s fertility rate during the economic downturn has come to an end, federal data show, as an improving economy encouraged Americans to resume having babies. 
The number of babies born in the United States in 2012 remained flat, the first time in five years that the number did not significantly decline, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. 
The leveling off capped a 9 percent decline in the fertility rate from 2007 to 2011, a drop that demographers say began after the recession took hold and Americans started feeling less secure about their economic circumstances.
“There’s a widespread perception that a moderately growing population is advantageous for economic growth and for a growing society,” said Hans-Peter Kohler, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. 
That is why news of the 2012 figures had demographers buzzing. “It’s exciting,” Professor Kohler said. “My prediction would be that we’ll see further stabilization and possibly growth in 2013.”
The birthrate tends to rise and fall with economic cycles. The rate fell by a fifth during the Great Depression in the 1930s, according to Mr. Haub [Carl Haub from the Population Reference Bureau], creating a crater in the population that moved up the age ladder over time.
For some reason, the NCHS prefers to feature the General Fertility Rate, which is not age-standardized, despite the fact that they note the age changes in fertility taking place--younger women are having slightly fewer children, but older women are having slightly more. This gets picked up better in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) which, in my opinion, is more readily interpretable. We can see that in this case the conclusion is the same, with US women bearing children at a rate of 1.89 children per woman in 2012, just as they had in 2011, and just as they had back in 1987!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Should Non-Citizens Be Allowed to Serve on Juries?

The sixth amendment of the US Constitution guarantees Americans charged with a crime that they will be tried by an "impartial jury." Over the years the US Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean a fair cross-section of the community and, in particular, that distinctive or "cognizable" groups must be adequately represented. These are groups that you are essentially born into--race/ethnic groups, and gender--rather than groups that you might move in and out of, such as age groups or income level groups. These are clearly demographic questions and over the years I have been involved in more than a hundred criminal cases as an expert witness examining whether juries in a particular court are, in fact, demographically representative of the community. Throughout the history of the nation, eligibility to serve on a jury has been restricted to two demographic groups--adults (now 18 and older) and citizens. This doesn't mean, of course, that you have to show your birth certificate or naturalization form to serve on a jury. Most states merge Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records with Registrar of Voters (ROV) lists, and then purge the duplicates, in order to have a list of people to whom a jury summons will be sent. The logic behind this is that not every citizen is a registered voter so you want to be more inclusive. But, of course, not every registered driver is a citizen and courts rely on people checking the box about citizenship to report that they are not a citizen and thus are not eligible to serve. 

Into this historical tradition has come a call for change. A few days ago the State Senate in California approved a bill previously passed by the State Assembly that would allow non-citizens (albeit legal immigrants) to serve on juries in California. The bill now sits on Governor Brown's desk awaiting his signature or veto. If he signs the bill, California will become the first state in the nation to allow this. A story in the Huffington Post seemed generally negative about the merits of doing this:
“Gov. Jerry Brown should veto the bill,” the Sacramento Bee wrote in an editorial. “Like voting or holding public office, jury duty is one of the ways that citizens share in the governance of our democratic republic.”
George Skelton echoed the sentiment in a column published Wednesday by the Los Angles Times. “After all, you must be a citizen to be eligible to serve in the Legislature and write the laws,” Skelton wrote. “You have to be a citizen to be a governor who signs the laws. And you have to be a citizen to vote and elect the lawmakers. It seems incongruous to allow noncitizens to determine whether a defendant has broken a law.”
I think that my sympathies lie with the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times writers on this issue. Selfishly, if there were more people in the potential pool of jurors, maybe my name wouldn't come up so often. I have served on juries and it is fascinating, but it can be time-consuming. On the other hand, I think that people should have an incentive to become citizens, and giving them a key benefit of citizenship without requiring citizenship just somehow doesn't feel right. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Director for the US Census Bureau

OK, so actually he's been on the job for a month and today was the first day I realized that. I found this out by reading the latest newsletter of the Committee on Applied Demography of the Population Association of America. In August of 2012, Robert Groves resigned as Director of the Census Bureau to become Provost at Georgetown University, and the position had not been filled permanently for a year. But into the breach came John Thompson. The press release from the Census Bureau notes that:
Thompson, who was nominated by President Obama on May 23, 2013 has been an executive at the NORC at the University of Chicago for the past 11 years, serving as president and CEO since 2008.
Before joining NORC at the University of Chicago, Thompson was a Census Bureau employee from 1975 to 2002 and oversaw the 2000 Census. He succeeds Robert Groves, who left office in August 2012 to become provost of Georgetown University. Following the departure of Groves, former Deputy Director Thomas L. Mesenbourg served as Acting Director. Mesenbourg had previously announced his long-planned retirement, which is effective August 2.
Thompson participated on 2010 Census design and review panels sponsored by the Committee on National Statistics. He is also an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association, and has been elected to serve a three-year term as a member of the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Science. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics from Virginia Tech.
This is important news because, frankly, the Census Bureau activities are among the very most important things that the government does. Without the information they collect and analyze we would truly be flying blind as a society.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Competing Views of the Need for Population Control

Hania Zlotnik, former Director of the UN Population Division, has a review essay in this week's issue of Nature in which she compares two recently published books dealing with the future of human population growth. You need a subscription to see it, so I'm going to quote some of the good bits here:
In June, the United Nations Population Division announced that the world's population could grow from 7.2 billion today to 9.6 billion by 2050, assuming that global fertility continues to decline. Such growth constitutes a fundamental challenge for humanity, and now two thoughtful but very different takes on it explore the implications.
In Countdown, Alan Weisman, a journalist probing whether a sustainable balance between nature and the human population can be achieved, offers a key message to guide future action. He avers that no matter what environmental, ecological or social problem we face, it will be easier to solve with fewer people. His book provides an array of examples on how to reduce population growth and, in the process, improve prospects for future generations. He makes a strong case for slowing global population growth — and even for reducing overall population numbers — as a prerequisite for achieving a sustainable future.
Stephen Emmott's 10 Billion takes for granted that the population will continue to grow, and is much less sanguine about humanity's chances of avoiding looming crises. Emmott, head of computational science for Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, leads an interdisciplinary group of scientists engaged in addressing fundamental problems through complex modelling. His slim, even terse book — based on his 2012 stage show, which presented his view on the “unprecedented planetary emergency we've created” — primarily examines the transformation of the global environment by human activity, a transformation that includes climate change, increasing water shortages and growing urbanization. Emmott's assessment of the capacity of people and technology to prevent the global crises that confront us is grim.
I was not aware of Emmott's "2012 stage show" and the minute I heard about it in this article my mind flashed to Dan Brown's Inferno and the "madman's" presentation to the WHO director (if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about; if not, you should read the book).

Zlotnik ends her review by noting that both authors believe that sustainability requires curbing consumption, while Weisman adds the recommendation that access to contraceptives must be viewed as a high priority.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

World Water Week

This week is "officially" World Water Week, according to the Stockholm International Water Institute. The Huffington Post, among others, has covered the story.
President Obama isn't the only one visiting Stockholm this week; about 2500 delegates from around the world have gathered at the 23rd Annual World Water Week meeting sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute. Stockholm has become a global focal point for the discussion of all-things-water. This year's theme is collaboration and partnership.

There are many topics being discussed this week, but three themes for me [David S. Beckman] have emerged so far. 
1. The water world is grappling with its role post-2015, the date set for achievement of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. MDG Goal 7.C called for halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, a goal that the UN says has been met. 
2. Public-private partnership is another theme so far. Representatives from a range of Fortune 500 companies are walking the halls and discussing their efforts to partner with governments and civil society representatives to address water issues -- often, as they acknowledge, to hedge the increasing water risks that impact supply chains.

3. Green Infrastructure, sometimes more broadly called green design, is getting deserved play here as a way of thinking and of designing holistic solutions to water challenges. Using nature, instead of fighting it, to improve water supply and quality is a hallmark of green infrastructure approaches, which have in common making urban environments function from a water perspective more like the natural environment.
But one item from the Water Week website really struck me:
What should be the price of water? As the world's population grows fast, there will be even more of us to share an already limited amount of water. Paying for water will inevitably be a part of life. But, who should pay and what sort of water use should we pay for? Should we pay for washing our clothes? For cleaning our cars? Should a farmer pay to irrigate his lands?
As someone who has lived in California nearly all of his life, and has been paying for water all of his life, including ever rising water rates, the answer has to be yes. We have to pay for water just as we need to be paying for every resource and the disposal of all wastes (yes, we also pay sewage fees and land fill fees).

Monday, September 2, 2013

PopQuiz: Which Country Has the "Worst" Demographics?

An article in The Lancet suggests that the answer to this question is the sub-Saharan country of Niger:
According to the UN Human Development Index, there is no country worse off than Niger. The landlocked West African nation, which is mostly desert, lingers at the bottom of the index: 186th of 186. Its government, heavily dependent on foreign donations, spends a paltry US$10 per person on health care every year. Vast swathes of the country are effectively wild: without schools, roads, or security. There are fewer than two health-care workers per 10 000 population (23 is considered the minimum number for provision of essential care) and more than 2 million people live in chronic food insecurity, of a population of 16 million.
The country’s biggest killer is malaria. In 2012, more than 2·6 million cases of the disease were reported, alongside more than 3000 deaths.
There is something of a vicious circle. Malaria leaves a person vulnerable to malnutrition, and malnutrition leaves them vulnerable to malaria. And of course a person’s nutritional status affects how they recover from infection; so malnutrition both raises the risk of contracting a disease such as malaria and worsens its outcome, which in turn leaves the patient enervated, deprived of nourishment, and vulnerable to infection.
This high level of malaria and malnutrition is clearly an immense problem, but it is aggravated by the country's very high fertility rate which more than compensates for its high mortality.
Niger’s population growth rate is a staggering 3·9%. It means that the population will double in the next 10 years. Female fertility rate is 7·8 births. “This makes demography a key issue”, contends Gerard [Jean Christophe Gerard, Save the Children, Niamey, Niger]. It is common for women to be carrying an unborn child, an infant at their breast, and another on their back. They simply do not have time to recuperate between deliveries, and it leads to problems such as anaemia, lack of vitamin D, and mineral deficiencies.
Women marry young: typically at 14–16 years old; and only 15% of girls enter primary school. “If early and forced marriages are not taken seriously by the international and national actors, what we do is just patchwork”, Gerard concludes.
International agencies are working on some of these problems, but mainly these efforts have brought down the death rate among children without any noticeable decline yet in fertility.