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, December 30, 2013

US Population Rate of Growth Slows

The US Census Bureau today released its latest population estimates for the nation and the states. There wasn't a lot of news in these results, but the New York Times made the best of it by noting that the rate of growth (0.7 percent per year) was low by historical standards.
It was the lowest rate in more than seven decades, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“The census projections to 2060 have us going down to half a percent because we’re an older population, and aging populations don’t grow so much,” Mr. Frey said. “If we have very sharp declines in growth, that takes a bite out of the economy.”
But, this is not an alarming trend. Indeed, I downloaded the Excel spreadsheets and noticed that the actual numerical increase in population of 2.3 million is essentially unchanged over the past three years, even if the rate of increase is slightly lower. We are continually building on a bigger base, and it is the numerical increase that matters in terms of resource utilization.

You can also see the residual of the old idea that more people is better than fewer people in the lamentations in the New York Times over the fact that New York may soon be overtaken by Florida as the country's third most populous states. This doesn't really reflect badly on New York, per se, since all of the northeastern states are lagging in population growth. Rather, it reflects the fact, shown by the Census Bureau data, that people continue to prefer the west and the south to the other parts of the country.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Demographics of Social Mobility

Earlier this month, President Obama got a lot of attention for a speech in which he emphasized the importance of renewing our national commitment to social mobility. The problem is not just that the top 10 percent of US earners bring in 50 percent of the nation's income. At least as important is that it is now harder than it used to be (maybe even harder than ever) to make it into that top economic rung of American society. Garannce Franke-Ruta of the Atlantic confirmed with the White House that the social science behind the President's speech came from a presentation made in 2012 by Harvard Political Scientist Robert Putnam of "Bowling Alone" fame. The point here is that social mobility needs to be the topic under discussion, rather than focusing on race and/or poverty. Bill Keller's Op-Ed in the New York Times defines the potential consequences of not doing something about the lack of mobility:
A stratified society in which the bottom and top are mostly locked in place is not just morally offensive; it is unstable. Recessions are more frequent in such countries. A widely praised 2012 book, “Why Nations Fail,” argues that historically when the ruling elites have pulled up the ladder and kept newcomers from getting a foothold, their economies have suffocated and died. “The most pernicious fact of inequality is when it translates into political inequality,” said Daron Acemoglu, a co-author of the book and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. “That means our democracy ceases to function because some people have so much money they command greater power.” The rich spend heavily on lobbyists and campaign donations to secure tax breaks and tariff advantages and bailouts that perpetuate their status. Not only does a dynamic economy stagnate, but the left-out citizenry becomes disillusioned and cynical. Sound familiar?
One of the problems in trying to create policy initiatives to deal with the lack of mobility is that we actually don't have good data on the topic. Recognizing this deficiency, the National Research Council organized a workshop on how to create such data and the report just came out on Christmas Eve and will hopefully be a blueprint for new data collection that will allow us to monitor how various policies are (or are not) working.

A root cause (if not the major cause) of the slow down in social mobility will be very complex to deal with. The manufacturing jobs that existed for a few decades and helped to create a broader middle class have been transferred to developing countries where growing populations work for lower wages, or have been transferred to robots or computers that also work for lower wages. These jobs are unlikely to return, so a whole new segment of the economy needs to be invented. My own suggestion would be that this new segment be oriented toward redefining our use of resources--figuring out how to quite literally redefine what we mean by our standard of living. This almost certainly will require some government initiatives, but there is no reason why a public-private partnership could not be created to move such an idea forward. This could even be wrapped into the unemployment benefit issue by creating a new "conservation corps" of people who are working on such programs at government expense until they can be picked up by the private sector.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Uruguay--Demographic Country of the Year?

Some time ago one of the commentators on this blog asked me: "Can you provide for your readers a handful of countries with positive and hopeful demographic profiles?" Most of the news--by the nature of news--is bad, not good, so the positive stories tend not to rise to the surface. Still, this question has been rattling around in my head, and I was inspired this week by The Economist's decision to name a "country of the year," looking for a country that not only deserved commendation but offered up a model for other countries to emulate. Their winner was Uruguay:
Several countries have implemented it [legalized gay marriage] in 2013—including Uruguay, which also, uniquely, passed a law to legalise and regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis. This is a change so obviously sensible, squeezing out the crooks and allowing the authorities to concentrate on graver crimes, that no other country has made it. If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced.
Better yet, the man at the top, President José Mujica, is admirably self-effacing. With unusual frankness for a politician, he referred to the new law as an experiment. He lives in a humble cottage, drives himself to work in a Volkswagen Beetle and flies economy class. Modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving, Uruguay is our country of the year. ¡Felicitaciones!
The demographics of Uruguay are also remarkably modern and stable. It is a country comprised largely of descendants of Spanish and Italian immigrants, but has a better current demographic profile than either of those countries. Its total fertility rate is below replacement level, but not much below, and its decline to that level has been very gradual over the years, so there are not huge dents in the age structure. Life expectancy is only three years lower than in the US and although the country is slowly aging, the UN still projects its population to increase from its current 3.4 million to 3.6 million by mid-century. The population is almost entirely urban and well-educated. Like all of its South American neighbors, Uruguay experiences net outmigration (especially to Spain, Italy and the US), but this may change with the new laws passed in 2013. Overall, then, if you want a good demographic profile, take a look at Uruguay.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Was an Historic Year for Refugees--and That's Not a Good Thing

As 2013 winds down, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has taken stock of the year and concluded--just on the basis of data for the first half of the year!!--that 2013 will likely be the worst on record for refugees and internally displaced persons.
Figures for the first half of the year already show it to be one of the worst periods in decades for people fleeing violence. The biggest cause of new displacement is the fighting in Syria, which shows no sign of abating.
Syrians accounted for eight out of 10 new refugees – people who cross a border to seek safety. Tens of thousands of people also fled violence in Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
The number of refugees fleeing their countries in 2013 may turn out to be the highest since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the report says.
As the long and devastating civil war plays out in Syria, I couldn't help but think here at Christmas time about the long and devastating war close by geographically, but separated by two thousand years, as the Jewish population of Judea tried to rid itself of Roman rule. This didn't turn out well, of course, and the Wikepedia entry concludes that "[T]he Jewish–Roman wars had an epic impact on the Jews, turning them from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a scattered and persecuted minority."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Demography Rules Christmas in Japan

OK, full disclosure, I have not been to Japan at Christmas, but the internet news sources indicate that the Japanese, who are almost entirely not Christian, celebrate Christmas as a commercial, but obviously not a religious holiday. Christmas Eve is apparently a time for gift-giving among families, in particular. Now, here's the punch line to the story. If you are the practical kind of person who gives someone what they need, instead of what they want, diapers for older people will outsell diapers for kids. I'm not making this up. This comes from Andrew Revkin's blog for the New York Times:
Tokyo is still mostly a bustling, crowded supercity. But the quiet and emptiness I saw with my son this fall in the greenway adjacent to the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo could be more commonplace later in this century given the aging of the Japanese population. Indeed, a recent government study, cited last year in the Wall Street Journal’s Japan blog, projected that the city population “will peak at 13.35 million in 2020 — then drop steadily to 7.13 million in the year 2100.”
But the indicator of demographic shifts that got me writing today was a diaper trend noted by my longtime contact on population and immigration, Joseph Chamie. Here’s an excerpt from the Asahi Shimbun article he forwarded:

As Japan’s birthrate declines and its population ages, the country’s future can be foreseen in diaper sales.
Over the past decade, production of adult diapers, essential for caring for the elderly, has doubled in Japan.
Unicharm Corp., a major diaper maker, saw sales of adult diapers outpace infant diapers in the last fiscal year ending March 31, while forecasts indicate the same will happen throughout the industry over the next few years.
At an outlet of Tomod’s drugstore in Kawasaki, infant and adult diapers take up roughly the same amount of shelf space.
And, by the way, Joseph Chamie isn't just somebody. He is the former Director of the United Nations Population Division, so in fact we do pay attention when he says something like this.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

World's Newest Nation in Mortal Danger

South Sudan became its own country only 2 and a half years ago, gaining independence from Sudan. But inter-ethnic rivalry has been a major issue even predating independence and this week the situation seems to have gotten out of control. This is a country with a very high birth rate--an estimated 5 children per woman, and a below average life expectancy. Nearly 4 in 10 South Sudanese are under the age of 15, and so the demographics would not be favorable even under the best of circumstances. But it seems that the worst of circumstances are at hand. The BBC News reports that:
Humanitarian Co-ordinator Toby Lanzer told the BBC about summary executions in Bor, in the restive state of Jonglei that has fallen to rebels.
He said that as well as people seeking refuge at the UN base there were many more hiding out in the bush.
Clashes broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and others backing his former deputy a week ago.
Meanwhile the US said it had evacuated its citizens from Bor.
They also describe the demographic situation that contributes to the inter-ethnic violence:
Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
The Dinka and Nuer are among the more well-studied groups in the anthropological literature, emphasizing their long histories and suggesting, unfortunately, that the situation is unlikely to settle down anytime soon, especially since there are potentially profitable natural resources at play in the region.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tools You Can Use in Demography

The International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) is the oldest academic organization in the field of demography, with roots dating back to 1928: a meeting in Paris, which followed the International Population Conference held in Geneva during the preceding year (August 29 - September 3, 1927). This was the first World Population Conference - it was organised by Margaret Sanger - stressing the crucial nature of the population problems and their influence on social, economic and political situations.
The organization is headquartered in Paris, but most of its online content is in English, and an email to members today reminded us of several resources that are available to all users, made available through funding from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). These materials include the following:

Tools for Demographic Estimation [especially useful for researchers--essentially an update of the famous--in demography--Manual X from the United Nations which we have all been using for a long time];

Population Analysis for Policies and Programmes [could be used as a supplement to my text];

and Demopaedia (the online Multilingual Demographic Dictionaryand the wiki project) [similar to the glossary in my book, but having the advantage of doing so in several different languages].

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Uninsured Next Door to You

As the Affordable Care Act rolls out, increasing attention has been paid to who has health insurance and who does not. The Census Bureau asks respondents about their health insurance status in three different surveys--the Current Population Survey (ACS), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and the American Community Survey (ACS). The latter has data down to the census tract level, and the New York Times has just made maps of the uninsured available online. The map will take you down to your census tract immediately if you allow your web browser to know your location. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top Migration Stories of 2013

If you look along the side of this blog post, you will see the number of postings associated with each chapter of my text. Migration has the highest number, at least at this moment. This is obviously an important demographic issue, and so it is very interesting to see what the Migration Information Source of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. thinks are its biggest migration stories of the year. Here are the top ten:

The first one is especially interesting because it delves into the increasing complexity of migration in the modern world. As I read it, though, I immediately thought of Doug Massey's "Perverse Laws of International Migration," especially these two:
1. Immigrants understand immigration better than politicians and academicians.

2. Because they understand immigration better than policy makers, immigrants are often able to circumvent policies aimed at stopping them.
Just when we think we understand what's happening out there, migrants come up with something new...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is Yemen the Least Gender Equal Country in the World?

The BBC News has a story today detailing the role of women in Yemen's version of the Arab Spring, which forced a change in the country's government.
When you take a walk in the streets of Sanaa [capital of Yemen], the women you see are covered in black from head-to-toe.
That is why the whole world took notice when Yemeni women were at the forefront of the demonstrations that eventually ousted long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and brought in a new government.
As the story points out, this was not easy for women, some of whom were beaten both in public and in private. Nor has it been easy that during this transition time the economy has not been very robust.
Unemployment among young people in Yemen is as high as 40%, according to the World Bank.
The IMF says nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line and roughly one-in-two children suffers from malnutrition.
"Life is difficult in Yemen as it is. During transition, life is harder," says Nadia Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times newspaper.
Conditions are particularly tough for women.
Yemen is the worst country in the world in terms of gender equality, according to a World Economic Forum survey. The majority of women are illiterate and more than half get married before the age of 18.
It is hard to imagine a country in which women are treated worse than in Afghanistan, but apparently Yemen is that place. [Well, actually the report didn't include data for Afghanistan, but right above Yemen at the bottom of the list was Afghanistan's next-door neighbor, Pakistan]. At bottom, the low status of women is one of the reasons why the country is doing so poorly. With a total fertility rate above 4 children per woman (albeit down from nearly 9 only a couple of decades ago), and declining (albeit still very high) child mortality, Yemen is awash in young people who are not well educated and have relatively few good economic prospects. The population has been doubling every 20 years and there is no clear sign of a change in that pattern. The key to future success will be gender equality. Give women an education, free them from endless childbearing, and have them work with the men to create an economy that works. It won't be easy, but it's a plan for success already put into place all over the world because it works.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Greece's Dismal Demographics in Perspective

Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing out a New York Times Op-Ed piece on Greek demographics that I had missed a few days ago. Since my son-in-law is Greek-American (a son of immigrants from Greece), I have a special interest in what's going on there--which, unfortunately, is generally nothing very positive at the moment. 
The Greeks are in a struggle for survival. And the odds are piling up against us. The fight is not only on the economic front, as we try to meet our commitments under an international 240-billion-euro bailout deal that has resulted in greatly reduced incomes, higher costs and taxes, and an overriding sense of insecurity. The danger is even more basic: Deaths are outnumbering births, people are leaving the country, and the population is aging so fast that in a few decades Greece may be unable to produce enough wealth to take care of its people and may cease to be a viable nation state.
“People tend to overlook the importance of the population, even though everything begins with it,” says Michalis Papadakis, professor emeritus of statistics and social security at the University of Piraeus, who has spent his life studying the issue. “Demographic reduction undermines defense capabilities, it cuts down the work force and obstructs business.”
The author appropriately notes that Greece is not unique demographically:
Many European Union countries face a similar demographic problem and the Union as a whole is aging fast. But whereas European Union and national officials are looking for ways to deal with an aging population, in Greece the battle for economic survival is so overwhelming that no one has time for the bigger picture. In the urge to cut spending and stop borrowing, the Greeks have not been able to do the things that might have encouraged people to have children.
This argument of Greek "exceptionalism" doesn't really square with the numbers, however. A quick glance at the 2013 Population Reference Bureau World Population Data Sheet (never leave home without it!) shows that Greece is exactly average for Southern European countries in terms of fertility, life expectancy, net migration, and the percentage of the population that is 65 and older. The general theory about low fertility (which is heart of the story) is that traditional sex roles at home are at war with modern ideas about the overall role of women in society and so, just as in East Asia, women defer marriage and childbearing and the birth rate goes down. If men helped more at home, and a higher fraction of people paid their taxes, society might take on a new look. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How Many Christians Are There in Egypt?

Tonight's "60 Minutes" on CBS News had a fascinating, albeit chilling, story on the Coptic Christians in Egypt. The story offered a look into the ancient history of Christianity in Egypt, predating Islam by 700 years. Indeed, the New Testament of the Christian Bible begins with the story of the Apostle Matthew about the birth of Jesus and the subsequent flight of Joseph and Mary with Jesus into Egypt to save the child from the wrath of King Herod. The historical point aside, the 60 Minutes story indicated that 10 percent of the modern Egyptian population was Coptic Christian. My own research into the demography of Egypt over the years suggested that this number was too high. Remembering that the Census of Housing and Population in Egypt routinely asks about religion, I downloaded from the latest census data (2006). Sure enough, the census data show that in 2006 only 5 percent of the population reported its religion to be Christian--nearly everyone else was Muslim. In a country as large as Egypt (80 million people), that works out to be about 4 million people--not a small number, but smaller than implied by 60 Minutes. Let's keep the facts straight, folks.

Syrian Refugees Facing Tough Times in Bulgaria

The civil war in Syria seems to be creating a never-ending set of disasters. Anyone can appreciate the desire of Syrians to get away from that war, if they can. But refugees face tough times, almost no matter where they go. The latest story, reported by the New York Times, is from Bulgaria, where there has been a xenophobic backlash to Syrian refugees arriving there by way of Turkey.
The influx of Syrian refugees has sown divisions across the European Union as the refugees add burdens on governments still struggling to emerge from years of recession. But Bulgaria is perhaps the most fragile of all the European Union’s 28 members. Modest as the numbers of refugees are here, the entry of nearly 6,500 Syrians this year has overwhelmed the deeply unpopular coalition government and added a volatile element to the nation’s already unstable politics.
In essence, the presence of the refugees has allowed a nationalist far-right political party to gain political influence. Thus, the refugees are being exploited for political purposes, after having been exploited in other ways:
Syrian refugees, many of whom passed into Bulgaria after paying at least $550 each to people smugglers in Istanbul, say they have no desire to stay here, but European Union rules require that they seek asylum in the country where they are first registered and fingerprinted.
The refugees, who mostly dreamed of getting to Germany or Sweden, say they never expected Europe to be like this. “This country is too poor,” complained Mohammed Hussein, a 24-year-old Syrian who has spent the last six weeks confined to a former military base at Harmanli, a desolate town near Svilengrad. “It is like living in a prison,” he said.
It will almost certainly be an arduous task for these refugees to gain a foothold in Europe, just as it is going to be a big job to rebuild Syria when the time comes.

Friday, December 13, 2013

California's Demographics Rebound With the Economy

As a California native and long-time resident, I naturally pay close attention to what is going on here, and was interested to see yesterday's new demographic report from the Demographic Research Unit of the California Department of Finance.  For the state as a whole, and for nearly all counties, the rate of population growth was higher in 2012-13 than it had been the previous two years, albeit not dramatically higher. Chris Nichols of the San Diego Union-Tribune covered the story:
At 0.88 of a percent, this past year’s growth rate pales when compared with the 2 percent to 3 percent annual growth that California saw during the 1980s and ’90s. But it’s up substantially from the 0.60 rate four years ago — during the height of the Great Recession.
John Weeks, a professor of geography at San Diego State University, estimated that immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines accounted for most of California’s growth during the past fiscal year. While the job market hasn’t fully rebounded from before the recession, Weeks said, it has improved enough for more foreigners to decide to settle in this state. He added that once they do, they quickly expand their families.
After talking to the reporter, I chided myself for falling into the old trap that population growth at the local or regional level is always a good thing because it is a sign that the economy is doing well, which is a sign that overall well-being may be on the rise. Indeed, the population projection methods used by the state demographers are closely tied to economic forecasts, since that is what is assumed to drive migration and, as I note in the story, that then drives the number of births in the community.  However, we also know that we can't sustain population growth at the global level, nor can we do it at the local level. We need to somehow break that connection between local economies and local population growth, but I'm not sure how to do it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Singaporean Xenophobia

It was almost a year ago that I commented on a plan by the government of the wealthy city-state of Singapore to bring in more immigrants to shore up its faltering demographics. Singapore's total fertility rate has dropped from 3.1 in 1970 to 1.3 in 2012, according to official government statistics. At the same time, life expectancy is very high, and the population is aging, thus leading to the government's decision to bring in "new recruits." Well, it seems that things haven't been going so well. Thanks to Peyton Dobbins for alerting me to a story in Stratfor discussing recent riots in Singapore--not this time by Singaporeans upset at new immigrants, but by Indian immigrants upset at their poor treatment. 
Tensions came to the fore Dec. 8 during an episode of uncharacteristic violence. Some 400 immigrants, most of whom were Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepalese workers, rioted after an Indian national was hit and killed by a bus. They set fire to nearby vehicles and attacked police and emergency services workers. Violence subsided only after roughly 300 police officers were deployed to the area. Two days later, authorities charged 24 temporary workers from India with inciting riots.
Although Singapore occupies a peninsula at the southern end of Malaysia, only 13 percent of the population is Malaysian. More than three-quarters of the population is ethnic Chinese, and Indians represent less than 10 percent of the population. These ethnic differences, which manifest themselves in different languages and religion, create xenophobic strife. Like their co-ethnics in China, the Chinese Singaporeans are not having many children, choosing to have scarcely more than one, but investing a lot of time and energy into the success of that child. The Indian population, like co-ethnics in India, have a slightly different view of the world, and this doesn't seem to go down well. Xenophobia is never pretty, no matter where it pops up. Still. as the article notes, Singapore does not have many choices, given the very low birth rate:
Once a fishing village and now one of the world's wealthiest polities, Singapore owes much of its economic success to liberal immigration policies. That many of these policies coincided with economic duress created concern among the public, forcing the government to maneuver accordingly. Though no one expects the ruling party to lose its hold on power, the government will probably be forced to appease voters further in the run-up to 2016 elections. Singapore will thus continue to try to balance the political consequences of high foreign populations with future economic vitality.
It seems likely that the Singapore of the future will be a different country, in a very real sense... 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Health and Planetary Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

As the world's population heads toward 9-10 billion by the middle of this century, the issue of feeding everyone becomes ever more important. At the moment, we are not only increasing numerically, we are increasing our per capita meat consumption. This means that we raise an ever greater number of animals for slaughter. Forgetting for the moment the ethical issues associated with that, there are two key problems: (1) feeding them takes food directly off the human table and very inefficiently reroutes it through animals; and (2) too much meat is not healthy. This latter concern may be why we are getting sicker over time, even as life expectancy goes up.

There is a popular conception (misconception, really) that eating meat is a sign of wealth and well-being. In fact, the evidence suggests that a largely plant-based diet is better for you, and a paper just published online today in Nature, led by a team of researchers at Harvard, emphasizes the incredible ability of the human gut to adapt quickly to different diets:
In concert, these results demonstrate that the gut microbiome can rapidly respond to altered diet, potentially facilitating the diversity of human dietary lifestyles.
The point is that your body adjusts rapidly to your diet, so moving from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet is not a huge adjustment, as far as your gut is concerned. That story has a link to another recently published article from researchers in Australia suggesting that people were generally aware of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. The younger and better educated you are, the more likely you are to share this view of the world. I find that to be very encouraging for the future. Another encouraging development is a recently published book by Vaclav Smil, one of the world's foremost authorities on the world's food supply. His book is titled: "Should We Eat Meat? Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory." Here's a snippet from his website about the book:
The heart of the book addresses the consequences of the “massive carnivory” of western diets, looking at the inefficiencies of production and at the huge impacts on land, water, and the atmosphere. Health impacts are also covered, both positive and negative. In conclusion, the author looks forward at his vision of “rational meat eating”, where environmental and health impacts are reduced, animals are treated more humanely, and alternative sources of protein make a higher contribution.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Staying off a Mosquito's Radar Screen

If you are never bitten by an infected mosquito, you won't get malaria. That seems pretty simple. The trick, though, is to avoid being bitten, which is not easy in places infested with mosquitos. Bed nets and repellents are good preventive measures, but what is it that repels mosquitos? Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have been working on that problem, but from the opposite angle. What smells attract mosquitos, so that we can avoid them? The answer was published in the journal Cell:
Female mosquitoes that transmit deadly diseases locate human hosts by detecting exhaled CO2 and skin odor. The identities of olfactory neurons and re- ceptors required for attraction to skin odor remain a mystery. Here, we show that the CO2-sensitive olfactory neuron is also a sensitive detector of human skin odorants in both Aedes aegypti and Anopheles gambiae. We demonstrate that activity of this neuron is important for attraction to skin odor, establishing it as a key target for intervention.
Note that the Anopheles gambiae is the mosquito that tends the carry the particularly deadly plasmodium falciparum parasite in sub-Saharan Africa. A story in today's San Diego Union-Tribune decodes some of the scientific jargon:
Mosquitoes use carbon dioxide in exhaled breath to sense that people are near. But when they get close to a person, the bloodsucking disease-carriers ignore CO2 and hone in on skin odors to find a fleshy landing strip. Skin emits hundreds of chemicals into the air. Even sweaty socks will attract mosquitoes. How this mechanism works was a mystery.
The new study identified the cells that detect skin odors, along with chemicals that block the most important skin odors. Researchers also found pleasant-smelling attractants that can serve as decoys.
As is true with most such research, there is a still a lot of work to do before these decoy scents hit the market, but every little battle against mosquitos is worth it in terms of lives saved.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Paths to Gender Equality

A major theme surrounding below replacement fertility is that women have a tough time juggling both a career and domestic life when men aren't much help around the house. So, if a woman wants to have a career, she winds up having fewer children. Today's New York Times offers lengthy stories discussing two alternatives to this world view: (1) stay-at-home Dads; and (2) lowering the standards with respect to housework.

In the first story, Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg review a set of interviews that they conducted in several places in the US with women who are the bread-winners largely because they have high-powered jobs in finance, making more money than their husband could have. Instead of two incomes and a smaller family, the women are married to men who are staying home to take care of the kids.
In an industry still dominated by men with only a smattering of women in its highest ranks, these bankers make up a small but rapidly expanding group, benefiting from what they call a direct link between their ability to achieve and their husbands’ willingness to handle domestic duties. The number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980, according to an analysis of census data, and some of the most successful women in the field are among them.
The article is careful to point out that is not a choice available to most couples. Two-earner families are often a requirement in order to maintain what we think of as an acceptable standard of living. The comments at the end of the article also point to the many issues involved in trying to increase the level of gender equality in the workplace and family both at the same time. This is obviously not a simple issue...

The second article, written by a man, takes a different view--increase gender equality in housework by doing less housework (no mention of the kids, however).
The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.  A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.
The fact that there was little mention of who takes care of the kids is important because, in my experience, it is the kids who make the biggest contribution to squalor. For adults, a little self-discipline should be all that's necessary.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The WorldPop Project

Demographic data for the entire world are most readily available from the United Nations Population Division, but they work almost exclusively at the national level. Trying to get some information at a more local level requires the combination of a variety of resources, including satellite imagery along with georeferenced census and survey data. LandScan (from Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and the Gridded Population of the World (from Columbia University) are two such attempts to do this. Now a group at the University of Southampton in the UK, headed up by geographer Andy Tatem, has launched a new website called WorldPop. 
The WorldPop project was initiated in October 2013 to combine the AfriPop, AsiaPop and AmeriPop population mapping projects. It aims to provide an open access archive of spatial demographic datasets for Central and South America, Africa and Asia to support development and health applications. The methods used are designed with full open access and operational application in mind, using transparent, fully documented and shareable methods to produce easily updatable maps with accompanying metadata.
Databases like these are especially important in times of emergency, as I and my colleagues noted a few years ago in a report for the National Research Council, and the WorldPop data were featured recently in a story about typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Large-scale natural disasters such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti can bring stark reminders of the importance of knowing how many people are living in which locations in order to rapidly assess and provide relief. These disasters have also shown that a range of existing datasets can be used to rapidly improve available information on where people live.
I have not yet had a chance to compare the different kinds of information available from WorldPop with the other databases, but the ability to compare among several different resources is itself a key element in improving our demographic knowledge about local places anywhere in the world.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Twitter and the Flu

No, I don't mean that you are going to get the flu by tweeting. What I mean is that my colleague Dr. Ming-Hsiang Tsou here in the SDSU Department of Geography is working on an algorithm to track the spread of flu by monitoring Twitter traffic. The story is reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego State geographer Ming-Hsiang Tsou is testing new computer algorithms that spot key words — such as “flu” — appearing on the social-media website from users in the nation’s 30 largest cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The algorithms also are designed to recognize when people are saying they’re suffering from the flu, rather than simply mentioning the ailment.
“We’re looking for a correlation between the key words and actual reported cases on flu,” said Tsou, whose research is part of a long-term project harnessing social media to help health officials and emergency responders. He’ll soon begin advising the county on how it might monitor and use social media more effectively for natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a major storm.
Social media helped to bring about the spread of pro-democracy sentiment that created the Arab Spring. It is only reasonable, then, that tracking the spread of disease should also be possible through social media. Remember to tweet next time you feel sick. We need good data.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Demographics of Student Debt

Rising student loan debt has become a huge issue in the United States, and so it was very interesting today to see the results of a new survey from "The Project on Student Debt" of the Institute for College Access and Success. I actually picked up on the story from the Huffington Post, but the Institute's website gives you the data from their survey state by state and college by college. The biggest surprise seems to be the wide variability in student debt. Some of the differences are obvious: private schools are more expensive than public schools, so the debt load for students tends to be higher--although there are exceptions like Princeton University. Indeed, the report notes that colleges with strong endowments are more likely to provide scholarships which reduce the need for student loans. The report also indicates that very few private for-profit schools responded to their survey, but those few that did had higher than average student debt among their recent graduates. The expectation is that these schools are disproportionate contributors to the increasing student loan indebtedness.

The geographic variability was also quite amazing: 

State averages for borrowers’ debt at graduation in 2012 ranged from $18,000 to $33,650. High-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, with Delaware the
highest. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Rhode Island also had average debt over $30,000. Low-debt states were mainly in the West and South, with New Mexico the lowest. Other low- debt states include California, Arizona, Nevada, and Wyoming.
Since these averages include both public and private nonprofit institutions, it is not clear why there is such regional variability, but the data seem to suggest that you should "go west" for college!

Sadly, the single biggest reason for the rise in student debt is almost certainly the fact that state support for higher education in the US has not kept up with the increasing demand for a college education. This means that students who are admitted to public universities are paying an ever higher proportion of their educational expenses because taxpayers keep cutting back on support, and since the support doesn't exist to open new public campuses to meet demand, students are forced to go to more expensive private institutions, either non-profit or for-profit, even if they can't really afford them. 

…and who can't resist The Onion's story about student debt: 
Man Doesn’t Know How Parents Ever Going To Pay Off Massive Student Loan Debt

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Humans are Going the Wrong Direction in Terms of Meat Consumption

As a species, humans are omnivores, being able to subsist on a range of foods, although we are closer to herbivores than we are to carnivores. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and reported by suggests that, unfortunately, humans are moving more toward meat in their diets, rather than less. This is bad for health, and bad for the environment. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest culprits are the world's two most populous nations.
The fast-growing economies of China and India are driving a global increase in meat consumption, cancelling out decreases elsewhere, according to a comprehensive study of global food consumption.
The work, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, takes a detailed look at what people eat, as well as trends from one country to the next. It is also the first time that researchers have calculated humanity's trophic level, a metric used in ecology to position species in the food chain.
Calculating human trophic levels reveals our place in the ecosystem and can help scientists to understand human impact on energy consumption and resource strength. Calorie for calorie, the environmental impact of producing meat — in terms of everything from carbon emissions to water use — is typically many times larger than that of producing vegetable foods. Furthermore, a 2006 FAO study2 found that the livestock industry is directly or indirectly responsible for 18% of global greenhouse-gas emissions — a larger share than all modes of transport combined. “If we all increase our trophic level, we’ll start to have a bigger impact on ecosystems,” says Bonhommeau [the French scientist directing the study].
This kind of study needs to be a wake-up call for all of us to rethink how we eat--both in terms of improving our health (more vegetables are better than more meat), and in terms of moving toward global sustainability of the food supply.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Young Adults Still Staying Home in Droves

One of the provisions of the new Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is that children under 26 are allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance policies. While the government does not require that they be living with the parents for this to be so, a lot of young adults are, in fact, still at home. This was one of the findings of the latest round of data from the annual demographic supplement to the Current Population Survey, released last week by the Census Bureau. Nearly 60 percent of males aged 18-24 in the US were living with their parents (or living in a college dorm) in 2013, and the figure was 52 for women. Among those aged 25-34 the percentages were 16 and 11, respectively. The story was covered by Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego State University demographer John Weeks cautioned against reading too much into small statistical changes this year, but said the overall trends reflect the hardships that young adults face.
“In the post-recession era, the jobs, particularly for young people, have not come back in the same way the stock market has come back,” he said. “So people are sticking with their parents in a way we have not seen before.”
While young women may also be having a hard time finding jobs or dealing with other financial difficulties, the burgeoning numbers living at home signal growing gender equality, Weeks said.
The historical gap in the number of men and women living with their parents stemmed from women generally marrying at an earlier age and moving out of the family home, he explained. Today, women are delaying marriage and attending college in record numbers.
“I really think we are witnessing this continued evolution in the status and role of women in society,” Weeks said.
I couldn't agree more...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Syrian Refugee Crisis Just Keeps Getting Worse

As the Syrian civil war rages on without any obvious end in sight, the plight of the country's people continues to worsen. This week the UN warned the world about the potential for a lost generation of Syrian children. The New York Times reports that:
Syria’s conflict is creating a generation of damaged children, the United Nations warned Friday in a report on the plight of more than a million children who are refugees in neighboring countries, many of them deprived of access to education and of any semblance of a normal family life or childhood.
The agency [the UNHCR] has registered more than 1.1 million children among the total of 2.2 million refugees, presenting a crisis on a scale unseen since Rwanda two decades ago, Volker Türk, the agency’s director of international protection, told reporters in Geneva. Of these refugee children, more than 385,000 were in Lebanon and 290,000 were in Jordan, he said.
The conflict had caused children of all ages “to suffer immensely, both physically and psychologically,” the report said. “Children have been wounded or killed by sniper fire, rockets, missiles and falling debris. They have experienced firsthand conflict, destruction and violence.”
The Times also reported on the increasing number of Syrian refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe:
...since this summer, refugees have also started pouring into Europe in what became for many weeks a humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Over five months, Italy’s Coast Guard rescued thousands of Syrians, even as hundreds of other migrants, including many Syrians, died in two major shipwrecks in October.
Getting a residency permit in Europe is a long and difficult task, and so after being exploited by smugglers, people find that life is not easy once ashore in Europe. It is difficult to see many happy endings here. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

25 Memorable Maps

Circulating on the web right now is a link to a really cool set of maps--"Top 25 Informative Maps That Teach Us Something Uniquely Different About the World." Not surprisingly, a majority of them have a demographic theme of one kind or another. Indeed, the very first map highlights a segment of East and Southeast Asia with the notation that there are more people living within the circle than there are people living outside of the circle. 

The creator of the map indicates that she confirmed the numbers, although I have not personally checked them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Changing American Family

The NY Times has a special online issue of Science Times in which writer Natalie Angier discusses the diversity of American families and households. I could scarcely ask for a better set of "further readings" for my discussion in Chapter 10 on the family and household transition, and in Chapter 12 on the Family and Household evolution. She lays out the many dimensions of diversity, and has a nice quote from the go-to person on the American family.
“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change. We are still very much in the midst of it.”
At the same time, the story does little to explore the roots of these changes, with only the drop in fertility being mentioned. Readers of my book know the fuller story, of course. The diversity (which is not unique to America) is a reasonably predictable consequence of the drop in mortality, which keeps kids alive and allows fertility to drop while at the same time allowing people to live to older ages. As fertility drops, younger and older people are living many more years without children, and they are doing so in an increasingly urban, well-educated, gender equal world that is full of vastly more opportunity and alternatives than ever before in human history. It's a good path, but change like this always produces anxiety.

Monday, November 25, 2013

US Public Supports Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

Although the House Republicans have blocked immigration reform for the time being, one of the key legislative elements that right-wing Republicans are most opposed to--a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants--appears to have strong public support, according to a story in today's NY Times:
A consistent and solid majority of Americans — 63 percent — crossing party and religious lines favors legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally, while only 14 percent support legal residency with no option for citizenship, according a report published Monday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.
Sixty percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship, according to the report. Majorities of Protestants, Catholics and Americans with no religious affiliation also support that plan.
The report is based on results from four national surveys, one in Ohio and focus groups in Arizona, Florida and Ohio. It compares results from a national poll in March with a similar bilingual telephone survey that was conducted nationwide in English and Spanish from Nov. 6 to 10 among 1,005 adults, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The nonprofit research institute conducts surveys on public policy issues and religious values.
The group drilled down into that issue, creating subgroups for the November survey who were asked questions with differing levels of detail about the requirements immigrants should have to meet to become citizens. When there was no mention of requirements, 59 percent supported an option for citizenship. When the question specified that immigrants would have to pay back taxes, learn English and pass background checks, support increased to 71 percent.
The requirements are important, of course, because many undocumented immigrants will be unable to fulfill them, and thus will remain undocumented unless granted some form of legal status that does not lead to citizenship. This latter option, however, is the only one that House Republicans currently seem to favor, and it is clear that they are out of step with the public on this issue.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Some Simple Solutions for Controlling Malaria

An incredible amount of money and energy goes into controlling malaria, and all of it is worthwhile if we can bring this dreadful disease under control. But it seems that simple solutions help out. Economics Professor Ross McKitrick at the University of Guelph in Canada and two Finnish colleagues have analyzed data showing that, after controlling for a host of other factors, sleeping arrangements make a difference in malaria rates.
"Malaria-bearing mosquitoes mainly feed at night, and tend to return to the same location for blood meals. The more people who sleep in one area, the greater the likelihood of an infected mosquito spreading the parasite to a new, uninfected victim." 
"It is a common misconception that malaria is a tropical disease, and with 90 per cent of malaria deaths taking place in Africa, it is easy to see why people believe this," said McKitrick.
"But historically, malaria has occurred in all climate zones including the Arctic, and was endemic in North America and Europe a hundred years ago. In many cases, the disease disappeared even in countries that made no efforts to fight it, while others that tried to eradicate it failed. We found declining average household size key to explaining this pattern. "
As household size continues to decline, said McKitrick, malaria should gradually disappear. But countries need not wait for that to happen. "The key factor is segmenting sleeping quarters and greater use of bed nets in those countries where malaria is still prevalent," he said.
A related story reveals that malaria would be essentially non-existent in the US if people didn't contract it outside the country and then bring it back with them. And why does that happen? "Travelers can protect themselves by taking malaria drugs before and during a trip. Only a fraction of the 2011 cases took the right drugs." A sad commentary on the sanity of travelers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Suzanne Bianchi, Former PAA President, Dead at Age 61

We received the terrible news this week that Professor Suzanne Bianchi of UCLA, Past President of the Population Association of America (among innumerable academic accomplishments) died earlier this month of pancreatic cancer. She was only 61. Although I will quote from the UCLA website, her obituary was printed in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post and many other places, highlighting her contributions to family demography and gender equality in particular--the latter being central to modern demographic thinking, due in many ways to her scholarly contributions.
Bianchi, the first holder of UCLA's Dorothy Meier Chair in Social Equities and a distinguished professor of sociology, was former president of the Population Association of America, editor of the well-respected journal Demography, past chair of the executive committee of the California Center for Population Research at UCLA and former director of the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The author of numerous award-winning books and articles, Bianchi is best known for investigating the rapidly evolving ways in which contemporary American women and men juggle the demands of their work and family lives. She studied women's employment, how wives and husbands divide housework and time with children, and how women take care of their children and aging parents.
Until Bianchi's research, social scientists assumed that mothers' involvement in the workplace kept them from home, and that the loss of time with their mother harmed children. Bianchi found that even though mothers' labor-force participation had increased, the time they spent with their children had changed very little. In an attention-grabbing address that she delivered to the Population Association of America in 2000 and in the books and articles she wrote afterwards, Bianchi showed that employed mothers adjusted their work hours, did less housework, slept less and partook in fewer leisure activities in order to be able to spend more time with their children.
At the same time, children's lives also changed, with fewer siblings and more time away from home in preschool and other child-centered activities, so that even mothers who were not employed outside the home spent less time with children because children were busy elsewhere. Bianchi eyed the widespread impact of her findings with a measure of ambivalence.
"My one concern is that I have given the impression that women have found it quite easy to balance increased labor force participation with child rearing, to reduce hours of employment so as to juggle childcare, and to get their husbands more involved in child rearing; and that fathers have found it easy to add more hours with children to those they already commit to supporting children financially," she once said. "I do not think these changes have been easy for American families, particularly for American women.
Although the National Cancer Institute has statistics showing that pancreatic cancer is relatively rare in the US, it has the striking property of a very short period of time between diagnosis and death. She will be missed by all of us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Status of State Immigration "Reform"

Speaker of the House John Boehner has declared immigration reform to be officially "dead" for 2013, but things are moving slowly in the favor of immigrants at the state level, at least in terms of legislative assaults against undocumented immigrants. The Migration Policy Institute recently posted a report summarizing, in particular, the settlement of a lawsuit in Alabama that effectively shuts down that state's extreme attempt to legislate against undocumented immigrants.
The Alabama settlement last month, which ends a lawsuit that has been moving through the courts since enactment of HB 56 in 2011, can be seen, at least for now, as the final blow to a breed of multi-pronged state laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. The critical blow clearly came in June 2012 when the Supreme Court, in Arizona v. United States, struck down most provisions of Arizona's SB 1070, a precursor to HB 56 and similar legislation by several other states.
 Most provisions of HB 56 never went into effect because they were blocked by federal courts. The law was almost entirely enjoined by the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in August 2012 in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States. In April 2013, the Supreme Court declined to hear the state's appeal, effectively leaving intact the lower court's decision.
Alabama on October 29 settled the lawsuit brought by immigrant and civil-rights advocates, as it became clear that the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit rulings would prevent most of the law's components from ever being enforced.
As state activism on immigration enforcement has reached a near halt, momentum in 2013 has swung in the other direction — to laws expanding benefits to unauthorized immigrants and to noncitizens more generally.
There seems to be a widespread belief (hope?) that immigration reform will pass the House next year, so the momentum does seem to have shifted toward a more rational and humane approach to the role of immigrants in American society.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Girl Babies at Highest Risk in the Philippines

The recent typhoon in the Philippines generated thousands of victims, but Justin Stoler just sent me a link to a disturbing finding--girl babies are significantly more victimized by typhoons in that country than are boy babies. The story is based on a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
While officials report roughly 740 deaths on average every year due to typhoon exposure in the Philippines, post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is approximately 15 times higher than that, likely due to the storm’s indirect poverty-worsening effects.
The risk of a baby girl dying after a typhoon doubles if she has older sisters in the home, and the risk doubles again if she has older brothers—suggesting that the competition for resources among siblings may play a key role in these deaths.
The researchers did not find a spike in the mortality rates for baby boys, but they uncovered an elevated mortality risk among baby girls that lasts up to two years after a typhoon.
Note that the research is based on a series of typhoons. While the most recent one was much worse than normal, disastrous typhoons are not uncommon in the Philippines. That raises the other disturbing question, mentioned in the article, about the general lack of readiness within the country for disasters of this kind.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is Slow Population Growth the Cause of the Weak Economy in the US?

Paul Krugman published an Op-Ed recently in the New York Times in which he suggested that the slow job growth in the US might be a long-term trend, not just a blip, and that one cause might be the slowing of population growth in this country that has lowered demand for consumer goods. His column generated a string of generally well-thought-out responses, none of which exactly disputed his thesis about population growth, but nearly all of which pointed the finger at the increasing income inequality in the US as the major cause of slow job creation--rich people are increasingly richer and are sitting on their money instead of creating jobs--no sign of trickle-down.

But let me address the issue of slow population growth. If that really were the cause, then the economic theory behind it would simply be that the population has to grow for the economy to grow, without any regard for the increase in the standard of living. It is the latter that people seek, of course.  If population growth were required for an improving economy, then we are in serious trouble because that is clearly not sustainable. The same economy with slowing population growth should be equal to a higher standard of living per person, not higher unemployment. What the economy needs is higher productivity per person, not more people. This brings us back to the growing income inequality as the real issue here. Population growth in countries like China, India, and elsewhere has attracted manufacturing jobs that used to be located in the US. Those jobs are probably gone for a long time--until the wage gap is reduced significantly. Finance has replaced manufacturing as a source of income for the elites of society, but on its own that does not create much in the way of jobs for the middle class. What to do? Several of those commenting on Krugman's had the same answer--some form of "redistribution" that puts the wealth of the nation to work for everyone, not just an elite few.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dan Brown's "Inferno" Has Helped to Stimulate Thinking About Population Growth

It was inevitable that when an author as popular as Dan Brown (and I mean the novelist, not the geographer at the University of Michigan) put population growth front and center in his latest book "Inferno"people were going to pay attention. Journalist Sam Kornell was inspired to get on a plane and fly to a huge slum (Mukuru) in Nairobi, Kenya to see for himself what all this fuss is about, and then to report back to us in a column in Slate. His conclusion is that consumption is the problem, rather than population growth. Poor people do not make the same demands on the earth as do the rich, so if there were fewer rich people, we would not be having this discussion. 

Not so fast! The problem is the COMBINATION of population growth and increasing consumption. It is our growing scientific knowledge and use of resources over the past two hundred years, especially since the end of WWII, that has allowed the world to bring down death rates and, at the same time, increase the food supply. Yes, the birth rate is declining (thanks to scientific knowledge applied to the issue of reproduction), but in much of the world births still vastly outnumber deaths. Now, if we all were willing to live at the same level as residents of slums in Nairobi, the world could support a larger population, but I have never talked to anyone who preferred that to a standard level of living. People everywhere aspire to the level of living that implies a higher per-person use of resources (with the accompanying piling up of waste in the air, ground, and water). The more of us there are who want a higher level of living, the sooner will we overshoot our sustainability (if we haven't already).

It is true that Malthus was wrong in almost all of the details of his theory, as I discuss in detail in Chapter 3, but we still talk about Malthus because the big idea of his is still a real possibility--there is a real chance that we will overrun our resources. It hasn't happened in the way that Malthus worried about, nor as Paul Ehrlich worried about 150 years later, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

China to Ease One-Child Policy--Baby Boom NOT imminent [Updated]

There has been speculation for several months that the new leaders in China would ease restrictions on the birth rate and, as I noted a few days ago, this is indeed the new policy. Although the New York Times story seems to see this as a major breakthrough, the new policy is an expansion of the rules that had been in place in a China the past few years which allowed couples who are both only children to have more than one child. The new rules allow a second child if either one of the prospective parents is an only child. Thus far, only a small fraction of couples have taken advantage of the first round of relaxed rules. Thus, Professor Wang Feng of UC Irvine does not expect a big impact from this national easing of the one-child policy, as noted by The Globe and Mail:
Some 15 million to 20 million Chinese parents will be allowed to have a second child after the government announced Friday that couples where one partner has no siblings can have two children. But the easing of the policy is so incremental that demographers and policymakers are not anticipating an influx of newborn babies at a time when young Chinese couples are already opting for smaller families, driving the country’s fertility rate down to 1.5-1.6 births per woman. 
“A baby boom can be safely ruled out,” said Wang Feng, professor of sociology at the University of California Irvine. 
Wang noted that although Chinese couples where both parents have no siblings have for some time been allowed to have a second child, many have elected to have only one. “Young people’s reproductive desires have changed,” he said.
Whether or not the change in policy has an impact on China's demographics, it is a very positive sign that the human rights issues surrounding the one-child policy are easing. China's leaders understand that the country still cannot afford a huge population boom, but it is a good sign that they believe that the birth rate will stay low without government pressure. 

Update: A story in today's New York Times suggests that it may be too early to believe that the human rights issues with respect to reproductive decisions in China are behind us:
The Chinese state-run news media have celebrated the shift as demonstrating that Mr. Xi’s government is willing to make changes that have been debated, and delayed, for many years. But over the weekend, a senior official in the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that provincial-level governments would decide when to carry out the new policy, and he stressed that the government had no plans to further relax family size restrictions. 
“There will not be a uniform nationwide timetable for starting implementation,” Wang Pei’an, a vice minister of the commission, said in a question-and-answer transcript issued by Xinhua, the state-run news agency. “But it would be inadvisable for the lag in timing of implementation between each area to be too long.”  Provincial-level governments include large municipalities, like Beijing and Shanghai, which answer directly to the central government.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reading (or Misreading) Demographic Tea Leaves in Chile

Any reader of this blog knows that politics and demographics are a heady brew, mixed up together all the time, and I like to encourage that kind of thinking. But sometimes people get things wrong (hey, I do too occasionally). A good example of misreading the demographic tea leaves is an article in discussing this weekend's presidential election in Chile.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet of the center-left Concertacion coalition seems poised to win the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for Nov. 17. She will supersede Sebastian Pinera who replaced her in March 2010; Chile's constitution forbids consecutive terms.
Pinera entered office at a time of change in Chile. The country has a comparatively young representative government, having moved out of dictatorship and into a democratic system in 1990. In the wake of the dictatorship, there was a small population boom, the outcome of which was an upsurge of people who are now between the ages of 15 and 30. This new generation is composed of Chileans who have no living memory of the dictatorial regime of Chilean President Augusto Pinochet and grew up in an increasingly open social environment that permitted the development of a protest culture. This, combined with the economic challenges facing society, has produced a sustained period of public unrest that began under Bachelet's last administration and has intensified under Pinera.
I underlined the demographic component that seems to underly the analysis of what Bachelet will face when she takes office. A population pyramid of Chile, based upon UN estimates for 2015, even accompanies the story--very nice. The only problem is that there wasn't actually a population boom, small or otherwise, in the wake of the dictatorship. There will be a bulge of people aged 20-29 in 2015 (not 15-30). Those aged 20-24 were born right after the return to democracy, whereas those 25-29 were  born in the last years of the Pinochet dictatorship. So, we are on shaky ground attributing either one to the kind of government in place when they were born. In fact, during this entire time, the average woman in Chile was having fewer and fewer children. If anything, the decline in fertility accelerated after the return to civilian rule, and is now below replacement level--consistent with the demographic trends in the European countries from which most Chileans can trace their roots. That boom came about entirely because 1985-1995 represented the peak years for the absolute number of women of reproductive age in Chile--a legacy of higher birth rates in the pre-Pinochet years. This created an unusual bulge in births between 1985-1995, but it had nothing to do with the desire for more children, nor seemingly anything to do with politics more generally.

If anything, the age structure of Chile is poised to be economically advantageous--a potential demographic dividend. The bulge of young workers, less burdened with children than previous generations, can and should be the cornerstone of new economic policies in Chile. This is a fleeting moment in Chile's demographic history--they have to use it or lose it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mapping Americans on the Move

I was very happy this past Spring when a group of demographers as the University of Wisconsin made available a set of data on county-level migration rates by age and sex and race/ethnicity for the US from 1950 to 2010. This is an incredibly rich source of data and my son, Greg, and I immediately latched onto them to help us put together population projections for Latinos and non-Latinos in the South for a chapter that will be out next year (more on that later). But, lo and behold, they also created some very nice maps, and the website io9 has put them together in a way that nicely visualizes migration patterns over time in the country. Here is an example:

You can see that a lot of the counties shaded in blue (higher in-migration rates) are in the south. This is partly a function of the Great Remigration of Blacks out of the north and back to the south (with the notable exceptions of Alabama and Mississippi), and partly a consequence of a huge increase in the number of Latinos (many of them undocumented immigrants) moving to these states. Over time, of course, this will almost certainly change the demographic and political landscape of the south.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Origins of "Demography is Destiny" Revealed

A couple of weeks ago I posed the question about who originated the popular notion that "demography is destiny." I am very grateful to my SDSU colleague Shoshana Grossbard who immediately contacted Olivier Thévenon and François Héran at INED in Paris. Dr. Héran had, in fact, already looked into this question and had the probable answer. It is very likely that the term was first used--or certainly first popularized--in the 1970 book "The Real Majority," by Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg (New York: Coward-McCann). The book was about electoral politics and the role played by the changing demographics of the US. Chapter 4 is titled "Demography is Destiny--Unyoung, Unpoor, and Unblack," while Chapter 5 is titled "Middle-Aged, Middle Class White." The title of Chapter 4 was very politically incorrect and apparently received a lot of comment at the time. Of considerable interest given the current political climate in the US is the review of the book at the time by Ruth Silva, a political scientist at Penn State:
If The Real Majority has a thesis, it is that the American electorate is centerist, so that victory lies with the party or candidate of the center--the only extreme that is attractive to a real majority of the electorate is the extreme center. In short, The Real Majority is "must" reading for Kevin Phillips, Barry Goldwater, "Lemming Left" Democrats, "Lemming Right" Republicans, and every thoughtful citizen. (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol 395, May 1971)
Richard Scammon had been Director of the US Census Bureau from 1961 to 1965, having been appointed by President Kennedy and then serving under President Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. Wattenberg was a speechwriter for President Johnson, although he became politically more conservative over time, cutting his teeth demographically by famously challenging Paul Ehrlich about the Population Bomb on some of Ehrlich's many visits to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Mara Hvistendahl recounts those stories in her book "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men" (New York: Perseus, 2012).

As I suspected, there is simply no evidence that Auguste Comte ever said anything even remotely close to "demography is destiny," whereas we know for certain that Scammon and Wattenberg used it several times. Furthermore, there is no sign of the phrase having been in circulation prior to the publication of their book, whereas it has gained enough currency since then that most people, including me until the email from Dr. Héran, had no clue about its origins.