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:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unaccompanied Minor Children From El Salvador Are Fleeing Violence There--UPDATED

I have mentioned before that one of my PhD students, Elizabeth Kennedy, is in El Salvador researching the reasons why unaccompanied minor children head north for the very dangerous journey to the US. She was quoted extensively yesterday in an article on Politico, helping to rebut the belief held by many in the U.S. that there is some kind of "gravitational attraction" to the US that brings the children here:
Elizabeth Kennedy, a doctoral candidate at San Diego State University, paints a different pictureShe has studied the crisis from both sides of the U.S. border, including a stint now as a Fulbright fellow in El Salvador. All the Salvadoran children must cross Mexico at some point to get to the U.S. — and many are intercepted and turned back by Mexican authorities. Kennedy has collected over 400 interviews by going to the migrant return center and talking with waiting family members and their children once they arrive.
“Most of the children I meet at the bus return center will try again, and some will reach the United States,” she said. “I’m in contact with 20 who have done so since I got here in October. I’m sure others have arrived and have elected not to stay in contact with me.”
“Over 90 percent of child migrants here have a family member in the U.S,” Kennedy said. “Despite these numbers, less than a third mention family reunification as a reason for emigrating. More often than not, their neighborhood has become so dangerous or they have been so seriously threatened, that to stay is to wait for their own death or great harm to their family. Their neighborhoods are full of gangs. Their schools are full of gangs. They do not want to join for moral and political reasons and thus see no future.”
“In only one of 400-plus interviews did a child migrant ask about the DREAM Act and immigration reform. … Fifteen had heard that the U.S. system treated children differently than adults and wanted to know how. In all 15 cases, the child had received a threat to join the gang or be killed, and some had then been beat or raped when they refused to join.”
“Thus, there is only limited knowledge of the way the U.S. system works for children. U.S. legislation is not driving this emigration. A humanitarian crisis is. We need to accept that when large amounts of people leave a country, this is indicative of untenable problems in that country. … Until the root causes are addressed, it’s going to continue.”
‘The reality is that violence — homicide, rape, kidnapping, extortion, disappearance — is at near an all-time high,” Kennedy said of her time in El Salvador. “And it has a disproportionate impact on young people.”
You can follow the progress of her research on her website:

She was also quoted in today's New York Times in a story about the new flood of unaccompanied minors heading north.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do Environmental Toxins Speed Up Aging?

It is not clear why some of us live longer than others. After all, studies of twins suggest that only about 25 percent of the difference in longevity is due to genes. Of course, some die of various diseases at younger or older ages, but seemingly similarly situated people die at different ages. One answer may be the existence of "gerontogens"—factors, including substances in the environment, that can accelerate the aging process. This is the gist of a recent paper published in Trends in Molecular Medicine by researchers at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine and reported by the National Geographic.
Possible gerontogens include arsenic in groundwater, benzene in industrial emissions, ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, and the cocktail of 4,000 toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke. Activities may also be included, like ingesting excessive calories, or suffering psychological stress.
"The idea that environmental factors can accelerate aging has been around for a while, [but] I agree that the study of gerontogens has lagged behind other areas of aging research," says Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
She adds that scientists have become more interested in these substances in recent years after learning that many types of chemotherapy, and some anti-HIV drugs, can speed the onset of age-related traits like frailty and mental decline.
The discovery of gerontogens does not explain everything about aging, but it offers the promise of increasing our knowledge, which then offers the potential for doing something about it. Of course, the immediate lesson is one that the world should know by now--don't smoke.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will South Korea be the Next Melting Pot Nation?

A rapid decline in fertility was the trigger for economic growth in East Asia--including Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. But the demographic dividend that came with the age structure effects of rapid fertility decline does not arrive without a cost. All four of these countries are facing depopulation because of birth rates that are well below replacement level. There are two reasons for this, as I have detailed before (most recently for Japan): (1) male chauvinism that forces women to choose between a career and a family because men are unwilling to take on domestic responsibilities; and (2) the fear of strangers that keeps these countries from allowing immigrants to fill in the blank spots in the economy. This week's Economist highlights an interesting story in South Korea, where the migration of women to cities to work (and often not to marry) has left farmers without a pool of prospective mates--so they have sought foreign brides. This hasn't always gone well, but things seem to be improving.
Last year over a fifth of South Korean farmers and fishermen who tied the knot did so with a foreigner...Not long ago placards in the provinces sang the praises of Vietnamese wives “who never run away”. Now, on the Seoul subway, banners encourage acceptance of multicultural families.
They are expected to exceed 1.5m by 2020, in a population of 50m. That is remarkable for a country that has long prided itself on its ethnic uniformity. But a preference for sons has led to a serious imbalance of the sexes. In 2010 half of all middle-aged men in South Korea were single, a fivefold increase since 1995. The birth rate has fallen to 1.3 children per woman of childbearing age, down from six in 1960. It is one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Without immigration, the country’s labour force will shrink drastically.
The government likes the idea of foreign brides as a substitute for no brides at all, although there is also a concern that the brides need to acculturate:
The government is now tightening up the marriage rules. Last month two new requirements came into force: a foreign bride must speak Korean, and a Korean groom must support her financially. Koreans are now limited to a single marriage-visa request every five years.
The main concern, of course, is that the children of these unions will be discriminated against as they grow older. Still, the article seems to suggest that there is growing acceptance of multicultural families in Korea, and that has to be a good thing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

College is Worth It: Trust the Numbers

Every spring, as college graduation ceremonies come around, the accompanying question is: Was this worth it? Obviously, as a college professor, I am biased. Yes, a college education is worth it because it makes you a better person. But the numbers consistently show that it also makes you a better-off person, in terms of more lifetime dollars in your pocket. Today's NYTimes summarizes data from the Economy Policy Institute. 
The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year, according to the new data, which is based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.
These are obviously averages and not every college graduate makes more than every person without a college degree, but the odds are clearly in your favor if you get that degree, no matter how many people might try to talk you out of it.
When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor {from MIT] published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.
Whoa, doctor! You can't afford NOT to go to college. That's a pretty impressive conclusion. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Immigration Stories: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The New York Times has a nice summary of recently released US Census Bureau estimates of the age structure in this country. In contrast to Japan, which is generally hostile to immigrants and is thus depopulating, as I recently discussed, the US is a nation of immigrants and it is not depopulating. 
From 1947 through 2010, the largest single age group in the United States was born sometime in the 18 years after the end of World War II. In 1947, that was zero years old — babies who had not yet celebrated their first birthday. In 2010, it was 50-year-olds.
But the Census Bureau now estimates that the biggest such group last year was 22-year-olds. The largest of the baby boom contingents, people who were 53 last year, had fallen to fourth place. The second- and third-ranked age levels were 23- and 21-year-olds.
Over all, there are now more people in their 20s than in any other 10-year group. In 2010, those in their 40s were the largest group.
The bad immigration news comes from Europe, where, as the NY Times reports:
Members of the European political elite expressed alarm on Monday over the strong showing in European Parliament elections by nationalist and anti-immigrant parties skeptical about European integration, a development described by the French prime minister as an “earthquake.”
It is not yet clear what this might mean in terms of future EU policies with respect to immigration, but it's more likely to be bad than good.

The ugly news comes also comes from the NY Times, but this time from day 9 of Damien Cave's trip up I-35 to explore the path of immigrants north from the US-Mexico border in Texas. The whole story is about tattoo shops. Enough said.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can Japan Really Proactively Raise Its Birth Rate?

The New York Times editorial board had an interesting piece in yesterday's paper in which they were responding to an initiative by the Japanese government to raise the birth rate in order to slow down the country's rate of depopulation. 
The panel [in Japan] suggested various ways of encouraging childbearing. It recommended doubling current government social welfare spending on children, noting that countries that have managed to increase the fertility rate like Britain and France spend more than three times what Japan does. And it said the nation needed to create an environment more conducive to young people marrying and choosing to have children, including, for instance, building many more child care centers.
What really surprised was me that the NYTimes editorial board jumped on this idea whole-heartedly and then took it several steps further to suggest that the Japanese government should endorse out of wedlock births as part of a solution to Japan's birthrate problem. I didn't see that coming! And I find it hard to believe that the Japanese will jump on that idea, either, no matter what the government might say.

Instead, there are voices within Japan--still largely unheard--suggesting that immigration is a solution that Japan needs to try:
The government is in denial over Japan’s looming demographic disaster and adopting unrealistic solutions rather than face the need to accept large numbers of immigrants, a former senior immigration official said Friday.
Hidenori Sakanaka, a former director of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau who now heads the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, said his voice has long gone unheard because an anti-immigration culture exists among Japan’s intellectuals and media.
So, Japan prefers not to entertain the immigration solution and it seems equally unlikely that it will embrace out of wedlock childbearing as a solution--certainly not without a wholesale shift in attitudes toward women which currently limits their ability to be mothers and have a career. I just don't see how having babies outside of marriage is going to solve anything. Immigration, on the other hand, would help. The U.S. has a higher birth rate than Japan not because of the high percentage of births that are to unmarried women. Rather, it is less hostile than Japan to women who want to combine a family and a career and, very importantly, the U.S. has a lot of immigrants who tend to be young adults of child bearing age who come the U.S. and have kids.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Paul Ehrlich is at it Again!

Paul Ehrlich has spent his life creating demographic controversy--somewhat accidentally since he is really an entomologist, not a demographer. But, of course, Malthus too was self-taught as a demographer. Anyway, Ehrlich recently published a book with Michael Tobias called "Hope on Earth." It is an interesting book, in the sense that it is really a transcript of a conversation between the two of them. The book is not the problem, though. The problem is an interview that Ehrlich did with Josh Zepps on Huffington Post, in which he suggests that in coming centuries, humans may face the ethical question of whether or not we should eat our own species. This is not a theme in the book, but he makes the off-hand comment in the interview, and it reminded me immediately of the movie Soylent Green (look it up), which starred Charlton Heston and was almost certainly inspired by Ehrlich's Population Bomb. This was a stupid comment (and thanks to Peyton Dobbins for the heads-up on this) and the media picked up on it and then ignored all the rest of what Ehrlich said, which was spot-on in terms of the dangers facing us in trying to feed 2.5 billion more people when we don't do a very good job with the 7 billion already alive.

Why did he make such a comment? Well, in truth, because he's not vegetarian. In fact, the whole point of the question he was asked was: Wouldn't the planet be more sustainable (not to mention the issue of animal rights) if we all stopped eating meat? Since he's not vegetarian, his mind just wouldn't go there, and so took him to this ridiculous comment about cannibalism--a place where no vegetarian would ever venture, right?

So, I'm very disappointed in Ehrlich for this comment, just as I was when he made (and lost) the stupid bet with Julian Simon. Sometimes you need to know when to sit down and shut up.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Texas Rules in Growth of Cities

The Census Bureau today published its latest population estimates for municipalities of 50,000 people or more. 
Austin has been the capital of Texas since 1839, and in 2013 the area became the nation's capital for population growth, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. San Marcos, Cedar Park and Georgetown — each near Austin — ranked among the 10 fastest-growing cities with populations of 50,000 or more during the year ending July 1, 2013. San Marcos was number one in percent growth for the second consecutive year, with Austin itself gaining more people (nearly 21,000) than any city with fewer than 1 million residents.
The South and West dominated the list of fastest-growing municipalities between 2012 and 2013, claiming all of the top 15, seven of which were in Texas. Frisco and McKinney (near Dallas), Odessa (in West Texas) and Pearland (near Houston) were the other Texas cities on the list.
Note that these numbers refer to the rate of growth, not total population size. When it comes to the largest cities (municipalities, not taking into account the entire metro area) in the U.S. the list has not changed--led by New York City. Still, 4 of the top 15 most populous municipalities in the country are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin).

What's going on here? The most likely explanation, of course, is the growth of the Latino population in the West and South (with Texas sort of having a foot in both of those worlds). This is reinforced by the fact that the City of San Diego is 7th on the list of cities that grew the fastest in 2012-13. This growth was fueled almost entirely by international migrants (there was a negative net domestic migration in San Diego) and births to foreign-born mothers. This is the future, whether or not people like it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Keeping it Real: Lower Child Mortality Equals Higher Population Growth

I admire the fact that Bill and Melinda Gates are spending part of their fortune as the richest people on earth to help the poor. They began especially by helping to lower child mortality and then two years ago came to the realization that this needed to be accompanied by efforts to also bring down the birth rate. Nonethelss, this year's annual Gates letter seems to back down a bit from that position, arguing that it is a "myth" that reducing child mortality leads to overpopulation. In the letter, Melinda Gates even goes so far as to quote Hans Rosling, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and one of her "favorite data geeks,"who said, “The amount of children in the world today is probably the most there will be! We are entering into the age of the Peak Child!” Now, I like Hans Rosling, too, but as smart as he is, he isn't a demographer and I don't think that he knows more than the United Nations demographers who project that the world's population of people aged 0-14 (children by any definition) is likely to peak in 2055. The crux of Melinda Gates's argument is that somehow fertility magically declines when child mortality declines. Not so fast, my friends.

I like the fact that USAID objected to this comment in the Gates letter and posted a link on their website to a response by James Shelton, a science advisor at USAID. 
Like it or not, we face an inconvenient truth. Reducing child mortality does increase population growth, which will likely substantially impair the quality of life for those very people we wish to help. Does that mean we should curtail our child survival efforts? Not at all. We have an ethical imperative to reduce mortality, and it affirms our humanity. But in my view, it also reinforces the imperative to make a full menu of quality voluntary contraceptive services widely available, and as expeditiously as possible. Unmet need for family planning remains high in developing countries. And recent experience in Ethiopia and elsewhere demonstrates that quality family planning programming can be highly successful in advance of major socioeconomic development.
As Potts [Malcolm Potts of UC Berkeley] points out and as reinforced in the Gates annual letter, the great appeal of family planning is that it has so many benefits. Those include substantial health benefits for women and children, enhanced women's empowerment, economic benefits for the family, the demographic dividend, reduced pressure on the environment, and the right to determine one's own life destiny. Not just convenient, but a compelling opportunity.
Well put--let's keep it real, folks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Keep US Congress From Cutting Funds for NSF and Census

The US House of Representatives is at it again, trying to cut funding from NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences (not just NSF generally, but more specifically social science programs!), and once again the Census Bureau is being targeted. Here is the content of an email that I just received from the Population Association of America about this. We need to act immediately:
The U.S. House of Representatives is moving quickly to consider a bill, H.R. 4435, the Fiscal Year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill. This bill could be heard as early as this week and is important to PAA members because it funds the U.S. Census Bureau and National Science Foundation. 
During the upcoming debate on the House floor, it is very likely that some members will offer amendments to the bill that could adversely affect these agencies as well as the grant programs and surveys that they support. 
I am a constituent and a (insert your discipline (i.e. demographer, sociologist, economist) in your district who works at the (insert your institution). I depend on data that the U.S. Census Bureau produces to analyze demographic and socioeconomic trends in the U.S. I also compete for funds awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research, produce data and important scientific findings, and train the next generation of population scientists. 
During consideration of H.R. 4435, the Fiscal Year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, I urge you to vote NO on any amendments that may be offered during floor debate that would do any of the following: 
Use the Census Bureau or NSF as an offset to fund other programs in the bill.
Propose cuts to specific disciplines, especially social and behavioral sciences.
Alter the mandatory response status of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. 
Thank you for your attention to my concerns.
Take Action

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Americas Meet in South Texas

This weekend the New York Times featured two articles that provide different perspectives on the emerging demographics of the Americas. The first one was by Julia Preston reporting on the surge of unaccompanied minor children migrating from Central America (not Mexico) to the U.S. either to escape violence at home and/or find their parents who are in the U.S. without documentation--an issue I have mentioned before.
The children are coming primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, making the perilous journey north through Mexico to Texas without parents or close adult relatives. Last weekend alone, more than 1,000 unaccompanied youths were being held at overflowing border stations in South Texas, officials said.
The flow of child migrants has been building since 2011, when 4,059 unaccompanied youths were apprehended by border agents. Last year more than 21,000 minors were caught, and Border Patrol officials had said they were expecting more than 60,000 this year. But that projection has already been exceeded.
The other story is a little more hopeful, because Damien Cave is embarking on a journey up I-35 from Laredo, in south Texas, through the Midwest up to Minneapolis to follow the trail of Latin American (predominantly Mexican) migrants who are repopulating and re-energizing Midwestern communities, no matter how much discrimination there may be and no matter how little progress is being made on immigration reform in the US.
The new cars and the heroin, the avocados and the immigrants: They all pass through here before heading up I-35 to Kansas City or Minneapolis. Especially since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, Laredo has become a city of global commerce, with truck stops the size of stadium parking lots.
I was thinking about the drug flows across the border as I watched 60 Minutes tonight. In a segment on trash-pickers (recyclers) in Paraguay, the story was about how an incredible local man made instruments out of trash and created an orchestra of children that has given them an alternative to gang life. But, kids in Paraguay and Central America should not have to spend their lives avoiding gangs created largely by the demand for drugs in the US and Europe. It seems to me that we have to legalize and regulate these drugs, and give up the charade that somehow people will just say 'No.' And, of course, we have to change our immigration laws so that they match the demographic reality of the world in which we live.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Good and Bad News From Saudi Arabia

First, the good news. The Economist reports that slowly, but perhaps surely, women are gaining more rights in Saudi Arabia. The latest "victory" was the regime's willingness to allow girl's schools to have physical education. Of course, all schools are sex-segregated, but this is a step in the right direction.
Since taking power in 2005, King Abdullah, the ageing monarch, has given women a bigger role in public life. In 2009 Norah al-Faiz was appointed deputy minister for education, the highest post attained by a woman in government. Last year 30 women took their seats in the Shura Council, a consultative body of 150 members, also appointed by the king. And women are due for the first time to vote and stand in municipal elections—the only ones permitted in the kingdom—albeit that only half the seats are elected and that the councils are pretty toothless.
In the private arena changes are afoot, too. This year Somayya Jabarti became the first female editor of a daily newspaper, the Saudi Gazette. More women are working, including running their own businesses, though the female unemployment rate remains a lofty 32%. The first female-run law firm opened this year, after the authorities lifted a ban preventing women law graduates from practicing.
The bad news is related to MERS--middle east respiratory syndrome--which seems to have emerged somehow in Saudi Arabia, as noted today by ABC News:
In addition to the two men in Illinois and Indiana another man in Florida was found to be infected with the disease, after traveling to Saudi Arabia as a health care provider.
The outbreak of the MERS-CoV virus, which stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, has been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, where it was first reported. According to the CDC as of May 16 the virus has been found in 15 countries and a total of 572 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported. Of those infected, 173 people have died.
The disease can lead to acute respiratory illness, fever cough and difficulty breathing. The virus spreads from person-to-person though close contact, but might also be transmitted to humans from animals, according to the CDC. There is no known cure or vaccine.
Although the US Centers for Disease Control have not yet issued a ban on travel to Saudi Arabia, you might want to wait a while, if you possibly can. It could be a matter of life or death.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Armenia is Depopulating, But Not Disappearing

When I was growing up, the one comment I could count on from my mother if it looked as though I wasn't going to finish dinner was: Think of the poor starving Armenians! I don't know how much she knew about Armenia, but I have spent my life with the feeling of tragedy whenever that country is mentioned. I suspect that it has not been an easy history to have been next door to the Persian Empire, and then the Ottoman Empire, and then to be swallowed up by the Soviet Union. These things came to mind when Abu Daoud sent me a link to a story about Armenian demographics. Now, to be sure, the link is from an English-language website that promotes Azerbaijan--Armenia's not-always-so-friendly next door neighbor, but the perspective is a sympathetic one. 
The demographic situation in Armenia faces unpleasant tendencies such as a low birth rate and a high number of divorces.
Fertility rate (births per woman) in the country is 1.6, far from the normal 2-2.1. Therefore, Armenia faces the problem of the self-reproduction of the nation.
The alarming tendencies were voiced by Head of the Department of Demography and Population Census of the National Statistics Service Karine Kuyumdjyan on May 14.
Actually, the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey calculated a TFR of 1.7, exactly the same as it had been back in 2000, but in the meantime, the under-five mortality in the country was cut in half during that decade, helping to spur a slight increase in population growth at the youngest ages. Nonetheless, the country is declining in population size, largely because of out-migration (which the article mistakenly translates as "immigration"). The UN Population Division estimates that the population of Armenia more than doubled from 1.4 million in 1950 to 3.5 in 1990, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians have been moving elsewhere. To be sure, the American Community Survey shows that there are nearly 500,000 people living in the US who claim Armenian ancestry. Nonetheless, UN demographers still expect the current population of 3 million to drop only to 2.6 million by 2050. So, it seems way too early to talk of disappearance, no matter how "disquieting" the demographics may seem.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Populations at Risk in San Diego

One of the key reasons for switching the environmental discussion from global warming to the more general global climate change is that increasingly it is evident that weather extremes, not just warming, are being produced by the ever-rising levels of carbon dioxide and methane we are pumping into the air. Last year, for example, was the driest year on record in California, and we certainly felt that here in San Diego. Dryness, of course, means that vegetation is even more flammable than usual, and just a few days ago, the San Diego County government news center reported that, given the forecast for hot weather (30 degrees above average) and dry winds (pushing humidity down to 3 percent), everyone should be ready to protect themselves from fires. The county has, in fact, been hit very hard by at least nine different fires yesterday and today. Thousands of acres have been burned, thousands of people evacuated from homes and schools (including California State University at San Marcos in the northern part of San Diego County), and many homes have been lost. Fortunately, there have so far been no deaths or serious injuries.

Each of these fires is currently being treated as a crime scene, because it is not clear why any of them started. Nonetheless, the combination of local population growth and the global rise in standard of living are intersecting in a situation like this. As the population in any area grows, people build on increasingly higher risk properties--low-lying areas near the beach and densely vegetated but not too densely populated areas along the urban perimeter. When the more volatile weather gets added into the mix, we find an increasing fraction of people at risk of losing property and or their life. I don't claim to have any easy answers, but the first step toward restructuring how we do things is to recognize the problem--and it's us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Whither Marriage in the Low Fertility Nations?

Low fertility, low mortality, and a largely urban population have spawned an increasingly large set of alternatives to marriage. Judith Treas of UC-Irvine and two colleagues (Jonathan Liu and Zoya Gubernskaya) have just published a paper in the open-source journal Demographic Research that explores these trends in several European and overseas European countries. The paper ostensibly aims to test Andrew Cherlin's hypothesis that we are witnessing the deinstitutionalization of marriage. In fact, it provides a very nice overview of research on the changing behavior of people with respect to marriage and childbearing that goes beyond a simple hypothesis test. Regardless of the findings, it is worth reading on that account alone. However, they do find support from survey data for the idea that people are, as expected, more tolerant of relationships that are not just "traditional" marriage. Indeed, they make the point that what we think of as traditional marriage should perhaps be thought of more properly as an historical anomaly:
As Coontz (1992) observes, what we think of as ‘traditional’ American family life (universal marriage, full-time homemakers) had its heyday only among the white middle-class in the middle of the 20th Century. While cohabitation and non-marital fertility are today taken as proof of deinstitutionalization, we do not talk of marriage as having become more thoroughly institutionalized in the 1950s. The rise and fall of this mid-century American marriage model show the danger of accepting an historical anomaly as proof of a sweeping deinstitutionalization.
Their analysis leads to the following major conclusions:
Analyzing the 11 attitude items for the pooled ISSP samples, we find a change in public opinion toward greater acceptance of all sorts of non-marital arrangements. Over time respondents became more approving of unmarried cohabitation, single parenting, and sex between single people. The deinstitutionalization thesis stands on shakier ground for indicators of attitudes about the nature of marriage and appropriate behavior for married people. On the one hand, declining support for gender specialization was far and away the biggest change away from marital conventions. On the other hand, the public became even more disapproving over time of married people having sex with someone besides the marriage partner. Furthermore, comparing the baseline year with the most recent survey, there was no change in the view that a bad marriage is better than no marriage at all.
To me, the key was the clear acceptance of the empowerment of women as central to the changes taking place in modern relationships. We are almost certainly in a transition period in this regard, as societies sort out a whole new way of viewing the world. Thus, we should not place too much emphasis on the idea that we have reached any new kind of equilibrium. There's more to come, in my opinion. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

What's in Store for Syrian Refugees in Sweden?

The conflict in Syria keeps on keeping on, and the refugees continue to seek a home elsewhere. Last December I commented on a NY Times story that the most sought-after destinations for Syrian refugees were Germany and Sweden, even if only a small fraction actually make it there. But what can they actually expect if they make it there? A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC gives us a glimpse of the possibilities:
The report shows that employment rates during newcomers’ initial years in Sweden are relatively depressed for low-educated refugees and migrants who come based on family ties, in comparison to natives and labor migrants from EU countries. Since Sweden's refugees and family arrivals are not selected through employment-related criteria, they are likely to lack locally in-demand skills and are often out of work in the years immediately after arrival. The obstacles these groups face can be exacerbated by certain features of Sweden’s labor market, such as high minimum wages, a relatively small pool of low-skilled jobs, and stringent employment protection for permanent work.
In other words, it won't be easy, although if they can stick it out for a few years, things are likely to improve. In the meantime, the report notes that 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign-born--higher than in the US--and there is bound to be a xenophobic backlash sooner or later.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A New Revolution in Rice

The Green Revolution has helped food keep pace with population growth since the 1960s, but the momentum has slowed considerably. This week's Economist, however, reports on a new strain of flood-resistance rice developed at the same International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines that helped give rise to the Green Revolution. Here's the problem, as the Economist sees it:
Without new seeds, yields will decline further. Global warming will tend to push harvests down: higher night-time temperatures are associated with lower yields. The richest rice-growing areas in the world are the deltas of Asia’s great rivers, such as the Mekong, Brahmaputra and Irawaddy; they are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased salinity, which kills rice. The plant uses two to three times as much water as other cereals (largely for levelling the paddies; the plant itself consumes no more than wheat or maize), but water is scarce everywhere. And each year the spread of Asian—especially Chinese—cities converts millions of acres of good rice-growing land into buildings and roads.
And now the solution:
Farmers will not adopt a single miracle variety. Instead, researchers will tailor seeds for particular environments (dry, flooded, salty and so on). And they are also trying to boost the nutritional quality of rice, not just the number of calories. As a result, the second revolution will be felt most profoundly in the poorest areas and among the poorest farmers. In contrast, the first had the biggest impact in the richest fields, with the most water and fertiliser. 
The flood-resistant trait that rescued Mr Pal’s crop was first identified in the 1980s, in a few old-fashioned varieties native to Odisha, another flood-prone state in eastern India. After more than a decade of false starts, plant scientists identified the genes that make the Odisha varieties flood-tolerant. They went back to IR8’s descendants, spliced these genes into them and bred from the result. Having spent years getting nowhere with traditional plant-breeding methods, scientists went from marking the genetic sequence to producing flood-resistant seeds in four short years.
As the Economist itself points out, this is less a second revolution than an evolution of the first Green Revolution, but it is an important piece of good news as we contemplate how to cope with the coming billions of people.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

12th Edition of Population is in Production

The big news to me this weekend is that the 12th edition of Population is now complete and in the hands of the publisher for production. Here's a preview of the cover:

It won't actually be on the shelves until late Fall (hard cover and Kindle edition and various other options), but I'll offer some previews as we get closer to the actual publication date.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A New Twist on Sex and Syphilis

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a report today with the bad news that syphilis, once thought to be almost extinct, has made a comeback. Forbes covered the story:
Syphilis is back, with the rate of new cases more than doubling since 2005. “After being on the verge of elimination in 2000 in the United States, syphilis cases have rebounded,” announced Dr. Monica Patton and colleagues in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Report, released today.
How could this be? Well, the answer is:
And the numbers are pretty clear about gender; it’s almost exclusively men getting syphilis. The proportion of new syphilis cases that were in men grew with each year studied, and in 2013, a whopping 91 percent of all new syphilis cases were in men. And almost all of those were among men who identified themselves as gay or bisexual.
Syphilis is not a disease you can take lightly. As some of you may remember from 1960s- 70s and 80s-era public health warnings, syphilis can cause dementia, blindness, and death if undetected and untreated.
Risky, unprotected sex used to be kept at bay partly by the fear of contracting syphilis, and its existence was the reason why you could buy condoms in most public men's rooms up through the 1950s--it was a public health hazard and condoms helped slow its spread.

So important was syphilis that Andrew Francis of Emory University suggested last year in an article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that the discovery of penicillin and its ability to cure syphilis was a key reason for the explosion of new non-traditional sexual behavior in the 1950s and 1960s. He argues that once people understood that they wouldn't die (the "wages of sin") they were more wiling than ever to take risks. He also drew some interesting, and prescient, comparisons between syphilis rates in the 1930s and HIV rates in the 1990s. The lesson is a simple one, even if people don't want to pay attention--use condoms.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Climate Change is Happening--It's Not Just a Future Scenario

The New York Times lead story this morning was a wake-up call about climate change. It's already happening in the US and our goal is not just to try to stop it, but in the meantime we have to adjust to it. That comes from a just-released report from a very large government-sponsored National Climate Assessment Committee tasked to figure out how climate change might affect the US.
The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.
Such sweeping changes have been caused by an average warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over most land areas of the country in the past century, the scientists found. If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, they said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the scientists declared in a major new report assessing the situation in the United States.
The most negative side is the increased volatility of the weather--more rain, higher heat--that is not easy to adjust to. There are some short-term benefits--a longer growing season in the midwest, and a longer shipping season on the Great Lakes. But, in the long term, volatile weather is likely to diminish the value of those benefits. 
Historically, the United States was responsible for more emissions than any other country. Lately, China has become the largest emitter over all, though its emissions per person are still far below those of the United States.
The report pointed out that while the country as a whole still had no comprehensive climate legislation, many states and cities had begun to take steps to limit emissions and to adapt to climatic changes that can no longer be avoided. But the report found that these efforts were inadequate.
I suspect that those who choose not to believe that this is really happening will not be swayed by this report, but the rest of us need to work together to lower our carbon footprint on the planet. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Boko Haram and the Demography of Nigeria

The world has been riveted and repulsed this week by the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by a radical Islamic group known locally as Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means "western education is forbidden." BBC News has a very good article describing the group and providing some background on its origins, which is quite recent.
Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
Since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among the area's Muslims to Western education. Many Muslim families still refuse to send their children to government-run "Western schools", a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.
The kidnapped girls had made the mistake, so to speak, of wanting a western education--realizing that it is the key to success everywhere in the world. Local resistance to this idea, which has obviously existed for a long time, wouldn't be such a problem if death rates were still very high and the population was not growing rapidly. Despite the fact that northern Nigeria is a region where death rates are currently high by world standards, they are still much lower than they used to be and since fertility remains very high there, population growth is high, creating a situation where local economies offer few opportunities to improve one's life--except through western education as a way up and/or out. As I noted a couple of years ago, this is a prime situation in which a large group of young men without good job prospects can create the fuel for rebellion and violence.

The man who founded Boko Haram in 2002 was killed by the Nigerian police forces in 2009, and it was thought that this would shut it down. Instead, they regrouped and are making themselves known. Nigeria has already seen one bloody civil war in its post-colonial history, and we have to hope that this group can be permanently shut down without it going to that extreme.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Maternal Mortality Declining--Mostly

A couple of days ago I commented on the new Lancet article about child mortality from researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics at the University of Washington. The other article in that issue dealt with maternal mortality--deaths associated with childbearing. [As a sidebar, I should note that these two articles may show up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of co-authors!] Anyway, the news about maternal mortality is that it is generally on the decline in the world, although there is still substantial global variability, as shown in this map:

On the basis of recent data and a refined understanding of the association between HIV and maternal mortality, we have shown that worldwide maternal mortality has decreased by 1·3% per year since 1990. Despite reductions in the number of maternal deaths—from about 376000 in 1990 to about 293000 in 2013—only 16 countries, seven of which are developing countries, are expected to achieve the MDG 5 target of a 75% reduction in the MMR by 2015. We noted two different patterns in developing countries: sustained substantial decreases in most of Asia and Latin America, and stagnation or increases from 1990 to 2003 in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania. Increases in some high-income countries such as the USA are a deviation from the general trend downwards in developed countries. However, the substantial acceleration in the decreases since 2003—especially in sub-Saharan Africa—provides hope that more countries can achieve rapid and sustained reductions.
As you might expect, the finding that the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) had increased in the US caught the media's attention. The Washington Post, for example, noted that:
The researchers estimated that 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in the U.S. in 2013, a total of almost 800 deaths. That is more than double the maternal mortality rate in Saudi Arabia and Canada, and more than triple the rate in the United Kingdom.
It is not entirely clear why this has happened, although on explanation seems to be an increase in the number of pregnant women who have diseases that contribute to a higher-risk pregnancy, such as hypertension and diabetes. In other words, the very fact that we are becoming less healthy as adults may be playing a role in putting women at higher risk of death associated with pregnancy.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Remembering Gary Becker

Gary Becker of the University of Chicago died this weekend at age 83. He was a Nobel Prize winning economist who redefined our way of thinking about the relationship between families and demographic behavior. Although I did not know him, my good friend and colleague here at SDSU, Shoshana Grossbard, Professor of Economics, was one of his students at the University of Chicago and wrote these comments today, which I quote in full.
I arrived at Chicago with the intention of specializing in economics of education. But after starting Gary Becker’s course in graduate price theory and hearing about his innovative ideas at the cusp economics and sociology I decided to switch gears. I had doubled-majored in economics and sociology and this was too good to be true: an opportunity to combine the disciplines! With his approval I took a special field in anthropology of the family as part of my Ph D in economics. In 1974 I started writing my doctoral dissertation under his supervision, an economic analysis of polygamy []. Becker had just published his first article on the theory of marriage and was interested in the topic. That was the beginning of 40 years of his mentoring. I am so sad that today, upon his untimely death, this relationship ended.

Everything I have written was inspired by Becker to some degree. He founded the economics of marriage, the topic of most of my research. Milton Friedman called Becker the greatest social scientist who has lived and worked in the last part of the 20th century. [] My work on economics and other social sciences also owes much to Becker. 
As famous as he is, I think that some of Becker’s best theories about the family have received insufficient recognition. I have fought for more recognition of Becker’s contribution to the economic analysis of decision-making in households, e.g. by addressing the myth that his work on the family assumes an all-encompassing altruism. Gary appreciated that and wrote that this myth “has been addressed by the economist Shoshana Grossbard-Shechtman and others. A major part of my book on the family are the chapters discussing the division of labour in families, and marriage in both monogamous and polygamous societies. Yet the predominant assumption in these chapters is that both husbands and wives are completely selfish, and not at all altruistic.” [Gary Becker’s letter on Family Models, in response to an article by Martha Nussbaum. Times Literary Supplement, May 29, 1998].

Becker’s Treatise on the Family uses the term “economic’ profusely, but as I wrote in a review for a sociology journal in 1981, it may be better to replace “economic” approach with ‘optimization model’, ‘market theory’ or other more specific concepts that he used. [] This would lead to even more widespread realization of the power of Becker’s ideas.

“Keep up good work!” are the last words Gary Becker wrote me on March 13 this year. His words still resonate. I will continue to try to demonstrate the value of Becker’s theoretical ideas about family, not necessarily using ‘economic’ the way he does, and not always sharing his ideas about ideal gender roles. But as long as I can I plan to pursue a Beckerian research agenda. Thanks, Gary, for all you did for me.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Child Mortality Declining--Mostly

Today's Lancet features two articles from the Global Burden of Disease project at the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington. One of the articles focuses on child mortality and the other on maternal mortality (related to Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5). Overall, the news was good. Deaths rates among children under 5 have been going down in most areas of the world, although there is still wide, and predictable, regional variation. They range from a high of 152.5 deaths under age 5 per 1,000 live births in Guinea-Bissau to 2.3 in Singapore. The news was not happy for the United Kingdom, however, as BBC News reported. Although child mortality is still very low by world standards, nonetheless:
In 2013, the mortality rate for under-fives in the UK was 4.9 deaths per 1,000. Poverty and smoking in pregnancy are two of many factors cited by experts.
...the UK had worse rates than nearly every other western European nation for early neonatal deaths - between zero and six days, post-neonatal deaths (death between 29 and 364 days), and for childhood deaths (death between one and four years). The UK's rate is comparable with Serbia and Poland.
The fact that poverty is put forth as a key reason for the UK's higher than expected child mortality rates is, of course, a reminder that poverty is pervasive in those parts of the world, especially Africa, where rates are globally the highest.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Watering Hong Kong

Infrastructure is a huge--maybe the biggest--issue faced by cities. This is obviously important since we are now an urban-majority species and cities are absorbing most of the planet's population growth. We all need water and food and neither of these resources is automatically available in cities. Lorena O'Neil, writing for, has found that one of the world's richest cities--Hong Kong--may be about to overshoot the supply of water needed for its 7 million, and growing, population.
On the one hand, Hong Kong has been progressive and forward-thinking with water — it was the first city in the world to use seawater for toilet-flushing and one of the earliest adopters of seawater desalination. On the other hand, water experts are now sounding the alarm that Hong Kong is at great risk of running very low on water in the future. Hong Kong’s reliance on imported water leaves it vulnerable: 70% to 80% of the city’s water comes from the Dongjiang river in the Guangdong province of China. And that early desalination plant? It was dismantled in 1992.
Any and all solutions will require consumers to pay more for water. There seems to be little question about that. Although this may not hurt too much in Hong Kong, there are a lot of other places in the world where the rising cost of water simply creates a bigger gap between the rich and the poor, and more conflict among those competing for finite water sources.
A Civic Exchange report on Hong Kong’s water management system says this foreshadows “a future in which demand will exceed supply” and an increase in competition for water among the cities. HK is not an isolated instance. Water shortages are a rising source of conflict between cities in Brazil, Ethiopia, Jordan, India and the United States. Hong Kong is a harbinger of how other modern cities will find themselves struggling to meet water demands.