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, June 30, 2014

China Works to Avoid New Rise in Infanticide

Infanticide is known to have been used in China for centuries as a means of family control, if not fertility control. In the early days of the one-child policy, before the advent of sex-selective abortion (not legal, but done nonetheless), it was a way for parents to deal with the unwanted birth a daughter. According to CNN, there seems now to be a new threat to children in China--being abandoned by your parents if you are disabled. The government has responded with "baby hatches," which are places where parents can leave their children, so that they will be taken care of by the state. This hearkens back to practices of the Catholic Church in 19th century Italy, designed then as well to save unwanted children.
The first pilot hatch was introduced in 2011. Now there are 32 across the country, according to the official Xinhua news agency. "We had to find a more humane way to take in abandoned babies," said Dr. Wang Zhenyao, one of the founders for China's child welfare policy and a retired Ministry of Civil Affairs official. "In reality, children were being thrown into trash cans, on the side of roads, in front of hospitals, or in front of the Ministry of Civil Affairs so we had to standardize it and regulate it."
According to UNICEF, there were around 712,000 orphans in China in 2010, but child welfare groups believe that the number could be in the millions if you account for children in non-government orphanages and foster homes. Unlike in the 1980s and 90s, when most abandoned babies were girls, now most suffer from a range of disabilities and medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, club feet and cleft lips.
In a country with no welfare program to help parents with disabled children, and where the one-child policy dictates that this may well be the parents' only child, some parents are obviously driven to extreme measures. This is a reminder, yet again, that the one-child policy has many unintended human rights consequences.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Urbanization Seems to Have Lowered Suicide Rates in China

Urban living is a recent phenomenon in human history and so there is still a lot of nostalgia for life in rural villages. Generally, though, the rural nostalgia is like an urban legend--it really wasn't like that. Over the years I have had fewer and fewer students who say they grew up in rural areas, but I don't remember even one of them ever preferring that life to being in the city. For this reason, I was less surprised than was this week's Economist about the news of a decline in China's suicide rate.
IN THE 1990s China had one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Young rural women in particular were killing themselves at an alarming rate. In recent years, however, China’s suicides have declined to among the lowest rates in the world.
In 2002 the Lancet, a British medical journal, said there were 23.2 suicides per 100,000 people annually from 1995 to 1999. This year a report by a group of researchers from the University of Hong Kong found that had declined to an average annual rate of 9.8 per 100,000 for the years 2009-11, a 58% drop.
The most dramatic shift has been in the figures for rural women under 35. Their suicide rate appears to have dropped by as much as 90%.
And why? Because life for young rural women was miserable.
Two intertwined social forces are driving the reduction: migration and the rise of an urban middle class. Moving to the cities to work, even if to be treated as second-class citizens when they get there, has been the salvation of many rural young women, liberating them from parental pressures, bad marriages, overbearing mothers-in-law and other stresses of poor, rural life. Migrants have also distanced themselves from the easiest form of rural suicide, swallowing pesticides, the chosen method in nearly 60% of rural cases, and often done impulsively. The reduction in toxicity of pesticides has helped as well.
Although the Economist contrasts these patterns with the theories of French sociologist Émile Durkheim in the 19th century, more recent research shows that beyond a few demographic regularities, patterns of suicide tend to be culturally variable. One to the regularities, however, is that suicide rates are highest among teens and the elderly. China has increasingly fewer teens and increasingly more older people, so we can anticipate a future rise in suicide rates in China, as the Economist does point out:
The urbanisation and atomisation of the extended family, which led to a decline in suicides among younger generations, have left the elderly with fewer caretakers in the countryside and with few familiar faces in apartment blocks in the cities. The one-child policy has compounded this effect and will only make the burden heavier for the elderly and their children, just as the stresses of modern life are becoming more pronounced. Twenty years from now, the story of China’s suicide rate could be grimmer than it is today. But rates seem unlikely to return to the levels of the 1990s.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

We Can Expect More Iraqi Chaldean Refugees in the US

For the first three years after the passage of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act (2008-2010), there were more refugees from Iraq arriving in the US than from any other country. Since then, Burma and Bhutan have generated more refugees into the US than Iraq, but that may be about to change as a result of the ISIS offensive in Iraq. Letta Taylor, writing for CNN, reminds us that as one the numerically smallest minority groups in Iraq, the Chaldean Christian population is being seriously squeezed. 
"The country will be divided, it is clear,” Sako [Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako, the leader of Iraqi Christians] said, referring to proposals to carve up Iraq into three separate political entities for Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. “Where does that leave the Christians?"
The answer seems to be that "leaving" is the option that most Christians are taking. Foreign Policy notes that:
In 2003, it was estimated that some 1.5 million Iraqis were Christians, about 5 percent of the population. Since then, the overwhelming majority has reacted to widening sectarian conflict and a series of terrorist attacks by leaving the country.
Emil Shimoun Nona, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, has told news agencies that the few Christians remaining in the city prior to the ISIS invasion have abandoned the city. Since the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, he estimates, Mosul's Christian population dwindled from 35,000 to some 3,000. "Now there is no one left," he said. Most of them have joined the estimated 500,000 refugees who have fled the ISIS advance; many of the Christians, including the archbishop, have opted for the relative security of Iraqi Kurdistan.
For their sake, we can hope that most of them will find refuge and safety in Kurdistan, but this renewed violence will almost certainly increase the number of refugee applications to the US among Iraqi Christians, who already comprise more than 40 percent of all Iraqi-origin people currently living in the US. A disproportionate share of them will almost certainly follow the previous arrivals to Michigan and California.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup Offers its Migration Lessons

If you've watched this or any previous FIFA World Cup, you know that players on many, if not most, national teams, actually live and play professionally in some other country than their national team. This is especially true for the American team since the best professional teams are outside the US. This is true, for example, of Jozy Altidore of the US team, whose parents are migrants to the US from Haiti, and although he was born and raised in the US, he plays professionally in the UK. It turns out that there are also important migration lessons from the host nation Brazil, as pointed out on "All Things Considered" today on NPR.
Right now, we're going to head into two Brazilian neighborhoods. Since the Portuguese landed in the 1500, successive waves of people from all over the world have landed on Brazil's shores. The Italian and Japanese communities are two of the strongest. And as luck would have it, both Japan and Italy were playing in the World Cup on the same day this week. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro set out in Sao Paulo to check out how fans from very different backgrounds were celebrating.
Italians started coming to Brazil during the late 1800s when the home country was riven with the wars of unification. Many went into agriculture, and the Brazilian government gave some land grants. Successive waves joined them, and now they're one of the biggest European ethnic groups here.
The first ship of Japanese came to Brazil in 1908. The Japanese government was facing overpopulation and encouraged people to move overseas. They were used as cheap labor here in agriculture. Later, during World War II, it was forbidden to even speak Japanese, as Brazil was on the side of the Allies.
More Japanese immigrants moved here at the end of the war. These days, Japanese culture in Brazil is widely celebrated, adding one more facet to this complicated country. And the fact is that almost everyone everywhere here told me the same thing. It didn't matter where their fore-bearers had come from, the team they really want to win the World Cup is Brazil.
Since the US obviously is a nation of immigrants, the "split" loyalties are bound to be numerous, but my sense is that here, too, everyone wants the American team to win, no matter what their migration roots. Of course, the US lost to Germany today, which would seem like a bad thing, but we're moving on anyway, which is a good thing. This is clearly why soccer is the "beautiful game."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Youth Bulge Going to Waste in Gaza

Youth bulges can be used for good or evil, as Debbie Fugate and I have pointed out. But sometimes it is just wasted. That is what seems to be happening in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, according to a report by al-Monitor.
According to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 30,000 students graduate each year from Palestinian institutions of higher learning. The bureau and a Sharek Youth Forum report indicate that people between 15 and 29 years of age constitute 29.9% of the total population of 4.42 million in Palestine. The unemployment rate among graduates was 52.5% in the first quarter of 2013, and 37% of graduates are economically active. The report also showed a positive correlation between the rise in education levels and the increase in the unemployment rate.
The feelings of frustration among young people are hard to escape, with so many remaining pessimistic about the future of the Gaza Strip despite the reconciliation deal. Mohammad Mansour and Ousid al-Masri, both 18, have both recently graduated from an American school and are waiting for an opportunity to travel and study at Istanbul University. The two young men agreed that they would leave Gaza City, which they consider a city that has chased its youth away. Sitting on the edge of a fountain in a park, they said, “The new government will be no different than former governments in ignoring us and the youth."
This is exactly the opposite direction that things should be going. A better educated workforce should promote economic development, rather than produce more unemployment and discouragement. Of course, this was the same exact problem that Egypt faced and which helped to promote the Arab Spring--although that hasn't worked out as well as expected....

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting Real About the Causes of Unaccompanied Minor Children Showing Up in the US

The classic explanatory model of migration is the push-pull theory. Many politicians and pundits in the US have made it clear that they believe the rise in unaccompanied minor children in the US is the pull factor--people believing that they will receive amnesty and will not be deported. Research from the field, however, points to the push factors of violence in Central America, as Elizabeth Kennedy reports from El Salvador:
These are desperate times in what several respondents in my more than 400 interviews describe as “a time of horror.” Here lies the true humanitarian crisis, not in the United States but in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from where thousands of children and adults are fleeing.
Homicide rates reported in local press are higher today than during declared civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala a few decades ago. In Honduras, the murder rate is eclipsed only by Syria and possibly South Sudan. With assault, disappearance, extortion and rape also at all-time highs, anywhere else must be better.
As a result, more and more children from these countries are arriving to the United States: between 6,000 and 8,000 through 2011; approximately 14,000 in 2012; nearly 24,000 in 2013 and likely upward of 60,000 this year.
But in only one of the interviews I completed prior to President Obama’s crisis designation did a child ask me about the DREAM Act. Fifteen heard the US treated children differently and wanted to know how. Otherwise, knowledge of the way the US system works is limited. Similarly, in the eight months I have been here, I have heard no radio ads or churches announcing that children will not be deported.
What’s more, after meeting hundreds fleeing areas where their neighbors, family or friends have been threatened or killed, I am convinced the reasons lie in the violence. Among the first 322 interviews I did with Salvadoran child migrants conducted between January and May, the largest percentage (60.1 percent) of boys and girls list crime, gang threats or violence as a reason for their emigration. In the past two years, reports by KIND, UNHCR, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Women’s Refugee Commission have cited similar numbers from interviews with child migrants in the US.
This research is ongoing but the thread of the story seems quite consistent. People are being pushed to the US, not pulled. To be sure, the story is more complicated than that. The decades of migration from Central America to the US have created networks of people in the US and en route to the US that facilitate the migration, even of children. Thus, migration becomes an option that might not otherwise exist. Another key question is why the gang violence is so rampant and the answer seems to lie at least in part in the drug business. If North Americans didn't use drugs, these gangs might well not exist.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Continuing Conundrum of Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants

It now appears that at least some of the recent increase in unaccompanied minor children, and especially mothers with children, crossing the border into the U.S. without documents is a result of a rumor mill. The New York Times has reported that:
The administration is trying to quell rampant rumors reaching Central America that American border authorities are offering entry permits to parents traveling with young children after they are caught. Officials hope that by increasing the numbers of migrants who are detained and then deported, others considering the trek will be dissuaded from doing so. 
But many migrants told Border Patrol agents they decided to set out for the United States after hearing that it was offering some kind of entry permit. Many other migrants who asked for asylum after being apprehended have been allowed to stay temporarily, further fueling hopes that Central American women and children were receiving special treatment.
The "surge" is a little confusing because the problem of unaccompanied minor children has become subsumed under another related, but generally separate issue. Nonetheless, there has been a steady increase in unaccompanied minor children, and this Wednesday, 25 June, the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC will hold a webinar on "Unaccompanied Minors: A Crisis with Deep Roots and No Simple Solutions." If you are reading this after 25 June, there should be a link to the information on their website. 

You can also keep up on the latest news from the field in El Salvador by tuning into Elizabeth Kennedy's blog.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sociologists Honor Rubén Rumbaut for his Migration-Related Studies

The news just broke today that the International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association will be honoring Rubén Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in migration-related research and analysis. The award will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the ASA in San Francisco in August. It turns out that the honor will coincide with the publication of the fourth edition of Immigrant America, which Rubén co-authors with Alejandro Portes and which has helped an entire generation of scholars and other informed people understand how Americans and immigrants to America are all tied together. Congratulations to Professor Rumbaut!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Refugees and the Mess in the Middle East

Today is World Refugee Day at the United Nations, but this is never a day for celebration. This year's report from UNHCR, based on data for displaced persons as of the end of 2013, reveals that there are more refugees (including asylees and internally displaced persons) than at any other time since the end of World War II--51.2 million. Now, to be sure, the world's population is almost three times larger now, but that is still an awful lot of people living in generally miserable circumstances, as BBC News notes:
In Syria alone there are thought to be 6.5 million displaced people. The conflict has uprooted many families not once but several times. Their access to food, water, shelter and medical care is often extremely limited, and because they remain inside a conflict zone, it is hard for aid agencies to reach them.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have kept their borders open. Lebanon now hosts more than a million Syrian refugees, meaning a quarter of its total population is Syrian. The pressure on housing, education and health is causing tensions in a country which itself has a recent history of conflict.
The UN data serve as a reminder, though, that other conflicts have generated huge numbers of refugees in central Africa and south Asia. Indeed, as the graph below shows, Afghanistan still accounts for the greatest number of refugees in the world, and thus its neighbor Pakistan hosts more refugees than any other nation. It is not a wonder that this region continues to be a hotbed of trouble.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Will There Always be Water When You Turn on the Tap?

Most people in rich countries and even in cities of developing nations expect water routinely to come out of the tap in their house or yard. But with a population growing faster than the water supply, will that always be true? An article in Nature News this week offers a few possibilities for trying to squeeze more fresh water out of a thirsty planet. They discuss five options:

1. Desalination is very expensive, but if you can afford it, it can work: 
A rapidly growing global industry, desalination has become in the past 20 years an essential source of fresh water for the Middle East, Australia, the United States, South Africa, Spain and, increasingly, India and China. In 2012, the total amount of installed desalination capacity exceeded 80 million cubic metres per day, enough to supply some 200 million people.
2. Riverbank filtration is, I admit, a new one to me although it seems quite straightforward:
The method is straightforward: when wells are dug next to a river in regions with suitable geology, the river water filters through sand and gravel that strips out most of the chemical and biological pollutants, and so emerges relatively clean.
3. Water storage--new tricks on an ancient idea:
“Water scarcity is often caused by sporadic rainfall rather than actual lack of water,” says Alberto Montanari, a hydrologist at the University of Bologna in Italy. “The challenge then is to devise sustainable solutions for storing water to make a reserve for the dry season.
4. Greenhouses in the desert (as long as that desert is by the ocean):
Greenhouses normally trap heat, but the reverse is required in hot places such as Qatar. At the SFP facility, sea water does the trick. The water, piped from the ocean just 100 metres away, trickles over a lattice at the windward side of the greenhouse. As the water evaporates, it humidifies the air entering the greenhouse and cools it by some 10 °C, creating an indoor climate suitable for growing vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes. Other crops, such as barley, salad rocket and useful desert plants, grow between hedges downwind of the greenhouse.
5. Harvesting the fog (I'm not making this up):
Fog collection is catching on in seasonally dry regions that lack other sources of fresh water. The first simple mesh panels were built in the 1960s in the port town of Antofagasta in northern Chile. Today, 35 countries are using the technique, particularly along the Pacific coast of South and Central America, in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and on the high plateaux of Eritrea and Nepal. 
None of these methods, in and of themselves, will solve the water shortage problem, but the article starts out with the information that the government of Iran is looking for any way to save and reuse water, as are many other countries:
From the southwest United States to southern Spain and northern China, water shortages threaten many parts of the world. Nearly 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion have no proper sanitation.
The situation will probably get worse in coming decades. The world's population is expected to swell from 7 billion today to more than 9 billion by 2050, even as climate change robs precipitation from many parched parts of the planet. If the world warms by just 2 °C above the present level by the end of the century, which scientists believe is exceedingly likely, up to one-fifth of the global population could suffer severe shortages of fresh water.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Demographics of Iran Tell Important Stories

The general view among politicians and media commentators in the U.S. is generally favorable toward Iraq and negative toward Iran. The U.S. is perceived as having saved Iraq from Saddam Hussein (with the positive outcome of that now in peril), while at the same time holding Iran at bay. But, a look at the demographics of the two countries suggests a much greater affinity between the U.S. and Iran than between the U.S. and Iraq. At the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 the average woman there there was giving birth to 5 children each, compared to fewer than 2 in Iran at the time. Female literacy was also much lower in Iraq than in Iran. The fact that both countries are majority Shia Muslim was clearly not the critical demographic factor. 

I was reminded of this by a note today from Yaghoob (Yaqub) Foroutan at Mazandaran University in Iran, whom I first met when he was teaching in New Zealand. He just published a paper on "Social Change and Demographic Response in Iran (1956–2006)" in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. No matter what the rest of the world may think about the government of Iran, the people have undergone a genuinely remarkable demographic transition that has been pushed along by government programs that have helped to dramatically lower the birth rate, dramatically lower the infant death rate, and dramatically improve the educational levels of both women and men. The article describing these changes requires a subscription, so I will highlight what I think are the important bits.
Generally speaking, the significant fall in the birth rate of Iran accords with the social changes that have occurred in the country over recent years, including a substantial increase in the literacy rate and in educational attainment (particularly for women and in rural areas), the increase of urbanisation rate, the improvement of health facilities and a significant decrease in infant mortality rate. It seems that these social changes affected the traditional beliefs promoting early marriage and larger family size; they have gradually led to the emergence and establishment of new views and values associated with family formation resulting in a significant increase in the age of marriage and a substantial fall in birth rate. Furthermore, the results of recent studies have shown that most people are now looking for a small family, and two children is often the ideal number for the increasing number of parents who prefer to invest in the quality of their children (particularly their education) rather than in the quantity of children. In order to reach these goals, people generally now support birth control programmes and often disagree with traditional ideas such as ‘son preference’, leading to high fertility. Moreover, these new views and values affecting family formation tend to be spreading rapidly, resulting in greater freedom from traditional religious values.
Iran has been always a predominantly Muslim country, and has officially been an Islamic Republic since the 1979 Revolution, but it has experienced significant socio- economic changes in recent years, creating a new cultural context. It would seem that changes in family formation characteristics and birth rate are better explained by these changes in socio-cultural context than by the religion of Islam per se.
Can Iraq go down that same road to socioeconomic development and demographic stability? I  ask the question partly because of the odd historical situation in which the CIA initiated a regime change in Iran in 1953 that kept the Shah's secular government in power and, by the CIA's own admission, helped to spawn terror in the Middle East. Ultimately, though, an Islamic-oriented government in Iran helped to generate a demographic revolution. A half century later the U.S. effected regime change in Iraq by toppling the secular regime of Saddam Hussein. Where this is headed is obviously up for grabs at the moment, but we have to hope for the best.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Population Growth and the Mess in the Middle East

In 1916 Mesopotamia was divided up with borders drawn in secret by British and French imperialists represented by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. At the time there were relatively few people affected by this. Even by 1950, Iraq's population was only 5.7 million and Syria's was 3.4 million. Combined, they had fewer people than live today in the metro area of Paris. But today there are 36 million Iraqis and 22 million Syrians (although they are not all in Syria at the moment). If they were a single country it would be the most fourth most populous in the Middle East, behind Egypt (85 million), Turkey (76 million), and Iran (76 million). So, the numbers are large enough that it really matters. The problem with those arbitrary lines was that, just as in the former Yugoslavia, they bound together disparate groups who would generally prefer to be on their own. In Yugoslavia, the Croats, Serbs and Muslims were ruthlessly bound together by Tito. In Iraq the Shia Muslim population (the majority), the Sunni Muslim population (the  largest minority), the Kurds (predominantly Sunni Muslim, but predominantly non-Arab), and a small Christian population (Chaldeans) were ruthlessly held together by Saddam Hussein. 

Once torn asunder, it is not clear that these pieces can, or even should, be put back together in Iraq, just as they were not in Yugoslavia. Many of the Christians have left the country, with many arriving in the US after the passage of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act was passed in early 2008. But the Sunnis (including the militant group ISIS) appear to be supported by Saudis, the Kurds are backed by Turkey, and the Shia are supported by Iran. Indeed, the Iraqi prime minister, al-Maliki, was in exile in Tehran and Damascus for most the of the time that Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Muslim) was in power. 

In the meantime, it appears that most of the refugees who fled Mosul--a predominantly Sunni Muslim city--when ISIS took over headed to Iraq's Kurdistan region, since that was relatively close and populated by Sunnis. It now appears that many of them are headed back to Mosul, convinced that life under the Sunni militants will be OK. Oddly enough, it seems that the breakup of Iraq, if it happens, will make more sense than the current mess in Syria. Only time will tell.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Tony Gwynn

Baseball fans everywhere, but especially here in San Diego, are mourning the death today of Hall of Fame player Tony Gwynn. He was only 54. He starred in both basketball and baseball here at San Diego State University before being drafted by the San Diego Padres and playing his entire career here in San Diego for the Padres. He was without question the greatest hitter of the last half century. He was also a truly good human being, as my son, Greg Weeks, remembers today in his blog. After finishing up his big-league career, he came back here to SDSU to coach the baseball team, in a facility named for him. He was unable to make it through the entire season this year, however, because of the devastating effects of the cancer in his salivary glands. The national report today on NPR notes that Tony himself was convinced that the cancer arose from 30 years of using chewing tobacco. This is just one more tragic reminder of why tobacco is at the top of the list in this country (and many others) in terms of the "real" causes of death.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Demographic Lessons from the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup of the "beautiful game" would, on the face of it, seem an unlikely event to have any demographic lessons. But the DHS program has stepped in with regular posts on its Facebook page about the demographics of countries playing in the World Cup. And Jason Hilton, writing for the blog Demotrends has a nice simulation model that attempts to predict the winner of the games (spoiler alert--no surprise--it's Brazil). Of course, as good demographers, we would not "predict" the outcome, but rather we would project it, using a Bayesian probabilistic model that assigns odds to each potential outcome. However, Jason correctly reminds us that the core set of statistics that demographers (and, of course, all of the sciences) use evolved originally from people who were attempting to understand games of chance--to predict who would win a game, or race, or in this case the World Cup.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq Implodes Yet Again--More Refugees on the Way

Almost every day for a long time now, the daily headline in Foreign Policy has been about the violence in Syria, with the second story typically dealing with a car bomb or suicide bomber somewhere in Iraq. Syria was the main story and from a demographic perspective the refugees have been pouring out of Syria, heading in some cases to Iraq (or back to Iraq because the wars in Iraq over the past few decades have sent many Iraqis to Syria). But with almost the same suddenness as Eric Cantor lost his position as House Majority Leader, Iraq seems to be on the verge of collapse. It was creeping up all the time, but the big news today has been the fact that the Iraqi army, trained by the U.S., apparently laid down its weapons, stripped off its uniforms, and fled in the face of rebels who were not nearly as numerous as the army. BBC News reports that at least 500,000 people have fled Mosul, the country's second largest city, although it is not clear where they have gone.

For the moment at least, this conflict is described in explicitly sectarian terms--Sunni Muslim militants versus Shia Muslim militants (who have taken up arms in the place of the collapsing Iraqi army--which was presumably a mix of Sunni and Shia). The separation is important enough that NBC's intrepid reporter, Richard Engel, reported from Baghdad that the city has become self-segregated, with the Sunni population on one side of the Tigris River that runs through the middle of the city, and the Shiite population on the other side of the river. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Congressional Demographics and the Future of Cities

As I commented last night, everyone has run with the idea that immigration reform was the main issue leading to Eric Cantor's Republican primary defeat last night. Cantor's opponent, Dave Brat, was able to use the issue to get people to the polls to vote for him. As my son, Greg Weeks, discussed in his blog post today, Brat's ideas about immigration and the economy are a little fuzzy, given that Brat is an economics professor. But that doesn't matter to people who oppose immigration at all costs. Despite polls suggesting that a majority of people in Virginia's 7th congressional district are generally in favor of immigration reform, it is being against immigration reform that will drive people to the polls to vote, not being for it.

The other problem that Eric Cantor seemed to have, according to a variety of news stories, is that he wasn't well liked by his constituents. His district is a largely suburban and rural region, with some suburbs of Richmond at its very edge. But Cantor was a big player in Washington, DC, and that didn't seem to translate well into his own district. I thought of that as I was reading an article that Justin Stoler pointed me to on the value of cities as places where innovation takes place--they are obviously what the future is all about. The great takeaway line from the story is this: "I began wondering whether, at this point, choosing to live outside a major city is tantamount to opting to live in the past." Well, yes, I think this is probably a true statement, and it may play out in the general election in the 7th District. We have to remember that Dave Brat beat Eric Cantor in last night's primary, and he is famous for that, but the question is whether the rural people or the city people in that district will show up at the polls in November--will it be a vote for the past or the future?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Unaccompanied Minor Children Claim First Political Victim

The news this evening is that US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia has lost his primary bid for re-election. He will not be in the general election in the Fall. He is out. Why? Chuck Todd of MSNBC put it bluntly--the new flood of unaccompanied minor children cost Cantor his seat because Cantor had been trying to figure out a road to immigration reform that included some aspect of the Dream Act.
Brat [David Brat, who has beaten Cantor] who had the funding and backing of the tea party throughout the primary contest, repeatedly hit Cantor on immigration reform.
The seven-term congressman took the attacks seriously, saying that he blocked “amnesty” for illegal immigrants in television ads. But Brat’scriticisms gained traction after reports of thousands of migrant children stranded at the Arizona border made national headlines.
The voter turnout in this primary race was very very low. Remember that after the 2010 census each Congressional District has a total population of about 700,000 people. Even assuming off the top of my head that at least half of these are eligible voters, the results suggest that, at most, the turnout was about 15%. No matter, Cantor lost. And his victor is a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon College near Richmond, Virginia. He will face off in the November general election agains one of his colleagues--Democrat challenger Jack Trammell, a professor of sociology--at Randolph-Macon College. This should be interesting. In the meantime, my comment yesterday that maybe immigration reform would move forward seems badly misplaced.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Immigration Reform From the Bottom Up

Immigration reform has been stalled in the US Congress for a long time and the Obama Administration continues to deport people at record rates. What to do? Members of the California legislature have a plan, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune
California voters in November may weigh in on a rare advisory ballot measure to ask Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
The measure being pushed by Democratic lawmakers also urges the president to temporarily halt deportation of parents who are in the country illegally to avoid splitting up families whose children may be legal citizens.
Now, to be sure, there are a lot of hurdles. First, this has to get on November's ballot. Even if it does and it passes, the measure is purely advisory. Critics call it nothing more than an opinion poll.
“I am proud of everything we have done in the last few years in California to normalize the lives of so many immigrants, so many immigrants like myself and those I represent,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, who is carrying the ballot-measure bill. “I know it is not enough. I know federal immigration reform is still necessary.”
Gonzalez defended sending the issue directly to voters. “It’s more than a poll. It’s an official act,” she said. “If we can send a clear message that we are sick of waiting and it can somehow unclog the dam, it’s worthwhile.”
I couldn't agree more. Nothing else has worked so far, and maybe this will get some momentum going. Maybe.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Low Fertility in Iran--It's the Economy, Stupid!

In a nice, albeit obviously coincidental, follow-up to my comments recently on religion and fertility, the New York Times today has a story about the very low birth rate in Iran and the government's attempts to do something about it. The thrust of the story is that poor economic prospects are keeping young people from wanting to marry and have kids.
The demographic problem has also become entwined with Iran’s long-running conflict with the West over its nuclear program. One of the leading sources of Iran’s economic troubles is the series of harsh Western economic sanctions imposed in recent years to punish Tehran and to bring it to the negotiating table.
Tahereh Labbaf, the medical adviser to the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which deals with the population issue, said that the birthrate for the country’s Sunni Muslims is around four children per couple. “This is very sobering,” a conservative website, Tasnim, quoted her as saying.
Keep in mind, though, that Sunni Muslims represent only about 10 percent of Iran's population, so they are unlikely to drive trends in any important way.
Experts say that while birthrates in Iran are very low, there is no real crisis just yet. But they also say that financial incentives and faith will not by themselves reverse the population decline.
The critical factor, said Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, head of the demographics department at Tehran University, is the economy.
So, in the end, we see that one of the most effective policies that western nations can implement to lower another country's birth rate is to impose economic sanctions. This also has worked in Cuba, where the average woman has 1.8 children--below replacement level. Economic sanctions do not seem capable of overthrowing governments, but they do seem to bring the birth rate down. Call it the unintended birth control plan.

Friday, June 6, 2014

2020 Census is Coming Right Up In the US

Well, maybe not quite yet, but it has gotten started. This week the Census Bureau kicked off its field testing of new ideas for the 2020 census, using parts of Maryland and the District of Columbia as the proverbial guinea pigs (with no harm done to the GPs).
Respondents to the 2014 Census Test will have the opportunity to use the Internet to fill out the questionnaire, thus reducing reliance on paper and having the potential to produce savings for taxpayers. Although Internet data collection was not offered for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau has been using it for the American Community Survey and other surveys for several years now, and will test how to best use it for response to the 2020 Census.
For the test, July 1, 2014, is Census Day, or the reference day for measuring the population of the test area. Respondents should fill out the questionnaire based on the people and circumstances of their household as of July 1, 2014.
The Census Bureau will also test a smartphone app for quicker and more accurate data collection from nonresponding households.
I like these ideas. I was surprised that the internet option was not available in 2010 and am glad that it seems like it will be there in 2020. The smartphone app is also a great idea. Perhaps, indeed, you are reading this on my iPhone app.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will the Religious Inherit the Earth?

A few days ago Abu Daoud gave me an "assignment" as a comment on one of my posts. It has taken me a few days to get to it, but it is an interesting issue because the thesis is that the world is getting more religious because the religious are begetting more children. The article to which Abu Daoud refers assumes that "religious" equals conservative, whereas "secular" equals liberal, and so the demographics are moving in the direction of a world dominated by religious conservatives at the expense of secular liberals. The demographic ideas are drawn entirely from a book published a few years ago by Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College of the University of London--Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-FirstCentury. 

Full disclosure--I have not read the book--but I did find a review of it in the journal Population and Development Review by my long-time friend Dennis Hodgson of Fairfield University. Here are some of his comments:
Kaufmann sees religion as an independent variable that will increasingly affect politics in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. In his interpretation trends in fertility and immigration will increase the proportion of fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims in these regions, a change that may ultimately “replace reason and freedom with moral puritanism” (p. xiii). No widespread conversions will be needed to bring about religion’s rise, according to Kaufmann. Children largely inherit their parents’ religion, and fundamentalists have higher fertility than their more moderate religious brethren and much higher fertility than religiously skeptical “secularists.” Such differential fertility, abetted by many religious immigrants arriving in Europe and the US, will produce populations at century’s end that are considerably more religious than at present.
So, to begin with, the focus is not on the whole planet, but only on a small portion of the world's population. Any analysis that leaves out Asia and Africa is not going to be able to tell us what the future holds...
Although demography plays a leading role in this 330-page book, there are no tables and only two charts. Kaufmann writes that he collaborated with demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria to produce projections of the 11 most populous US religious groups and projections of the Muslim population in eight European countries. These projections appear to be the empirical foundation for his claim that “the religious shall inherit the earth” (p. 269)....a look at the published projections actually offers little evidence of a significant increase in the share of the religious over the next 50 years. For instance, the current TFR of fundamentalist Protestants in the US is 2.13, very close to the national average of 2.08, and Kaufmann’s IIASA demographers project that their share of the US population will fall from 19.5 percent to 16.7 percent over the projection period (2003–2043) while those with no religion will increase slightly from 17.0 percent to 17.4 percent....the proposition that the religious shall inherit the earth, therefore, might be more uncertain than Kaufmann suggests in this volume.
Hodgson points out that people don't have to leave their religion to significantly lower their fertility levels--witness Catholics in the US and Europe and Muslims in Iran and Albania. On the other hand, if religious fundamentalists did overtake the world demographically because of very high birth rates, what would they inherit? A planet that would be unlikely to support them for very long.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How Is It Possible For Parents to Deny the Value of Vaccines?

A few days ago the US Centers for Disease Control announced that measles in this country had hit a 20 year high. Unbelievable! In a world where vaccinations would eliminate the disease from the world, parents--whose own lives were potentially saved by vaccinations--have decided for some idiotic reason to put their own children at risk. As reported in USA Today, the CDC attributes the rise to the fact that we have unvaccinated children in this country who are exposed to travelers from places like the Philippines, where the disease has not been eliminated.
"This is not the kind of record we want to break, but should be a wake-up call for travelers and for parents to make sure vaccination records are up to date," said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases. Schuchat, who spoke during a telephone news conference, said this year's outbreaks are occurring among unvaccinated clusters of people exposed to travelers bringing the measles virus back from other countries — most notably the Philippines, where a large outbreak began in October 2013.
If this sounds a bit like the Spanish arriving in the New World and spreading measles (and death), well, it is a very similar scenario, except in this case the parents in question seem to be disproportionately white, middle class idiots, rather than innocent indigenous peoples. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a wonderfully cogent piece on this last night, which you have to watch. That says it all. Yes, some toxins may be bad for us, but vaccinations are not toxins--they are life-savers. Let's stop being stupid about this. Just stop it!

Monday, June 2, 2014

How U.S. Hispanics Became White

Race is a "pigment of our imagination" as Rubén Rumbaut has famously said, and the census and survey questions that are asked in the U.S. tend to reflect an 18th century view of the human species, as I've noted before. I thought of that when reading an item by Nate Cohn in today's NY Times discussing the finding by the Census Bureau that a large number of Hispanics in the U.S. (keeping in mind that the U.S. is the only country that uses the term "Hispanic") changed their racial classification to "white" between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. For the most part they changed it from "some other race" to "white." One explanation is that the 2010 census questionnaire specifically noted that Hispanic origin is not a racial category, and that may have clarified to respondents that they could be both Hispanic and white. Another explanation is more sociological in nature:
Many analyses of census data shows that Hispanics who call themselves white have higher levels of educational attainment, income and civil engagement than those who identify as some other race. A Pew Research report, drawing on these findings, concluded that Hispanics saw white racial identification as a “measure of belongingness.” 
Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico and a director of research for the polling group Latino Decisions, interpreted the upward swing in white identification as consistent with the possibility that well-assimilated Hispanics might become “for most social purposes, white.”
In some respects, both explanations are consistent with one another, and consistent with the findings of Mara Loveman (now at UC Berkeley) and Jeronimo O. Muniz in their American Sociological Review paper: "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification." Over time the boundaries of what is white became more inclusive in Puerto Rico and I think we are seeing the same thing on the mainland. The note in the census questionnaire is one aspect of that and the recognition by an increasing number of Hispanics that they are accepted in society as "white" is another piece of evidence. Maybe someday we can just talk about "ethnicity" or "ancestry" (your roots--generally defined) and leave race behind altogether. I'll come back to this issue after Mara Loveman's new book "National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America" comes out later this summer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Is Education the Work-Around for Low Fertility?

For the past several years, Wolfgang Lutz and his research colleagues at both IIASA's World Population Program in Austria and the Vienna Institute for Demography have been pushing the idea that we cannot understand our demographic future without taking education into account. I was easy to convince of this, and I was very pleased to see that this week's Economist has also bought into the idea.
In a recent study Erich Striessnig and Wolfgang Lutz, of the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, argue that in predicting dependency ratios (the number of children and pensioners compared with people of working age), education should also be taken into account. And that makes optimal rates much lower than previously thought.
Not everyone of working age contributes equally to supporting the dependent population. Better-educated people are more productive and healthier, retire later and live longer. Education levels in most places have been rising and are likely to continue to do so. Using projections by age, sex and level of education for 195 countries, the demographers conclude that the highest welfare would follow from long-term fertility rates of 1.5-1.8. That excludes the effects of migration: for countries with many immigrants, the figure would be lower.
Educating more people to a higher level will be expensive, both because of the direct costs and because the better-educated start work later. But they will contribute more to the economy throughout their working lives and retire later, so the investment will pay off. Moreover, fewer people will help limit future climate change.
The Economist notes that this won't be an easy sell, however, no matter how hopeful it might sound for the future.