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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Will Rich Countries Take in More Immigrants?

If you've read my Population text, you know that immigration is one way by which any nation (or community, for that matter) can avoid eventual depopulation in the face of a low birth rate. However, Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and one of Upshot's bloggers on the NYTimes, seems only to have recently come across this idea. This weekend he wrote a piece on "A strategy of rich countries to absorb more immigrants." The inspiration for this, as he notes, was the most recent revision by the United Nations Population Division of their population projections, in which they note that fertility is not declining as quickly as earlier anticipated in parts of Africa and Asia and therefore the population of the world is likely to continue growing for longer, and thus likely to reach a higher number. I commented on this when the numbers came out in September. Cowen goes on to note that:
Unfortunately, regions with rapidly growing populations, like Africa and South Asia, often have lower living standards. In our likely global future, these regions will have more people than they can comfortably support, while many countries in the West and in East Asia will have too few young people for prosperous economies.
As an economist, I see an obvious solution: Relatively underpopulated and highly developed countries could profitably take in young Africans and South Asians — and both sides would gain. Yet it’s far from clear that all nations that could benefit from this policy would entertain it, partly because of persistent racial and cultural bias. There is also the legitimate question of how quickly immigrants can adjust to new environments, especially if they are arriving with weak educational backgrounds as the job market demands ever-stronger skills.
Again, if you've read my Population text, or the book that I and my son Greg wrote on Irresistible Forces--which focuses on this exact topic in terms of the age structures of the US and Latin America, and if you've followed my blog, you know these things and understand that Europeans and the Japanese, for example, don't necessarily want to to have a lot of immigrants to solve their low-birth problem. Pretty much they want to ignore the problem.

Cowen finishes his article with the comment that "Many economists are uncomfortable with population issues, perhaps because they aren’t covered in depth in the standard graduate curriculum, or because they touch on topics that may be culturally controversial or even politically incorrect. That’s unfortunate. In the future, population economics — and associated social issues — are likely to be at front and center of our most important policy concerns." Now, I suppose it may be that "many" economists are uncomfortable with the topic, but I should point out that the current President of the Population Association of America is Robert Moffitt, Professor of Economics at The Johns Hopkins University.


  1. Prof. Cohen said: "In our likely global future, these regions will have more people than they can comfortably support".

    Excuse me. Hahaha!! That was phrased in a very civil and educated way. But it has to be one of the great understatements of recent years. These regions, Africa and South Asia, are not simply "areas with a comfort problem". They are TIME BOMBS that will probaby bring down the global system. Or at least, they are the starting points where things will go seriously wrong!!!

    I am highly skeptical that rich countries are suddenly going to open their doors to millions of poor people fleeing Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia. If humanity was made up of angels, that might be a possibility. But it is not! Rather, it is much more likely that these people will be the subject of tighter immigration restrictions, and if they are sick, then probably excluded by quarantine measures as well.

    I do not see us headed towards a "nicer world". I hope that I am wrong on this score. I doubt it!!

    Pete Pollock, Redondo Beach, CA

    1. I have to admit--sadly--that I agree with you completely.