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, January 31, 2015

Sad Summary of the Syrian Mess

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for linking me to her unit's very nice summary of the year-end review of the situation in Syria, in terms of refugees and internally displaced persons. This of course has spilled over into Iraq with the introduction of ISIS into the mix in the region. The State Department's HIU notes that an estimated 202,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011, and there are now an estimated 12.2 million internally displaced Syrians who need assistance, and 3.8 million refugees in the region needing assistance. This is an almost mind-blowing number of people whose lives have been turned upside down by this conflict.

Since countries in the region are hardest hit by this conflict, it would seem reasonable for them to be the ones doing something about this. Yet, there is evidence that Turkey has been a customer for oil that ISIS has captured and is selling to fuel its expansion. And, as the Economist has noted, Saudi Arabia is not all that different in its view of the world than is ISIS--it just has more oil to sell. 
And, for all the kingdom’s harshness at home and fuelling of extremism abroad, the world’s leaders flocked to Riyadh. Barack Obama cut short a trip to India to pay homage to the new king. 
This is a craven spectacle from democracies that claim to uphold universal human rights. When authoritarians elsewhere point to the Western silence on Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, and its ruthless suppression of dissent, and cry double standards, they have a point. The West’s relationship with the Al Sauds must change. So must the dynasty itself.
The kinds of boots needed on the ground seem to be boots of protest about the role played by Saudi Arabia and others (including Russia and Iran) in allowing Syria to implode as it has, putting millions of people in harm's way. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

More Children Left Behind

I recently discussed the situation in Armenia, where women are left behind because the men have migrated (especially to Russia) in search of jobs and money to remit. The Migration Policy Institute has just published a report on children being left behind in two other former Soviet republics--Moldova and Ukraine--as their parents also search for work elsewhere (with men going largely to Russia to work in construction alongside the Armenians). The story on Armenia mentioned the toll on wives of having husbands gone, but there was no mention of the children. The MPI story focuses on them.
Left-behind children face numerous adverse effects of parental migration including problems related to school, such as deteriorating academic performance, declining attendance, and a lack of motivation. In Moldova, 22 percent of migrants’ children do not attend school. Health concerns may arise, including drug use and undermined or deteriorating health, as children with migrant parents may not solicit help when needed. Family stability and future development are also at stake. Divorce is common among Moldovan migrants. Children left behind lack job opportunities and may develop psycho-emotional problems often associated with an inferiority complex. This can lead to youth unemployment and juvenile delinquency, with high rates of each in Moldova and Ukraine. Left-behind children are also vulnerable to human trafficking and labor exploitation.
Reading this report led my mind quite naturally back to Central America, where children left behind are exploited and often seek to find their parents by migrating on their own, as my PhD student, Liz Kennedy, has been researching. It also raises interesting questions about citizenship and the vagueness of that concept when family members are in different countries, and receiving economic benefits from more than one place. In essence, migration of people who are married with children (as opposed to the more "traditional" form of single people, usually males, being migrants) undermines some of the common notions of what is a nation-state. To be sure, in the case of former Soviet Republics, the migration of men, in particular, tends to be toward Russia--the former "mother" country, so there may be a certain fuzziness there about who belongs where. Vladimir Putin obviously is of the opinion that the Ukraine is really still a part of Russia, for example.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Vaccinate Your Kids!

"Are vaccinations dangerous? Yes, if you don't get them?" That was the introduction to last night's Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. He has taken over the spot on the Comedy Channel held by Steven Colbert for many years (with Colbert now set to take over the late show on CBS). Anyway, Wilmore devotes each night to one topic and last night's topic was measles vaccinations, building on the recent outbreak in California emanating from Disneyland. This may be the Comedy Channel, but just as Jon Stewart on the Daily Show has done for years, and Steven Colbert did for years on the Colbert Report, Larry Wilmore keeps it "100%" --which I guess is even better than "keeping it real." One of his guests is even a mother who refused to vaccinate her children. I think she's an idiot, but you can judge for yourself...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Armenians are Helping to Keep Russia From Depopulating Too Fast

Thanks to Duane Miller for pointing me to a CNN story on the village of Lichk in Armenia (see map below), which is run mainly by women for most of the year:
In the Armenian village of Lichk, you will find many hard-working women, but you will not find many men. All these women's husbands are thousands of miles away.

Because of the poor economic situation of this village, 90% of its working-age men have left for better-paying construction jobs in Russia.

So for eight or nine months a year, women run the village.
Armenia is a small country (about 3 million people--fewer than live here in San Diego County, California), that lies directly to the east of Turkey but has for centuries retained its Christian heritage despite being conquered and badly abused by the Ottomans and then becoming part of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in the years after WWII Armenian women were having more than three children each and the population of Armenia peaked at about 3.5 million just as the Soviet Union fell apart. Since then, fertility has fallen below replacement level, the population has declined in size, and the struggling economy has encouraged migration to Russia for jobs. Remittances from migrant laborers are an important part of the economy, as they are to many of the former republics of the Soviet Union. In Armenia, remittances from the migrants account for 21% of GDP, according to World Bank Data. This is very high by world standards, but lower than other former Soviet republics such as Kyrgz Republic (32%), Moldova (25%), and Tajikistan (48%). This is a classic win-win (or lose-lose, depending upon your political predilections) in that Armenia could not survive economically without the ability to send laborers to work in Russia, and Russia would be much worse off economically if it could not draw on the populations of its former republics to keep it from depopulating at a fast pace. Keep in mind, as well, that since about 500,000 persons of Armenian origin live in the U.S. (with the largest concentration in Los Angeles), some of those remittances may be from the U.S., not just Russia.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Happened to America's Middle Class? Global Demographics is the Answer

President Obama's State of the Union Address touched on a topic that has become so intense that even the Republican Party has adopted the mantra that we must address income inequality. Now, to be sure, one part of income inequality (the part generally ignored by Republicans) is that the rich are becoming richer at the expense of the less-rich. But another part (and this is politically more popular) is that the middle class in the U.S. is shrinking. The cover story of this week's Economist relates to this, as does a lengthy story and Upshot blog post in today's NYTimes. The Upshot blog uses U.S. census data from IPUMS at the Minnesota Population Center to show, in particular, that:
Education matters more than it used to. In the 1970s, high school graduates who did not have a four-year college degree were well represented among the middle and upper class. They no longer are, as high-paying, blue-collar jobs have become rarer. College graduates have not suffered as much, though they are also less likely to be high income than they were in 2000.
It is not, however, that education is a more powerful predictor of success than it used to be. Rather, the time when low levels of education could be overcome by well-paying blue-collar jobs is gone. That was transitory. It can't be fixed by somehow reinvigorating trade unions. The jobs are gone. Gone to China and elsewhere where labor is vastly cheaper. After China--whose population has stopped growing--it will be India, where the biggest contribution to the world's total population will be made between now and the middle of this century. The result is, of course, a higher standard of living for the rest of us, because even if wages aren't going up much, the price of goods made overseas is going down. Compare the price of a TV or similar popular appliance now with what that same product was in real terms 15-20 years ago and you will see how much better off the average person is even if income has been flat.

So, what to do? The Economist has the answer: Talent, perseverance, and gumption. Those are the characteristics that move people forward in an open society, such as all western democracies. Not everyone is equally talented but perseverance and gumption go a long way, starting with improving your education and avoiding pregnancies at young ages and when you aren't yet married. On this point, the New York Times has these data from the census analysis:
Married couples with children — who make up a category that is shrinking over all — are diminishing even faster as a share of the middle class. In the late 1960s, about 45 percent of all households included married adults and their offspring. But among middle-class households, more than 60 percent had that traditional family arrangement. 
Today, married couples with children at home make up just a quarter of households. But even as they diminished as a share of the population, these families surged up the economic ladder as more married women went to work in the paid labor force. By 2000, 42 percent earned more than $100,000 in today’s dollars.
In sum, the hollowing out of the middle class started with global demographics, but is exacerbated by domestic demographics. We should be able to deal with the latter more readily than the former.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Graeme Hugo--Famous Australian demographer--Has Passed Away

Demographers deal with mortality all the time, but largely at the more abstract level. When one of your own dies it is always more difficult. This week saw the untimely death of Dr. Graeme Hugo of the University of Adelaide in Australia. Peter McDonald has posted a nice piece about his life on the website of the Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute. He was a prolific scholar of immigration, internal migration, and urbanization (including co-editing a volume on new forms of urbanization in which I was fortunate to have a chapter), as well as being a true public servant in the interests of demography:
In his home country, Australia, he was much in demand from governments at all levels for advice on migration and population policy. He served on many national committees and, in 2011, led a major enquiry by the Australian Government on population policy. In 2012, he was awarded the great honour of being appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia for his services to the field of demography. At the time of his death, he had served for eight years on the Australian Statistical Advisory Council. The Australian Deputy Statistician, Peter Harper, described Graeme as one of life’s gentlemen, a brilliant mind and very generous with his time.
We can all hope to have lived this well. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Links Between Cohabitation, Education, and Contraception

Cohabitation has become an increasingly popular precursor to marriage and refuge when a marriage ends, at least in the U.S. The rise in cohabitation happened earlier in Europe (where it was often an alternative to marriage) than in the U.S., but research shows that more than two-thirds of American women now cohabit at some point during their reproductive years. Two recent papers have summarized these trends--one by researchers at Bowling Green State University, and another just published in Demographic Research. The latter paper makes the point that data for the United States suggest that the availability of effective contraception has been associated with the rise in cohabitation, but this was less true in France, where cohabitation has been an acceptable alternative to marriage, But the Bowling Green research is particularly interesting because the results show clearly that the more educated a woman is, the less likely she is to have ever cohabited (whether before or after a marriage). To be sure, a majority still do cohabit, but among those with less than a high school diploma, 76 percent have cohabited, compared to 58 percent with a college degree. I mention this largely in the context of what happens to kids. Cohabitation has replaced marriage for increasing portions of people's lives, and it is associated with the diversity in family structure that puts an increasing fraction of children at risk of growing up without both parents. As I noted recently, this is not good for the kids because, among other things, it increases their chances of growing up poor. And what isn't good for the kids, is unlikely to to be good for society's future. This does not mean that cohabitation is bad--it just gets back to the point that people need to use contraceptives until they are really ready to have kids. That seems so simple.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Scary Demographics of Yemen

Political turmoil, yet again, in Yemen was today's front page news. From a political standpoint, the country seems to be in sort of a proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia (and the U.S.) against Iran. But underlying this tension is the fuel allowing it to burn--a young population that can't be supported by the economy. Here's the list of the countries in the Middle East with the highest percentages of the population under age 15 (as an index of a youthful population): Yemen, West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), and Iraq. All of them have 39 percent of the population under age 15. The next highest (not adjusting for refugees who have left the country) is Syria at 35 percent. By comparison, the figure in the U.S. is 19 percent and it is 13 percent in Germany and Japan. Saudi Arabia shares a border with both Yemen (nearly as populous as Saudi Arabia) and Iraq (more populous than Saudi Arabia), so you can appreciate that Saudi Arabia's government--which changed today as one old guy replaced his even older half-brother--is very concerned about what's happening in Yemen as its government changed under less auspicious circumstances. Of course, an autocratic government led by a succession of sons of the modern country's founder and who are sitting on and controlling one of the world's biggest oil reserves has the advantage over its southern neighbor, even if the latter is also an oil producer. 

A big demographic advantage that Saudi Arabia has over Yemen, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinians is that Saudi Arabian women have reduced their fertility over the past few decades, thus putting less pressure on current and future resources. Saudi Arabia's total fertility rate has dropped from 5.5 children per woman in 1990 to an estimated 2.4 in 2015--one of the lowest in the region. By contrast, Yemen has gone from 5.9 to 3.6 in that same time period, West Bank and Gaza from 6.6 to 3.7, Iraq from 5.6 to 3.8, and Syria from 4.8 to 2.8. These still very high births are not good signs for the future of this region.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethnic Discrimination in China

For the most part, East Asia does not get on the radar screen over issues of immigrant and minority discrimination because none of the countries in the region allows more than a very limited and highly selective level of immigration. But China is a vast country both in terms of geography and population and, as the Economist has pointed out this week, its minority groups are generally left out of the mainstream of society.
CHINA is urbanising at a rapid pace. In 2000 nearly two-thirds of its residents lived in the countryside. Today fewer than half do. But two ethnic groups, whose members often chafe at Chinese rule, are bucking this trend. Uighurs and Tibetans are staying on the farm, often because discrimination against them makes it difficult to find work in cities. As ethnic discontent grows, so too does the discrimination, creating a vicious circle.
Part of the problem is linguistic. Uighurs and Tibetans brought up in the countryside often have a very poor grasp of Mandarin, the official language. The government has tried to promote Mandarin in schools, but has encountered resistance in some places where it is seen as an attempt to suppress native culture. In southern Xinjiang, where most Uighurs live, many schools do not teach it.
So, you can see that part of the problem lies with minority groups who do not really want to assimilate. This is perhaps the toughest call of all in human society. But I always come back in my own mind to John F. Kennedy's famous quote that the way out of the ghetto (in the US) is through the mastery of English. I cannot imagine negotiating Chinese society without mastering Mandarin, any more than I could imagine negotiating Mexican society without mastering Spanish. Of course, there is more to it than that.
But discrimination is a big factor, too. Even some of the best-educated Uighur and Tibetan migrants struggle to find work. Reza Hasmath of Oxford University found that minority candidates in Beijing, for example, were better educated on average than their Han counterparts, but got worse-paying jobs. A separate study found that CVs of Uighurs and Tibetans, whose ethnicities are clearly identifiable from their names (most Uighurs also look physically very different from Han Chinese), generated far fewer calls for interviews.
If these events were playing out in the U.S. among blacks, it might be attributed to the racism arising from slavery.  But China reminds us that it doesn't take slavery to discriminate against others--it only takes their being different and less politically powerful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Ebola Over?

A headline in yesterday's Washington Post reported that "U.S.-built Ebola treatment centers in Liberia are nearly empty as outbreak fades." This is obviously very good news, although the map provided by the State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit shows that Liberia's next-door neighbor, Sierra Leone, actually had more cases as of last month than did Liberia. At the same time, Liberia led the count in terms of deaths. Their map also illustrates the fact that the only part of Guinea that was really affected was the portion closest to Liberia and Sierra Leone. WHO has put out a very extensive report  on Ebola that traces the origins of the disease, recaps the world's response, and suggests what steps need to be taken to make sure there is no resurgence of the disease. An important set of comments from the conclusion struck me, in particular:
The persistence of infections throughout 2014 had two causes. The first was a lethal, tenacious and unforgiving virus. The second was the fear and misunderstanding that fuelled high-risk behaviours. As long as these high-risk beliefs and behaviours continue, the virus will have an endless source of opportunities to exploit, blunting the power of control measures and deepening its grip. Like the populations in the three countries, the virus will remain constantly on the move. 
Getting to zero means fencing the virus into a shrinking number of places where all transmission chains are known and aggressively attacked until they break. It also means working within the existing context of cultural beliefs and practices and not against them. As culture always wins, it needs to be embraced, not aggravated, as WHO aimed to do with its protocol on safe and dignified burials.
Recognizing that there are cultural variables at play, rather than this being a simple health issue, is key to future success. Sadly, this reminds me of the rise in measles cases here in southern California, brought about by mothers who think they know more than health scientists and thus refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated, thus preventing us from being able to eliminate the disease. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pope Francis is Sending the Wrong Message about Contraception in the Philippines

More than two years ago, I noted that the government of the Philippines was about to implement a law providing subsidized access to birth control to couples, and to encourage the teaching of sex education in schools. The Roman Catholic Church was opposed to this, but the law passed anyway. This is, in fact, what the Philippines needs if it is going to avoid an economic implosion from its population explosion. The average Filipina is giving birth to 3 children, almost all of whom will survive to adulthood. The UN Population Division projects that the population of the country could go from its current 102 million to nearly 160 million by mid-century--and that assumes a fertility decline that the government is trying to promote. Yet, there is Pope Francis--who has done a lot of good for the Catholic Church in other respects--reiterating the tired anti-contraceptive message, as reported by the Guardian:
In advance of a vast rally on Sunday that could draw as many as 6 million people, the pope called on families to be “sanctuaries for respect for life”, and praised the church for maintaining its opposition to modern birth control, even if all Catholics could not live by such rules. 
“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” he said.
The remarks were seen as a direct response to a health law that was signed in the Philippines in 2013 by President Benigno Aquino. The legislation, which was opposed by local Catholic officials, established sex education for schoolchildren and adults and also subsidised birth control for women.
The government of the Philippines has gotten real about its demographic dilemma. The Pope would do well to do the same. The 19th century ideas of Malthus that people should abstain from intercourse before marriage, and not marry until they could afford to have all the children God will provide, did not sit well in Malthus's time, and they aren't any more relevant here in the 21st century. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Disturbingly High Fraction of American Kids in School are Poor

The Southern Education Foundation released a report this week showing that a majority of children in American schools are low-income. The data themselves are from the National Center for Education Statistics and refer not exactly to income levels, but rather to eligibility for free school lunches. As the New York Times points out, the US Department of Agriculture has loosened the eligibility for the school lunch program, but this high percentage of students is still disturbing. There are two things going on here which, in all likelihood, contribute to the problem of children living in low income families. The first is immigration. Immigrant families, especially undocumented immigrants from Latin America, have increase odds of being below the poverty live. This largely explains the high poverty rate in California. But the second reason is more insidious and it recalled to me an article that Justin Stoler pointed out to me a few days ago in the Upshot blog of the NYTimes about marriage
A quarter of today’s young adults will have never married by 2030, which would be the highest share in modern history, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet both remaining unmarried and divorcing are more common among less-educated, lower-income people. Educated, high-income people still marry at high rates and are less likely to divorce
Those whose lives are most difficult could benefit most from marriage, according to the economists who wrote the new paper, John Helliwell of the Vancouver School of Economics and Shawn Grover of the Canadian Department of Finance. “Marriage may be most important when there is that stress in life and when things are going wrong,” Mr. Grover said.
An increasing fraction of children are growing in one-parent (usually a mother without the father) family. Marriage (defined broadly here as two adults living together as a family) is the foundation of every human society and children growing up without that kind of emotional and financial support are going to be at a disadvantage. It doesn't mean that they are doomed, but it does mean that life is going to be a bigger struggle than it should have been. If you are thinking about having sex, but aren't thinking about getting married, then you should be using contraceptives--no matter what the Pope might say

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

County-Level Data on Undocumented Immigrants--updated

The Migration Policy Institute is holding a webinar on Thursday, 15 January 2015 at 11AM Eastern time. Although I regularly follow what's going on at MPI, it was a reporter who alerted me to this, because the embargoed data he had seen included considerable detail about the number of people in San Diego County who would likely qualify for the executive actions put into place by President Obama. I am guessing that the data are estimates derived from the public use microdata samples of the American Community Survey. Information about the webinar is here, and I will report back on substantive details (and methods) as soon as more information is posted.

UPDATE: Indeed, the data are from the Census:
The data tool is based on analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) and the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) by James Bachmeier of Temple University and Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania State University, Population Research Institute. 
The tool, with topline data and detailed profiles, can be accessed at:
Here's a sample of what you can find, from the San Diego Union-Tribune's look at San Diego County:
San Diego County ranks seventh in the nation among counties with the largest number of people eligible for the president’s deferred action programs. Los Angeles County has the highest with 466,000; followed by Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, with 172,000; and Orange County, 157,000. 
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 29,000 unauthorized immigrant children in San Diego County would qualify for the program, commonly known as DACA, and 62,000 parents would qualify for DAPA.
Of course, the House of Representatives has voted to withhold money from the Department of Homeland Security budget that might fund these programs, and the bill is currently ready to be considered by the Senate, with a threatened veto by President Obama if the bill passes the Senate and is sent to him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Boko Haram Continues to Put Populations at Risk in Nigeria--and Beyond

Tonight's PBS NewsHour reminded us that events in Paris and elsewhere have overshadowed a continuing sinister story--Boko Haram's rampage through the north of Nigeria, potentially now spilling over into Cameroon.
On January 3, militants attacked the northern town of Baga [in the northeast near where Nigeria meets up with both Chad and Cameroon] and surrounding areas. But word was slow to get out. Residents began to flee the region, and it wasn’t until several days later that reports of death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people got the world’s attention.
The Nigerian military has put the number much lower, closer to 150. But Amnesty International has called it possibly the deadliest massacre in Boko Haram’s history that could mark a disturbing and bloody escalation. And I think it’s important to understand that Boko Haram has been around for about 12 years as an organization. They became particularly violent and caught the world’s attention five years ago. So they have been rampaging for five years.
And, yes, this is part of what they do, do. Less than a week ago, there was that story of a 10-year-old who was sent into the market strapped with explosives, and then she was noticed, but it exploded. I think what came before is even more important. There was another story of a girl of about the same age who then got frightened and wouldn’t detonate the explosives. So there is speculation that this one was detonated remotely. And the other thing is Boko Haram has not confined its attacks to just that area of Northeastern Nigeria. They have hit Abuja. They have made forays into Cameroon, and actually had battles with the Cameroonian air force.
The points are made that (1) the Nigerian government has done very little in response to this Islamist terror group; (2) the atrocities of the group will almost certainly figure in the upcoming presidential election in Nigeria in some way or another, and (3) the problem is spreading without much international recognition or action. Indeed, I have been saying for a long time that Nigeria and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa have been under the global radar despite the fact that these are the fastest growing places on earth. This will come back to bite--it is just a matter of when, not if.

Monday, January 12, 2015

No Baby Boom for China--Will the One Child Policy be Lifted?

In what seems like a continuing story of no news, the news out of China today was that the lifting of some restrictions on the one child policy--announced by the government back in 2013--had not generated the anticipated flood of new babies. Several months ago I commented on the fact that Chinese demographers did not expect a rise in the birth rate, but the government did, for some reason. It turns out the demographers were correct, as the NYTimes noted:
A year after China eased its one-child policy, fewer people than expected have applied for permission to have a second child, state media said on Monday, raising concerns among scholars that China could face a demographic crisis as birth rates decline. 
The figures cited by the China Youth Daily will add to growing calls for the government to scrap all family planning restrictions as China faces the prospect of becoming the first country in the world to get old before it gets rich. 
While China is the world's most populous nation with 1.34 billion people, many analysts say the one-child policy has shrunk China's labor pool, hurting economic growth.
For the first time in decades the working age population fell in 2012.
However, a story on CBS News suggests that we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for any big changes in government policy.
On Thursday, a senior family planning official said changes were being considered but that family planning policies would not be scrapped altogether.
Furthermore, the experience of China's neighbors, including Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, where fertility is below replacement even without a government policy, suggest that couples are not going to go back to the days of replacement level fertility without major social and economic changes in society that would go far beyond simply scrapping the one child policy. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Many Muslims Are There in France?

The Charlie Hebdo killings and related hostage-taking situation in Paris have raised the questions about how many Muslims there are in France and what percentage they represent of the French population. Religion is not asked in the French census (the most recent of which was taken in 2011), just as it is not in the U.S., but surveys and other sources provide information that can be utilized to generate reasonable estimates. Pew Research has the most authoritative information on this topic, as I mentioned back in 2011 when they released a global report on the subject. Their summary table for Europe is shown in the figure below:

There are a couple of important points to take away from the data: (1) France has Europe's largest Muslim population only if you do not consider Russia to be part of Europe--Russia has a vastly larger Muslim population than France, driven especially by immigration from predominantly Muslim central Asian former Republics of the Soviet Union like Tajikistan, and these immigrants are the principal reason why Russia is not depopulating at a rapid pace; and (2) Muslims account for about 7.5% of France's population--well below the 14% of Americans who are Black or the 17% who are Hispanic, although well above the estimates that about 1% of people in the U.S. are Muslim.

So, by the broadest definition of Europe, France has the second largest Muslim population, and it also has the second highest percent Muslim, well behind Albania, which is estimated by Pew Research to be 83% Muslim. Keep in mind that Albania has a fertility level lower than France's so being predominantly Muslim does not mean that fertility will automatically be high. And, thinking of birth rates in France, Ross Douthat has an Op-Ed in today's NYTimes in which he discusses French demographics and claims that:
Demography, the source of so much Gallic anxiety in the past, suddenly has turned in France’s favor: The Germans are rich but aging, whereas even amid economic drift the French birthrate has risen sharply (suggesting a certain optimism amid the ennui). By the 2050s, under some scenarios, France could once again have the larger economy and population — making it either dominant in a more integrated Europe, or the most important power on a continent more divided than today.
Talk about poor research!! There is absolutely no evidence that the birth rate has risen recently in France--and certainly not "sharply"--and if you follow his "population" link you will go to a story by the Telegraph in the UK in 2005 for which there is neither support for Douthat's thesis, nor any corroboration by ISEE, the official statistical agency in France. These are the kinds of stories that muddy the public perception of what's going on in the world.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What's Going on With Muslims in France?

The recent shootings in Paris have raised once again the question of the integration--or lack thereof--of Muslims in France. And, of course, they came on the heels of anti-immigrant rallies in Germany. In this context, Abu Daoud brought an article to my attention that speaks to some of these issues. It was written by Eric Kaufman of Birkbeck College, University of London back in 2010, but most of the facts are unlikely to have changed much in the meantime. I commented on Kaufman's book--referenced in his article--a few months ago and so here I will focus on the things he says about France
French Muslims of Algerian descent, many of whom, like footballer Zinedine Zidane, are Berber and not Arab, are far more secular and likely to marry out than other Muslim groups. Over half of Franco-Algerian men marry non-Muslims and 60 per cent of French people with at least one Algerian parent say they have no religion. In Germany, Iranian Muslims, many of whom come from anti-Islamist families, tend to be less religious than other groups. A third claim to be completely secular and almost three-quarters never attend religious events. Balkan and central Asian Muslims in Germany also tend to be less religious. But even within Muslim ethnic groups, the study finds an important polarisation between the devout who pray daily and the equally large number who never pray. This divide maps on to fertility: the most devout Muslim women in Europe are 40 per cent more likely than the least pious to bear three or more children. In the large cities of the Muslim world, women most in favour of sharia bear twice as many children as those most opposed.
This last point is an important one, because France has had for a long time a policy of allowing "no-go" zones--immigrant enclaves where the police don't go, permitting those residents to organize their own lives as they see fit. This is a point made a few years ago by Christopher Caldwell in his book on "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West," and it has come up repeatedly in articles published by the Gatestone Institute in New York. In other words, rather than encouraging and facilitating adaptation, integration, and assimilation, France has had an implicit policy that encourages separateness. This is very likely to encourage more traditional behavior in these neighborhoods, possibly even including the local imposition of Sharia Law, as Fox News has claimed.  I do not know, of course, that any of this played a specific role in the recent shootings in Paris, but it seems to me that this sets up a situation that breaks the bonds that might exist between immigrants, and especially the children of immigrants, and the host society, thus increasing the chances that anti-social attacks might take place.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

More Education Means Less Superstition and Religiosity--and Perhaps Fewer Senseless Shootings

The shootings of satirical journalists in Paris yesterday caused me to reach back in time for a story that I intended to blog about a few months ago. It first popped up in The Economist back in October:
JUST one extra year of schooling makes someone 10% less likely to attend a church, mosque or temple, pray alone or describe himself as religious, concludes a paper published on October 6th that looks at the relationship between religiosity and the length of time spent in school. It uses changes in the compulsory school-leaving age in 11 European countries between 1960 and 1985 to tease out the impact of time spent in school on belief and practice among respondents to the European Social Survey, a long-running research project.
By comparing people of similar backgrounds who were among the first to stay on longer, the authors could be reasonably certain that the extra schooling actually caused religiosity to fall, rather than merely being correlated with the decline. During those extra years mathematics and science classes typically become more rigorous, points out Naci Mocan, one of the authors—and increased exposure to analytical thinking may weaken the tendency to believe.
The full text of the paper is now available online. Drawing upon the literature review in that study, the Economist also nicely summarized other studies:
Another paper, published earlier this year, showed that after Turkey increased compulsory schooling from five years to eight in 1997, women’s propensity to identify themselves as religious, cover their heads or vote for an Islamic party fell by 30-50%. (No effect was found, however, among Turkish men.) And a study published in 2011 that looked at the rise in the school-leaving age in Canadian provinces in the 1950s and 1960s found that each extra year of schooling led to a decline of four percentage points in the likelihood of identifying with a religious tradition. Longer schooling, it reckoned, explains most of the increase in non-affiliation to any religion in Canada between 1971 and 2001, from 4% of the population to 16%.
As I have often argued, it is not religion per se that matters when it comes to extreme beliefs and actions--it is religiosity. Even an additional year of education can reduce superstition and make a person less intensely religious. That doesn't mean they become atheists--just more intelligent consumers of religion. That kind of critical thinking is really what we need in this world. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lebanon Shuts the Door Even Tighter on Syrian Refugees

Lebanon is a country of about 5 million people, next door to Syria, which at one time a few years ago had 22 million people. You can understand why Lebanon is hard-pressed to accept any more than the estimated 1.5 million Syrians who have already found refuge there. So, as the LA Times reports, Lebanon has required that anyone from Syria trying to enter Lebanon has to have a visa or a sponsor.
Ali Abdul Karim Ali, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, complained in a television interview Sunday that Damascus had not been informed in advance about the new requirements. He said that the measures were “not appropriate” and that coordination on the issue was needed. But Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk defended the move, saying the country had taken in “enough” Syrians. “Lebanon has no ability to receive more refugees,” he said. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, more than 3 million people have fled the country, most of them across the border to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Not unexpectedly, the influx of refugees has created tension in Lebanon.
Although Turkey has taken steps to integrate Syrian refugees, including in theory providing education and social services, Lebanon has been less welcoming, in part because of the political implications of absorbing so many Sunnis. The delicate balance of power among the tiny country’s Christian and Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions has been strained by the influx of Syrians and periodically flares into violence.
The UN keeps looking for countries that will take in the Syrian refugees, but it seems to me--and maybe I'm just missing something here--that it has been a long time since I heard anyone talking about trying to do anything meaningful about the Syrian civil war, so that Syrians can stay and try to rebuild their country. Will the civil war just die out on its own? ISIS seems to make that unlikely. Will it fester even more and create a cascade of additional problems? That seems to be where we are, with no real solutions in sight.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Demography is the Key to Europe's Sluggish Economy

Europe's relatively dismal economic picture is typically framed in terms of European Central Bank policies (its lack of "quantitative easing" to stimulate growth) and debt in Greece, among other things. But as readers of my book know, the aging population creates a set of significant economic problems that must be confronted or the economy will go into the toilet. This is the point made in a NYTimes Op-Ed today by Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, building on research by their in-house demographer, Nicholas Eberstadt. Brooks's conclusion is one with which I concur (even if I don't necessarily agree with everything that comes out of the American Enterprise Institute):
It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.
These are exactly the things I was discussing a few days ago with respect to population decline in Japan. As a continent, Europe has not yet teetered into depopulation, but it is on the precipice. Indeed, Eastern Europe is already in negative territory, according to UN demographers. Low fertility and ambivalence, if not hostility, toward immigrants are key elements. But the key, in my mind, is a factor that Brooks did not discuss--the status of women. Brooks interprets France's replacement-level fertility (Europe's highest) as follows:
France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?
This is not an accurate representation of French policy. Yes, mother's do receive a subsidy, but the more important aspects of French policy are state-sponsored day care and the legal right that women have to resume their place in the labor force after childbirth, when the children turn three and can go into publicly-funded École Maternelle (nursery school). Making it easier for women to combine children and a job is why France's birth rate is as high as it is, and it is the same reason that puts Sweden right behind France in this regard. In both countries, however, the same socialist spirit that has helped women have children and work has encouraged an earlier-than-desired retirement age. As I pointed out in my most popular blog post of 2014, working long and saving is the key to a successful old age, whether we are talking about an individual or a nation as a whole.

Note that I'll be discussing these issues, especially as they relate to Japan, on NPR affiliate station KPCC in Los Angeles, tomorrow (7 January).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Feed the World by Eating Less Meat

I recently discussed an article reminding us how much food we need to produce over the next 40 years to feed an average population of nearly 9 billion during that time. In Chapter 11 I note that one way to accomplish this task is for humans to reverse the trend toward eating more meat per person. This does not have to mean being vegetarian (although that would actually be best), rather it means limiting the meat intake. Last week's Economist had a genuinely scary story about the rise in pork consumption in China--calling it "a danger to the world."
Until the 1980s farms as large as Mr Ouyang’s were unknown: 95% of Chinese pigs came from smallholdings with fewer than five animals. Today just 20% come from these backyard farms, says Mindi Schneider of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Some industrial facilities, often owned by the state or by multinationals, produce as many as 100,000 swine a year. These are born and live for ever on slatted metal beds; most never see direct sunlight; very few ever get to breed. The pigs themselves have changed physically, too. Three foreign breeds now account for 95% of them; to preserve its own kinds, China has a national gene bank (basically a giant freezer of pig semen) and a network of indigenous-pig menageries. Nevertheless, scores of ancient variants may soon die out. 
But China’s pigs are far from the only victims of their popularity. Demand for them worries the Communist Party, underpins what will soon be the world’s biggest economy and threatens Amazon rain forests. 
The Communist Party prizes self-sufficiency in food. Most of the pigs China eats are indeed home-grown. But each kilogram of pork requires 6kg of feed, usually processed soy or corn. Given the scarcity of water and land in China, it cannot feed its pigs as well as its people. The upshot is that Chinese swine, which previously ate household scraps, increasingly rely on imported feed. 
Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs. Already in 2010 China’s soy imports accounted for more than 50% of the total global soy market. From a low base, grain imports are rising fast as well: the US Grains Council, a trade body, predicts that by 2022 China will need to import 19m-32m tonnes of corn. That equates to between a fifth and a third of the world’s entire trade in corn today.
So, that gets us back to the story of why people want to buy agricultural land. The land grab is not about feeding the world--it is about making money selling animal food to rich customers. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Can We Feed the World in the Future?

This week's Economist has a story on the value of land and its relationship to our ability to grow enough food to feed future populations. The article starts off this way:
IN THE next 40 years, humans will need to produce more food than they did in the previous 10,000 put together. But with sprawling cities gobbling up arable land, agricultural productivity gains decreasing, and demand for biofuels increasing, supply is not keeping up with demand. Clever farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs are bursting with ideas. But they need money to make this jump.

Financiers more often found buying and selling companies have cottoned on to the opportunity. Farm gates have traditionally been closed to capital markets: nine in ten farms are held by families. But demography is forcing a shift: the average age of farmers in Europe, America and New Zealand is now in the late fifties. They often have no successor, because offspring do not want to farm or cannot afford to buy out family members. In addition, adopting new technologies and farming at ever-greater scale require the sort of capital few farmers have, even after years of bumper crop prices.
So, demography is key here in two ways--population pressure on the food supply, and the aging of farmers in the more developed countries. But what about that blockbuster first sentence? Is it really true that "in the next 40 years, humans will need to produce more food than they did in the previous 10,000 put together."? Before making my own back of the envelope calculations, I checked the comments on the story to see if anyone had questioned this claim. No one had--all who commented apparently accepted it is as fact. 

The calculation is pretty straightforward: average population per year times average calories per day times days per year times the number of years in question:

For the next 40 years, the average projected population by the UN Population Division is 8.7 billion per year. In Table 11.3 of the 12th edition I provide data from the FAO showing that the average food consumption in the world is about 2,830 calories per day. Assuming those numbers, we get a demand figure of 3.6E+17 for the next 40 years. For the past 10,000 years we obviously know less. Looking at Figure 2.2 in the 12th edition we can make a rough calculation that the average world population over the past 10,000 years was 100 million (going from 4 million in -8000 to 7.3 billion in 2014). Even if we assume a desperation level diet of 1,500 calories per day year per person, that produces a demand figure of 5.5E+17--well above the figure for the next 40 years. So, I'm not sure where the numbers come from for that beginning sentence. At the same time, this does not diminish the task at hand, and it is my guess that investors buying land for the purpose of making money, rather than growing food, is not likely to end well.

I note that the Economist Group is hosting a conference on "Feeding the World 2015" in Amsterdam in February. Perhaps we will have more insight after that.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Can Women Save Japan?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to a story on NPR yesterday highlighting Japan's drop in population size last year:
The figures released by the country's health ministry showed that the estimated number of people who died in 2014 was 1,269,000, about 1,000 above the previous year. The number of births was 1,001,000, down about 29,000 from 2013. The total population declined by a record 268,000. 
Japan's aging and shrinking population has been a concern since the 1970s, when the number of newborn babies hit more than 2 million annually. The figure dropped below 1.5 million in 1984 and below 1.1 million in 2005...Those 65 and over are expected to make up nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060. That could mean tough economic times for the world's No. 3 economy.
Japan was the first Asian nation to industrialize--starting back in the 19th century--and it used the demographic dividend of a rapid drop in the birth rate after its military defeat in WWII to become a world economic superpower. But fertility has been below replacement level since the mid-1970s because traditional attitudes make it very difficult for women to have a family and a career, and women have often chosen the latter over the former. As today's NYTimes reports, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to change this by, among other things, making day care more available for working mothers. 
In a country where juggling work and family has long been especially difficult, Mr. Abe has pledged to ease the way for women like Ms. Kitajima, with more state-funded child care and other measures to foster “a society where all women shine.” Tackling the nation’s shrinking population and declining labor force by encouraging working women is part of his broader effort to re-energize the economy, which is looking especially unsteady after Japan unexpectedly fell into a recession last quarter.
The article notes that these reforms face a lot of opposition in a society that is still very tied to the idea that men make the money and women make the babies. Indeed, clinging to traditional ideas of society is also the reason why Japan's demography is not influenced by immigration--foreigners are largely kept out in order to preserve the old racial/ethnic/cultural order. As Dr. Phil used to famously say: "How's that working for you?" 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What Was Hot in 2014?

As I do on New Year's Day each year, I have taken a look back at the most popular items in the past years. Who are the winners among the more than 300 that I posted in 2014, based on the number of hits on each one? Here they are:

1. By a wide margin, the biggest hit of 2014 was about the road to successful aging:

2. Migration lessons from the World Cup in Brazil came in second (I actually did a double-take remembering that the World Cup was this past year--a lot has happened since then):

3. Migration was also the topic of the third most popular post, although in this case it referenced the global migration flow maps put together by the Vienna Demographic Institute:

4. The rather sad story about the demographics of Puerto Rico was fourth on the list:

5. Aging was back in the spotlight for the fifth most popular post, which appeared on April 1st, but it was no April Fool's joke--it was about aging in Spain:

6. Only a few days later I posted a fairly lengthy piece on Russian demographics which are, in my opinion, important for our understanding of Putin's political maneuvering:

7.  My link to the Population Reference Bureau's 2014 World Population Data Sheet was seventh on the list, and I'm glad to see that it is still very popular. In the old days, it was one of those things that I always had in my briefcase, and I always required students to buy--"never leave home without it!" Now, you can "carry" it with you on your mobile device.

8.  The number of Muslims in India was eighth most hit upon. You could win a lot of bets at bars, I'm guessing, by asking people which country in the world has the second greatest number of Muslims (you might even win most of the time if you asked who was #1 in the category):

[Note--if you are into quizzes and have an iPhone or iPad, check out the PopQuizzes on my iPhone app--see above for the link, if you don't already have it]

9. I was in Copenhagen when I posted the ninth most popular item about the new surge out of Syria. Danes, like other Scandinavians, are very accepting people, although of course in a relatively small country there is only so much room for foreigners:

10. The tenth most popular story takes us back to the Indian sub-continent, to news that fertility in Pakistan is not declining as quickly as most demographers had projected:

While this is technically a look back, most of these stories will still be affecting us in 2015--as will the others that I have posted that didn't make the top ten list.

Happy New Year!