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:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Contrasting Tales of Indian Migrants

Thanks to Nick Parr for pointing to an article in the Economist highlighting the incredible success of migrants from India to the United States:
On the usual measures of success they outstrip all other minorities, including Jewish-Americans. They are educated and rich. In 2012 some 42% held first or higher degrees; average family income was over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans (see chart). Over two-thirds of them hold high-status jobs. They have done so well that many migrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh like to call themselves Indian, hoping that some of the stardust will rub off on them.
The graph below highlights the overall numbers:

But it turns out that this is not how life turns out for all migrants from India seeking work elsewhere in the world. In today's OZY, Charu Sudan Kasturi has an article about the discrimination faced by Indian and Filipino workers in Singapore and in the Middle East. They are confronted by low wages and poor working conditions, xenophobia from locals, and even potential conflict between immigrant groups.
Indians, the largest immigrant community in these cities and countries, mostly work in the construction industry as laborers, with a minority employed in white-collar jobs. Most Filipinos — the second-largest immigrant group — work as nurses, caregivers and household help. Yet some host nations often end up pitting the two immigrant groups against each other in a contest to prove which is better suited for the land where they work.
Higher wages in places like Singapore and the UAE have long drawn Indian and Filipino workers from their home countries. A nurse, for example, earns about 3,000 rupees ($47) a month in India, or 2,500 dirhams ($680) in Dubai. Strict curbs on freedom of expression and the threat of deportation keep workers there “firmly in line,” says Syed Ali, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. If they go on strike, for instance, or even just make demands for better wages and working conditions, “they’ll often get arrested and deported,” Ali says. “Or the companies fire them, so they lose their work permits, their visas get canceled and they have to leave.”
In the UAE, salaries often depend on the worker’s nationality — to compensate foreign workers proportionate to wages they’d earn back in their own countries, Ali says. That’s why Europeans tend to get paid more than a local, who in turn usually earns more than a Filipino. A Filipino would earn marginally more than an Indian. “There are often sentiments expressed about unfair advantage and privilege,” Kathiravelu says.
The point here, of course, is that the country of origin is less important than your choice of a destination and that depends heavily on your education and the range of "salable skills."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Demographics of One Person One Vote

The US Supreme Court this week agreed to review a case that could help decide what is actually meant by the concept of "one person, one vote." The NYTimes summarizes the issue in this way:
The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans. 
The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.
A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.
[I should note that I am not certain of the validity of this blanket statement--it may be generally true, but not dramatically so. A lot of undocumented immigrants in states like California, Texas, and Florida are living and working in counties that are predominantly agricultural.]
The case, a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They are represented by the Project on Fair Representation, the small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted the earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act. It is also behind a pending challenge to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.
It turns out that this is a very complex issue, and one with a long history. Everyone interested in this issue (and that should be every one living in the US), including the attorneys and Supreme Court justices, should read the Population Association of America Presidential Address by Marta Tienda of Princeton University from 2002, which is technically behind a subscription to the journal Demography, but can be found here. As the demographics of the US have changed over the years, the issue has periodically arisen as to which people should be included when we calculate the number of constituents for a given office, which then helps drive the boundaries for that elected office. There are, in short, no easy answers, which is one of the reasons why the current status is somewhat vague. 

In a classical case of "be careful what you wish for," it is interesting that the petitioners in this case are from Texas. Although the case revolves around the Texas Senate, not the federal House of Representatives, Marta Tienda's analysis showed that if you excluded immigrants from apportionment for seats in the House of Representatives, Texas would lose several seats in Congress. Oops!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gates Foundation's Focus on Family Planning

I have been periodically critical of the Gates Foundation for its emphasis on saving children's lives without necessarily balancing that with preventing unwanted pregnancies. I appreciate, then, that the folks at Population Matters pointed to a recent interview with Melinda Gates, in which she reaffirms her commitment to providing women in developing countries, especially in Africa, with methods of birth control. She notes, for example, that methods like Depo-Provera are not as readily available as they used to be, whereas  condoms tend to be ubiquitous, due in particular to the US government's PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) program. The problem with condoms in places like Africa is that if a woman asks her husband to use one he may interpret that to mean that she suspects him of extra-marital affairs. In other words, the condom is associated with sexually transmitted disease more than being thought of as method of birth control. Besides, any method that depends on male cooperation has a markedly lower chance of success.

I appreciate the fact that Melinda Gates is once again speaking out about this issue, as she did quite forcefully three years ago. But, of course, it shouldn't be up to a single philanthropic organization to be leading this charge. The UNFPA, whose mission involves helping women have the number of children they want, needs more resources from the rich countries in order to move forward on this front. The issues surrounding population growth are not over, by any stretch of the imagination.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Political Demography and Religion--Burmese Style

Over the past few weeks we have heard the horrific stories of refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh trying to fleeing their country of origin by boat, only to be left drifting at sea because no one wants to take them in. The worst situation is with respect to the refugees from Burma, as noted in an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:
While Bangladeshis are fleeing poverty, the refugees from Myanmar are Rohingya Muslims trying to escape their country's shameful, long-standing persecution. A minority in a Buddhist-majority country, they have been subject to sectarian violence and denied rightful citizenship for decades. Most of the 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, and as many as 140,000 currently are in squalid displaced persons camps. The government, wrongfully, considers them illegal immigrants and won't even call them Rohingya, referring to them as Bengalis.
In a not-at-all subtle fashion, the government of Myanmar is trying to get rid of its Muslim population. It started on a new strategy this week by passing a new population control bill:
Myanmar's president has signed off on a law that says couples must space their children 36 months apart. This is the first of four "race and religious protection" laws proposed by Buddhist nationalists.

Buddhist fundamentalists have repeatedly voiced their belief that Muslims, with their high birthrates, could take over the country of 50 million inhabitants - even though they make up only 10 percent of the population.
This is a case of true demographic hysteria. The recently released report by Pew Research on its population projections by religion suggest that, in fact, only 4% of Burma's 54 million people are currently Muslim, and they project that to increase to only 5% by 2050. Now, to be sure, the overall Burmese population has experienced a truly dramatic drop in fertility over the past few decades. In the 1970s women were still having nearly 6 children each, but that has now dropped to below replacement level. Still, it would take many generations for the Muslim population to take over the country, and it is almost certainly the case that their fertility would also drop if they were allowed to become full-fledged members of Burmese society. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Clean Water and Sanitation Are Still Priorities

It is very easy for those of us in the rich countries to take our infrastructure for granted. Among many other things, we have clean water and flushing toilets connected to sewers. Those two public health attributes are important to survival because they slow down the spread of disease and help to keep us healthy. Untreated water and poor sanitation are commonplace in much, if not most, of the rural parts of the world, but if rural population density is low, that may not matter too much. The problems emerge especially when people are crammed into cities without proper access to water and sanitation, including lack of public toilets. Indeed, I mentioned a few days ago that the CEO of the Gates Foundation recently posted her annual report and in there she tells the story of an early inspiration for the work in which the foundation has been involved:
One of my favorite stories from the early days of the foundation occurred when Bill and Melinda read Nick Kristof’s article about the staggering number of kids dying of diarrhea around the world. Their first reaction was to send a note to Bill Sr. saying, “Dad, maybe we can do something about this.”
That was back in 1997 and a lot of progress has been made, but in those 18 years we have added another 1.3 billion people to the urban population of the world. I thought of these things today as I was reading an Op-Ed in the NYTimes by Tahmima Anam discussing the lack of public toilets in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh:
If I could, I would write a book called “Where to Pee in Bangladesh.” It would be a useful but very short book. It would tell you, for instance, that in our capital city, there are 67 public toilets for over 15 million residents. And of those 67, many have no running water or electricity. According to a 2011 study, only five are fully functional.
Now, as you think about this issue, remember that Dhaka is so crowded because we have exported death control technology to the world, allowing children to survive in historic numbers. That's a good thing, of course, but there are too many of them to be absorbed by the rural economy, so they go to the city to find work, and there they have their own children. We want them to survive and to be healthy, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it also allows people to be economically more productive. At the same time, however, we need to keep pushing for the widespread availability of contraceptives in order to keep population size manageable, which means being able to afford seemingly simple things like toilets and clean water.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Politics of Changing Religious Demographics

Last month the Pew Research Center put out new population projections for the world based on estimates of the population by religious preference.  I commented on this at the time and promised to return with more details. Today, Michael Lipka and Conrad Hackett at Pew did that for me, by commenting on the differential rates of growth between now and the middle of this century. The Muslim population of the world is projected to grow by 73%, more than twice that of Christians or Hindus. By contrast, there are projected to be fewer Buddhists at mid-century than at present. The reason for the difference is two-fold: (1) fertility is higher among Muslims than non-Muslims in all regions of the world in which there are sizable fractions of Muslims (see graph below), and (2) because of the high fertility (in combination with steadily declining death rates, as I commented on yesterday), the Muslim populations are younger and thus have a higher fraction of people in the reproductive ages, thus accelerating the effect of above-average fertility.

Differential rates of growth wouldn't make a difference if people were simply tolerant of people of different religions. But religious tolerance is not one of the "core beliefs" of most human beings. This is especially true among the two largest religious groups--Christians and Muslims--which are large precisely because they are proselytizing religions. Both groups believe not only that they are right, but that it is their duty to convert everyone else to that point of view. That perspective inherently leads to intolerance for different points of view. And that's where politics comes into play. It is not the religious belief, per se, that matters. Rather, it is the interpretation that people put on their religion, including their tolerance for different points of view, that makes religion a potentially volatile element in society and between societies. A person making that point very well, by the way, is Reza Aslan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, whom my wife and I were watching tonight as we caught up with episodes of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart that we had recorded while we were traveling.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Population and Politics

Just as the Population Association of America meetings were getting underway here in San Diego three weeks ago, the journal Population Studies put out a special issue devoted to a long view of population, and I commented on this at the time. The introduction was open access and I indicated that I would check the other articles that were behind a subscription to see if there were key elements in any of them. While I was traveling this past week, I did have a chance to read Michael Teitelbaum's paper on "Political demography: Powerful trends under-attended by demographic science." Teitelbaum (a demographer) and his collaborator, the late Myron Weiner (a political scientist), helped to define political demography, with substantial help from Jack Goldstone, even if the subject remains under-attended. The point that Teitelbaum is making in his paper is the one that my son, Greg (a political scientist), and I (a demographer) have also made in our book Irresistible Forces--demographers tend to stay clear of politics, and political planners tend to either ignore or distort the interpretation of demographic trends.

The problem with ignoring population trends is that such ignorance undermines our ability to understand and thus effectively cope with change taking place all over the globe. Almost all of the global hot spots--the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia--are that way because of population growth translating into shifting numbers of people at each age. Societies try to cope, but many are unable to do so and, depending upon the cultural attributes of each society and its constituent populations (e.g., population composition) the results can be anywhere from bad to disastrous. We have to recognize these facts, however, in order to intelligently deal with them. We also have to be aware of the direct and indirect societal (e.g., political) consequences of policies aimed at influencing mortality, fertility, and migration. Governments most noticeably try to influence in- and out-migration, and most notoriously try to influence fertility, but the control of mortality also has consequences that are almost always unattended. 

We tend not to think of attempts to lower mortality as "demographic engineering," but of course that is what is going one, even though everyone one of us approves of it. I thought of this today as I read the "annual report" of Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellman, CEO of the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does amazing work helping to lower death rates especially among children and their mothers. At the same time, however, we need to attend to the fact that more children surviving creates problems for the family, community, and society. Everybody needs more resources, including resources to keep families small, so that local economic/environmental resources are not exhausted--the problem that then invites violent solutions. These are the issues that demographers and political scientists alike seem unwilling to tackle, and until we do, we will be missing important opportunities to make this world a better and safer place.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Will You Make it to Your 50th Wedding Anniversary?

My wife and I are taking the next several days off to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Naturally, this has caused me to think about the probability of such an event happening. Two things of demographic importance have to occur: (1) you and your spouse both have to live that long, and (2) you have to stay married. What are the probabilities associated with these things? It turns out that the answer is not as easy to figure out as it might seem.

We were high school sweethearts and that transitioned into being college sweethearts, and we married at the end of our junior year in college at Berkeley. Technically, we were both 20 at the time, but we both turned 21 that summer of 1965. Life tables for that year (or its closest approximation) suggest that a 21 year old white male had a 56% chance of surviving another 50 years, whereas a white woman aged 21 had a 75% chance of living that many additional years. The probability then that my wife and I would both still be alive 50 years later was .56*.75=.42. However, that calculation ignores the fact that life expectancy has been improving over time. In 1965, life expectancy at birth for white males was 67.5, whereas by 2010 it had improved to 76.5. So, each year that one stays alive in such a regime, your probability of dying goes down a bit. At current levels, a 21 year old white male has a 75% chance of still being alive in 50 years, whereas a 21 year old woman has an 84% chance of survival. Together, they produce a probability of .63 that the two will jointly survive. 

Now, in terms of divorce, it turns out that those probabilities have also changed in the 50 years that my wife and I have been married, but not for the better. My wife and I married just before the divorce rate started to rise. The 1970s and 80s saw a big rise in divorce although it has since leveled off, or even dropped a bit. Currently, our best source of data about the duration of marriages in the U.S. is the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), as I have noted previously. Divorce is not quite as common as many people think, but even though it is not true that 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce, the real figure appears to be not a lot lower than that. The SIPP includes a marital history and from this we can see how long respondents have been married, with the caveat that data refer to survivors, not to all people. Thus, data from the 2008 panel (the most recent data I could find), show that among men married in 1965-1969, 58 percent had made it to their 35th anniversary (the highest anniversary possible at the time for men married in those years), while only 52 percent of women had made it to the 35th. The difference is obviously due to the higher mortality among men. The data suggest, though, that roughly 50 percent of couples will not divorce in their lifetimes.

Overall, then, we can make a few back of the envelope calculations to suggest that if two people aged 21 were to marry today, there is at least a 32 percent chance that they will both survive to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary (.75*.84*.50). If, on the other hand, you both wait until age 31 to marry, the odds drop to 17 percent (.52*.65*.50), assuming no change in life expectancy over the next 50 years.

Although it is not easy to nail down the odds of making it to your 50th wedding anniversary, my wish for you is that you and your spouse (if you have one, or when you have one) both live a long life and that you have a long (and happy) marriage.

Friday, May 8, 2015

New Fertility Trends in the U.S.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently made available the fertility data from the 2014 Current Population Survey, and Gretchen Livingston at Pew Research has undertaken a very thorough analysis of trends over time. The bottom line is that while period fertility rates in the U.S. have dropped a bit especially in reaction to the Great Recession, there is evidence that women who might not previously had a child are now having a child (i.e., childlessness is going down, not up), whereas larger families (4+ children) are rapidly leaving the scene. Thus, the long-term trend (the "quantum" effect) is essentially stable, even if the short-term trend (the "tempo" effect) has been slightly downward. And the trendsetters are women who have in the past led the decline in fertility.
Among women in the United States, postgraduate education and motherhood are increasingly going hand-in-hand. The share of highly educated women who are remaining childless into their mid-40s has fallen significantly over the past two decades.

Today, about one-in-five women ages 40 to 44 with a master’s degree or higher (22%) have no children – down from 30% in 1994, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data. The decline is particularly dramatic among women with an M.D. or Ph.D. – fully 35% were childless in 1994, while today the share stands at 20%. Not only are highly educated women more likely to have children these days, they are also having bigger families than in the past. Among women with at least a master’s degree, six-in-ten have had two or more children, up from 51% in 1994. The share with two children has risen 4 percentage points, while the share with three or more has risen 6 percentage points.
These are generally beneficial trends for the economy because a society that is just replacing itself--and with children in families with sufficient resources--is likely to to better off economically in the long run. This is generally where Scandinavian countries have been, in contrast to much of the rest of Europe, where fertility is well below replacement level, regularly prompting financial writers to worry about the economic impact of an aging population, especially in an environment where income from investments may not match the long-term pension needs.
Don’t you think that a drop in Germany’s population from over 80 million people today to 65 million in the next 30 years will matter next year? Of course it will, and the ageing process largely explains the very modest growth in domestic German demand at present, even if many prefer to blame modest consumer demand in Germany on the nasty experience the country went through in the 1920s.
This is just a reminder that demography underlies almost everything going on in the world. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Where You Live Matters

Every human geographer I know understands that where you live matters. Indeed, it is one of the foci of my own research. So, it was good to see a recent study confirming this, as reported in detail in a New York Times piece this week. The Equality of Opportunity project at Harvard has utilized the anonymized tax records dataset to follow people who have moved out of low-income areas into places where more opportunities exist, and more generally to compare movers with non-movers.
Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.

The feelings heard across Baltimore’s recent protests — of being trapped in poverty — seem to be backed up by the new data. Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore, the study found.
Beyond Baltimore, economists say the study offers perhaps the most detailed portrait yet of upward mobility — and the lack of it. The findings suggest that geography does not merely separate rich from poor but also plays a large role in determining which poor children achieve the so-called American dream.
“The data show we can do something about upward mobility,” said Mr. Chetty, a Harvard professor, who conducted the main study along with Nathaniel Hendren, also a Harvard economist. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter.”
So, being stuck in a poverty-ridden place is bad for you, as Doug Massey helped us to understand in his PAA Presidential Address 19 years ago. Getting out is good for you, but the unanswered question is how many can get out. If we accept the premise of Steve Ruggles' PAA Presidential address this year, we are heading into a time when there will be fewer wage jobs because of the invasion of technology into the workplace. We are going to have re-engineer the economy, which may influence the spatial options that people have. None of this is likely to happen on its own, however. It is going to require some federal initiatives. The politics will almost certainly be ugly, given the influence that the very wealthy currently have over government decision-making.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sex Imbalances and the Housing Market in China

Thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing me to an article talking about how the "search for love" has helped to fuel China's housing bubble. The article refers to the underlying problem which is, as Shoshana has written about for a long time, the unbalanced sex ratio in China. The strong son preference in China (as in all of East Asia), combined with the one-child policy that has encouraged sex-selective abortion, has pushed up the "bride price" in China.
If you want to marry an attractive Shanghainese girl, the myth goes, you are expected to first own a nice apartment, preferably within the city’s inner ring road and with little or no debt. Otherwise, she’ll dump you.

Indeed, a new survey revealed that the majority of Chinese women believe the man should buy a house before getting married. More than 60% of female respondents polled in ten major Chinese cities wanted a house before marriage, the Sharpen Research Institute and Guangzhou Youth Weekly survey showed. One-fifth of the women went even further and said a house was an essential requirement before saying “I do.”

Consequently, it is widely understood that the groom will already have – or be prepared to buy – a house when he is getting married, said Brian Jackson, senior China economist at IHS Economics. He added that a man’s “potential bargaining power in the local marriage market” is further eroded by the country’s large sex imbalance.

In fact, if a man takes up a wife without first offering her a house, it is referred to as a “naked marriage.” A 2013 online survey showed that about 80% of men supported the idea of naked marriages – 70% of women did not.
Thus, the "demographic dividend," which received a lot of attention at the recent Population Association of America meetings, has its downside as well as the upsides, especially when you factor in cultural variations such as gender equality. In China, we have the paradoxical situation in which women, who are culturally less valued than men, are in a superior bargaining position for marriage precisely because of the consequences of gender inequality. Many would call that justice. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It Will Take Time to Put Nepal Back Together

The massive earthquake in Nepal is now known to have killed more than 7,500 people and injured thousands more, but the threat of more disease and death is very real. As BBC News has reported (and the whole world has been concerned about) cholera is a huge problem.
A lack of shelter, contaminated water and poor sanitation could lead to cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases, the charities said. The UK's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said in some areas people were living and defecating in the open. The umbrella organisation, formed of 12 charities, said immediate action was needed to tackle the problem.
The scale and cost of this aspect of the response are still being assessed but it was clear action was needed now before the rainy season starts in June, a spokesman said. "Cholera is endemic in Nepal, so an outbreak would not be unprecedented; last year 600 people caught cholera and in 2009 a major outbreak affected more than 300,000 people," he added.
Cholera is always a possibility in situations where a clean reliable water supply is not available. But when cholera is already present, the threat is very real. You may recall that after the earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti, cholera was brought into country by peacekeepers from....(wait for it)...Nepal.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saving Children's Lives--The Key to Low Fertility

On Friday, my colleague and former PhD student, Magdalena Benza, presented a paper at the PAA meetings on which I was a co-author. Her paper was excellent, focusing on how we can create an urban gradient using satellite imagery, from which we can draw key inferences about fertility levels in different parts of a country. One of the other papers in the session examined causes of the stall in the decline of fertility in Kenya. A key element is the fact that child mortality has not declined enough for couples to feel comfortable about limiting fertility. Indeed, as John Casterline of Ohio State University pointed out in his discussion of the papers in that session, Africa is perhaps the best example in the world of a region where the demographic transition has followed the expected model that fertility declines in direct response to a decline in mortality. The flip side of that, of course, is that if mortality is not dropping quickly, then we cannot expect fertility to be declining.

I thought of that when Debbie Fugate today linked me to a story at BBC News about the success that Rwanda has had in lowering their child mortality rate. To be sure, lowering child mortality has been one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals developed in 2000 as targets for 2015.
And one of the biggest success stories is Rwanda. Between 2000 and 2015, it achieved the highest average annual reduction in both the under-five mortality rate and the maternal mortality ratio in the world. The UN estimates that 590,000 children have been saved.
Dr. Fidele Ngabo, head of the division for maternity, child and community health in Rwanda explained how this came about:
"We had four top killers - malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition - diseases which can be treated by simple intervention. So we selected 45,000 community health workers at each village so when the children are sick, instead of spending one or two hours going to a health facility, the community health workers can give the treatment in less than 10 minutes.
"They are elected by the community. The only criteria we give is they can read and write. We give them basic training like how to screen for malaria, how to take temperatures, how to check respiration. For complicated treatment, they are obliged to transfer patients to the health facility."
The workers are not given a regular salary, but are paid for what they achieve. "The most important thing is to bring service closer to the community, that's what people can really learn from our country."
This actually sounds a lot like the "barefoot doctor" program in China that helped bring down death rates in the Chinese countryside several decades ago. At the same time, the story points out that there are new technological elements to this that allow community members to be in close touch with health providers. 

The only problem I have with the story is that it is not clear what the source is for the information on child mortality. According to the Demographic and Health Survey website, there is a survey being conducted at the moment, and maybe these data are pre-release findings from that survey, but that is not stated and the website of the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda does not have any information about the newest survey. So, here is the story we know about: in 1992, 163 out of 1,000 babies born in Rwanda died before their 5th birthday, and the average woman was having 6.2 children. By 2010 (the most recent survey for which we have data), the child mortality rate was down to 102 out of 1,000 and the TFR was down 4.6. Sadly, both of these numbers are still extremely high.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Patriarchy, Power, and Pay

Tonight was the Presidential Address at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America by this year's PAA President, Steven Ruggles of the University of Minnesota. He is an historical demographer (although perhaps more famous as the creator of the immensely useful IPUMS database). The title of the talk (which will be published this fall in Demography) was "Patriarchy, Power, and Pay: The Transformation of American Families, 1800-2015." Naturally, it made excellent use of the IPUMS data. While the title might not indicate this, the paper could have been--"Age of Extremes Revisited 19 Years Later." In essence, he put Doug Massey's PAA Presidential address of 19 years ago into historical perspective. That is my interpretation, by the way, since Ruggles didn't actually mention Massey. 

The point is that in the past two hundred years, we have gone from almost all families being agricultural family businesses that were patriarchal in nature, to the male breadwinner system, to the dual wage earner family, to the current situation in which wage and salary labor is rapidly diminishing, especially among the lower strata of society. This has raised the age at marriage, raised the incidence of childlessness, and raised the rate of out-of-wedlock births. But, Ruggles, argues, this is not necessarily bad. We just have to adjust. We adjusted to the loss of family farms as the basis of the economy (only 1% of workers are now employed in agriculture, yet we grow more food than ever), and we adjusted to the demise of the breadwinner system, which was part and parcel of women's liberation. Now, we must adjust to the fact that robots and other forms of automation can do a lot of the menial work that we as humans used to do. 

That should lead to the happy situation of humans having to do less work, while being freed to do things that are more enjoyable. The only sticky wicket is that, as Massey had noted many years ago, we have rising inequality. What to do? Ruggles left us with a reference to Keynes, implying that his solution, like Massey's, is for government to institute regulations that shift a bit of wealth (not all--just a reasonable amount) from the affluent to the rest of society. Now, how do we go about doing that? There lies the big challenge. We have the diagnosis and the cure. Can we implement it?