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:

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Tunnel of Trouble--Migrants Trying to Get to the UK

The United Kingdom is separated from Europe by water and it is not part of the Schengen agreement that allows people to move across European borders without showing identity cards. But, there is the Chunnel that connects England to France allowing people and goods to cross under the channel. Since European countries have not come to any conclusion about how to deal with undocumented migrants from the Middle East and Africa, the migrants have had to improvise.
The French police said there were about 2,100 attempts by migrants to gain access to the tunnel on Monday, and Eurotunnel, the company that operates the 31-mile English Channel crossing, put the number for Tuesday night at about 1,500.

Calais is certainly feeling the strain. Eurotunnel said in a statement on Wednesday that it had intercepted more than 37,000 migrants since January.

The English Channel is a focus of the broader European crisis because many migrants are trying to travel to Britain, where they believe they will find it easier to secure work. The country also appears more attractive because Britain does not operate an identity card system and because many migrants speak some English.

“What we are seeing is the result of the European Union not being able to handle the migration crisis in the way that they should,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a research institute.
“Everyone is blaming each other for not handling the crisis properly,” she said. “The Italians and Greeks are blaming everyone else for not helping them. France is blaming Italy for giving documents to asylum seekers, without checking them properly, so they can move on.”
A story yesterday on MarketPlace from American Public Media quoted one young man as saying that he wanted to get to the UK to make "fast money." This may well illustrate the kinds of claims that human traffickers make to people to get them to spend money to be transported to Europe in the hope of a better life.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New Population Projections from the UN Population Division

The United Nations Population Division yesterday released its latest set of population estimates and projections for all of the countries of the world. The biggest headline from this was the projection that India would probably overtake China as the world's most populous country sooner than previously thought--in 2022 rather than 2028.  I think that the bigger story is the demographic ascendency of Africa. As you can see below (the first table in the UN report), Asia is ascending demographically right now (despite the slowdown in China's growth), but Africa is growing more quickly than any other part of the world. 

Population increase in Asia and Africa is also associated with still young populations. Despite widespread declines in fertility, mortality is also declining and that keeps the population younger than it might otherwise seem. Furthermore, as John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division notes in his press release, we cannot just sit back idly and assume that fertility will continue to drop.

Our medium-variant projection assumes that fertility will continue to decline in countries where fertility is above the replacement level, and to increase slightly in countries where it is very low. However, such changes will not happen automatically. In effect, we are assuming that countries will continue to respond to the challenges presented by relatively high or low levels of fertility by adopting policies that help to enable couples, both men and women, to control the number, the timing and the spacing of their children.
There is a lot of change taking place and a lot of work to do, and the obsession in rich countries with the long-term impact of low birth rates is not helping us to generate good global policy. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Is More Child Care the Key to Raising the Birth Rate?

This week's Economist has a lead story on how governments in low fertility countries can effectively raise the birth rate. Their answer is child-care to encourage women to have babies and a career at the same time. They draw explicitly from a new study from the OECD of pronatalist government policies in the richer countries. 
Yet not all state baby bribes are equal. “The kind of spending matters more than the amount,” says Olivier Thévenon, who tracks natalist policies at the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Longer maternity and paternity leave are nice but seem not to encourage childbearing. Cash payments and gifts encourage couples to have babies more quickly but not to have more than they otherwise would.

The clear winner, according to Mr Thévenon’s research, is subsidised child care. Decent, affordable nurseries make it easier for women to combine work and motherhood. They seem to be the main reason France and Sweden have robust fertility rates—though mass immigration from more fecund countries has helped them a little, too.
This is well known among demographers but is only part of the larger issue of gender equality. If you give women freedom to become educated and have a career, but society does not treat them as equal to men, the result tends to be very low fertility. Cultural shifts that create gender equality are almost certainly the best path to fertility levels that are close to the replacement level.

I do have to object, however, to a comment that the Economist makes about the need for public policy that tries to influence the birth rate.
Many liberals argue that the state should keep its nose out of family matters, but in practice this is hard. Simply by creating pension systems paid for out of general taxation, governments have drastically reduced the private incentive to have children—who were once the best security parents had in their dotage. A more useful question is which baby-boosting policies work.
This is simply wrong. The history of Social Security is that it arose because children were not supporting their parents as death rates declined and the elderly lived longer. The idea of children as a source of social security is largely a myth based on ignorance of the fact that for most of human history until the 20th century, parents were very unlikely to retire and be forced to live on welfare from their children--who might or might not provide it in any case. The change in death rates over the last two centuries--but especially the last century--has altered generational relations in ways that make the modern world largely unrecognizable to earlier humans.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Will China Abandon the One Child Policy?

Although India is set to overtake China as the world's most populous nation 15 or so years from now, China's size will always mean that what happens in China will not stay in China. People cannot resist speculating about China's demographic future, as evidenced by the widely circulated non-news that the Chinese government "might" loosen even further the restrictions on childbearing. The Guardian has a lengthy story.
Thirty-five years after enacting draconian birth control rules blamed for millions of forced abortions and the creation of a demographic “timebomb”, China could be on the verge of introducing a two-child policy. The new regulation, under which all Chinese couples would be allowed to have two children, could be implemented “as soon as the end of the year if everything goes well”, a government source was quoted as saying by the China Business News.
But the article also notes that:
Beijing quickly played down claims that the two-child policy would be in place by the end of the year. “No timetable has been set to allow all couples in the country to have a second child,” the national health and family planning commission insisted, according to the state-run China Daily.
In all events, there is no evidence that couples are likely to respond with higher fertility, as I have noted before and as the article itself points out.
Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, said the policy should have been abolished long ago..Liang said Beijing’s apparent decision to scrap the one-child policy was a positive and long overdue step. But even a full shift to a nationwide two-child policy would do little to reverse the demographic trends already set in place. “At the moment, many people are not willing to have more children, even if they are encouraged to do so. So in reality the government introducing the two-child policy still won’t have much of an impact,” he said.
Of course, this won't be the last word. If the government really does abandon the one child policy next year, there will be widespread speculation about an impending baby boom in China.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Overview of the Mess in Yemen

The Humanitarian Information Unit of the US State Department has just released a fantastic set of maps showing the scope of demographic displacement and related issues in Yemen:

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen continues to deteriorate with an estimated 21.1 million people, 80% of the population, in need of assistance. The UN revised its funding appeal in June 2015 upwards to $1.6 billion to target 11.7 million people. Regardless of funding, there is limited capacity to handle the collapsing food and health sectors and deteriorating water and sanitation systems.
As they note, the thousands fleeing Yemen have been largely absorbed by neighbors, especially Djibouti and Somalia. Neither country is necessarily in a position to afford this for long, but international help has been slow in coming, particularly in light of all the other problems in the region. While correlation is not necessarily causation, the US invasion of Iraq, followed by the Arab Spring--both in the context of rapidly growing youthful populations--probably lit the fuse that has led us to this state of affairs.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Chinese Megalopolis of 130 Million--Really?

The New York Times reports on a story out of China that the government aims to take the brakes off of Beijing's growth and is foreseeing a future megalopolis of 130 million people. Now, to be sure, Beijing is already the 7th largest city in the world with more than 20 million inhabitants, but it lags behind Shanghai by a few million, and is still far short of Tokyo's 38 million. That seems to be changing.
For decades, China’s government has tried to limit the size of Beijing, the capital, through draconian residency permits. Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people.
The planned megalopolis, a metropolitan area that would be about six times the size of New York’s, is meant to revamp northern China’s economy and become a laboratory for modern urban growth.
“The supercity is the vanguard of economic reform,” said Liu Gang, a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin who advises local governments on regional development. “It reflects the senior leadership’s views on the need for integration, innovation and environmental protection.”
But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States. And unlike metro areas that have grown up organically, Jing-Jin-Ji would be a very deliberate creation. Its centerpiece: a huge expansion of high-speed rail to bring the major cities within an hour’s commute of each other.
It turns out, however, that this plan is not without its shortcomings. The tax structure in China does not provide local municipalities with their own revenue stream, so suburbs are being built without adequate infrastructure--exactly what we see in Africa and other developing regions. In the end, this is likely to be less of a true megapolis and more of an urban mess. For the sake of the Chinese living in the region, though, I hope that I'm wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Geodemography of Religion

Thanks to my son, Greg Weeks, for pointing me to a genuinely amazing map timeline of the spread of the major religions in the world, put together by Business Insider. No matter what your view of religion, we social scientists think of it as a demographic characteristic. It is an unusual one, too, in the sense that you are born into a religion, even though it is not a genetic characteristic. You can change religions, but most people don't--except to go from some particular religion to no religion (which is different, by the way, from being an atheist--a lot of people believe in God, but prefer not to be affiliated with a particular religion). So, population growth, including both natural increase and migration, is intimately associated with the spread of religions. The story is more complex than that, of course, but this is one of those cases in which the role of demography is central.

Click here to go the animated map [which had already been viewed more than 13 million times when I posted this]:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

U.S. Farmers Need Immigrants--It's That Simple

Yesterday I received a gang email from Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank, in which she discussed the problem of aging farmers in the U.S.: 
The age of the average U.S. farmer is 58.3 years old, and rural populations are declining as a percentage of the national population, according to U.S. Census Data. To create a sustainable food system, we need to cultivate young farmers. Supporting beginning farmers needs to be a collaborative effort—one that connects young people with both financial and technical resources and provides the knowledge necessary to develop a successful business. New farmers also need sustainable funding and mutual partnerships with investors, which are increasingly found outside of traditional investment models.
While this may be true, a more immediate problem for American farmers is the lack of labor--a byproduct of our broken immigration system. This was called out today by an article at
In the past 15 years, more than half of the hired workers on farms were unauthorized migrant workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Workers Survey. With a combination of stalled immigration reform debate in Congress, increased border control and an improved Mexican economy, the U.S. farm labor supply has been dwindling.
This is obviously a serious issue and needs to be addressed. Farm labor is hard work and legal workers, including U.S. born workers, prefer to do almost anything else. Of course, you say, more people might be attracted to these jobs if they paid more. Yes, but then farmers would have to compete with cheaper imported food grown in countries where labor is cheaper--or--we could all pay more for our food. The President of the American Farm Bureau Federation proposes a two-step process of legalizing current workers (but with no path to citizenship) and then creating a new and hopefully workable guest-worker program. These are not new ideas, of course, and it seems unlikely that anything will be done until we reach some crisis point in American agriculture--maybe when all of the old farmers die off and no one is there to replace them?

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Vulnerable Population in India--It's a Big Crowd!

The theme of this year's World Population Day was vulnerable populations in emergencies, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. This referred especially to refugees and internally displaced persons, who are disproportionately women and children. But there are a lot of vulnerable people out there on a regular basis, even without having to be part of an emergency. Last week's Economist reminded us of this by highlighting the details of an Indian government/UNICEF nutrition study in India, the report from which the Indian government has seemingly been trying to hide. The report apparently shows substantial progress over time in reducing stunting in India, but there is still a long way to go to bring all Indian children up to the average for the world--right now they are worse off than children in sub-Saharan Africa. 
India’s government has been sitting on the report for months, though it has been ready since at least October. One rumour suggests official concern about the quality of the data, but Unicef has voiced no such worry. Another possible reason is the pride of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who ruled Gujarat for a dozen years. The new data indicate his relatively prosperous state performed worse than many poorer ones.
The RSOC [Rapid Survey on Children] suggests that the proportion of children who are wasted fell from nearly 20% to 15%, and the stunting rate fell from 48% to nearly 39%. Yet still, more than half of children in Uttar Pradesh, a massive northern state, are below normal height. And amazingly, even among the wealthiest fifth of Indian households, more than a quarter of children are stunted. This may be because of sexism: mothers and girls get less food, health care and education than males. Over half of all girls aged 15-18 had a low body-mass index, meaning they were likelier to produce undernourished babies.
Related to these vulnerabilities is the poor sanitation in India--where there are more cell phones than toilets.
India’s age-old habit of defecating in the open—which distinguishes it from many other developing countries—makes matters worse. The proportion of Indians who do this has fallen from 55% a decade ago to 45%, but that is more than enough to help spread diseases, worms and other parasites that make it more difficult to absorb nutrients even when food is abundant. Poor public hygiene may account for much of India’s failure to make faster improvements in nutrition. There is a clear correlation between open defecation and hunger.
Health in India is not a top priority of the current government and despite progress this still means that nearly one in six humans lives in a country where their health is unnecessarily put at risk. That's an emergency of some kind or another. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

World Population Day 2015

January 11th is World Population Day each year (as it has been officially since 1989), although of course every day is world population day in the sense that we add more than 200,000 people to the world's total each day, and that complicates life everywhere on the globe. The theme this year is vulnerable populations in emergencies:
The world is seeing a record number of people displaced by crises – some 60 million according to the latest UN figures. UNFPA works in emergency settings around the globe to respond to the rights and needs of women and girls, helping them maintain their dignity, securing their safety, and restoring their access to sexual and reproductive health care.
Remember that you can visualize the vulnerable population displacements in the maps created by the Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. State Department.

From a more personal perspective, today is also the fifth anniversary of this blog. Thanks to all of you who have sent me links to good ideas to talk about, have commented directly, or have just read and thought about the momentous and transformative issues wrought by population growth and change. The more we know, the better we can cope.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Anti-Abortion Laws Are Ruining Young Girls' Lives in South America

Thanks to Greg Weeks for pointing me to a story today in Reuters about the consequences of anti-abortion laws in predominantly Catholic South America. The story is timed, of course, to coincide with the Pope's visit back to his region of origin and it focuses on an especially egregious situation in Paraguay, where the Pope will be tomorrow:
Pope Francis last year called abortion "horrific." But for the mother of a Paraguayan girl, so too was the rape of her then 10-year-old daughter, who was denied a termination of her pregnancy by doctors and judicial officials.
Every day, two girls aged between 10 and 14 give birth in Paraguay, a landlocked South American country where one in five people live in poverty. Often there is a direct link to sexual violence. 
"My daughter told me there was nothing wrong, but no doubt because she was terrified, because he threatened her," sobbed the girl's mother, who cannot be identified in order to protect her daughter, now more than seven months pregnant. The former partner of the girl's mother is accused of the rape.

Paraguayan law permits abortion if a mother's life is endangered. In this instance, a panel including medical doctors, psychologists and judicial officials determined that the life of the girl, now 11 and less than five-foot tall, was not at harm.
I know that there are people in the US who would like similar laws in this country, but personally I cannot imagine the mean-spiritedness (and, in my opinion, completely un-Christian point of view) of an adult who would condemn a child to becoming a mother--and to the child of her rapist to boot! These kinds of laws, accompanied by widespread lack of access to contraceptives among young women, help to explain the high rate of teenage pregnancy throughout Latin America. As I recently noted, the availability of contraceptives brings down the teen birth rate and dramatically lowers the demand for abortion, but you still need to have abortion available to rape victims and others for whom contraception was not available or did not work. That's just how the world should work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The US Chamber of Commerce Does Not Care About Your Health

Now, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that an organization devoted to business interests is only interested in business, but I admit that I was surprised when the New York Times uncovered the fact that the US Chamber of Commerce has been trying to get rid of anti-smoking campaigns in other countries in order to sell US tobacco products. Now, in what we can only hope will be the start of a larger movement, CVS Pharmacy, which recently dropped tobacco products from its stores for health reasons, has resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce.
“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”
The evidence is conclusive that tobacco use is harmful to your health. To ignore health science in favor of a business making money is not only wrong, it is bad economics. A healthy population is economically more productive and that is what everyone should be working towards.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Guess What? Contraception Keeps Teens From Getting Pregnant

Thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing me to a story in the NYTimes about the success of a program in Colorado to give teenagers long-lasting contraceptives. Young women jumped at the chance for free and confidentially provided contraception and the teen birth rate and abortion rate plunged in almost textbook fashion.
Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?
They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.
The problem, though, is that the program was funded not by the state, but rather by a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s late wife. That money is about to come to an end, but the state legislature has very shortsightedly chosen not to fund it. Sadly, we still live in an age where too many people think that teenagers should just say "no" and if they don't, they must live with the consequences. That's not good for anybody. The article quotes Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution.
“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control is a powerful tool to prevent it.
I bought her book when it came out last year and I highly recommend it. History teaches that many teenagers will drift into sex unless there is a lot more supervision than most parents are willing or able to generate. But that shouldn't mean that they have to have their lives derailed by an unintended pregnancy. We are all better off with programs like the one in Colorado and state legislators everywhere need to step up to the challenge of making sure that they exist.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

It Isn't Easy Being the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere--and by quite a bit. Data from the PRB World Population Data Sheet suggest that per person income there (in PPP) is $1,710 per year. The next closest is Bolivia at $5,750. Haiti's income is comparable to several countries in West Africa, such as Sierra Leone at $1,750 or Burkina Faso at $1,560. Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, whose per person income is several times higher at $9,800 per year. And therein lies the problem. Haitians have been migrating illegally to the Dominican Republic for work, but this has created a backlash, as the New York Times reported. The government has been registering these undocumented immigrants and plans to deport a great many of them.
The Dominican government’s threat to deport Haitians has been popular domestically, playing on the frustrations many Dominicans feel toward their poorer neighbors on the island of Hispaniola. 
The politics are pretty straightforward. President Danilo Medina recently announced his campaign for re-election next year. Many praise his efforts to register migrants and expel those in the country illegally. 
Sporadic deportations have happened, but so far, with the world watching, the Dominican government has not carried out the mass expulsions many Haitians fear. 
Still, the threat of being seized has led more than 31,000 Haitians to leave on their own, according to government figures, opting to cart their belongings across the border rather than risk losing everything in a sudden deportation.
At the moment the two countries have roughly equal populations--both at about 11 million. Both countries are growing at a rate that is probably unsustainable, given the island's resources, but Haiti is growing faster and so there is a constant pressure to do something. One thing that both countries need to do is to have fewer children. Although the birth rate is lower in both places than it used to be, women in Haiti are still having more than 3 children, whereas in the DR they are "only" having 2.5 each. Haiti's infant death rate is the highest by far in the hemisphere (Bolivia is second, not surprisingly), but fertility is still well above replacement level, leading to the projection that by mid-century it could increase to 17 million people, while the DR might increase "only" to 13 million. Investments in both the economy and the population are urgently needed, but neither country seems to be on anyone's wish list for help.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The War on Vaccines is Over in California--Vaccines (and Good Health) Won

It is very easy in the 21st century in a rich country with low mortality to take good health for granted. We know that we need doctors and hospitals when we get really sick or are injured, but for the most part we are healthy. Good on us, right?? Not quite. It is the marriage of public health and medicine that gives us the long lives that we currently have. This has all come about largely within the past 200 years as a result of the application of science to health. It was not magic, and it has nothing to do with us as individuals--except that we are the beneficiaries. One of the early pieces in the puzzle was vaccination--first small pox in the late 18th century, and then many other diseases since then, including measles. And, of course, it was the outbreak of measles from visitors to Disneyland in late 2014 that highlighted the fact that an increasing number of children in California were not being vaccinated. This week, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a law requiring parents to vaccinate their kids:
California children will no longer be able to skip the shots normally required to attend school because of their parents' religious or personal objections. Unvaccinated children will still be able to attend school if there is a medical reason why they're not able to be immunized, such as treatment for cancer.

While all 50 states require school children to be vaccinated, 48 currently allow exemptions for families with religious objections and 20 exempt children based on parents' personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A growing number of parents have opted to delay or skip vaccines because of concerns over safety. Multiple studies have found vaccines to be safe, with no link to autism or other chronic conditions. Myths about vaccines continue to circulate online, however, and are promoted by a number of celebrities.
The law was designed to add responsibility to rights. If you really don't want to have your child vaccinated in California, you must home school them. The point is that humans are social animals, and if you are going to mix with other people and you could infect them, then it is your responsibility to prevent disease as best you can so that you have nothing contagious to spread. If you can't do that--stay home!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ben Wattenberg and the Legacy of Demography Is Destiny

Ben Wattenberg died earlier this week at age 81. He was an amateur demographer, but was influential for several reasons: (1) he regularly showed up on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to battle Paul Ehrlich; (2) he wrote regularly about the "birth dearth" and the need for the U.S. to increase its birth rate; and perhaps most importantly (3) he and his co-author Richard Scammon (a former director of the US Census Bureau) appear to have given us the phrase "demography is destiny" back in 1970, as I have mentioned before in one of the most frequently hit-upon blog posts of mine. 

The phrase caught on and most people, including me, typically add the caveat that while demography may not be destiny in an absolute sense, it certainly it is a key driver of events in the world. If you  read the Population Institute's new report on demographic vulnerability--and I hope you have--you will find the term there, as follows:
Demography is not destiny, but demographic trends do matter and rapid population growth, along with rapid urbanization, can strongly affect a country’s welfare and destiny. Nations with rapidly growing populations can still make gains in eliminating hunger, alleviating severe poverty, coping with water scarcity, minimizing environmental damage and restoring or maintaining political stability, but population growth can make progress more elusive. Rapid population growth, as outlined in this report, is a challenge multiplier and the challenges are already urgent for countries like South Sudan, Niger, Burundi, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia.
That is, in my opinion, not only a correct statement but probably an understatement of the challenge faced by countries with high rates of population growth.