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.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Spatial Demography Lessons from Mexico

This week's Economist has a wide-ranging, but generally optimistic assessment of changes taking place in Mexico. They point out, though, that there are two Mexicos: the modernized, industrialized, higher income states and residents (a minority of the population), and the poor Mexico (the majority), with people living without infrastructure and working in the informal sector. They divide this roughly into the north and south, but even their own map shows that, while the north/south divide does exist in Mexico, the country is more complex than that. Part of the complexity is a factor that the Economist ignores--demography. Life expectancy is nearly as high in Mexico as in the United States (despite the fact that that the average Mexican pays far less for health care than the average American--according to OECD data) and fertility is dropping to levels nearly as low as in the U.S. According to data from the Mexican government, the average woman in Mexico in 2013 (the most recent data) was giving birth to only 2.2 children (just barely above replacement level)--a drop from 2.6 in 2000. Indeed, fertility has been below replacement level in Mexico City for a number of years. The drop in fertility, of course, helps to explain the dramatic slowdown in migration from Mexico. There are fewer young people and that helps the economy, and the better economy increases the chances of finding a job in Mexico, rather than having to cope with the increasingly dangerous and expensive undocumented migration to the U.S.

But the birth rate is not evenly low throughout Mexico, even though it is lower in every state now than it used to be. I created a state-by-state map of the TFR in Mexico for 2000 from the INEGI data, and you can see that fertility is very low in Mexico City and especially in states closer to the US-Mexico border. I used data for 2000 instead of 2013 for the map because these data will reflect the youth population of today--the group of people needing to be absorbed by the Mexican economy. The state of Guerrero, just to the south of Mexico City (albeit over the mountains), and the state of Coahuila, bordering south Texas, had the highest fertility levels in 2000 (as they do still now). So, proximity to the engines of modernization (i.e., Mexico City and the US) does not ensure low fertility. At the same time, the lowest levels of fertility are generally found in Mexico City and its surrounding areas, and along the rest of the US-Mexico except for Coahuila. But you can also see that fertility is below average in the Yucatan peninsula. As the Economist rightly notes, it is the combination of geography and culture that matters, and that is the essence of spatial demography.

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