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, October 31, 2015

High and Wide, but Narrowing: Life Expectancy in China's Provinces

The big news from China this week was, of course, the transition of the one-child policy to a two-child policy, as I noted earlier in the week. One of the more cogent responses to this was by the editorial board of the New York Times, which asked the reasonable question of why the government didn't just abandon its meddling in reproductive decisions? With luck, it won't make a difference, and we all know that China cannot handle much of an increase in its birth rate because it has a huge aging population--people are living longer and having more babies will make resources more scarce, not more available. The longevity of the Chinese is not spatially even, however. This week's Economist reports on a paper just published online in The Lancet, in which the researchers from the Global Burden of Disease project have created estimates of life expectancy by each province in China. The Economist went to the WHO website and matched up the provincial life expectancy values with different countries around the world and then produced the following map:

There is a large disparity between provinces, but the gap is narrowing. In Shanghai life expectancy is now 83—as good as Switzerland. People in six areas live longer than Americans. The most impressive progress has taken place in the most benighted regions: a child in Tibet born in 1990 had a life expectancy of 56, akin to one of the poorest African countries. This has risen to 70, roughly the same as Moldova, one of Europe’s poorer countries.
As is true in almost every comparison of China by province, the farther west you are the more disadvantaged you are. In the east, people live longer and they have the fewest children, and these areas attract the most migrants. In the west, people live shorter lives, have fewer children, and people are often looking for a ticket east.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

China to End its One-Child Policy

The Chinese government is about to replace its one-child policy with a two-child policy. The NYTimes and other news outlets reports that the news came at the end of a four-day meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee. 
“Improve the demographic development strategy,” said the official communiqué, or summary, of the meeting issued through the Xinhua news agency. “Comprehensively implement a policy that couples can have two children, actively taking steps to counter the aging of the population.”

The decision to replace the one-child policy with a “two-child” one was among the few substantial changes announced by the party meeting. A fuller summary of the five-year development plan is likely to be released in several days, and the full document will be issued only next year.
To be sure, this change in policy has been long rumored, as I noted a few months ago, but it is still an important development. The reality is that it is unlikely to change the demographics of China, but it is a key human rights issue. I and many others have argued for years that fertility in China was already declining when, in 1979, the draconian one-child policy was put in place, and it almost certainly would have continued to decline even without the human rights abuses associated with, among other things, forced abortions. Indeed, we see these same dynamics of low fertility at work in Cuba, as I recently noted, where educated couples who have access to family planning--even if only abortion as the last resort--make responsible choices regarding how many children they can afford to have. And note that abortion is the principle means of family planning in China, Cuba, and in the republics of the former Soviet Union for one simple reason--it is far less expensive than any other other type of birth control method because you only need a trained midwife, not a whole manufacturing and distribution system. This is not a moral issue; it's an economic one in communist countries.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cuba: Demographic Distress or Success?

The NYTimes has an interesting article today on Cuba's demographics, focusing on the low birth rate on the island. The reporter, Azam Ahmed, clearly assumes that a low birth rate, perhaps anywhere, is a bad thing:
By almost any metric, Cuba’s demographics are in dire straits. Since the 1970s, the birthrate has been in free fall, tilting population figures into decline, a problem much more common in rich, industrialized nations, not poor ones.
The demographic crisis is both an economic and a political one. The aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the outside world.
But, wait a second. One of the reasons why the country has a growing older population is because the death rate is so low in Cuba. Life expectancy in Cuba is 78 years at birth, compared to 79 for the United States. Think about that. We complain in this country about how expensive health care is, but in poverty-stricken Cuba your chances of death at any given age are about the same as here. Why? Education is the key, as the article itself notes, quoting a former World Bank economist, Helen Denton.
“Education for women is the button you press when you want to change fertility preferences in developing countries,” said Dr. Denton, who now teaches at Georgetown University. “You educate the woman, then she has choices — she stays longer in school, marries at an older age, has the number of children she wants and uses contraception in a more healthy manner.” 
There is another factor that alters the equation in Cuba: Abortion is legal, free and commonly practiced. There is no stigma attached to the procedure, helping to make Cuba’s reported abortion rates among the highest in the world. In many respects, abortion is viewed as another manner of birth control. 
In Cuba, women are free to choose as they wish, another legacy of the revolution, which prioritized women’s rights. They speak openly about abortions, and lines at clinics often wrap around the building.
Who would have guessed? Educate women and give them control over their reproduction and they make responsible decisions. Now, if only that message had gotten through to people in Haiti... 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Eat Less Meat: Save Your Life and the Planet at the Same Time

The World Health Organization issued a report today concluding that processed meats definitely increase your cancer risk, and all red meats (including pork--even though some people want to call it the "other" red meat) may do the same, but the evidence there is not yet as convincing. BBC News summarized the report as follows:
Its report said 50g of processed meat a day - less than two slices of bacon - increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. 
Meanwhile, it said red meats were "probably carcinogenic" but there was limited evidence. 
The WHO did stress that meat also had health benefits.
The benefits are in the form of protein and some vitamins, although keep in mind that those can all be found in other non-meat sources. More importantly, as I've noted before, cutting back on meat consumption would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up a lot of land to grow food for humans, rather than growing food for animals. And, of course, that gets to arguably the most important reason to give up meat--so we can stop killing animals. Thanks to my older son, John, for pointing me to a story in Slate about Lisa Simpson's becoming a vegetarian for that reason and, in the process, changing the view of vegetarians on TV. 

UPDATE: This WHO report has put the meat industry on the defensive everywhere. In Switzerland, though, the meat industry itself has made the point that the Swiss eat only about half as much meat as do Americans.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Joseph Chamie's Excellent Interpretation of Demography as Destiny

One of the most often viewed posts on this blog is the one on the origins of the term "demography is destiny." The phrase has been around since 1970 and may be a bit over used, but with a qualifier or two it is very apt. So, I was pleased to see the way Joseph Chamie, former Director of the Population Division of the United Nations, used it in a recent opinion piece
Most observers would probably not go as far as some who claim “demography is destiny.” Many, however, would likely concede that demography is way ahead of anything else in second place regarding the destiny of human populations.
There are few people in the world who are more expert on the topic than he is, and he lays out the current global situation with precision.
Among the key demographic revolutions underway perhaps first and foremost is the unprecedented growth of world population. The 20th century saw the beginning of rapid growth with the world’s population increasing nearly four-fold during the past century, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000.
Nearly all of world population growth takes place in less developed regions. India and China alone account for close to one-third of the world’s annual births, 19 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. The increase in India’s population is so rapid that it achieves in 10 days the same demographic growth as Europe over an entire year.
I have copied below a figure that he put together from UN data that are essentially the same as in Table 2.2 in my text, but the histogram is more powerful than the table because it emphasizes the way in which the populations of China and India (probably the most populous in history for centuries) have taken off proportionately since the end of World War II:

 Nearly all of world population growth takes place in less developed regions. India and China alone account for close to one-third of the world’s annual births, 19 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. The increase in India’s population is so rapid that it achieves in 10 days the same demographic growth as Europe over an entire year.
Differential rates of demographic growth are contributing to a New International Population Order. Whereas six of the world’s 10 largest populations in 1950 were more developed countries, today the number is two – the United States and the Russian Federation – and by 2035 the Russian Federation is projected to be displaced by Ethiopia (Figure 1).
He concludes with a comment, the content of which will be very familiar to readers of my book and this blog, that is unfortunately not understood widely enough by the general public:
The revolutionary demographic changes that the world is experiencing are impacting virtually every aspect of human life. Ignoring those weighty consequences and avoiding the needed adjustments to the changing demographic landscapes will significantly impact societal wellbeing. On the other hand, fully acknowledging the revolutionary demographic changes underway and seriously preparing for the anticipated challenges will contribute significantly to improving human existence on the planet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The U.S. Migration Situation in Numbers

Professor Rubén Rumbaut of UCI alerted me a few days ago to a great Frontline story that aired on PBS two nights ago. I wasn't going to be able to watch it, so I "taped it" or "DVR'd it" (actually, it just gets recorded on my cable box somehow or another). If you haven't already watched it, it is a must-see, and here are some highlights from the show's webpage:

* 11.3 million is the current estimate of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
* 5 million is the number of those that are supposed to be protected from deportation by President Obama's executive actions (never mind that President Obama is sometimes called deporter-in-chief--see below).
* 11.8 billion is the number in dollars that undocumented immigrants contributed in state and local taxes in the US in 2012.
* 104 billion dollars is the amount it would likely cost to deport all 11.3 million undocumented immigrants.
* negative 6.4 percent is the probably decline in the economy of the US that would result from deporting them all.
* 1.2 trillion dollars is the amount of decrease in the national debt that could be occasioned by immigration reform.
* 403,563 is the number of undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama administration, allegedly due to the lack of Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform.
* 5 billion dollars is the amount the US government is spending each year on deportations.
* 5.1 billion dollars is the amount likely required to secure the 1,300 miles of our 2,000 mile border with Mexico that is not currently secured.
* 40 is the percent of new eligible voters between now and 2030 who are likely to be Hispanic. Hispanics currently favor candidates in the Democrat party, so you can see why Republicans are not happy about this.

My son, Professor Greg Weeks of UNC Charlotte, will be talking about some of these issues--especially the last one--next week at Charlotte's Museum of the New South for an event they call "NUEVOlution". Be there, if you can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The European Migrant Crisis in Figures

Thanks to Todd Gardner at South Dakota State University (the other SDSU) for pointing out an article last week on the BBC News website that lays out the dimensions of the European migrant crisis. The article picks up data from the United Nations and Eurostat to provide a good overview of where people are coming from and where they are going. The focus is on asylum applications, since we can most easily track those people. You already know the short story--they're coming from Syria and going to Germany--but there is more to it, as the graph and map below show. In the first place, although Syria leads the list of asylum-seekers, Kosovo (technically still part of Serbia, although it claims to be independent) is second, right there with Afghanistan. Albania and Serbia are also on the top ten list, so three of nine below Syria are actually European countries whose residents are seeking asylum elsewhere in Europe. Keep in mind, of course, that Albania and Kosovo have high percentages of Muslim populations, so religion may be in the mix here, along with the fact that the migrants from outside of Europe are passing through these countries to get to Germany and other places, as I've noted before.

Now, the other important graphic from this story is the map of where Syrian refugees (beyond the internally displaced people) are located. We have all seen news reports chastising Middle Eastern countries for not taking in the Syrians. This map tells a very different story.

Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis--we need to keep that in mind as we continue to contemplate the Mess in the Middle East.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

World Statistics Day--You Can Count on It!

Today has been World Statistics Day, as declared by the United Nations. Gathering good data is fundamental to the entire scientific endeavor that has taken place especially with the dawning of the Enlightenment in Europe in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that people didn't use data before that (a census is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, after all), but almost every aspect of the modern world is driven by data. Data keep getting "bigger" as our data emitting and receiving devices get smaller.

The UN Secretary-General had this message to the world to commemorate the day:
"On this World Statistics Day, I urge all partners and stakeholders to work together to ensure that the necessary investments are made, adequate technical capacity is built, new data sources are explored and innovative processes are applied to give all countries the comprehensive information systems they need to achieve sustainable development."
These are, of course, exactly the kind of data that allowed Angus Deaton to accomplish his prize-winning work. Indeed, I suspect that there has never been a Nobel Prize winner in Economics who did not rely in some important way on government-generated data available to the public to analyze for the public good. Please spread that message to your member of the US Congress the next time there are murmurings about cutting back on the census, the American Community Survey, or any other government data collection scheme. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

China's Left Behind Children

As I discuss in my text, Mao Zedong believed that cities were a source of bad "western" influence and so after the communist revolution he did what he could to keep the people down on the farm. This included the introduction of a household registration system--hukou--which essentially assigns people to live in either rural or urban places. Most importantly, it is designed to keep rural residents out of the city, creating illegal migrants out of those who respond to the supply of jobs in the city, as I have mentioned before. But, as this week's Economist points out, this situation winds up leaving children behind in the rural areas, as their parents move to the city to work.
Over the past generation, about 270m Chinese labourers have left their villages to look for work in cities. It is the biggest voluntary migration ever. Many of those workers have children; most do not take them along. The Chinese call these youngsters liushou ertong, or “left-behind children”. According to the All-China Women’s Federation, an official body, and UNICEF, the UN organisation for children, there were 61m children below the age of 17 left behind in rural areas in 2010. In several of China’s largest provinces, including Sichuan and Jiangsu, more than half of all rural children have been left behind (see map). In effect, some villages consist only of children and grandparents. This is a blight on the formative years of tens of millions of people. Alongside the expulsion of millions of peasants from the land they have farmed and the degradation of the country’s soil, water and air, this leaving behind is one of the three biggest costs of China’s unprecedented and transformative industrialisation.
At its heart, the problem of the left-behind is one of misplaced hopes. Like so many parents, China’s migrants are deferring pleasure now (that of raising their children) for the hope of a better life later (to be bought with the money they earn). One result has been the stunning growth of cities and the income they generate. Another has been a vast disruption of families—and the children left behind are bearing the burden of loss.
The lengthy story is heart-wrenching, and reminds us of the experiences of the many children left behind in Central America by parents working without documentation in the United States. But, in China's case, the problem is home-grown, so the country could readily do something to fix it by getting rid of the hukou system. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Angus Deaton and the Importance of Census Data

As I noted a few day ago, this year's Nobel prize winner in economics, Angus Deaton, does work that is closely related to demography and, in particular, he has relied on census data, among other sources, for his ground-breaking research. The editorial board of the NYTimes picked up on this theme today, making the point that Congress needs to support, rather than strip, the funding for the U.S. Census Bureau and Commerce Department (of which it is a part) more generally.
Reliable data is essential for policy makers. But for years, Congress has cut, frozen or shortchanged the budgets of most of the nation’s 13 main statistical agencies.
House Republicans, for example, have been especially scornful of the decennial census, the nation’s most important statistical tool, and the related questionnaire, the American Community Survey. They have placed prohibitive constraints on the Census Bureau, including a mandate that it spend no more on the 2020 census than it spent on the 2010 census, despite inflation, population growth and technological change.
And it is almost certainly not a coincidence that this same issue came up today in the Census Project Blog by Terri Ann Lowenthal.
Daniel Webster is running to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Not the Daniel Webster who served in the House and the Senate and as Secretary of State. (He died in a tragic horse accident in 1852.) No, this would be the one from Florida who sponsored, in 2012, a successful amendment to eliminate the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). At least the Senate had the good sense not to go along with the “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to policymaking. The House Freedom Caucus, which takes credit for pushing Speaker John Boehner to resign, is backing Rep. Webster for the job. 
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the Census Bureau’s activities, also wants to wield the chamber’s gavel. Rep. Chaffetz assumed his committee’s top post earlier this year, but he’s had a keen interest in the census ever since Utah failed to gain a fourth congressional district after the 2000 population count. That unfortunate outcome, the congressman believed, was due to the Census Bureau’s failure to count Mormon missionaries working abroad when the census was taken.

Rep. Chaffetz co-authored a bill in 2009 (with fellow Utah Rep. Rob Bishop) to require the inclusion of all Americans living abroad in the census. (The Census Bureau includes overseas members of the armed forces and federal employees in the state population totals used for congressional apportionment; the count is done using agency administrative records.) The bill didn’t make it out of committee, possibly because a 2004 congressionally mandated test of an overseas count was cut short after the Government Accountability Office determined that it would be impossible to get an accurate count of private American citizens abroad and that the cost was prohibitive.
These continued attacks on census activity and the American Community Survey are very worrying, and we all need to repeatedly remind our own members of Congress that these data are extremely important to our understanding of how society is working. Sadly, many members of Congress would seemingly prefer not to know. That way they can go on believing whatever they want.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wash Your Hands, and With Soap--I Mean It!

Yesterday, the 15th of October, was Global Handwashing Day. Sorry I'm a day late, but I was busy washing up. Seriously, though, this is a serious issue, as USAID reminds us:
Although many people around the world clean their hands with water, the use of soap is also necessary to more effectively prevent disease.
* Millions of children under the age of 5 years die from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world.
* Handwashing with soap could prevent about 1 out of every 3 episodes of diarrheal illnesses and almost 1 out of 6 episodes of respiratory infections like pneumonia.
Most of the photos and stories are from Africa and South Asia, but this is truly a global issue that each generation needs to learn. In low mortality societies it is easy to forget a key lesson about our low mortality and good health--prevention is always the best medicine. That's why vaccinations are so important, and that is why washing your hands is so important. For years I have sent students off to this website regarding studies of people who wash up (or don't!) at public bathrooms in airports. Kind of creepy and I doubt that things have gotten any better since that study was done. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sorting Out Facts From Fiction in the US Immigration "Debate"

This week's Newsweek has a genuinely excellent and detailed analysis of the reality of undocumented immigration in the US. The author, Kurt Eichenwald, went to the key sources such as Doug Massey and Rubén Rumbaut, among others, to get all aspects of the story right.
To understand the current controversy, look back a few decades. Until the mid-1960s, illegal immigration from Mexico was incomprehensible because the United States was legally admitting about 50,000 Mexicans a year as immigrants. From 1942 through 1964, the United States issued short-term visas for temporary laborers from Mexico, primarily for agricultural work. The system functioned well—some Mexicans became legal residents, more became temporary workers, and very little needed to be spent policing the borders since the laborers were happy to head back home when their seasonal jobs were done. 
But civil rights advocates criticized the program as exploitative, and in 1965 Congress terminated the issuance of the short-term visas, which accomplished nothing. “When opportunities for legal entry disappeared after 1965, the massive inflow from Mexico simply re-established itself under undocumented auspices,’’ says Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. “By 1979, it roughly equaled the volume observed in the late 1950s, only now the overwhelming majority of migrants were ‘illegal.’”
Once immigrants arrive in the U.S. illegally, do they commit crimes? Of course, in any group of millions of people, there will be those who engage in violent felonies, but the numbers here are not statistically significant. Rubén Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, noted in a 2007 report for the Immigration Policy Center (now part of the American Immigration Council) that even though the number of undocumented immigrants doubled from 1994 to the record level of 12 million in 2007, the violent crime rate in America dropped 34 percent, and the property crime rate fell 26 percent. That same report found that Mexican immigrants—including those who entered the U.S. legally and illegally—had an incarceration rate in 2000 of 0.7 percent, one-eighth the rate of native-born Americans of Mexican descent and lower than that of American-born whites and blacks of similar socioeconomic status and education.
Eichenwald discusses the fact that the real crime wave related to immigration is the $6 billion per year human trafficking industry. Those folks have a strong interest in keeping the current system in place, but are probably already figuring out how to charge people to get around any new wall that might be proposed.

This is a lengthy article and I highly recommend it. Not only does it lay out the fallacies of the current policies being promulgated by right-wing politicians, in particular, it also makes a case for seeking a solution--going back to where we were in 1963 and moving forward in a different direction than we did back then.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lessons From India For How Europe Might Cope With Demographic Diversity

I think it is likely that the average westerner thinks of India as relatively homogeneous--lots of people, to be sure, but largely Hindu with respect to religion, and largely speaking the Hindi language. Europe, on the other hand, is culturally and demographically diverse, with lots of different languages and backgrounds, albeit predominantly Christian with respect to religion. And that diversity of European cultures has shown its head recently, as Europe has tried to cope with the onslaught of refugees, not to mention economic issues like the Greek bailout. But, wait just a minute says Amit Mukherjee, professor of leadership and strategy at IMD in Switzerland,. He is a colleague of my older son, who linked me to Professor Mukherjee's recent op-ed piece about what Europe could learn from India's history of diversity.
Europe's diverse population will impede the creation of a "US of Europe". India, which has comparable diversity, can teach much. But will Europeans be willing to learn from an emerging economy where corruption is rife? They should. Indians have got a lot wrong, but they got this right. 
There are parallels:
* The EU must unify very diverse peoples. In a few years starting in 1947, India integrated 600 independent and semi-independent kingdoms and the erstwhile British India, and consolidated them into language-based states. There are 29 today.
* Both the EU and India have 24 official languages. Indians who speak these languages live in an area which is three-quarters the size of the EU's. Because half of India can't even recognise the other half's alphabets, educated Indians of different linguistic backgrounds talk to each other in English, an official language.
* India has greater religious diversity than Europe. It has more Christians than all but five EU countries, and more Muslims than all but two countries worldwide.
* Like Europeans, Indians swear by their states' cultures and foods.
Now, you might object to all of this because Europe is not trying to become a unified nation. But is is trying to become a unified something, and learning to live with demographic diversity rather than demonizing it is probably a good place to start. That's the lesson from India.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Angus Deaton's Nobel Prize in Economics Has a Demographic Connection

The Nobel Prize in Economics was today awarded to Angus Deaton, a Professor of Economics at Princeton. Although the thrust of his work has not been specifically in population studies, he has nonetheless been highly influential in research that demographers undertake. If you look at demography journals, or my text, or this blog, you will find constant references to development and well-being--how do we measure these things, so that we can try to improve people's lives? Deaton made key contributions to these analyses, as summarized in today's NYTimes:
“To design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement announcing the prize, the last of this year’s crop of Nobels. “More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding.”
Professor Deaton has been at the forefront of a revolution made possible by computers: the use of detailed economic data to produce more accurate conclusions about broad economic trends. He has worked both to improve measurement techniques and to use those tools to pose basic questions about improving human welfare.
Professor Deaton was himself a member of the Population Association of America (PAA) and an indirect measure of Professor Deaton's influence on demography is that one of his former students, Duncan Thomas, is also a prominent demographer who has served on the Board of Directors (including as Vice-President) of the PAA.
“What he’s shown is that you do learn a great deal more by looking at the behavior that underlies the aggregates, “ said Duncan Thomas, an economist at Duke University who also numbers among Professor Deaton’s former students
Professor Thomas said he also admired Professor Deaton’s clarity of thought. “His capacity to present ideas that are incredibly complicated in a way that mere mortals can understand is truly extraordinary,” Professor Thomas said. “He will bring evidence to the table in a way that makes you say, ‘Well of course that has to be right’ and then you hit your head on the table and say ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”
That kind of clarity is rare in the world and absolutely is worthy of a major prize. My own mentor, Kingsley Davis, regularly turned the light bulbs on in that way and it is very inspirational.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Health of the Global Aging Population

The World Health Organization has put out a new report on global aging and health, hoping to generate a strategy for dealing with a growing population of older people everywhere in the world. Keep in mind that this is a good problem to have. More people living to old age and to increasingly older ages is a symptom of how well we've been able to battle death over the years, especially over the past few decades. But the bigger issue is the health of these folks. How will we treat illnesses and deal with frailty and dementia and other problems associated with aging? The WHO has a plan, as outlined by the press:
The WHO is proposing a five-step plan of action, which includes:
1. Committing to healthy aging and "evidence-based policies to strengthen the abilities of older persons."
2. Aligning health systems with the needs of older populations
3. Developing systems for providing long-term care
4. Creating "age-friendly cities and communities"
5. Improving measurement, monitoring and understanding of "aging issues" worldwide.
These are pretty vague goals, but the report does have specific steps that can be taken. One of the important things that has to happen is that we have to focus on behaviors that younger people engage in that create problems for them as they get older. Diet is one thing, of course, and the increased consumption of meat and processed foods among younger people is a recipe for poor health in the older years. Most important, though, is to stop smoking. Today's Guardian summarizes a paper from The Lancet about smoking in China.
“About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit,” said the article’s co-author Zhengming Chen from Oxford University. 
China consumes over a third of the world’s cigarettes, and has a sixth of the global smoking death toll.
China is also on the road to having the largest population of older people in the world, so this is going to be a big issue for them. Resources in China are going to have to be diverted from buying precious metals to buying health care for older men with pulmonary disease and heart disease and all of the other problems associated with smoking. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Doug Massey on How Politics Can Trump Theories of Migration

Readers of the last several editions of my population text will be familiar with the set of migration theories laid out over the years by Doug Massey and his collaborators. Readers of my text and of this blog will also be familiar with Massey's recognition of the fact that the steep rise in the number of undocumented immigrants in the US was not predicted by migration theory. Rather, it is an artifact of the political decision in the US to militarize the US-Mexico border, thus effectively eliminating the circular migration that used to exist between Mexico and the US. The more tightly sealed border trapped millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, because it is now too expensive and dangerous to go back and forth as previous generations did subsequent to the end of the guest-worker programs just before the 1965 Immigration Act was passed.

Now Doug Massey has laid out the story of how migration theory has been trumped (no pun intended--but it fits) by politics. Thanks to Philippe Bocquier for pointing out a paper published last month by Massey in Migration Letters. The consequences of this have been enormous, as Massey points out in his concluding paragraph:

The transformation of Mexican immigration from circularity to settlement and its geographic spread throughout the United States between 1986 and 2008 has transformed the social demography of the United States, increasing the percentage of Latinos to 17.3% and making them by far the largest minority group in the United States. Moreover, no matter what the future of Mexican migration might be, this transformation is already built into the demographic structure of the United States for in 2012 less than half of all U.S. births were to non-Hispanic whites while a quarter were Latino (Passel, Livingston, and Cohn, 2012). This remarkable transformation arose from a dynamic socio-political process that was completely untheorized by prevailing models of international migration but which in two decades will nonetheless turn the United States into a “minority-majority” nation in which European origin whites no longer predominate.
So, the point is that when politicians complain about these changing demographics, they have to recognize that the explanation lies with politics and cannot be explained away as events that were beyond the control of politicians and now, finally, must be dealt with by politicians. At the same time, of course, it is the long-term decline in Mexican fertility that is drying up the stream of migrants. That is a demographic phenomenon over which American politicians thankfully had very little influence.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nobel Prize For Battling Parasites

The remarkable battle against death that we've been waging for the past two hundred years has lots of heroes and the Nobel Prize committee just recognized three of them, as reported in USAToday:
Three scientists from Ireland, Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries that helped doctors fight malaria and infections caused by roundworm parasites. 
The Nobel judges in Stockholm awarded the prestigious prize to Irish-born William Campbell, Satoshi Omura and of Japan and Tu Youyou — the first ever Chinese medicine laureate.
You will recall that there are three major types of communicable disease mechanisms--bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We most successfully battle bacterial infections with antibiotics, viruses with vaccinations, and parasites with (a) avoidance of the vector such as mosquitos; and/or (b) medicines to kill the parasite once it has attacked our body. 
Campbell and Omura were cited for discovering a drug that has helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, two diseases caused by parasitic worms.
Tu discovered a drug that has helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients [the powerful malaria drug artemisinin--widely used throughout Africa, in particular]. 
The two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immensurable.”
Two hundred years ago there was were essentially no places on earth with life expectancy above 40 years. Today, a quick glance at the PRB World Population Data Sheet shows that lowest life expectancy of any country is 49 years in Swaziland--a small African kingdom beset by a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. The global average is 71 years. The work of these three prize winners, among so many others over the years, is why we have made such progress. This is science at its best.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Demography of Asian-Americans

The Economist has a lengthy story this week on Asian-Americans with the provocative title "The model minority is losing patience." This major point of the story is that at least some Asian-Americans are not happy that their academic success up through high school has not been matched by high levels of acceptance to Ivy League universities. Much of the story, though, is a review of the genuinely remarkable success of Asian-Americans, told with considerable assistance by reference to the work of U.S. demographers. The article first reports on a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Amy Tsin of CUNY and Yu Xie, who was at the University of Michigan when the paper was published but has since moved to Princeton University. [Note also that The Economist incorrectly refers to Ms Xie, rather than Mr (or more appropriately Dr) Xie.]
[They] examined the progress of 6,000 white and Asian children, from toddlers through school, to find an answer. They rejected the idea that Asians were just innately much cleverer than whites: there was an early gap in cognitive abilities, but it declined to insignificance through school. The higher socioeconomic status of Asian parents provided part of the explanation, but only a small part. Their data suggested that Asian outperformance is thanks in large part to hard work. Ms Hsin and Ms Xie’s study showed a sizeable gap in effort between Asian and white children, which grew during their school careers.
The Economist then moves on to reference a book by social demographers Jennifer Lee of UC-Irvine and Min Zhou of UCLA.
In “The Asian American Achievement Paradox”, a study based on interviews with young Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, as well as Mexicans, whites and blacks, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou argue that it is not just what happens at home that matters. They point to “ethnic capital”—the fact that these groups belong to communities that support education—as part of the explanation.
The article also references a book published by Princeton demographer Tom Espenshade and his former PhD student Alexandria Walton Radford:
Some Asians allege that the Ivy Leagues have put an implicit limit on the number of Asians they will admit. They point to Asians’ soaring academic achievements and to the work of Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford of Princeton, who looked at the data on admissions and concluded that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at a private university, and that blacks need 310 fewer points. Yet in California, where public universities are allowed to use economic but not racial criteria in admissions, 41% of Berkeley’s enrolments in 2014 were Asian-Americans and at the California Institute of Technology 44% were.
In the end, the article suggests that Asian-Americans are at a point in history where they need to become more involved in the American political system. 
As Jerome Karabel’s study of Jews and the Ivy League (“The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton”) shows, it was only when Jews had gained political power that the Ivies stopped discriminating against them. And Asian-Americans are under-represented in politics as well as in business. Only 2.4% of the 113th Congress were Asian-Americans; by one count, fewer than 2% of state legislators are.
Becoming political may well be the final stage of assimilation and it is likely to benefit not only the Asian-American community, but the broader American society as well. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Economics of Demographic Aging

If we're lucky, we'll all live long lives. But how well will we live in those older years? That depends. And in the answer to that question we find some complicated economic problems. Last week's Economist raised some of the issues:
THE population of the developed world is ageing. Everyone knows that it is happening but no one is sure what it will mean. A new paper from Morgan Stanley, part-written by Charles Goodhart, a former member of the Bank of England’s rate-setting committee, along with Manoj Pradhan and Pratyancha Pardeshi, suggests there may be dramatic economic impacts.
In particular, the paper suggests that the greying population may reverse three long-term trends: a decline in real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates, a squeeze on real wages and widening inequality. That is because those trends were driven by previous demographic shifts; first, the entry of the baby boomers into the workforce after 1970 and second, the more than doubling of the globally integrated workforce as China and eastern Europe joined the capitalist system.
Baby boomers produced a genuine demographic dividend for North America and Western Europe, but that dividend is drying up as boomers age and cheaper labor takes their places. These trends have heightened inequality in the rich countries, particularly because they have pushed down interest rates, increasing the value of assets already owned by the rich. This was aggravated by the Chinese, where a "relatively closed financial system and lack of a social safety net created a savings glut that added to the downward pressure on real interest rates."

The attempt to fix the poor Chinese safety net was on display today in a paper out of Yale University, where the author, Professor Xi Chen, notes that in 2009 China instituted the New Rural Pension Scheme, to help the older population. It is not very generous, but it is enough money to allow the children of the rural elders to leave home and get a job elsewhere--so much for filial piety, as I've noted before. 

But Americans cannot be very smug, either, about well-being in old age. A report in May from the General Accounting Office noted that:

Many retirees and workers approaching retirement have limited financial resources. About half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings (such as in a 401(k) plan or an IRA). According to GAO’s analysis of the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances, many older households without retirement savings have few other resources, such as a defined benefit (DB) plan or nonretirement savings, to draw on in retirement.
Very few businesses offer defined pension plans any more. That has lowered the cost of doing business and, in the process, has also exacerbated inequality. In the country with the highest average per person income, we have become accustomed to spending money, rather than saving it and of course the low real interest rates have unfortunately lowered the incentive to save, while the cheap wages now going into products lower their prices thus increasing our incentive to buy things. Can we get out of this loop? The Morgan Stanley report thinks that interest rates are about to rise, and that will be a good thing. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Positive Spin on Global Changes

The United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals have ambitious aims and while I (and many others) have been critical of the low level of emphasis on population growth, Nicholas Kristof spent time in today's NYTimes reminding us of the positive things that have happened in developing nations over the past few decades. It is not war and disease all the time, although those things continue to threaten us, and we can't let our guard down. Nonetheless, we need to acknowledge the good stuff going on.
• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.
• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.
• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.
But Kristof ends on what I think is a false premise:
There’s one last false argument to puncture. Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates.
Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. Indonesians, 2.3. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.
I personally do not know anyone who thinks that saving lives is pointless. The point is that as we save lives we must spend equal effort making sure that women are having children at the same rate as is consistent with the declining death rate. We demographers call this the net reproduction rate (NRR)--the number of girl children a woman has that will survive to reproductive age. Historically the NRR has been very close to one. As mortality has dropped, the NRR has risen well above one, and that is why we have more than seven billion people now, when there were "only" one billion people a scant two centuries ago. We can't emphasize enough that it is much easier to get people to reduce the death rate (we'll set aside the anti-vacccinators for the time being!!) than it is get people to limit fertility.