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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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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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.

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