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:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Europe to Turkey: If We Pay You, Will You Keep the Refugees?

The European Union yesterday concluded a deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of refugees out of Turkey and into Europe. The Economist is not sanguine about its likely effectiveness.
At a summit in Brussels on November 29th, the European Union finalised an agreement with Turkey to try to reduce the flow. But the deal looks nearly as patchy as the dinghies migrants are crossing in. The Europeans set aside their worries about the growing authoritarianism of Turkey’s government and promised €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in aid for refugees along with a package of political goodies. These included restarting Turkey’s stalled EU accession process and visa-free travel for its citizens as early as October 2016. In exchange the EU expects Turkey to keep the migrants away.
Perhaps the biggest problem refugees face in Turkey is not lack of benefits, but the inability to integrate. Syrians enjoy “temporary protection” in Turkey, but not full refugee status, meaning they cannot get work permits. “Lack of status is the main push factor” driving migrants to leave, says Metin Corabatir of the Research Centre on Asylum and Migration, a Turkish think-tank.
Most Syrians do not speak Turkish, so they have trouble communicating and their children are not going to school, by and large. In essence, Turkey does not want a huge refugee population any more than do European countries, and so it is likely that the refugees will keep trying to get out of Turkey and head to Europe. Smugglers will quickly adapt to whatever changes are put into place. We get back to the fact that the only way to stem the flow of refugees is to put an end to the fighting in Syria, but no one seems to know how to do that. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What if the Indigenous Population in New England Had Been Resistant to Disease?

During Thanksgiving week last week, PBS aired an American Experience program on The Pilgrims.  Since we were out of town, we recorded it and just watched it. As with most things in history, reality is a bit more grim than the modern-day celebrations would seem to suggest. As a demographer, I was especially struck by something which I mention in Chapter 5 of my text, but do not discuss in great detail: the colonization of the Americas was everywhere aided by the decimation of the indigenous population from diseases brought by the Europeans. Central and South America get the most attention, including in my book, because of the size of their indigenous populations at the time, but it seems unlikely that the Pilgrims would have survived their first winter back in 1620 were it not for the fact that the local native American Indian population had been wiped out by disease contracted from earlier contact with Europeans during the 1619-1619 period. 

The American Experience program ascribes the deaths among the local indigenous groups to "the plague." That term is really just a placeholder for one or more diseases to which the local population had no immunity and therefore suffered badly. One of the references on the program's website is to a paper published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2010 by John May and John Cathey. 
In the years before English settlers established the Plymouth colony (1616–1619), most Native Americans living on the southeastern coast of present-day Massachusetts died from a mysterious disease. Classic explanations have included yellow fever, smallpox, and plague. Chickenpox and trichinosis are among more recent proposals. We suggest an additional candidate: leptospirosis complicated by Weil syndrome. Rodent reservoirs from European ships infected indigenous reservoirs and contaminated land and fresh water. Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans. Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived. Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.
We will probably never know for sure exactly what wiped them out, but it is interesting to contemplate how different the world of today might be if the indigenous population had been resistant to these diseases. The ability to have casinos seems small compensation, albeit more than has been offered to American blacks, as Larry Wilmore points out in the title of his new book.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Did Papa Francis Really Say This?

Pope Francis is in Africa this week, and the NYTimes reports on his speech in a Nairobi slum yesterday:
He lashed out against what he called “new forms of colonialism, which would make African countries parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel.”
Francis said that “countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birthrate.”
He called the slums “wounds” inflicted by the elite. “How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?” he said.
There are few places more apt for Francis, who has cast himself as a champion of the world’s poor, to deliver such remarks. The slum he visited, Kangemi, on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is a seemingly endless rusted-roof settlement where thousands of families cram into iron shacks with ripped mattresses on the floor and cockroaches scuttling in the unlit corners. Many here survive on a few dollars a day.
I've been in slums in Africa and they are, without question, places where lives need to be made better as soon as possible. But lowering the birth rate is a long-term solution to the problem, not an injustice. Indeed, most people would agree that denying women (and men) access to birth control is an injustice, not the other way around.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thinking About Population Growth on Black Friday

It's still Black Friday in my time zone, and even though shoppers are undoubtedly home and exhausted, it is never too late to comment on the frenzy to spend money consuming the earth's resources, whether we need stuff or note. Andrew Revkin, writing for the NYTimes, had some similar thoughts as he contemplated a book that speaks to the whole issue: Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot.
“Over,” formally titled “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot,” explores themes at the heart of this blog — the harms from persistent high fertility rates, consumption for consumption’s sake, disregard for the environmental and social impacts of resource extraction.
But even as I embrace some of the themes and marvel at the imagery, I can’t help recoiling simply because the book’s dimensions and mass clash so primally with its call to stop overloading the planet with too many people consuming too much stuff — stuff like books that weigh almost as much as a Thanksgiving turkey.
Now, I confess to being one of those people possessing a hard copy of the book and it is on the coffee table to remind people of how importantly interwoven population growth is with the sustainability issues we face on the planet. But, as I pointed out when the book was published this past spring, you can view it for free on the internet. I encourage you to do that right now

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

People Are Leaving Ireland--Again!

It was almost exactly five years ago that I commented on the turnaround in Irish migration patterns. Since the mid-19th century Ireland had been a source of out-migration. This was initiated by the potato famine, but high fertility also maintained a supply of people leaving the country and a generally weak economy encouraged them to do so. Here's what I wrote in 2010:
Ever since the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, Ireland had been a nation of emigrants, until the government decided to lower the corporate tax rate in the mid-1990s, drawing in a flood of foreign investment and foreigners themselves searching for new work opportunities. A key to this was that, as a member of the EU, money and people from other parts of Europe could flow into Ireland pretty freely. The economic boom gave Ireland the nick-name of the "Celtic Tiger" and life was good. Or so it seemed. The boom boosted property values and developers borrowed heavily to cash in on the new prosperity. But the worldwide recession has brought all of that to a halt, and the debt--much of which was hidden by the state-owned Anglo Irish Bank--is now a national catastrophe. The predictable result is that people are once again leaving Ireland, although to be fair, most of the evidence thus far is anecdotal, not official.
It took some time, but now it is official. The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, has a new report confirming these trends. This time is a little different than in the past, however, because some of the emigration is just people from elsewhere in Europe returning home or heading somewhere else. And, at the same time, the evidence suggests that the Irish citizens who are leaving are not the down-and-outers of yore, but are likely to be college graduates. 

The tax laws in Ireland continue to be favorable to businesses, however, no matter the demographic trends. That was on display yesterday when American-based Pfizer and Ireland-based Allergan merged into a new Ireland-based company that will now pay billions of dollars per year less into the U.S. treasury. Keep in mind, by the way, that Allergen itself was originally a U.S. firm, "born" in Los Angeles in the late 1940s.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Demographic Destinies as Foreseen by the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal started a series of articles today that focus on the what the world might be like in 2050. It starts out with a story that focuses on the "population implosion" in rich countries. 
Developed world’s working-age population to start declining next year, threatening global growth in decades ahead.
Previous generations fretted about the world having too many people. Today’s problem is too few. This reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility. Yet many of the economic consequences are only now apparent. Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case, economic growth suffers. As a population ages, what people buy also changes, shifting more demand toward services such as health care and away from durable goods such as cars.
The article quotes bankers and hedge fund managers fretting about the future. The future they would like, of course, is unsustainable and we can only hope that it won't happen. When it is in the people's interest to have a small family, and when it is in the planet's long-term interest for the population to stop growing (as folks at the climate summit are realizing), the profits of bankers and others in the financial industry are not the most important things in the world.

The story does circle around the fact that a rise in the age at retirement is, in fact, a good thing and that immigration is not necessarily a horrible thing, no matter what the Japanese (and some US politicians) may think. But the underlying theme is that the future is going to be very difficult to manage because of our low birth rates, and this is not a good thing. I have argued that the best route to successful aging for both people and nations is to work long and save. This article suggests that what we should be doing if we really cared about our economy is having babies and spending money.

The author of the story, Greg Ip, recently moved from the Economist to the Wall Street Journal. I'm guessing that he may have been behind the frequent references to demographic destiny that appeared in the Economist during the time he was there. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Rich Are Getting Older, and Richer

If you have read the essay in Chapter 10 of my text for any of the last several editions, you will be familiar with the analysis by age of the 400 richest Americans, compiled annually by Forbes. They recently came out with their 2015 rankings and it caught the attention of Richard Frank of CNBC, who just wrote about the results for the NYTimes.
In its most recent World’s Youngest Billionaires list, Forbes tallied a record 46 under 40, part of a “youth revolution” in the three-comma club. CNN Money reported this year that a growing share of today’s rich are under 65. “America’s über-rich are getting younger and younger,” the report said. “Call it the Mark Zuckerberg trend.”
Yet new research shows that despite their high profile, the young rich are a minority and the wealthy as a group are actually getting older. A study by Edward Wolff, a wealth expert and economics professor at New York University, found that the median age of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increased to 63 in 2013 (the latest year available) from 58 in 1992.
A study released this summer by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that the median wealth of old families (those with heads of household over the age of 62) rose 40 percent from 1989 to 2013, to $210,000. The median wealth of middle-age families (40 to 61) and young families (under 40) both fell by over 25 percent. “The gap has widened considerably over the past quarter-century — in favor of old people,” the report said.
For the 12th edition I was relying on data from 2013. Not much has changed between then and now, and my conclusion still stands: "The wealthy are disproportionately old, and among the wealthy, it is the oldest members who tend to have the greatest wealth."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

US Says No to Syrians; Mexicans Say No to US

In the wake of last Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, the US House of Representatives today voted to "pause" the projected flow of Syrian refugees into the US. The Senate will have to vote on this soon, and of course President Obama will veto it, but the veto may be overturned. All of this comes amidst fears about refugees that seem widely overblown, given the very different screening processes used by the US compared to Europe, as I have already noted, and is discussed today by BBC News.

In the meantime, Donald Trump popped up again with his call to build a wall across the US-Mexico border after five Syrians were detained in Honduras. But, wait a minute! They were detained--the system works.

Also in the meantime, Pew Research Center came out with new data confirming the trend of more Mexicans leaving the US to return home than coming into the US. The Washington Post covered the story:
Between 1995 and 2000, with the U.S. economy booming, nearly 3 million Mexicans migrated to the United States. Taking out the 670,000 that moved back to Mexico, the result was an increase of over 2 million Mexican residents. In 1990, half of those migrants were under the age of 30.
That is probably still a conception that Americans hold about Mexican migrants: The numbers keep increasing as young men cross the border. But it's not quite right. 
New data from Pew Research reveals that, since 2009, 140,000 more Mexican migrants left the United States than arrived. That's a faster reverse migration than even the period before and during the recession.
The graph below tells the story. Why are people leaving? Mainly to rejoin their families, although a greater number have been deported during the Obama administration than during previous administrations.

It is probably correct to say that although the US is a nation of immigrants, Americans don't like immigrants any more than any other country does. Xenophobia seems to be hard-wired in the human brain.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Has the Syrian Refugee Crisis Closed the Door on a United Europe?

It is possible that one of the consequences of the recent ISIS-supported terror acts (including downing the Russian airliner, the bombings in Beirut, and the killings in Paris) will be to push Europe back to a continent of nation-states, each protecting its own borders. This is the assessment of George Friedman, of Stratfor, in an essay that he shared today with John Mauldin of Mauldin Economics. Friedman's basic thesis is that ISIS (or just IS, as he calls the group) has not been happy about the fact that hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims have been fleeing areas occupied by ISIS, since the group is supposed to be setting up a Sunni Muslim caliphate. They were also not happy about the fact that both France and Russia had recently joined the fight against them. So, revenge against those countries, coupled especially in France with a strategically placed Syrian passport, turned into alarms in Europe about the refugees. This is what Friedman speculates ISIS may have wanted--to show the refugees that they should stay put and live in the ISIS caliphate. However, the consequences for Europe may be deep.
Had Europe been functioning as an integrated entity, a European security force would have been dispatched to Greece at the beginning of the migration, to impose whatever policy on which the EU had decided. Instead, there was no European policy, nor was there any force to support the Greeks, who clearly lacked the resources to handle the situation themselves. Instead, the major countries first condemned the Greeks for their failure, then the Macedonians as the crisis went north, then the Hungarians for building a fence, but not the Austrians who announced they would build a fence after the migrants left Hungary. Between the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, Europe had become increasingly fragmented. Decisions were being made by nation-sates themselves, with no one being in a position to speak for Europe, let alone decide for it.
I have long made the claim that the transnational nature of Europe cannot be sustained. The divergent economic interests of EU countries, some with unemployment over 20 percent, some with it under 5 percent, meant that it was impossible for all of them to live not only under the same monetary regime, but under the same trade regime, which we cannot call free trade with agriculture, among other things, being protected. This would lead to a focus on national interest and on a resurrected nation-state.
This was the fundamental problem of Europe and the migration crisis simply irritated the situation further, with some nation-states insisting that it was up to them to make decisions on refugees in their own interest. The response of Europe to the Paris attacks brought together all of these matters, and Europe only responded when some nations decided to use their national borders as walls to protect them from terrorists.
So, the border checkpoints in Europe are now back in place, as nations take back the control of their borders, reasserting themselves as nation-states, rather than as a united Europe.  We may never know for sure whether Friedman's ideas about the motives of ISIS are correct, but they do make sense.  If they make sense to the governments of individual European nations, we may have witnessed the permanent end of open borders in Europe.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Great Map of the Refugees on the Run

Thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a very cool and informative map of the flow of refugees out of Africa and Middle East toward Europe. The map was put together by an organization in Finland using data from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees. 

In the US there has been an immediate backlash against refugees from Syria based on a passport found near the body of one of the Paris terrorists. My son, Greg Weeks, has a good blog post on the negativity toward refugees today and I recommend it to you.

Americans need to keep in mind that the 10,000 refugees slated to enter the US next year from Syria are already in camps in Lebanon or Jordan and are already in the process of a two-year investigation before they are cleared to come over here. The procedures for entry into the US are very different than in Europe.

Monday, November 16, 2015

ISIS and the Youth Bulge

Today's Morning Edition on NPR has an interview with the journalist who put together a new Frontline report that will air on PBS tomorrow (Tuesday) night on "ISIS Gains a Foothold in Afghanistan". As I listened to the story of young men posing as teachers and trying to instruct children about Jihad, I could only think about the impact of the Youth Bulge that Debbie Fugate (now Chief of the Humanitarian Information Unit at the US Department of State) and I have written about. Here's how we started the book, which was published in 2012:
In January 2011, the Middle East was jolted awake by a revolution in Tunisia that was sparked by the self-immolation of a street vendor. The subsequent collapse of the Tunisian government was followed by the overthrow of the Egyptian and Libyan governments and by popular and often violent demonstrations in Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, and Morocco, to name the more notable places. A common thread in the press from the beginning was that these demonstrations and revolutions were the result of the region’s youth bulge. Here is a representative quote from the National Journal:
"Like Egypt, most countries in the Middle East are experiencing an unprecedented youth bulge. In countries from Morocco to Iran, people ages 15 to 29 make up the largest share of the population. Ominously for the region’s rulers, neither Tunisia nor Egypt, the epicenters of the uprising, is particularly unique in its demographic tilt. Young people represent 29 percent of the population in both Egypt and Tunisia, compared with 28 percent in Bahrain, 30 percent in Jordan, 31 percent in Algeria, and 34 percent in Iran, all of which have faced their own protests. The comparable number in most Western countries is around 20 percent."
And here is our punch line, of sorts:
No matter how you have defined a youth bulge, the underlying reason why it matters is that the young adult ages are unsettled, even tumultuous, in every society, especially for men. It has been said that the “dogs of war” (with no disrespect meant to dogs) are young and male, and, since in most traditional societies males are routinely accorded higher status than females, an increase in the number and proportion of young men in a population creates conditions for change. When that change is revolutionary and violent, young men are almost invariably involved. Christian Mesquida of the LaMarch Research Center on Violence and Conflict Resolution at Toronto’s York University and Neil Wiener, a professor of psychology at York University, note that “[M]en with few material assets may be more inclined to undertake risk in order to increase their access to resources, and competition can be driven to lethal levels.”In other words, men who feel materially oppressed may be more likely to rebel. This is not a new phenomenon, of course. Moller reminds us that “Egypt’s first modern party composed of the youth who rioted in 1919 and became the driving force in the Wafd were, between 1946 and 1952, reproached by the young street fighters and guerrillas, especially students, who themselves were preparing the way for the coup d’etat of the young military intelligentsia.”
The ISIS terrorists are not a random sample of the population. The rapid drop in child mortality throughout the Middle East that was not accompanied by a commensurately rapid drop in fertility has produced this bulge of young people (some of whom, of course, have successfully migrated to Europe and elsewhere), and that is the underlying source of the problem we're facing.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

With Any Luck, Your Children Will Live Longer Than You

The horrific acts of terror in Paris Friday night remind us that tragedy can strike any time, no matter how well planned our life might be. And, of course, the targeted places such as a sports stadium and rock concert are populated more by younger than older people. Still, in the aggregate, it is somewhat reassuring to remember that over the past two hundred the general trend has been for each successive cohort to live longer than preceding ones. Josh Barro of the Upshot in the NYTimes brought this up a few days ago. It is good reminder of a point I make in Chapter 5 of my text, that current life tables calculate life expectancy on the basis of period measures of mortality, whereas cohorts experience different probabilities of death as they go through life. 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, life expectancy at birth in the United States was 78.8 years in 2013 — 76.4 years for men, 81.2 years for women. But I have good news. Those statistics don’t mean what you probably think they mean.
In fact, an American child born in 2013 will most likely live six or more years longer than those averages: boys into their early 80s, girls into their late 80s.
So this statistic [period life expectancy] is useful for measuring the health of a country’s inhabitants, but it’s not useful if what you want to know is how long your new child will live. For that, you need to look at cohort life expectancy, a statistic that adjusts for the fact that death rates tend to decline over time as health and safety improve. According to the Social Security Administration, that’s 83.1 years for boys born in the United States in 2015, and 86.8 years for girls.
As an example, my father was born in 1914, when the life expectancy for males in the U.S. was only 52.0, according to data from demographers at UC Berkeley.  When he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 67 in 1981, life expectancy for males had risen to 70.4. So, he outlived the life expectancy of his birth year, but didn't hit the life expectancy for someone born the year he died. When I was born in 1944, life expectancy for males was 63.6, and I have already lived longer than my father. My paternal grandfather, on the other hand, was born at a time when life expectancy at birth was still in the 40s, but lived to age 85 (dying at a time when life expectancy at birth had risen to 67.0) . Similarly, my maternal grandfather was born into a world of life expectancy in the 40s and lived to age 83 (at a time when life expectancy at birth had risen to 69.6). So, I have exceeded my father's longevity, but have not yet hit life expectancy at birth for a baby boy born in 2013 (76.7) and I have a ways to go to beat my grandfathers. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I'll do the same for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Europe to Africa: If We Pay, Will You Stay?

The European Union has set its sights on a new migration policy--paying African governments to alleviate the motivation for people to leave Africa and head to Europe. Reuters reports that:
The European Union launched a fund for Africa on Thursday with an initial $2 billion to combat the poverty and conflict driving migration to Europe, but African leaders said more fundamental economic change was needed.

With Europeans' attention now gripped by over half a million Syrians and others whose arrival has plunged the EU into crisis, memories have faded of the drowned Africans whose deaths in April prompted the Malta summit. However, EU officials say that African migration presents the greater long-term concern.

Among the biggest concerns in both Europe and Africa is the extent to which climate change, turning vast areas around the Sahara into desert, may set large sections of Africa's fast-growing billion-plus population on the move, both within the continent and north across the Mediterranean.
And, speaking of Syrians heading north, Sweden has just announced border checks in an attempt to slow down the influx of migrants coming to them. BBC News reports that:
Sweden has brought in temporary border checks to control the flow of migrants into the country. It said it took the step because a surge in new arrivals had resulted in a threat to public order.
Tensions in the EU have been rising because of the pressures faced by those countries where most migrants initially arrive, particularly Greece, Italy and Hungary. Many then head to Germany or Sweden - the two nations regarded as the most welcoming to refugees - to claim asylum. Nearly 200,000 migrants are expected to arrive in Sweden this year, more per head of population than any other EU nation.
In the meantime, it seems unlikely that the meetings about to start in Vienna to figure out how to cope with the Syrian mess will yield anything substantial. The face of Syria is changing, albeit in a different way than the face of Europe. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Will Congress Manage to Scuttle the 2020 Census?

Politico has an article noting that the 2020 Census in the U.S. may already be in trouble because of a variety of technical glitches that the General Accounting Office has been pushing it to resolve. The tenor of the article is that things are falling apart at the Census Bureau. 
The 2010 census was remarkably low-tech. Americans couldn’t fill the form out online, despite the fact that high-speed internet had become ubiquitous throughout the country. Census Bureau employees followed up with non-responders by knocking on doors, but their use of basic information, like address lists and maps, was so poor that of the 48 million houses they visited, 14 million were vacant. 
The bureau believes it can save more than $5 billion in 2020 by updating such information, allowing Americans to fill out the survey online, and more efficiently managing labor-intensive follow-up work, such as by identifying vacant houses. In addition, the agency is also working to modernize and consolidate its survey data collection systems.
The article hints at, but doesn't really give proper weight to what most demographers think is the big problem at the Census Bureau--insufficient funding. Terri Ann Lowenthal blogged about this just a few days ago.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives decided it believes in fairy godmothers. The Appropriations Committee capped Fiscal Year 2016 spending on 2020 Census planning at $400 million, less than two-thirds of the President’s $663 million request. Even that was too much for the full House, which cut another $117 million from the Periodic Censuses and Programs account, with a significant chunk presumably eating away further at 2020 Census funding.
This of course follows several years now of inadequate funding, thereby eroding staffing and resources at the Census Bureau. It was chilling to hear Senator Ted Cruz at last night's Republican debate tick off the federal departments he would close if he were elected President. The Commerce Department, which houses the Census Bureau, was on his top five list.

The idea that any country will be better off if we have less data, and lower quality data, is just beyond me, and I genuinely do not understand the members of Congress who continually seek to cut back the funding for the Census and related survey programs such as the American Community Survey.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is Unhappiness a Factor in Rising Death Rates Among Middle Aged Whites?

Tonight's Republican Candidates Debate on Fox Business News featured a lot of discussion about how awful things are for the American middle class. Jobs have gone overseas, and the jobs that remain pay less than in the old days. College is expensive and useless. Income inequality is a real problem. The glib answer, of course, is "Let's Make America Great Again!" There was no real discussion of differences by race/ethnicity, but there was a general theme that we're not happy. That message is, in fact, borne out by the analysis of data recently published by one of my SDSU colleagues, psychology professor Jean Twenge. She is the author of "Generation Me", which focused on people born in the 80s and 90s, but this new study looks at Americans of all ages and examines trends in self-reported happiness over time, drawn from the General Social Survey. The title of the paper tells you what she and her co-authors found: "More Happiness for Young People and Less for Mature Adults: Time Period Differences in Subjective Well-Being in the United States, 1972–2014."
Recent adolescents are happier and more satisfied with their lives than adolescents in past decades and generations; how- ever, adults over age 30 are less happy than their predecessors. While adults over age 30 were once happier than young adults aged 18–29, the two groups did not differ in happiness by the early 2010s, and the positive correlation between age and hap- piness found in past eras disappeared by the early 2010s. Similarly, the happiness advantage of mature adults over adolescents has dwindled. Mixed-effects models show that these effects were primarily due to time period rather than generation/cohort. While previous studies of adults found few time period effects in happiness (Yang, 2008), we find that the time trend differs based on age, with opposite trends for young people versus mature adults.
The time period in which happiness declined amongst adults is eerily similar to the time trend in the rise in death rates among middle aged whites from drugs, poisoning, and suicide, as has been discussed a lot since the Case-Deaton was published last week. You can see this for yourself the graph below. Correlation is not causation, but these findings are provocative, you have to admit.

Monday, November 9, 2015

More Gender Equality is Required for Higher Birth Rates in Low Fertility Nations

Steven Erlanger of the NYTimes has a very good article today reminding readers that in low-fertility societies the best way to bring birth rates back up to replacement level is to increase gender equality in all aspects of society, but especially in domestic affairs. Readers of my book will be very familiar with this notion, which I first picked up nearly 20 years ago in an article by French demographer Jean Claude Chesnais published in Population Development Review (volume 22, number 4, pp. 729-39) in which he contrasted fertility in France and Italy and noted that the lower status of women in Italy was the likely reason for Italy having a lower birth rate than France. Although both countries had opened up educational and labor force opportunities for women, once married, women in Italy were expected to be traditional stay-at-home moms, with little societal support for child care and little in-home domestic help from her husband. This pattern has also prevailed in Asia and helps to explain the very low birth rates in that part of the world, just as it does it in eastern and southern Europe. 

The NYTimes story does not give you that back story, but it is a revealing article nonetheless, with good quotes from Oxford demographers David Coleman, Francesco Billari, and Stuart Gietel-Basten, as well as Swedish demographer Gunnar Andersson.

The story also notes, of course, that the wave of refugees coming into Europe will help to boost the birth rate down the road, although the effect will be relatively small because the migrants will still represent a fairly small fraction of the total population.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Does Insecurity About Retirement Scare Middle Aged Whites to Death?

There have been a few new twists to the story about rising death rates among middle aged whites, especially those with lower levels of education. As the Upshot group at the NYTimes noted today, a researcher at Columbia University, Andrew Gelman, looked at aged-adjusted rates within the 45-54 age group and concluded that at least some of the rise is due to fact that over time the 45-54 age group is more weighted to the older end of that age range, where death rates are, of course, higher. Anne Case and Angus Deaton then produced more numbers to illuminate the problem.
Based on his reading of the more detailed Case-Deaton numbers, Mr. Gelman wrote, “mortality rates among non-Hispanic whites aged 45-54 increased by an average of about 4% after controlling for age.” The increase was 12 percent without the age adjustment, suggesting that age bias accounted for about two-thirds of the increase — but did not entirely explain the increase. 
Ultimately, both sides of the exchange agree on a fundamental fact: The recent mortality trends for middle-aged whites look significantly worse than they do for many other groups. “Their key claim,” Mr. Gelman writes, “is that death rates among middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. slightly increased, even while corresponding death rates in other countries declined by about 30%.”
One impact of this change in interpretation is that perhaps "smaller" issues can explain what's going on. One of the possible explanations is the rise in the use of prescription opioids for pain. However, this week's Economist notes that this phenomenon has not been peculiar to the US. Another issue raised by Case and Deaton in their article is the economic uncertainty over the past decade and half, and they point to retirement funding, in particular:

The United States has moved primarily to defined-contribution pension plans with associated stock market risk, whereas, in Europe, defined-benefit pensions are still the norm. Future financial insecurity may weigh more heavily on US workers, if they perceive stock market risk harder to manage than earnings risk, or if they have contributed inadequately to defined-contribution plans.
The key phrase here is "if they perceive." Another article in the Economist suggests that a large share of people approaching retirement in the United States are not financially prepared for retirement, although to be sure the change from defined benefit to defined contribution (DC) is a factor:
The problem is that many people simply do not save enough in a DC pension. The combined contributions of employers and employees average just 11.3% of salary. This will not generate the same level of pension as a typical defined-benefit plan. The CRR found that the average retirement assets of those aged 50-59 were just $110,000 in 2013, slightly lower than in 2010. This balance will improve over time, since DC plans are relatively new, but there is a long way to go. If pensioners take an (inflation-adjusted) 4% a year from their pot, they will need $250,000 just to generate an income of $10,000.
These numbers should scare all of us, not just those who aren't saving enough. We have an economy that is overly reliant on consumer spending and emphasizes going into debt to do that, rather than saving for the future. None of us will be better off if a lot of people start falling by the wayside in old age.

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Book Out on Spatial Demography

If you are interested in spatial demography, as I am, then you must get yourself a copy of the new book just out titled "Recapturing Space: New Middle-Range Theory in Spatial Demography", edited by Frank M. Howell, Jeremy R. Porter, and Stephen A. Matthews, and published by Springer. Now, I admit that the title may not sizzle, but it's a very good book and I say that not just because I have a chapter in there. Check it out, and put on it on your holiday gift list. 

If you aren't interested in spatial demography, then we need to figure out why not!

Saving Children, Like Saving Forests, Requires Foresight

This weekend's NYTimes Magazine includes a multimedia feature story on "The Displaced" (and thanks to Professor Rumbaut for pointing me to the story). Here's the setup: "Nearly 60 million people are currently displaced from their homes because of war and persecution. Half are children. This multimedia journey tells the stories of three of them." Inside the story the reporters note that: "...these 30 million girls and boys are from all over — Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Honduras, El Salvador, Myanmar, Bangladesh." And what do all of these places, along with Syria and Iraq, have in common? You know the answer--rapid population growth. I noted this issue with regard to Syria more than three years ago, as things were starting to get out of control in that country. Indeed, things were "out of control" before the civil war started because there were too many people and not enough water to go around. So, while we of course have to do everything possible to make life as good as we can for these 30 million displaced children, we also need to have the foresight to give their parents, and then them, access to birth control, so that they can keep family size down to what they and their region can handle.

This kind of foresight and action is what led to the news just out that the reduction of air pollution in North America is finally having the effect of reducing acid in the soil of the continent. Just like demographic processes, these environmental processes are slow to evolve and slow to change course, but the sooner we act, the better off we will all be in the long run.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trying to Explain the Rise in Death Rates Among Middle-Aged Whites in the US

In a comment on my blog post yesterday about the rise in death rates among middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the US, Dr. Pete Pollock points out that the answer is STRESS (his emphasis). I think that he is probably right, but this isn't easy to prove. Exactly what kinds of stress and why does stress erupt in these ways? The authors of the study--Anne Case and Angus Deaton--had an email exchange about the paper with Christina Cauterucci of Slate and, despite encouragement, didn't go beyond the idea that this cohort of people has been experiencing "pain" and have been killing themselves in the process of killing the pain. But this explanation, even if correct, doesn't get at the source of the pain. Interestingly enough, a side-note of the Washington Post article on this issue yesterday noted that the paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science rather than in a medical journal like the Journal of the American Medical Association precisely because the authors could not identify the cause of the trend. No cause, no publication, was the attitude. Angus Deaton noted that this attitude was a bit bizarre:
He compared the response to calling the fire department to report that your house is on fire: “And they say, 'Well, what caused the fire?' and you say, 'I don’t know,' and they say, 'Well, we can’t send the fire brigade until you tell us what caused the fire.' ”
Even if STRESS is the source of pain, where does it come from? We (by which I mean a lot of as yet unnamed people) need to come up with reasonable hypotheses. We could start, for example, with the issue that a lot of presidential candidates, especially on the Republican side, are talking about--the loss of union-based manufacturing jobs in the US. These are the kinds of jobs that young whites without a college education twenty years ago (when today's middle agers were heading into the labor force) might well have used as a ticket to a better-than-average income if population growth in places like China had not come along and sucked the jobs overseas. But, the problem with that explanation is that it doesn't explain the trends among women (who are less likely to be union workers) and among the better educated, for whom the trend is in the same direction, but just not as severe. I don't pretend to have the answer, but we need to give this issue a lot more serious thought.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why Have Death Rates Risen Among Middle Aged Whites in the US?

This story sounds like it comes from Russia, but it doesn't. It comes from recent US mortality data analyzed by none other than Angus Deaton, the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics and his wife, Anne Case, who is also a Professor of Economics at Princeton and a Faculty Fellow of Princeton's Office of Population Research. They just published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that death rates among US whites aged 45-54 has been on the rise (see their graph below). The major contributing causes of death are drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Rates went up faster for those with less than a college education, but the trend exists among all educational groups within the white non-Hispanic population--and for males and females.

The story was widely reported today. The most precise reporting was probably that by Lenny Bernstein and Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post, However, the demographer's favorite has to be the story in the NYTimes where the reporter, Gina Kolata (no, I didn't misspell her name) talked to demographers who had been cited in the research paper, including Sam Preston of the University of Pennsylvania (full disclosure--he was a member of my dissertation committee back when he was at Berkeley) and Ron Lee of the University of California, Berkeley:
“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”
Dr. Deaton had but one parallel. “Only H.I.V./AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” he said.
Ronald D. Lee, professor of economics, professor of demography and director of the Center on Economics and Demography of Aging at the University of California, Berkeley, was among those taken aback by what Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case discovered.
“Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper,” he said. “It seems so sad.”
This is an important story. Where there is this much fire there is also smoke, by which I mean that people are sicker and more likely to be disabled in middle age, even if they aren't dying. We aren't sure yet what explains these trends, but I think there will be a lot of discussion about this over the next days and months.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Saudi Land Grab in Arizona

One of global concerns when it comes to the food supply is the "land grab" by rich countries of land in developing countries. European countries and China, in particular, have leased or bought land to grow food that is then exported back to them rather than being consumed in the poorer countries where it is being grown. On the surface, it seems like a win-win. Farmers in developing nations get some much-needed cash and the wealthy countries get the food they want. However, Lester Brown of the World Future Society, who knows as much about feeding the world as anyone, has suggested that the result may be further economic disparities and even “food wars.” I thought about those things as I listened with some astonishment to a story on NPR's Morning Edition today about a land grab of sorts by a Saudi Arabian dairy firm that is taking place not in a developing nation, but in the Arizona desert here in the US.
Outside of Phoenix, in the scorching Arizona desert, sits a farm that Saudi Arabia's largest dairy uses to make hay for cows back home. That dairy company, named Almarai, bought the farm last year and has planted thousands of acres of groundwater-guzzling alfalfa to make that hay. Saudi Arabia can't grow its own hay anymore because those crops drained its own ancient aquifer.
Reporter Nathan Halverson tells NPR's Renee Montagne that Almarai bought about 15 square miles in the Arizona desert. "They got about 15 water wells when they purchased the property. Now, each one of those wells can pump about 1.5 billion gallons of water. It's an incredible amount of water they're going to be drawing up from that aquifer underground," Halverson says.
The remarkable thing about Saudi Arabia's story is that it'd done something similar in the desert until the water ran out. The aquifers essentially went dry. Ancient springs that were mentioned in the Bible began drying up, and the Saudi Arabian government told its dairy companies to start importing their hay and their wheat from other parts of the world.
It turns out that hay yields in the desert are the best in the United States. You can literally get three or four times as much hay growing in the desert because you have a very long growing season: It's hot, so the hay dries really quickly once you cut it. But the rub here is that you need ... lots of water. The temperatures are so high that it takes a lot more water to keep that barren soil moist for the alfalfa to grow.
It turns out that there is nothing currently illegal about this. But it raises important questions about policy when private landowners--no matter where they are from--are using up the underground aquifers that are essentially a public good. This is a classic tragedy of the commons, and my view is that it needs to addressed quickly--the on-air story (not the written version) indicates that a Saudi firm is about to buy land in Imperial County here in California, just to the east of San Diego, to grow alfalfa for export back to Saudi Arabian dairy farmers. Trust me, we need whatever water is out there as much as do the Saudis.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Migrants, Migrants, Everywhere!

This weekend brought two big migration stories--one from Europe and one from Cuba (and thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for the link to the latter one). OK, first, the drama in Europe, as reported by the NYTimes:
While the flow of migrants to Europe this year already represents the biggest influx from outside the Continent in modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement may continue and even increase — possibly for years to come. “We are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in a recent Twitter posting.

“I don’t think this wave can stop,” said Sonja Licht of the International Center for Democratic Transition. “It can maybe from time to time be somewhat less intensive, we simply have to prepare. The global north must be prepared that the global south is on the move, the entire global south. This is not just a problem for Europe but for the whole world.”
Some of that flow from the global south to the global north is a renewed wave of migrants from Cuba to the US, via Guatemala and Mexico. The Miami Herald has this story.
A new exodus of Cubans is underway at this river in Ciudad Hidalgo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Over the past month, hundreds have come across from the border town of Tecún Umán, Guatemala, and those making the journey say many more are on the way.
“We’re leaving in droves,” said one Cuban as he rushed to get away from the river and onto a van that would drive his group to the nearest immigration center in Tapachula, about 18 miles away. “Everybody is leaving Cuba.”
Why are they doing this?
Those fleeing cited several reasons for abandoning the island, including economic hardships and fear that restored diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana will bring an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows most Cubans who make it to U.S. soil to stay. But the primary reason cited for fleeing, migrants said, is simply because now they can. 
New rules that took effect in 2013, which eased strict exit visa requirements, allowing Cubans to travel more freely, have opened a new way out for those who want to abandon the island.
This is a pretty arduous and circuitous journey, of course, considering how close Cuba is geographically to the US. And keep in mind that Ciudad Hidalgo, sitting on the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala, is a human and drug trafficking mecca, of sorts. It also has a bunch of crummy diseases hanging around town, including HIV and Chagas, that these migrants may find themselves exposed to as they pass through. This last observation is based on research currently being carried out by my UCSD School of Medicine colleague, Dr. Kimberly Brouwer.

Read more here:

WhThose fleeing cited several reasons for abandoning the island, including economic hardships and fear that restored diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana will bring an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows most Cubans who make it to U.S. soil to stay. But the primary reason cited for fleeing, migrants said, is simply because now they can.
New rules that took effect in 2013, which eased strict exit visa requirements, allowing Cubans to travel more freely, have opened a new way out for those who want to abandon the island.

Read more here:

Read more here: