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:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Encouraging Poor Americans to Move to Better Places: The Prequel

Yesterday I blogged about an idea (a "new Homestead Act") aimed at encouraging poor Americans (a disproportionate share of whom are African-American) to move to another place where life can be better for them. My son, John, very adroitly produced for me an article by Malcolm Gladwell from the New Yorker back in August, that very nicely sets the table for the discussion of the New Homestead Act, including a few comments about Chicago, which I mentioned largely in passing in yesterday's blog.
Black Americans are much more likely to stay in place and much less likely than whites to engage in what the sociologist Patrick Sharkey calls “contextual mobility”—moves significant enough to change circumstances and opportunities. Robert Sampson once mapped the movement of African-Americans participating in a Chicago housing experiment over a seven-year period starting in the mid-nineteen-nineties, and the graphic consists of tight clusters of very short lines—spanning a few city blocks, or extending one or two neighborhoods over. How often do African-Americans from the poorest neighborhoods of the South Side leave the city of Chicago? “Rarely,” Sharkey said.
But the story is largely about the African-American diaspora from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. 
If a group of poor Americans are stuck in a bad place, then either the place they are stuck in needs to be improved or they need to move to a better place. Over the years, there have been numerous efforts to advance the second of these approaches—experimental projects, government initiatives —but they have been hard to execute on a large scale. Then came the storm.
That disaster (which had a combination of natural and human-induced causes) forced people to find new lives elsewhere, especially in Houston. Guess what? Life is better for most of them. The obvious point is that since we cannot (and should not!) go around creating disasters, something like the New Homestead Act, which provides national, rather than just state or local resources for relocating, is something that genuinely makes sense.   

Monday, December 28, 2015

How Do We Get People in the US to Move to Where the Jobs Are?

The history of human migration is that people move to find work. If there aren't enough jobs where they are right now, or the jobs don't pay enough to live on, you go somewhere else. That is essentially the reason why there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US--they came to find work (well, OK, most came to find work, while others accompanied those finding work). The other major reason for migration is that life is too dangerous where you are, so you go somewhere else less dangerous. That accounts for much of the migration from Central America to the US, and it accounts for much of the migration out of the Middle East into Europe. In the latter case, the violence led to a loss of jobs, and the combination led to migration. 

These examples are from international migration, but they should apply equally to migration within a country. So, the question would then be: Why is anyone still living in south Chicago, where crime and violence is high and jobs are hard to come by? Henry Olsen, writing for the has an answer and a solution. This is a long and complex article and I cannot do it justice in a short blog post, but let me give you the barebones argument. Setting aside Chicago for the sake of the argument, it is of course the case that a lot of people in the US do move to where better jobs are. The better educated you are, the more likely this has happened to you. But, especially among people with only a high school education or less, the local safety net of welfare services discourages people from moving. Olsen argues, though, that the answer is not to get rid of safety nets. We just need to nationalize them, if you will. Currently, unemployment benefits, health insurance, and other kinds of benefits available to people who are either unemployed or underemployed are provided at the state or even local level and are not readily transferable from place to place. So, it is scary to pack up and move somewhere else unless you have some kind of iron-clad good job in the new location, which most people do not. Indeed, most people who really could use a job elsewhere have no way of knowing about jobs in other places, nor the resources to go there and interview for a job, nor the resources to move even if they were offered the job.

As a reminder, then, here's how Olsen sets up the problem:
The Homestead Act of 1862 is one of America’s best-known and beloved laws. By giving away federal land for free to anyone who settled and cultivated it, the act enshrined the governing principle of the newly ascendant Republican Party: government should act to help the average man help himself build a better life. Together with the Land Grant College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, the Homestead Act placed the federal government squarely on the side of the average American in his or her quest to live in comfort and with dignity. 
Today we have no frontier, no untapped source of federal lands. We do, however, have the same issue the Homestead Act tried to solve. Millions of low-to-moderately skilled, native-born and immigrant Americans live in places where they can’t find decent work while a vast new economic frontier unfolds in Southern and Western states such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina. These wide open spaces are enticing enough to encourage millions of Latin Americans to undertake dangerous and expensive journeys, yet millions of other Americans remain mired in ghettoes, depressed steel towns and struggling regions like Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta.
The solution of the "new" Homestead Act is aimed at giving people resources to find jobs elsewhere. The idea is as simple as that. Of course, changing the laws that would create such a structure won't be easy, but the idea is so crazy, it just might work.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Status of Women is a Key "Demographic" for the Future

Today I read one of my Christmas presents--"Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue" by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. It is an extremely good, albeit troubling, book. It is an exchange between an avowed atheist (Sam Harris, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA), and a "reformed" Islamist (Maajid Nawaz) who was recruited into extremism as a teenager in Britain, but later completed his education at the University of London and LSE and is working to help bring Islam peacefully into the modern era. It is clear that dialogue is necessary, but worrying that the task is not a simple one. Of course, the mess in the Middle East regularly teaches us that lesson. However, I kept seeing an issue in the conversation that resonated with me, as I think it does with all demographers--the status of women. Most--but not all--religions in the world have sanctioned the subjugation of women by men. In my mind the key to the future is for every society to get to the point of genuine legal and social equality of men and women. This is the path to the best kind of civil society, and it is the path to demographic stabilization.

The status of women is obviously not just an issue with Muslims. It is a cultural issue throughout the world. That was reinforced by, among other things, a Christmas present that my wife received: "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante. That is the pseudonym of an extremely successful Italian writer. Although her identity is unknown to the public, she did recently consent to an email interview with a writer for the Financial Times. Here is one of her comments that really struck me:
I grew up in a world where it seemed normal that men (fathers, brothers, boyfriends) had the right to hit you in order to correct you, to teach how to be a woman, ultimately for your own good. Luckily today much as changed but I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority. Maybe this is because the milieu that shaped me was backward. Or maybe (and this is what I tend to believe) it's because male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished, even with death, for their insubordination.
Remember that these kinds of issues among Italian immigrants to New York City (largely coming from southern Italy, keeping in mind that Ferrante is from Naples) were what motivated Margaret Sanger a hundred years ago to find methods of birth control that women could use, so that they didn't have to choose between a beating from their husband or an unwanted pregnancy. It took us a long time in the US and most of Europe to boost the status of women, but these kinds of traditional attitudes hold back progress everywhere we go in the world. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Migrant Status Update

As I noted yesterday, the flood of migrants into Europe in 2015 has exceeded 1 million people. BBC News covers the story, and has a good summary and a few helpful maps. However, a much more detailed status update has just been made available by the Humanitarian Information Unit of the US State Department. There is a lot of detail in what amounts to one screenful of information, so you need to take your time over this. One thing that struck me, in particular, was the following graph of the age/sex demographics of registered migrants:

Although the focus in the media is often on women and children, the vast majority of migrants to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular, are young adult males. The refugee camps in places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are teeming with women and children, but it is largely the men who are undertaking the journey to Europe. The expectation, of course, is that once settled there, they will be able to bring family members over to join them. In other words, the current flow is just the beginning...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Enjoy the Holidays--You're Going to Have to Work Longer!

It isn't news to anyone familiar with demography that most populations around the world are aging. In general that is a good thing because it is what always happens when life expectancy increases (that increases the number of people reaching old age) and the birth rate decreases (increases the fraction of the population that is in the older ages). As with anything in life, however, problems occur if you haven't planned for these changes, and most human societies have not done very well when it comes to coping with aging populations. Joseph Chamie, former director of the UN Population Division, reminds us of this in a new article that should be read by all policy-makers in the world.
In 1950 when world population was much younger, with a median age of 23, the global potential support ratio was about 12 people of working age per one person aged 65 years or older. Today, the world PSR has declined to eight and by the year 2050 is projected to decline to four. Although the ratios for individual countries show considerable diversity, the overall trend is both unmistakable and striking: fewer people of working age per elderly person than in the past.
What to do? Chamie reviews various policy options, including the one of "replacement migration" that he made famous when he was at the UN. But not every country wants immigrants--thus the concern over the one million Syrian and other Middle Eastern and African refugees and migrants that headed to Europe in 2015. Other policy alternatives include cutting payments to older people, or cutting other budget items, such as defense, in order to maintain payments to the older population. Chamie offers another approach that I have mentioned before (indeed, it is one of my most popular blog posts) and which is the most reasonable approach, in my view. Raise the retirement age. 
Raising the statutory retirement age simultaneously increases the working age population and reduces the elderly population. Raising the age threshold for the elderly from 65 to 70 years, for example, increases the global PSR from 8 to 13 people of working age per one elderly person – roughly the 1950 level. 
Similarly, to maintain current PSR levels into the future, countries must lift the threshold for the elderly population. To preserve the current global PSR of eight to midcentury, for instance, the threshold age for beginning old age would need to be 73 years. For some countries, however, even higher age thresholds for the elderly would be required to maintain current PSRs through midcentury, such as 80 years for South Korea and 79 for China.
The graph below shows the numbers for select countries:

Of course, this is easier to say than do, but we need to get going on it!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Good News for US Demography from the Budget Resolution

An email from the Population Association of America a short while ago confirmed what I had seen from other sources regarding the recently passed omnibus appropriations bill--things didn't turn out as badly as feared--so that's good news (or, at the least, the absence of bad news).
In two significant respects, the overall picture that has emerged is very positive: first, nearly every agency of interest to the PAA received an increase over FY 2015 funding levels; and second, the final bill did not include problematic language, including provisions that would have adversely affected the American Community Survey and the National Science Foundation Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate.
The caveat here is that the bill only keeps the government running through fiscal year 2016, which actually ends on 30 September 2016, so it won't be long before Congress is at our throats again on these issues. And, when that happens, we will be into the last stages of the run for the White House, so that could spell trouble in a variety of ways. However, on a more positive note, I have to think that Paul Ryan has been doing a much more effective job as Speaker of the House than John Boehner ever did in keeping the eyes of Congress on what is important for the country. We all know that the collection of the best data possible about the population and economy is essential for policy-making. Some members of Congress are obviously threatened by reality, and this battle for sane budget decisions has not been laid to rest--it is just getting a much needed breather.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

MPI's Top Ten Migration Stories of 2015

This is the time of year when we all tote up what's happened in the past year, and try to make sense of it by ranking things from high to low in some manner or another. I tend to do that on New Year's Day, but the Migration Policy Institute in Washington yesterday created their list of the top ten migration stories of 2015. The timing coincided, of course, with International Migrants Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations.
  1. Migration Crisis Tests European Consensus and Governance
  2. Displacement Reaches Record High as Wars Continue and New Conflicts Emerge
  3. White House Uses Many Levers of Power to Effect Change as Obama and Congress Remain Deadlocked on Immigration
  4. Big Business of Smuggling Enables Mass Movement of People for Enormous Profits
  5. Governments Increasingly Restrict Citizenship
  6. Refugee Crisis Deepens Political Polarization in the West
  7. Climate Change and Natural Disasters Displace Millions, Affect Migration Flows
  8. A Shared Challenge: Europe and the United States Confront Significant Flows of Unaccompanied Child Migrants
  9. Border Skirmishes Resonate in National Domestic Politics
  10. Shine Wears Off Investor Visa Programs as Questions about Economic Benefits and Fraud Lead to Reforms
I have focused attention on #s 1, 2, and 8 (with a focus mainly on the US), and a bit on 4 and 5. We'll see in a few days how the migration stories compare with other stories in terms of popularity among readers of this blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

China's Household Registration System Gets an Overhaul

A couple of months ago, I commented on an article in The Economist detailing the plight of "left-behind children" caused by the rigidities of the hukou household registration system in China. A few days ago, the Chinese government announced that it would be lightening things up at least a little. The NYTimes fills in some details.
 Migrants can apply for a residency permit if they have lived in the city they are applying in for a certain time and have a stable job, place to live or are studying, a statement posted on the Cabinet's official website said. Permits will enable them to access benefits including basic health care and children to have nine years of compulsory education.
While all cities must follow the new policy, cities can enact their own regulations according to "local conditions," the Cabinet said. This is likely to mean that big cities like Beijing will continue to be encouraged to control their population and have more stringent criteria for residency.
The latter caveat may be crucial. If cities where migrants really want to go decide not to loosen the reins on the household registration system, then the policy may just be a bit of window dressing. It will go into effect on 1 January, so time will tell if this really makes life better for rural to urban migrants in China.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A New Influx of Unaccompanied Minors from Central America

Thanks to my son, Greg, for reminding me of the stories of a new influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America. This came to light a week or so ago, but got buried by other news. Indeed, last Wednesday, my PhD student, Elizabeth Kennedy, was quoted in a story on KPBS here in San Diego.
She has calculated the number is higher than any other nation not at war. She described the situation in Central America as dire. Much of the violence is attributed to the gangs; maras in Spanish.
As Greg points out, though, while violence is high and generally seems to be getting higher, it is not clear that this current wave of more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors being apprehended at the border is caused by a new wave of violence, as implied by a story in today's Washington Post:
But the violence that was a key factor in driving people to leave has surged again. El Salvador’s homicide rate, for example, is now at its highest since the country’s civil war ended in 1992, after a truce between two prominent gangs broke down last year. A drought across the region has also helped spur departures, but experts point to violence as the primary cause.
“These children are especially vulnerable. They are not fleeing because they can’t find a good-paying job. They are fleeing because of violence,” said Carmen Chavez, executive director of the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, which has provided legal services to more than 800 unaccompanied minors this year. “It’s a humanitarian crisis that has been building. It blew up last year, and the situation hasn’t changed.”
The New York Times adds a bit of geographic detail:
The young people are coming mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and several factors seem to be causing their rising numbers. The biggest increase recently is in young people from El Salvador, where violence by brutal international criminal gangs has proliferated. 
One of the things that has changed since last year is that new border enforcement by Mexico (aided by the US) has made it harder for migrants to get through Mexico to the US Border. So, the journey has become more difficult and expensive, playing right into the hands of people smugglers who are almost certainly in cahoots with the other criminals making life miserable in Central America.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Science Has to Overcome Biology to Give Us a Longer Life Expectancy

Here and Now this morning on NPR had a very interesting conversation with Lee Goldman, who is Dean of Medicine at Columbia University. He has just published a book titled Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survivor Traits Are Now Killing Us. At first, I thought he might just be parroting the things about the nutrition transition that Barry Popkin has been teaching us for years, as I recently noted.  Yes, there is that, but he has other points to make, as well. Here are the highlights:
Too Much of a Good Thing focuses on the four key human survival traits, without which we wouldn’t be here today:
Appetite and the imperative for calories. Early humans avoided starvation by being able to gorge themselves whenever food was available. Now that same tendency to eat more than our bodies really need explains why 35 percent of Americans are obese and have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Our need for water and salt. Our ancestors continually faced the possibility of fatal dehydration, especially if they exercised and sweated, so their bodies had to crave and conserve both water and salt. Today, many Americans consume far more salt than they need, and this excess salt combined with the same internal hormones that conserve salt and water are the reasons why 30 percent of us have high blood pressure — significantly increasing our risks of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.
Knowing when to fight, when to flee, and when to be submissive. In prehistoric societies, up to 25 percent of deaths were caused by violence, so it was critical to be hypervigilant, always worrying about potentially getting killed. But as the world got safer, violence declined. Suicide is now much more common in the United States than murder and fatal animal attacks. Why? Our hypervigilance, fears, and worrying contribute to a growing epidemic of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress — and the suicides that can result.
The ability to form blood clots so we won’t bleed to death. Because of their considerable risk of bleeding from trauma and childbirth, early humans needed to be able to clot quickly and efficiently. Now, with the advent of everything from bandages to blood transfusions, blood clots are more likely to kill us than excessive bleeding. Most heart attacks and strokes — the leading causes of death in today’s society — are a direct result of blood clots that block the flow of arterial blood to our hearts and brains. And long car rides and plane trips, unknown to our distant ancestors, can cause dangerous and sometimes fatal clots in our veins.
The punchline of the interview is his comment that our biological makeup is designed to ensure that we live to age 25 (the mean age of reproduction), so we have to overcome those traits in order to live longer. Don't think you can do this on your own! Keep taking your meds...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Latin America Leads the World in Out of Wedlock Births

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to an NPR story this morning highlighting a new compilation of data from Child Trends in Washington, DC. The report maps family forms around the world, at least for countries for which such data are available.
Latin America is now the region that has the highest percentage of children born out of wedlock. In Colombia, 84 percent of all children are born to unmarried mothers. Argentina, Mexico, Chile and other countries throughout the region have similar numbers, with well over half of all children born outside wedlock.
In less than a generation in Argentina, the traditional definition of a family has given way to new interpretations. And it's happening at all economic levels — educated, middle-class women are now among the many choosing to have kids alone or in an informal union.
Keep in mind that consensual unions (informal marriages--the precursors to "cohabitation") have been common in Latin America for centuries, especially among indigenous populations. But the situation here is a step back from formal marriages, partly because of the rigid marriage and divorce laws enacted throughout Latin America based on Catholic principles. Couples, but especially women, want more flexibility than the law allows and it is hard to argue with that. On the other hand, it is still worrisome to think about increasing fractions of children being raised in what may be a one-parent household.  Last year I commented on a very good book by Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution called Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage. Her focus is on the U.S., but her concerns about unmarried motherhood are universal across human society.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Move Over World--Africa is Coming Through

A few days ago I discussed a recent National Academy of Sciences report reviewing the persistently high fertility rates in Africa and what that means for population growth in the region. Although this week's Economist does not refer to that NAS study, it nonetheless has a lengthy story on Africa's population that is very useful for readers. They interview only one demographer--John Bongaarts from the Population Council--and since he was one of the people responsible for the NAS report, I am going to infer a connection. No matter, this is important stuff, and cannot be spread around enough.
If the new projections are right, geopolitics will be turned upside-down. By the end of this century, Africa will be home to 39% of the world’s population, almost as much as Asia, and four times the share of North America and Europe put together. At present only one of the world’s ten most populous countries is in Africa: Nigeria. In 2100, the UN believes, five will be: Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger. 
Although much could change in the next 85 years, none of those countries is a byword for stability or prosperity. A quadrupling of their population is unlikely to improve matters. If nothing else, the number of Africans seeking a better life in Europe and other richer places is likely to increase several times over.
And the story offers a nice and brief explanation of what needs to be done to slow down Africa's population growth as much as possible:
There seems to be just a handful of prerequisites for a falling fertility rate: a modicum of stability and physical security, some education (especially for women) and wide access to contraception. The faster these conditions are met, the faster birth rates come down...Counter-intuitively, war, famine and other disasters tend to boost population in the long run, by keeping fertility rates high. It is only when parents are confident that their children will survive that they risk having fewer of them.
It is not yet clear to me that these patterns of population growth were actually taken into account in the climate change accord that was finalized yesterday in Paris. Clearly the world needs for economic development in Africa to be fueled by solar and wind energy, not by fossil fuels. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Widening Disparities in Wealth and Health

I have blogged fairly often over the years about inequality. The topic received a huge boost a couple of years ago with Thomas Piketty's book Capital and despite the criticism he first received for suggesting that maybe the rich should pay a bit more in taxes to provide opportunities for more people, the idea has stuck around and people are paying continued attention to the issue of inequality. Using data from the Current Population Survey (and, yes, Congress--you need to keep funding the Census Bureau!!) Pew Research has just produced another reminder of the increasing income inequality in the US by focusing on the share of the economy taken up by the "middle class." The graph below tells the story:

At the same time that income inequality has been increasing, so has the inequality in life expectancy between the rich and poor. Back in September the National Academy of Sciences produced a report outlining this sad story, and the graph below from coverage by the Washington Post tells the story:

In a previous blog post, I outlined my own view of the demographics underlying the decline of the US middle class, and in another one I outlined my view of the solution. These new data confirm my thinking on this issue.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Making Sense of Polling Data

The 1948 Presidential Election in the US ended, for awhile, the non-probability public opinion polls in the US. Dewey did not win, as predicted by the polls, and President Truman famously held up the newspaper with the headline that Dewey had won. Oops! That helped push probability sampling to the fore and for a few decades pollsters had people answering their land lines and responding to surveys, but of course those days are past. The science that now goes into public opinion polling is the science of weighting the responses you do get so that the results mean something--we hope. Don't take any polling numbers too seriously without having first read Nate Silver's now classic book The Signal and Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don't. And, of course, you need to keep up with his FiveThirtyEight website, where yesterday he noted the following, in reference to Donald Trump's ability to stay atop among Republican candidates despite saying outrageous things:
Put another way, the media’s obsession over the daily fluctuations in the polls — even when the polls don’t predict very much about voter behavior and don’t necessarily reflect people who are actually likely to vote — may help enable Trump.
If you really want to dig into the polling numbers, there is a resource available to you. My wife discovered this for me this morning. She is a former elected official herself and has an intense interest in politics. The site is called Morning Consult Intelligence. You have to register for the site, but then you have free access to a treasure trove of US public opinion polling data, allowing you to decide for yourself what are the strengths and weaknesses of the interpretations of these data that you constantly see in the media. They also give you the ability to download data or create figures on the spot that you can use in lectures or other presentation. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Demographics of Trumpish Xenophobia

I assume that by now everyone in the world has heard that Donald Trump thinks that the U.S. should not be admitting Muslims into the country. While every right-thinking person abhors this kind of xenophobia, it is obvious that the message hits home with many of his supporters. Trump supporters appear to be disproportionately, male, older, lower income, with less education. Importantly, they are not the most conservative politically, so it is not right-wing politics per se that drives their support. In many ways they support a population with characteristics of the US not unlike those into which Donald Trump was born right after the end of WWII. He is rich and well-educated (at least well-credentialed), but in the early post-WWII era--up to Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Immigration Act of 1965--the biggest demographic differences were white/black, and Protestant/Catholic. The rich were not that much richer than the rest of us, and the well-educated were much rarer than they are today. Immigrants were rare and those you saw were likely to be from eastern or southern Europe.

The combination of the baby boom and the end of the immigration quotas produced a demographic dividend that drove the US economy forward into the 21st century. That is coming to an end, and people are looking around for someone to blame. Enter xenophobia. According to 2014 American Community Survey data that I just downloaded and analyzed from at the Minnesota Population Center, 78% of the US population aged 65+ is white non-Hispanic, but that drops to 71% for those aged 50-64 (a rough approximation to the boomers), 59% percent for those aged 30-49 (ages that were more affected by the ending of the immigration quotas), 56% at ages 18-29, and 52% at ages under 18. You probably don't need to look much farther than those numbers to know why there is at least some support for Trump, just as demographic changes in France have fueled anti-immigrant sentiment there.

There are roughly one million legal immigrants to the US each year, most of whom are not Muslim, but of course the mess in the middle east puts them front and center. I have been amazed the past few days at the exaggerated accounts of how many Muslims there are estimated to be in the US. The best estimate from Pew Research is about 3 million, well less than the 6-8 million that I have heard routinely mentioned in the media. Pew also estimates that only about 10 percent of immigrants to the US are Muslim. But, of course, if you want to raise a fuss, that's all you need, and Donald Trump obviously wants to raise a fuss.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Populations at Risk in India--Welcome to the Secondary Cities Project

Terrorism has been front page news for several days now and as important as that is, you probably are not giving it much thought if your house has just been flooded out. In South India last week millions of people were cut off from basic services, thousands were left homeless, and hundreds were killed by rain that is described by The Guardian as the heaviest downpour in a century. Keep in mind, of course, that a hundred years ago the southern part of India was considerably less populated than it is now (although it was still pretty densely populated even back then).
Prime minister Narendra Modi, who has blamed climate change for the deluge, travelled to Chennai to see the rescue effort. “The government will stand by the people of Tamil Nadu in their hour of need,” Modi told reporters, promising £100m for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The country’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, told parliament: “Chennai has become a small island. This is unprecedented.”
Stories like this tend to get buried in the news because they are not affecting the biggest and most influential cities in a country. The Office of the Geographer of the U.S. State Department has stepped up to help us keep track of populations at risk in these places in its new "Secondary Cities" project. They currently have a case study of Cusco on their website, but more will come. Keep checking it out.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Abortion Terrorism

The horrific shooting in San Bernardino by a couple who may have had terrorist intent drew media attention away from the equally horrific shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last week, which was part of a long-term trend of violence toward abortion providers and women seeking abortions. Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1972 and a report this year from Pew Research shows that a majority (albeit a slim one) of Americans agree that it should be legal.
When asked directly about the legality of abortion, 55% of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 40% who say it should be illegal all or most of the time. In both cases, these figures have remained relatively stable for at least two decades.
The problem is that some of those who do not think it should be legal have been taking the law into their own hands for a long time, with the obvious intent of intimidating both providers and those women who might be seeking an abortion. What does this feel like if you're on the receiving end? It's not nice, as Dr. Warren Hern, Director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Boulder, Colorado has recently recounted in an online story.

I've known and admired Dr. Hern for a long time, although not in his capacity as a physician. He also holds a PhD in Anthropology and has written extensively about the very high levels of fertility among the Shipibo Indians of Peru (probably higher even than the Hutterites). Indeed, readers of the 5th through 10th editions of my text will have been treated to some of those stories. A more recent focus of his work with the Shipibo is to show that humans may have an innate capacity to overuse resources. We might seriously call that a form of environmental terrorism.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Barry Popkin's Take on Sugary Drinks--Don't!

More than anyone else, Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, brought us the concept of the nutrition transition. You'll find a discussion in Chapter 5 of my text. Modern society is transitioning away from real food and drink to processed food and drink, and the addition of sugar is a big part of the processing in both food and drink. But especially the latter. Popkin, whose doctorate is in Economics, does not just talk about this, however. He does something about. As he discusses in this Lancet podcast, he and his colleagues have helped Mexico design a tax on sugary drinks and they are studying its impact. There are also some big changes taking place in the marketing of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods in Chile. Latin America is second in these problems behind the US, the UK, and Australia and New Zealand largely because the sugary drink people have been in Latin America longer than in Asia or Africa. 

Like most people, I have a sweet tooth. So does my German Shepherd. But we all have to watch it. My wife and I grew up in a world where we drank water and milk (and fruit juice) at home and that's what was on offer at schools. As Popkin points out in the podcast, that all changed starting in the 1980s. I've been to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta (and there's one in Las Vegas, too), but our health requires that we keep those sugary drinks in perspective. Indeed, from my perspective, the best drink that Coca-Cola makes around the world is clean water. Before I leave the US I always check to see the name of the brand of water that Coke processes in the country to which I'm headed. Unfortunately, that's not what the company is famous for.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Africa's Population Growth Remains a Global Issue

The National Academy of Sciences has just released a new report on "The Determinants of Recent Trends in Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Workshop Summary." This summarizes the work of a panel of demographers that met this past summer to assess where Africa is heading. The focus is on fertility, but that of course underlies everything else that is going on. Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region of the world with higher than average fertility and lower than average economic growth. This is not a good combination. There are a lot of important details in the report but the following comments from John Cleland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine really struck me:
Sub-Saharan Africa is also already the region of the world with the largest prevalence of
undernourishment, Cleland explained, with 32.7 percent of the region’s population having had insufficient nutrition in the years 2011 to 2013. To meet the needs of a growing population, the region will need to double its food availability over the next 35 years, he said. 
This will be difficult, Cleland explained. Agriculture accounts for 64 percent of
employment in the region, but 80 percent of farms are less than 2 hectares in size and ownership rights are often insecure. Yields are not improving and 95 percent of crops are dependent on rain, as opposed to irrigation. Seventy percent of arable soil is degraded and the region currently imports 31 percent of its cereals, at a cost of $30 to 50 billion annually. He noted the possibility of ameliorating some of these problems, but added that many countries have reached the limits of their capacity. The ratio of the agricultural population to arable land will likely increase, he explained, which will in turn lead to overexploitation of fragile land and further soil degradation. As farms become smaller, the possibilities for innovation and the production of surplus will decline. The insecurity of many farmers’ tenure on their land is a further disincentive to invest in long-term improvements. The biggest threat, however, comes from the erratic rainfall patterns and increases in temperatures that have already begun as a result of global climate change.
And if the graph below doesn't get your attention, nothing will:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Has South Korea Forgotten the Source of its Economic Miracle?

An article in today's NYTimes by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Korean writer (Choe Sang-Hun) extols the virtue of a small rural county in South Korea where the fertility rate has risen above replacement level.
For three consecutive years, Haenam, a farming county at the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, has had the highest fertility rate in South Korea, a rare bright spot in a country some doomsayers predicted would become “extinct” in several centuries if it maintained the same birthrate, one of the world’s lowest at 1.2 children per woman. 
Haenam is the only South Korean county whose birthrate of 2.4 children per woman is above the “replacement level” of 2.1 children, a rate that allows a society to maintain its current population without migration.
OK, let's get real here. In the first place, history teaches us that we should never believe any population projection that takes us out "several centuries." The entire human race might be extinct in a few centuries, who knows??

But the main point is that nowhere in the story does the reporter acknowledge that the South Korean government knew what it what doing in pushing the birth rate down. That provided the demographic dividend that allowed the country to take off economically. The country might now be well served by replacement level fertility (the UN Population Division estimates that the current TFR is 1.3 children per woman), but a rise to 2.4 in the entire country would probably be disastrous.