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, February 28, 2017

Will Trump Push for Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants?

A story today from the NYTimes suggests that the Trump administration may be willing to go along with a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious crime.
President Trump, signaling a potential major shift in policy, told news anchors on Tuesday that he is open to a broad immigration overhaul that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” the president told the TV anchors at the White House, according to people present during the discussion. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the private meeting.
When Ronald Reagan successfully proposed such an idea the concern was that legalization would simply encourage a new flood of undocumented immigrants to fill in the low income jobs that might be vacated by people with newly legal status. However, the demographic conditions are very different now that they were then. The birth rate has fallen steadily in Mexico (and in much of the rest of Central America) and Mexico no longer has a huge population of young adults needing to find work. Work has come to them at least partly because of NAFTA, if the truth be known, exemplified by news yesterday on NPR that a ball bearing plant in Indianapolis will be moving its 350 jobs from Indiana to Mexico, because of the difference in pay. One of the goals of NAFTA at the time the legislation was passed was to create a "wall of jobs" that would keep people in Mexico. That and a lower birth rate have, in fact, done precisely that. In the meantime, the economy of the U.S. would almost certainly be much better off with the kind of immigration reform that includes a path to legalization for people already here and participating in the labor force.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2020 Census in the U.S. Needs More Financial Support

Tomorrow is the day that the Trump administration will start its roll-out of next year's budget, featuring a talk by Pres. Trump to Congress on the topic. The discussion today is that more money will go to Defense spending at the expense of other government funding. Among the things that really need more money, not less, is the U.S. Census Bureau as it gears up for the 2020 census. This issue caught the attention of the editorial board of the Washington Post a few days ago, and it came to my attention from the Census Project. Here's what the Post has to say:
IN HIS confirmation hearing last month, Wilbur Ross noted he may be the first secretary of commerce nominee who was once a U.S. census taker. Those skills could come in handy right about now: A recent report indicates the 2020 Census is in trouble.
Mr. Ross, who as a business-school student served the Census Bureau as an enumerator in Boston, is scheduled to see a confirmation vote next week. If it is a yes, he should get to work immediately, looking to the report published this month by the Government Accountability Office that includes the decennial among its list of “high risk” operations.
There is a reason the Founding Fathers saw fit to make the census part of the Constitution: The national head count is critical to a functional democracy. Not only is it a vital research tool, but also the census determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives and how district lines are drawn. Any doubt about the data’s validity could cause a crisis in the redistricting battle which will follow the census and affect the elections in 2022 — which is why it is essential that the bureau gets it right.
The census may be the most important thing in government that no one talks about. That the 2020 report could lack integrity would be worrying on its own, and it would be even more so under an administration that has repeatedly displayed a disdain for data. Saving the census would give Mr. Ross an early opportunity to prove that he, at least, cares about accurate numbers.
Keep in mind that the President can propose a budget, but ultimately it has to be approved by both houses of Congress. So, this thing that "no one talks about" needs to be talked about to our elected representatives as the budget process moves forward. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spain Appoints New "Sex Tsar" to Help Raise the Birth Rate

Thanks to Todd Gardner at the other SDSU (South Dakota State University) for pointing to a story in yesterday's Independent that Spain has appointed a person whose job it is to help raise that country's birth rate. To be sure, Spain has now begun to depopulate as more people die than are being born, and the country is also experiencing net out-migration. Birth rates are, of course, low throughout southern Europe. In fact, the PRB World Population Data Sheet shows that there is no other region with lower fertility--not even East Asia. What will the 'sex tsar' do? Well, first, she's going to come up with a plan...
In response and faced with an impending population crisis, the government has appointed Edelmira Barreira to the position of sex tsar.
The portfolio was created by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Ms Barreira, a demographic expert, will help draft a document for a national strategy of demographic imbalances.
Theorising why the birth rate was so low in the Mediterranean country, Rafael Puyol, of the IE Business School in Madrid, said people are often too tired after a full day at work and blamed long working hours and late nights for the decrease. He said: “They do not help with making a family. Then a child arrives and it is even worse.”
It's not clear why Rebecca Flood at the Independent asked for the opinion of a business school professor for the story, but with luck, Ms. Berreira knows better than that. I can find no details about her demographic background, but she is currently a senator in Spain's parliament, and the official name is not 'sex tsar' but Demographic Challenge Commissioner.

As I've noted often before, most recently just a couple of weeks ago, getting fertility levels up closer to replacement level almost certainly requires a shift in the cultural attitudes towards women's responsibilities at home. When husbands help out at home, and companies and the government provide child care for working mothers, the birth rate goes up. I doubt that sexual frequency is the problem, unless abstinence is the only means of birth control being used (not likely!). Gender roles are the real culprit.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fewer Immigrants Because of Brexit Could be a Big Cost for the U.K.

This week's Economist surveys the potential cost to the economy of Britain of pulling out of the European Union and, in the process, lowering the level of net immigration. You will recall that at after the Brexit vote, polls indicated that keeping people out was a major motivation for voting in favor of Brexit, although that was a bigger issue for people who did not live in immigrant-prone areas than those who did, as I noted at the time. The Economist puts the actual immigration numbers in perspective:
Despite the continuing influx, net migration into Britain is hardly out of control, at least compared with other rich countries. On average annually it amounts to about three times the attendance at a Manchester United football match. Compared with their population, Ireland, Australia and Canada see far more new arrivals.
But British concern about immigration has little to do with raw numbers. Even in 1995, when net migration was well under 100,000, two-thirds of Britons wanted it cut. No reference to immigration appeared on the ballot paper, but politicians believe that the Brexit vote represented a desire to “take back control” of the country’s borders. Since then Mrs May and Amber Rudd, the home secretary, have repeated a long-standing commitment to cut annual net migration to the “tens of thousands”.
The story goes on to list the various ways in which lower rates of net immigration would wind up harming the British economy. Although she is not mentioned, the list is clearly reminiscent of the policy paper published by demographer Jane Falkingham of the University of Southampton prior to the Brexit vote. The Economist notes that a major issue is that the aging population of the U.K. is helped along by working age immigrants.
As it stands, the flow of people into and out of Britain tilts the numbers favourably, improving the dependency ratio. Britain exports old, creaky people and imports young, taxpaying ones. More than 100,000 British pensioners live it up in sunny Spain; meanwhile, up to 100,000 working-age Spaniards brave the British cold.
With low net migration, Britain’s elderly would be more burdensome. Workers would need to be taxed more heavily to pay for care for their elders. The government’s fiscal watchdog suggests that by the mid-2060s, with annual net migration of about 100,000, public debt would be roughly 30 percentage points higher than if that figure were 200,000. Taking back control comes with a whopping bill.
So, this is a classic case of "be careful what you ask for." Demographic change everywhere in the world--not just in the U.K.--also means that "you can't go home again" in the metaphoric sense. We all have to come to grips with that fact.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

South Korean Women Projected to Have World's Highest Life Expectancy by 2030

A new study out of London, just published in The Lancet, projects that women in South Korea will have the highest life expectancy at birth by the year 2030--possibly reaching 90 years. Why is this the case? BBC News carries the story:
"South Korea has gotten a lot of things right," Prof Majid Ezzati told the BBC News website. "They seem to have been a more equal place and things that have benefited people - education, nutrition - have benefited most people. "And so far, they are better at dealing with hypertension and have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world."
When I first saw the headline on the BBC website about projected increases in life expectancy, I admit to having been a bit skeptical--until I saw that Professor Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London had organized the research. I have known him for many years and he is very good. Among the many other important things he's done, he's been closely involved in the Global Burden of Disease project headed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The paper in The Lancet is actually a great case study for doing cutting edge demographic research on health and mortality. They applied Bayesian modeling to current age-specific mortality rates to calculate life tables with given probabilities of the results being as projected. 

Given the current controversy in the U.S. over the Affordable Care Act, it is very sad--even if not surprising--that the life table projections suggest that the U.S. will move to last among the rich countries in terms of life expectancy for males and females.
"They are almost opposite of South Korea," added Prof Ezzati. "[Society in the US is] very unequal to an extent the whole national performance is affected - it is the only country without universal health insurance. "And it is the first country that has stopped growing taller, which shows something about early life nutrition." The US will be overtaken by Chile, where women born in 2030 will expect to live for 87 years and men for 81.
The lessening of the life expectancy gap between men and women is almost entirely due to the lower rates of smoking among younger men. Women had never smoked as much as men, and as smoking has become less common among men, they are enjoying longer lives. Indonesia--last bastion of the Marlboro man--needs to pay closer attention to these trends.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cuba Offers Grandparental Leave to Boost Birth Rate

Thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a story by Nick Miroff of the Washington Post detailing a new policy from the Cuban government that gives working grandparents some paid leave to take care of their grandchildren. The goal, of course, is to help raise the island's low birth rate.
The island already has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the Americas, allowing mothers and fathers to take more than a year off from work at partial pay. The new decree extends those benefits to maternal and paternal grandparents. But so far, such attempts haven’t brought any sort of Cuban baby boom.
And they aren't likely to since Miroff points out that the average state salary in Cuba is only $20/month. That, combined with ready access to contraception and abortion and a high labor force participation rate among women, has kept the birth rate low. People really can't afford to have kids. In some countries, they wind up having them anyway because of the lack of reproductive health care (nearby Haiti is a prime example, as I've mentioned before), but at least that isn't an issue in Cuba.

I couldn't help but be pleased that Miroff linked back to a Washington Post Op-Ed that my son, Greg, and I published a couple of years ago, detailing the variety of demographic issues facing Cuba--and why engagement with the U.S. was thus a necessary lifeline. Here is how he summarized our detailing of the issues:
The Cubans who stay behind are going gray. Nearly one-fifth of the island’s population is 60 or older, and they depend on a shrinking pool of Cuban workers to keep the state-run economy afloat. Cuba's life expectancy is 78, on par with the United States, so there's a larger and larger pool of dependents. 
According to the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the decision to extend parental leave to grandparents was necessary “to deal with the high degree of aging among the population, and to encourage fertility in the short term.” 
“The challenge of raising the birthrate in Cuba is a challenge that cannot be put off,” Granma said.
In the U.S. we need to put off any notion of undoing the reengagement with Cuba put into place by the Obama administration. It seems that President Trump has now made nice with Senator Marco Rubio, who despite being a young person has an out-dated view of what U.S.-Cuba relations should look like. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Geodemographics of Gunshot Wound Injuries in Miami-Dade County

Following up on yesterday's blog post about firearm violence in Philadelphia, Justin Stoler today pointed me to a research article that he and two of his colleagues at the University of Miami just published looking at the same issue in Miami-Dade County. They gathered data on gunshot wounds for the period 2002-2012, geocoded the place of residence and the place of the incident, and then related those data back to the demographics of the neighborhoods where the violence was taking place. 
Geo-demographic analysis revealed that both GSW incident locations and patient home addresses are spatially clustered in predominantly poor, black neighborhoods near downtown Miami, and that these patterns persisted throughout the study period. Using spatial regression, we observed that census tract-level GSW incidence rates (coded by home address) were associated with a census tract’s proportion of black residents (P < .001), single-parent households (P < .001), and median age (P < .001) (R 2 = .42).

As was true in Philadelphia, the neighborhoods with high proportions of blacks have significantly higher rates of morbidity and mortality from gunshot wounds.  This has the effect, of course, of contributing to significantly higher rate of incarceration among young black men, as I discussed last month. But it more importantly speaks to deep structural issues within these communities that are not currently being addressed. 
As previously mentioned, race and neighborhood are interconnected within MDC, and this racial segregation is due to a history of racially-charged policies that have exacerbated violence. The persistent clustering of firearm-injury over the study period shows an alarming lack of community and political engagement and gun control policies that might normally contribute to some geographical variation in gun violence patterns, and ultimately a reduction in mortality. Such inaction in the face of well-documented need arguably perpetuates a history of institutionalized racism in Miami. Our findings thus represent a call for urgent intervention that must address key risk factors in a very small area of MDC. Such interventions could have a significant public health impact on interrupting this epidemic of gun violence and serve as a model for other cities.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Race and Place Are Important Correlates of Firearm Violence in Philadelphia

The ease with which Americans can purchase guns has been a long-standing contentious issue in this country, but the risk of being a shooting victim is not shared equally in the population. Chicago has been in the news, especially after Pres. Trump threatened to "send in the Feds" to deal with city's problems. But Chicago is certainly not alone in having excessive gun violence, as pointed out by a paper published today in the American Journal of Public Health (available as open source).

The study used well-established spatial demographic methods for the analysis, geocoding addresses of firearm assault victims for the years 2013 and 2014, and then using American Community Survey data to categorize each neighborhood's demographics. The results were intriguing:
Firearm assaults were concentrated in low-income areas with predominantly Black residents. Although living in a higher-income area was protective for the population overall, it did not protect Black residents from firearm violence to the same degree as White residents. In fact, Black residents of the city’s wealthiest block groups had the highest relative risk of firearm injury when compared with White residents. Therefore, unlike previous research in Chicago, race does not appear to be a surrogate for economic status in determining violent firearm injury risk in Philadelphia. Rather, our findings echo those of Kalesan et al., who found that nationally, Black children were more likely than White children to be hospitalized with firearm injury regardless of neighborhood income level.
The study is largely descriptive, and the authors admit that they aren't sure why these patterns exist, but the first step toward a solution is obviously to identify the problem. Their map below shows that firearm violence is not spatially random in Philadelphia, so the hot spots are the obvious starting points.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Drop in Child Mortality Over the Past 200 Years Has Been Amazing

Yesterday I blogged about the work being done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce child mortality and increase contraceptive use in developing countries. In their letter, they used a graph from The Economist showing the drop in child mortality over time. Perhaps not coincidentally, Max Roser of Oxford recently also produced a graph of the amazing drop in child mortality occurring over the past 200 years.

In 1800, more than 400 out of every 1000 children born alive in the world died before reaching their fifth birthday. Now it about 40 out of 1000. The drop has been especially noticeable since the end of WWII as death control technology spread to developing countries. Melinda Gates noted in her separate commentary in Fortune yesterday that she had been particularly moved by the women she met in her travels who were happy that their children were surviving, but were now wondering how they could cope financially with more children. They needed help, and the Gates Foundation is working to provide assistance. 

I had a similar experience back in 1984 when I went to Zimbabwe as part of a USAID funded project to help the newly organized Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) create a computerized database to track its activities in rural areas of that country. The child mortality rate had dropped to about 100 deaths per 1000 babies born, but the total fertility rate was still nearly 7 children per woman. The director of the ZNFPC was Esther Bohene, twin sister of the wife of Robert Mugabe, who at the time was in the early years of his presidency after Zimbabwe had gained its independence. She was Ghanaian (because Mugabe had been in exile in Ghana prior to the country's independence) and she and her sister were very popular. I spent a considerable amount of time at the main family planning clinic in Harare, hearing the stories of women who wanted to know how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, as well as the stories of women who wanted to know how to have another child in order to keep their husband happy. Gender inequality was, and still is, a big issue, as I learned from my meetings with Dr. Marvelous Mhloyi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe, who had recently obtained her PhD in Demography from the University of Pennsylvania. She is still active in the pursuit of women's rights in Africa. And, of course, a key right relates to access to reproductive health care. The child mortality rate in Zimbabwe is now down to 70 per thousand (compared to 6 in the U.S.), but the birth rate remains stubbornly high at 4 children per woman. There is still a lot of work to do...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Gates Foundation Continues to Save Lives and Promote Access to Contraception

Bill and Melinda Gates issued their annual letter today and it is a reminder of the genuinely amazing work that their foundation has done over the years. This year they were summarizing the things accomplished with the aid of Warren Buffett, who ten years ago gave them a huge chunk of his philanthropic assets in order to help push their agenda. The four main areas in which they have focused their attention include: (1) lowering the death rate among infants and children; (2) reducing global poverty; (3) building a research infrastructure that helps to monitor changes and promote new techniques for improving health, including reproductive health; and (4) providing contraception to women who need and want it. 

The latter focus is a relatively new, but obviously important objective that Melinda Gates took on seriously more than four years ago, as I noted at the time. It is important enough to her that she emphasized it today in a commentary on Fortune:
Growing up in a Catholic household in Texas, I never would have guessed that I would one day travel around the world talking about the benefits of contraceptives. I certainly never imagined that I'd speak out publicly about my own experience with family planning. But these days, I'm doing a lot of both.
Everything changed when Bill and I started our foundation. I started traveling to places where women were getting pregnant too young, too old, and too often for their bodies to handle. I visited communities where everyone I met knew a woman who had died in childbirth. I visited communities where every woman I met had lost a child. I met still more mothers who were desperate not to get pregnant again because they couldn’t afford to feed and take care of the children they already had. And I began to understand why, even though I wasn’t there to talk about contraceptives, women kept bringing them up anyway.
After spending time with these women, I found it impossible to turn my back on them. I thought about them all the time. I also started reflecting on just how transformative contraceptives have been in my own life.
Both evidence and experience show that empowered women are drivers of progress, creators of wealth, and the world’s greatest force for transforming societies. The women I met overseas are ready and willing to contribute to a better future for all of us. We should take it on ourselves to make sure they have that chance.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is keeping it real. If only governments could get on that same page the world would be a vastly better place.

[And, no, my research is not funded by them, so I don't have any conflict of interest in saying these things!] 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Refugees Need Family Planning

I reminded readers a few days ago that population growth in the Middle East has been a key underlying component of the unrest and violence in that part of the world. The unrest and violence has, of course, created a large refugee population living largely in camps in the region, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The media stories often emphasize the large proportions of refugees who are women and children. Guess what? Countries with high birth rates have lots of women with children. And, of course, the last thing that any woman in a refugee camp needs is even more children. The Guttmacher Institute has addressed this issue with a new report outlining the need for providing reproductive health care.
Adolescent girls, in particular, are at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation, including trafficking; transactional sex for survival; early and forced marriage by relatives; and sexual assault by armed forces, humanitarian workers or others. Moreover, deficiencies exist in other sexual and reproductive health care areas, including safe abortion care; provision of long-term and permanent contraceptive methods; provision of emergency contraception, except in cases of rape; and clinical care and preventive services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
And they also note the barriers to providing those needs. Cultural barriers, in particular, can be very important:
Cultural norms and ideological opposition to family planning, abortion and other sexual and reproductive health matters often impede access to services, both before and during a crisis. Relatedly, stigma associated with sex, unintended pregnancy (especially outside marriage) and abortion, and concerns about privacy, may inhibit many from using services, especially survivors of sexual violence. Moreover, for sensitive issues like abortion, providers are often unwilling to offer services, even where abortion is legal.
Even if there were no cultural barriers, lack of sufficient funding would be a major issue. The United States has been a big player in providing funding over the years, but the Trump administration seems to have yanked the rug out from under that with the reinstatement of the global gag rule, as I noted a few days ago. It isn't clear how these things are going to play out, but at the moment everything is going in the wrong direction.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Couples Who Share Work in East Asia Are Apt to Have Higher Fertility

The latest paper published in Demographic Research is a very nice analysis of the relationship between fertility levels and the amount of childcare and housework that is shared by husband and wife in East Asia. The authors--Man-Yee Kan and Ekaterina Hertog--are both at Oxford and they have made innovative use of the East Asian Social Survey of 2006. In a nutshell, their findings are consistent with the growing view that very low fertility in East Asia and Europe is a function of increasing economic egalitarianism that provides women with labor force opportunities combined with low levels of domestic egalitarianism that puts a heavy burden on women who are working mothers.

The association between domestic division of labour and fertility preference is observed in all four countries, but increases in husbands’ housework participation are more consistently associated with wives’ preference for more children. Women rather than men bear the brunt of conflicts between the demands of domestic work and labour market work, and therefore their fertility preference is more strongly linked with the extent of their housework responsibilities.

The findings also indicate that East Asian countries are similar to conservative European countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Germany, which have the lowest low fertility in Europe. In these countries a traditional gender division of domestic labour is similarly associated with a lower fertility preference.
The policy implications of this and similar research are obvious. If governments can help lower the burden of childcare (through subsidized childcare) while encouraging parental leave and other means by which women's childcare responsibilities are lessened, the birth rate is likely to bump up a bit closer to replacement level than it currently is. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Has the Massive Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants Begun?

For the past few days, the media have carried the story of the married but undocumented mother of two U.S.-born children who was arrested and deported back to Mexico, based on a felony conviction for working illegally in an Arizona amusement park several years ago. She had not gone unnoticed under the Obama administration policies, but neither had she been deported. USA Today reports that:
In 2008, she was swept up in one of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's work-site raids targeting the Golfland Entertainment Centers, which operated several water and mini-golf parks. Sheriff's deputies seized hundreds of employment records and later arrested Garcia de Rayos at her house in Mesa. She pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony, the lowest level. As a result of the charge, Garcia de Rayos was then turned over to ICE, Ybarra-Maldonado [her attorney] said. She spent six months in ICE custody at the Eloy Detention Center, he said.
In 2013, an immigration judge found Garcia de Rayos had no legal stance to remain in the U.S. and issued a voluntary departure instructing her to leave the country, Ybarra-Maldonado said. After Garcia de Rayos appealed the voluntary departure, ICE gave her an order of supervision instructing her to check in yearly, and then every six months, Ybarra-Maldonado said. Garcia de Rayos was scheduled for her six month check-in Wednesday but instead of being told to come back in six months, she was taken into custody, he said.
Now, it turns out that the "impersonation" had to do with a phony Social Security number. Keep in mind that it has long been a bonus for the U.S. government that undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security without having any ability ever to collect payments from the government. And, as nearly as I can tell, Arizona is unique in making such a big deal about this particular issue.

CNN today reports that other deportation raids have taken place throughout the country. Although these have apparently been in the planning stage since before Trump took office, it has been known since the election in early November that the new President was going to look favorably on deportations. Indeed, the situation is unfolding very much in the way that Brian Bennett predicted in the LA Times just a week before the travel ban was imposed. Xenophobia is winning at the moment, and it now seems likely that deportations will continue in the long and almost certainly continued absence of any immigration reform. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

More Terrible Stories From El Salvador About Abortion as a Crime

Thanks to my son, Greg Weeks, for pointing me to a story in Thomson Reuters Foundation News today that follows up on my blog post a few days ago about the incredibly restrictive abortion law in El Salvador. The article starts with the story of one young woman who was sent to jail with a 30 year sentence for allegedly having had an abortion.
It is a decade since her ordeal began, when 17-year-old Vasquez was raped and left pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage and her baby died. At hospital, doctors accused Vasquez of having an abortion, which is banned in El Salvador without exception.
Vasquez was convicted of aggravated murder in 2008 and sent to jail. She spent seven years in prison before winning release in 2015 following a rare pardon by lawmakers after El Salvador's top court ruled due process had been violated in her trial.
She was a lucky one. At least 17 other young woman are serving long prison sentences for allegedly having had an abortion, and the likelihood of the country easing its policy seems fairly low.
Congresswoman Lorena Pena, who introduced a bill in October to ease the ban, says it would allow abortion under certain circumstances, including in cases of rape and a risky pregnancy. "It's about saving women's lives," said Pena, who belongs to El Salvador's ruling leftist FMLN party. "The changes to the law are so that women can decide about their own lives, their own futures," Pena told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. So far, debates over the country's fiscal crisis and rampant gang violence have overshadowed all other concerns, and lawmakers have yet to vote on the abortion bill.
Unfortunately for young, defenseless women, a combination of the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant evangelical groups oppose overturning the abortion ban, and so it is unlikely to be changed, despite pleas from the United Nations and other international groups. It is impossible for me to understand how ruining a young woman's life is more important than all of the other really big issues that face El Salvador.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We've Lost Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling called himself an "edutainer" and he did indeed educate us all in an incredibly entertaining way. His death yesterday from pancreatic cancer at the young age of 68 is a genuine loss for all of us. A story on NPR noted this about him:
He had a knack for explaining difficult concepts — global inequality, climate change, disease and poverty. He used maps, humor and props like storage boxes and colored stones to tell the story of our world and to advocate for the poor: "Health cannot be bought at the supermarket. You have to invest in health."
And BBC News described him in this way:
He was known for lively presentations that used data and animation to explain global development in a compelling way. 
His Gapminder co-founders said that they would continue to fight for "his dream of a fact-based worldview". 
Mr Rosling was a professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute but decided to "drop out" in 2007 to dedicate his time to Gapminder, which allows users to create their own data visualisations.
Since his talks have been available on the internet, his exposure has been global, and I blogged about his amazing description of world population growth back in 2010, in which his Ted Talk employed boxes and other props to illustrate population growth from 1960 to 2050. That video has been seen more than 2.7 million times. Getting the facts out about what's happening in the world has always been important, but as we move into an almost surreal new world of "alternative facts" we need to maintain our vigilance in educating people about the "real facts." Losing Hans Rosling will set us back a bit, so we all need to step up to fill in the gaps as best we can.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Population Growth is the Big Issue in the Middle East

As the legal battle continues over the Trump administration's travel ban from seven Middle Eastern countries, it is instructive to remember that the basic underlying issue is not religion, per se, but rather population growth. Every religion in the world has its fanatics who resist change, especially modernization (aka "westernization"). But people get more riled up when the population is growing faster than the economy can create jobs. The trouble spots in the world are almost all places with recent histories of rapid population growth. I thought of that today when I ran into a summary of my comments at a Congressional Briefing back in 1991 co-sponsored by Senators Timothy Wirth (D. Colorado) and Nancy Kassebaum (R. Kansas) and organized by the Population Resource Center and the Population Association of America. The title of the program was "Population Trends and the Middle East: Implications for Long-Term Stability. I was there with Nazli Choucri from MIT and John Waterbury from Princeton and we all had the same message--rapid population growth accentuated by very youthful populations in a region with limited water supplies portends trouble. It did then, and it still does. 

We are today contending with the very high birth rates and low levels of female empowerment that existed in the region less than three decades ago. Look at this chart that I prepared for the meeting (keeping in mind that technology then produced less good-looking graphs than we can now generate):

Each bar shows the percentage of girls of school age who were enrolled in school in 1987 (the most recent data available at the time). Only Israel and Kuwait had anything close to what we might expect of a society that has empowered girls to be full contributors to the economy and polity. The number in parentheses is the total fertility rate--the number of children being born per woman in her lifetime. More than half of these countries had numbers greater than 6 children per woman! This is the legacy with which we are coping today--a lot of young people brought up by mothers who were kept out of the educational loop. But, instead of insuring that women are offered at least some reproductive health care options, the Trump administration simply wants to turn America's back on these people. A better and safer future is to make sure that girls and boys alike are well educated and that, when they become adults, they have the means to have the number of children they really want and can afford.  This is what ultimately ensures peace and thus lowers the likelihood of refugee movements.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Girls Are Gaining Ground in South Korea

Thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten for pointing out a story in the Economist detailing the drop in the sex ratio at birth (boys/girls) in Asia generally, but particularly in South Korea. This is all wrapped up in the "war on baby girls" that seems to be winding down, according to a related story in the Economist.
Until the early 20th century failure to bear a son was grounds for divorce. Koreans greatly preferred boys, who could not only support their parents financially but also carry out ancestral rites. When ultrasound technology became widespread in the 1980s, many South Koreans used it to detect female fetuses and then have them aborted. Sex ratios became skewed. In 1992 twice as many fourth babies were boys as were girls.
That was before women started moving into the labor force in larger numbers in the 1990s and the opportunity costs of having a daughter suddenly went from negative to positive. The younger generation of Koreans now seems as equally satisfied with a girl or boy, as the opinion poll data below show:

This is obviously very good news for South Korea's economic and demographic future.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Argentina Wants to Keep Out Immigrants and Maybe Even Build a Wall

So, the xenophobic populism spreads...this time to Argentina, where the NYTimes reports that President Mauricio Macri has issued a decree to curb immigration, especially from poorer countries in Latin America. The argument is that they bring crime and so must be kept out. Hmm, we've heard that recently and this seems to be no coincidence.
Argentina’s president, the son of an immigrant [from Italy], has echoed some of Mr. Trump’s “America First” theme, making it clear that his “first concern” should be “caring for Argentines, caring for ourselves.”
“We cannot continue to allow criminals to keep choosing Argentina as a place to commit offenses,” Mr. Macri said during a news conference.
His decree has also rekindled criticism of his ties to the American president, whom he calls a friend. In the 1980s, Mr. Macri worked with his father, an Italian immigrant and industrial magnate, on a real estate project in New York that the family ended up selling to Mr. Trump.
And, not unlike in the U.S., despite the fact that Argentina as we know it (i.e., setting aside the indigenous population) is a nation of immigrants, there appears to be popular support for this idea:
But opinion polls in Argentina showed widespread support for limiting immigration, and some say the new decree does not go far enough. One right-wing congressman is even calling for a wall to be built on the border with Bolivia.
The article notes the inconsistencies that Macri apparently was a supporter of Hillary Clinton and has said no to the idea of a wall to keep out Bolivians. And it offers up the (probably correct) idea that this is all a smokescreen to take people's attention away from the many other issues that face Argentina. Having scapegoats is a time-honored tradition in human society, as The Onion recently reminded us. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

We All Came From Somewhere Else

Humans migrated out of Africa over the millennia. Even in the Americas, the indigenous population is descended from migrants out of Asia, who are descended from migrants out of Africa. But, of course, most people don't migrate, so it is easy to lose sight of the fact that migration is what created the society in which you live, no matter where that is--including modern Africa. That is more true of the history of the United States than most places (although every country in the Americas, as well as Australia and New Zealand) are very similar in that regard. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article a few days ago that lays out the American back-and-forth regarding immigration, and I defy you to read his article without having a tear come to your eye as he gets personal about his father's experience in getting to the U.S. shortly after WWII. But, he starts out with this reminder of attitudes over time:
This newspaper has periodically, to its shame, succumbed to the kind of xenophobic fearmongering that President Trump is now trying to make American policy.
In 1875, The Times sternly warned that too many Irish and German immigrants (like the Trumps) could “deprive Americans by birth and descent of the small share they yet retain” in New York City.
In 1941, The Times cautioned in a front-page article that European Jews desperately seeking American visas might be Nazi spies. In 1942, as Japanese-Americans were being interned, The Times cheerfully suggestedthat the detainees were happily undertaking an “adventure.”
We make bad decisions when we fear immigrants we “otherize.” That’s why Americans burned Irish Catholics alive, banned Chinese for decades, denied visas to Anne Frank’s family and interned Japanese-Americans. And yes, The New York Times sometimes participated in such madness.
But we will not be part of that today.
Keep in mind that we still are not quite back to the percent foreign-born in this country that we had a century ago, and that includes undocumented immigrants. Immigrants are not the problem with America.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rethinking Retirement for Aging Populations

The drop in fertility and rise in life expectancy at the older ages has created a demographic scenario in which all rich countries, and several nearly rich countries especially in East Asia, face an increasingly larger share of the population that is older. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, but not a disaster. That is the assessment of David Rothkopf, editor and CEO of Foreign Policy, in an article in this month's Foreign Policy magazine. This is an issue, by the way, devoted to demographics, and I already blogged about an exceptionally good article by Paul Taylor, who coined the phrase that "demography is a drama in slow motion." But, back to aging...the point is one I have made before: we are living not only longer, but generally healthier. And technology and mechanization mean that most of us (albeit not all us, to be sure) are not physically exhausted by the time we reach our 60s or even older. Furthermore, a lot of people enjoy their job and/or their work experience and do not want to retire, and so society should not--and increasingly is not--demanding that they retire.
What once seemed like America’s terminal calamity — a looming problem that was so large it could never be managed — has not only diminished, it has actually changed character. This once-existential threat to the U.S. economy now looks very much like a potential bonanza.
You can see it in the gleaming billionaire faces of U.S. President Donald Trump’s cabinet — and indeed in the face of the president himself. After all, he is the oldest president in U.S. history and his cabinet has the highest median age (65) of any in the country’s 240 years.
Today, a 1-year-old in the United States has a 50 percent chance of living to 100. And it is likely that over that 100-year life, that child is likely to work from age 20 through age 80 or even older.
OK--if you've looked at Table 5.3 in my text or at the life table data on the CDC website, you'll know that a 1-year-old has a 50 percent chance of living to about age 80, not 100, given current death rates. But, if death rates keep going down, then Rothkopf's number could be right. In all events, the point is that older people are assets, not deficits, in the economy. Not everyone is, of course, but we need to be flexible in terms of sorting through those who can continue to make economic contributions (and let them do that) and those who cannot do that (and let them retire as necessary). With aging and retirement, there is no one size that fits all, and the more our policy-makers understand this, the better we will be able to successfully cope with the demographic changes coming our way.