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:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Breaking Up Is Harder to Do Now in the U.S.

The National Center for Marriage & Family Research at Bowling Green State University is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Of particular note is that its Co-Director, Dr. Wendy Manning, is President-Elect of the Population Association of America. To celebrate the anniversary, the center has published an infographic by Hiujing Wu that tells the tale of changing divorce patterns by age and sex in the United States between 1990 and 2015. The punch line is the graph below:

Overall, the divorce rate has gone down a bit over time, and the pattern is essentially the same for both males and females. But you can see that the pattern of change depends very much on age. Divorce rates declined most rapidly for people under 35, whereas it actually went up for people aged 45 and older. This is probably associated with the pretty significant changes in the pattern of marriage and childbearing over this 25-year period.

One point to keep in mind is that back in 1990 the National Center for Health Statistics was keeping track of divorces by gathering those data from each state. However, they stopped doing that in 1996. We went for awhile without much information, but when the American Community Survey was launched in 2005 as the replacement for the long form on the decennial census, people started using the marriage and divorce questions asked in that survey. As Sheela Kennedy and Steve Ruggles famously titled a paper--"Breaking Up is Hard to Count"! Their analysis for data between 1980 and 2010 showed a rise in divorce during that period, so these new data suggest a veering away from that trend.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Quick Guide to Europe's Demography

Europe is a demographically complex region, and a new summary (with maps) of major demographic features of Europe is thus a handy tool to have at hand. To that end, the statistical office of the EU--Eurostat--recently put out its 2017 Regional Yearbook. This is a huge volume, albeit downloadable for free, but if you don't want to wade through all of that detail, Feargus O'Sullivan has posted a summary for us at In particular, what caught his eye was the following:
Among the sheer volume of detail, some clear trends emerge: younger people are leaving Europe’s south, especially its rural areas, in search of work in urban areas of the continent’s job-rich northwest. That’s creating a demographic hole that might presage extended, continuing decline.
Rural Greece, in particular, seems to be emptying out, but that had already happened in Italy, as well. Of course, as young people leave a place, they take their future childbearing with them. As you already know, fertility is low everywhere in Europe, but still higher in some places than others. The map below shows this spatial variability:

And what helps to explain this spatial pattern? I refer you back to yesterday's blog post for some clues...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Increasing Gender Equality in South Korea May Push Up the Birth Rate

As I note in my book, demographers have increasingly pointed out that gender inequality has two dimensions--each of which affects the birth rate in different ways. There is the public sphere inequality, in which women are discriminated against in the labor force and in politics (and maybe even in driving in public). Then there is the private, domestic inequality, in which women are expected to do the home chores such as caring for the kids, cleaning house, and cooking meals. If gender inequality is high in both spheres, fertility tends to be high. If gender equality is high in both spheres, fertility tends to be low, but not necessarily too low. The problem comes when gender equality exists in the public sphere, but less so in the private sphere. As it turns out, that is associated with below replacement level wherever we find it, most famously in southern and eastern Europe, and in East Asia. 

A few months ago I blogged about a study in Demographic Research showing that couples in East Asia who share the work are apt to have higher fertility than those who don't. The authors of that paper are editing a set of papers in Demographic Research and the most recent one, by Erin Hye-Won Kim at the National University of Singapore, looks specifically at data for South Korean couples. The results are in line with what we would expect, but with a special twist--women with only one child may be the key. Longitudinal data suggest that if they intend to have a second child, they are more likely to have that child than women at other parities. And the ones whose husbands help a bit around the house (along with the availability of day care for young children) are more inclined to intend to have a second child. So, that leads the author to the following policy implications of the research findings:

To tackle Korea’s lowest-low fertility, government policies would be wise to target women with one child and relieve their burden through a more gender-equal division of domestic labour and available and affordable childcare. It has been argued that South Korea, together with several other East Asian countries, remains in the first stage of the gender revolution framework proposed by Goldscheider, Bernhardt, and Lappegård (2015) (Kan and Hertog 2017). Reversing the current low fertility rate through the second stage of the revolution could be challenging in highly gendered East Asian societies, with their patriarchal family systems, welfare regimes relying on the family, and work- oriented lifestyles. For these countries to boost their persistently low fertility rates, it seems inevitable that they would have to improve gender equality, both inside and outside the home, to enable women to have a better work–life balance. Raising fertility in East Asia may take an entire nation: Changes in various institutions, including the family, the workplace, and the government, can lift the heavy burdens from the shoulders of women, making childbearing more attractive to them.
I was especially struck by the idea that it may take an entire nation to raise the birth rate in East Asia. This is a huge cultural shift and individuals cannot do it very effectively on their own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Saudi Women Will be Allowed to Drive

It was exactly one year ago today that I blogged about the fact that "Saudi women are tired of being 'owned' by men."  One of the issues that has really bothered women is the restriction on their ability to drive cars. It was one of the most obvious elements of the gender divide that, as I noted several years ago--is the true clash of civilizations in Saudi Arabia (and in many other parts of the world). Given that background, it was very nice to be greeted today with the news that women in Saudi Arabia are going to be allowed to drive. The Associated Press has the story:
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom next summer, fulfilling a key demand of women’s rights activists who faced detention for defying the ban.
The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.
Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.
Some ultraconservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against allowing women to drive. They argued it would corrupt society and lead to sin.
Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work, run errands and simply move around. The more affluent have male drivers and more recently, in major cities, women could access ride hailing apps like Uber and Careem.
Don't expect to see many female drivers for awhile though. It won't be until June 2018 that the new order will be implemented. As you might expect, a committee (probably all male) will be formed to figure out how to get this going. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Income Inequality Alters Marriage Rates

Marriage in the United States used to be nearly universal, and nearly all children were born within marriage. That has changed in important ways in recent years, as noted by a story in today's NYTimes.
Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.
Currently, 26 percent of poor adults, 39 percent of working-class adults and 56 percent of middle- and upper-class adults ages 18 to 55 are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America.
As blue-collar (working class) jobs have been automated and/or gone off-shore, people (men, especially) have found it harder to find good employment (the group that Donald Trump aimed for in his presidential campaign), and that has led to a drop in marriage rates.
“The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor’s or not,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.” [And, also, I might add, a Past President of the Population Association of America.]
But this doesn't mean that people without college degrees aren't making babies--they're just more likely to be out-of-wedlock births.
Researchers found a corresponding increase in births to unmarried mothers. The decline in marriage was not offset by more couples living together.
And, of course, those children born out-of-wedlock tend to have a heavier burden, especially if the father is not involved too heavily:
While researchers say it’s stability, not a marriage license, that matters for children, American couples who live together but don’t marry are generally less likely to stay committed.
This point was emphasized in an on-line article posted today by the IUSSP headquarters in France. Elena Mariani and Alice Goisis reported on their research in the UK where they found that:
Children whose biological father joined the household after their birth had better cognitive skills and were less likely to develop depressive symptoms than children who only lived with their single mothers. Conversely, the arrival of a stepfather in the family was not associated with improvement on any of the outcomes (and was instead associated with a marked worsening of cognitive verbal skills).
Overall, then, the evidence suggests that if we could create a more equal income distribution and increase marriage rates (and marital stability) among people with less than a college education, the kids as well as the parents would be better off. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Chinese Cities Combat Low Fertility With High In-Migration

This week's Economist has a very interesting story about the spatial variability in (already low) fertility in China. Sadly, it starts the story with the following quote:
IF DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, as Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, once said, then China has many destinies.
This is sad because it shows that the writers for the Economist don't read my blog, so they don't know the story behind the phrase "demography is destiny," which I laid out more than four years ago.

The story has some sad elements because it reveals that the rural population of China continues to be exploited by the cities. All provinces in China have below-replacement level fertility (see map below), but the rural provinces still have the highest fertility. Fertility is lowest in Beijing, at 0.71 children per woman. Provincial governments handle pensions in China, so those rural provinces that are experiencing migration to the cities are finding that their dependency ratio is rapidly rising (more pensioners per worker), while the cities are replacing the unborn children with rural migrants.

As a whole, China has too few young adults relative to the size of older generations, meaning it will not have enough workers to support its pensioners (or children) properly in the future. But some areas will hit demographic trouble earlier and harder than others, with serious implications for economic growth and regional stability. Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, dubs the problem “the Balkanisation of Chinese demography”.
Unlike in Guangzhou, the national authorities have been slow to recognise the problems of demographic decline. As a result, low fertility, ageing, labour shortages and dependency have all taken on a provincial aspect. The three great cities look relatively healthy, as do Guangdong and Zhejiang, a nearby province that shares some of its features. But provinces with low fertility, declining or ageing populations, and rising dependency are in deep trouble. These include the north-east, Sichuan and Chongqing in the west and several provinces in the third category in terms of fertility, such as Anhui.
The result is a big problem for the national government. Even now, it is having to bail out some provincial pension funds. But the threat is also philosophical. The Communist Party has long sought to narrow economic differences and erase local political distinctions because it is terrified of regional challenges. It thinks the only way to keep China together is to impose strong central control. If it is right, its failure to deal with demographic problems is setting back that cause.
The Chinese government is certainly aware of demographic problems--that is why the one-child policy was implemented in the first place. And it is certainly aware of the common prediction that "China will grow old before it gets rich." At the moment, it may be that government policy under Xi Jinping is to focus in the short term only on getting rich, rather than worrying about how many people are getting old and what that might do to the economy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Older Fathers Put Their Children at Higher Risk of Genetic Diseases

One of the odd things about human reproduction is that women are fecund (capable of bearing a child) from puberty in the teens to menopause in the 40s, whereas men are generally capable of fathering a child from puberty until death at any age. It is well known that as a woman gets older, especially in the late 30s and early 40s, the chance of trouble with a pregnancy and the risk of genetic disease for her baby increase. Men have rarely been implicated in these issues, but today's Economist Espresso links us to a research report published this week in Nature.
Increasingly, scientists are finding that men have something similar, with babies born to older fathers more likely to have genetic diseases. A paper published in Nature this week puts some startling numbers to that idea. Researchers studied the genomes of 1,500 Icelandic couples and their children, finding that a child born to 30-year-old parents would have, on average, 11 mutations from its mother, but 45 from its father. And while every year of maternal age adds 0.37 mutations on average, the rate for men is four times higher.
And here's another interesting conclusion from the researchers:
Moreover, the regional excess of C>G variation in humans is largely shared by chimpanzees, less by gorillas, and is almost absent from orangutans. This demonstrates that sequence diversity in humans results from evolving interactions between age, sex, mutation type, and genomic location. 
We probably wouldn't give this very much thought were it not for the pattern in much of the world for couples to delay childbearing. Low fertility in a society is almost always associated with a later average age at parenthood for both women and men. While women have been aware of the risks associated with later childbearing, men have generally not given this much thought with respect to their own age. This research suggests that men should start making these calculations as they get older. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Will HIV Be Gone from this World by 2030?

Target 3.3 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is as follows: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases. None of this is going to be easy, but the world has been making progress, even if very unevenly, with respect to health indicators, as evidenced by the most recent report on the Global Burden of Disease project published this month in The Lancet (see graph below for the current world situation):

The health picture vividly reminds us that sub-Saharan Africa is still the least healthy region in the world, and that has been severely aggravated by the high incidence of HIV and the subsequent deaths from AIDS. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the major funders of the Global Burden of Disease project, and, as I noted a few days ago, they are keeping close track of world progress on the SDGs. If you have followed their work over the years, you will know that they are also actively trying to save lives, and today comes the news of a new program aimed at curbing HIV infections and AIDS deaths in Africa:
Makers of generic AIDS drugs will start churning out millions of pills for Africa containing a state-of-the-art medicine widely used in rich countries, after securing a multi-million dollar guarantee that caps prices at just $75 per patient a year.
Bill Gates’ charitable foundation will guarantee minimum sales volumes of the new combination pills using dolutegravir, a so-called integrase inhibitor that avoids the drug resistance that often develops with older treatments.
In return the drugmakers, India-based Mylan Laboratories and Aurobindo Pharma, will agree the maximum price of about $75 per patient for a year’s supply - less than the list price for one day’s supply of a dolutegravir combination in the United States.
The agreement, which will make the treatment available to 92 poor countries, starting in Africa, will be formally announced during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday. 
This sounds like a much more hopeful and positive announcement than most of what has come out of the UNGA this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Does a Low Birth Rate Delay Young People's Entrance into Adulthood?

When demographers talk about low birth rates, the usual conversation is about why they are so low. And when consequences of those low rates are mentioned, it is almost always in the context of the negative effect on the age transition--with too few young people relative to the older population. Now, however, we have a new perspective from Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor who has written famously about "Generation Me," in which her analyses suggested that younger people were growing up in an age of "entitlement" rather than "enlightenment". Her newest book is iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” The San Diego Union-Tribune has a lengthy story about the substance of that book along with a paper on this topic that just came out in the journal Child Development.
Today’s 18-year-olds exhibit similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year-olds in the late 1970s, Twenge said. Moreover, they’re mostly doing this voluntarily — parents aren’t imposing this delayed independence.
But while smartphones and social media enable these trends, Twenge says it’s not the whole explanation. Advances in safety and a declining rate of childbirth drive this process. When parents have fewer children and expect them to grow up, they will expend more care on them.
Twenge said an evolutionary explanation called life history theory appears to be behind the trend. It classifies the maturation of species into “fast” and “slow” strategies.
Fast strategies involve producing prolific amounts of offspring with minimal care. Spawning fish and lobsters are examples. Very high death rates are acceptable, because only a tiny fraction need to survive to perpetuate the species.
Humans, with many years of care and training required for independence, represent the slow strategy. Modern society makes the slow strategy more feasible than before, Twenge said. 
Thus, fewer children per parent enables "helicopter parenting," but Twenge doesn't see that as necessarily bad--just different. Lower death rates with associated greater longevity (including healthy years of life expectancy) diminishes the need for children to rapidly become adults. Indeed, it may be socially useful for younger people to spend longer figuring out how the world works and where they are going to fit into it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Mess in Middle Africa

A few days ago I mentioned the particular concern about the world's ability to feed the still increasing global population. No where is that concern greater than in Africa. This is partly due to the fact that this is where the population is growing most quickly and where agricultural productivity may be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These factors are aggravated by (and contribute to) another major problem in Africa--incessant conflict--occurring especially in middle Africa. The Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) of the U.S. State Department recently posted a new infographic on human displacement in this region. It is startling both for its intensity and geographic complexity:

The complex part is that almost every country in the region is both a sender of refugees and a recipient of refugees. Notice that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is in the middle of this--both politically and geographically. We don't hear about it very often, but I've mentioned before that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has recently sent more refugees to the U.S. than any other country. Indeed, the Congo, Syria, and Burma--in that order--account for half of all refugees currently arriving in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, back in middle Africa, Burundi is being wracked by violence, and you can see from the HIU infographic that Burundians are finding refugee in every direction, including in the DRC, where things have turned ugly, according to news sources:
At least 30 Burundian refugees have been killed in clashes with Congolese security forces over plans to send some of them home, a Reuters witness and local activists said on Saturday.

More than 400,000 refugees have fled Burundi - including 40,000 to neighbouring Congo - since violence erupted in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term in office, a move his opponents said was unconstitutional.
While it isn't obvious that the violence is caused by rapid population growth in an environment in which food supplies are not always secure, those factors are almost certainly contributing to the instability throughout this region of the world. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How Many Healthy Years Will You Have in Old Age?

The population of the United States is aging, as everyone knows. In particular, we have a big bulge of baby boomers who keep pushing up the number of older people. Eventually they will all die off and the ratio of older to younger people will be a little less stressful than it currently is. In the meantime, one of the big issues is the cost of health care to the growing number of elderly. The healthier is this group of seniors, the less they will cost, and the happier will the younger taxpayers be. It is not just life expectancy, but rather it is healthy life expectancy (the number of healthy years you have left) that is important for you (because the quality is life is better if you are healthy) and for society (since healthy people cost less). 

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health have put their research results to good use by generating the Healthy Life Calculator. The underlying calculations are based on data they collected (and are still collecting) in their Cardiovascular Health Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The background information is available from their article published in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. Using a relatively limited set of questions--only 11 variables, including age, sex, smoking history, activities of daily living (ADLs), and the number of medicines taken each day, they are able to compare your life expectancy (based on U.S. life tables) with your health life expectancy. The information is limited enough that you could do this not only for yourself, if you are 65 or older, but you probably can make good estimates for your parents and/or grandparents, if they are 65 or older. 

As an example, if you are currently a 65-year female who is in excellent health, never smoked, has no problem with ADLs, takes no medications, and gets a good amount of exercise, your can expect to live an additional 22.8 years, of which 19.3 can be expected to be healthy. That's good news for you and for society in general. Note, by the way, that the calculator also provides you with information on the chances that your healthy life expectancy will be either higher or lower. As your health indicators increase in severity, of course, your healthy life expectancy will decrease, even if your overall life expectancy does not. That's neither good for you nor society, so for everybody's sake, no matter how old you currently are, try to be healthier, OK?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Can We Keep Feeding the World?

Just ahead of the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, the UN World Food Programme has put out a report on world hunger, and it is not good news:
After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people in 2016, or 11 per cent of the global population, says a new edition of the annual United Nations report on world food security and nutrition released today. At the same time, multiple forms of malnutrition are threatening the health of millions worldwide. 
The increase – 38 million more people than the previous year – is largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017.
The climate shocks are particularly noteworthy since they seem to be getting worse and, in most respects, it will be a bigger job to change human behavior regarding our polluting of the world's atmosphere than to tamp down violent conflicts. Consider a paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by climate researchers at UC San Diego and Texas A&M, and summarized for us non-climate scientists yesterday by the San Diego Union-Tribune:
There’s a very small but distinct possibility that rapid global warming could pose an “existential threat” to the survival of humans by 2050, UC San Diego said Thursday in one of the most dire forecasts yet about climate change. The school’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography published a paper that said there is a 5 percent chance of catastrophic change within roughly three decades, and a smaller chance that it would broadly wipe out human life. Scripps made the claim while proposing two new classifications for climate change: catastrophic and unknown, or existential. Catastrophic means that most people would have trouble adapting to such change. The latter terms means that they would not be able to.

“Other people have used the word catastrophic, but I have resisted doing so until now,” said the study’s lead author, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a renowned climate scientist who helped influence Pope Francis to urge the world to fight global warming in 2015.
“I changed my mind because, over the past five years, I have gone back and reviewed data that we began collecting from satellites in the 1980s and data from aircraft and changes in the intensity of storms, and studies about the possible health affects of rapid global warming. “There is a low probability that the change will be catastrophic. But you would not get on an airplane if you thought there was a 5 percent chance that it was going to crash.” He noted that the probability of an existential threat is even smaller, but said, “that chance rises to 20 to 30 percent by 2070.”
These climate changes call into question our ability to continue feeding a population that is still growing and still consuming more calories per person, especially when agriculture itself contributes to climate change in a variety of ways through deforestation, methane gas production, and the increasing diversion of water for agricultural purposes. Are we already in a situation of global overshoot? 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Gates Foundation Keeps Track of the UN Sustainable Goals for Us

This year's report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the first in what they say will be an annual series between now and 2030, as they track world progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We are launching this report this year and will publish it every year until 2030 because we want to accelerate progress in the fight against poverty by helping to diagnose urgent problems, identify promising solutions, measure and interpret key results, and spread best practices.

As it happens, this report comes out at a time when there is more doubt than usual about the world’s commitment to development. In our own country, Congress is currently considering how to deal with the big cuts to foreign aid proposed in the president’s budget. A similar mood of retrenchment has taken hold in other donor countries. Meanwhile, most developing countries need to do more to prioritize the welfare of their poorest citizens.
This report tracks 18 data points included in the SDGs that we believe are fundamental to people’s health and well-being. To complement the data, we’re also telling the stories behind the numbers—about the leaders, innovations, and policies that have made the difference in countries where progress has been most significant.
The very first goal in the report relates to child mortality (deaths under age 5). 

As you look at the graph above, keep in mind the long-term declining trend in child mortality illustrated by Max Roser, as I noted a few days ago. This is a key to societal well-being and the drop in deaths among children represent the most potent source of population growth if not accompanied immediately by a decline in fertility. The Gates Foundation gets this connection and so third on the list of goals they are keeping track of is the rise in the use of modern contraception. Fortunately, this is going up nearly everywhere in the world with the notable exception of countries in Africa, as Michel Garenne discusses in a story posted today on the IUSSP website.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Are We Witnessing Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar?

A few days ago I blogged about the flood of Muslim Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar (Burma) into Bangladesh. Since then there has a been a storm surge of refugees--more than 370,000 according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. At issue is the fact that these people are seemingly not wanted in Myanmar, despite having lived there for a long time. The Guardian reminds us that:
Rohingya people have been systematically persecuted for decades by the Burmese government, which, contrary to historical evidence, regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and restricts their citizenship rights and access to government services.
Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority appears to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing, the top United Nations human rights official has said. In an address to the UN human rights council in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein denounced the “brutal security operation” against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which he said was “clearly disproportionate” to insurgent attacks carried out last month.
And he wasn't the only one with this sentiment:
On Sunday, Bangladesh’s foreign minister accused the Myanmar government of committing genocide against the Rohingya. Analysts said that AH Mahmood Ali’s language was the strongest yet from Myanmar’s neighbour, and reflected intense frustration in Dhaka at the continuing influx of Rohingya refugees.
In the meantime, Myanmar's de facto leader (and that "title" tells you something about the state of the country), Aung San Suu Kyi, has canceled her trip to the United Nations' General Assembly meetings next week in New York.

On the other hand, India had been set to deport thousands of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, but has announced instead that it will send relief materials to Bangladesh to help that country deal with a problem that nobody really seems to want to deal with.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Europe is Paying to Keep People in Africa--Is it Working?

The number of migrants heading to Europe from Africa has apparently been considerably less this summer than last summer, according to a story in this week's Economist. While the reason for this is not known with certainty, one of the explanations is that European countries are, in essence, paying to keep people in Africa. 
Italy has provided equipment and training to Libya’s coastguard, which has stepped up patrols. The seas have also been rough. But two militias in the western city of Sabratha, thought to be behind much of the people-smuggling, have a different explanation. They claim that Italy offered them money and equipment to stop migrant boats from setting sail.
Italy denies that it is talking with the traffickers. But it does work closely with Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the UN-backed government based in Tripoli, the capital. The EU has given him tens of millions of dollars to improve the coastguard and provide new jobs for those involved in trafficking. Mr Serraj, in turn, reportedly struck deals with the militias and brought them onto the government payroll. “I don’t think anyone came from Europe with a suitcase full of money and gave it to Libyan warlords,” says Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. “It’s more complicated than that.”
This current issue of Foreign Policy has a story by Ty McCormick that helps us to understand the complexity. When the government of Libya collapsed in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, the political vacuum allowed human traffickers to flourish, aided by payments to a variety of army, police, and militia units. 
In 2015, as the European Union was struggling to cope with what would amount to a record 1.3 million asylum-seekers that year--a 122 percent increase from 2014--EU officials held a series of emergency talks with African leaders. In November of that year, they announced a $1.9 billion EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa designed to combat the root causes of migration, including poverty and conflict. The EU also struck bilateral agreements with several African countries that migrants depart from and travel through on their way to Europe, aiming to strengthen border controls and disrupt smuggling networks.
As McCormick points out, the migrants themselves have a strong incentive to get to Europe not just for themselves, but in order to send remittances home. And, of course, this gets us back to the issue of rapid population growth throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where women are having more children than the economy can cope with. The world could be doing more to help provide family planning services, but the U.S. under the Trump administration has been slashing funding, rather than trying to help countries out. So, women have children whose fate it is to head north hoping to reach Europe, and in the process of trying to get there it is especially the younger migrants who are abused like slaves, as reported yesterday by Reuters.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Will Hurricane Irma Cause Retirees to Rethink Moving to Florida?

My first teaching job many years ago was at Michigan State University. It seemed to me and my wife that every one of the "locals" in our neighborhood in East Lansing knew people of Florida because Michiganders liked to retire in Florida. Indeed, we heard stories of entire groups of people relocating there together, often living in mobile homes because that's what they could most readily afford.

Currently, nearly one in five Floridians (19.1%) is aged 65 and older--the highest percentage in the country at the state level and, not surprisingly, the top two counties in the U.S. in terms of the percent aged 65 and older are in Florida (Sumter County--NW of Orlando--at 53% and Charlotte County--NW of Fort Meyers--at 38%). Both counties are very much today in the path of Hurricane Irma. If this were just a one-off event, you might not think about it, but the evidence suggests that global warming is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of these kinds of storms.

It is important to remember as well that population growth in hot states like Florida owes a lot to the advent of air conditioning. Beginning especially in the 1950s, commercial establishments were able to afford air conditioning--so you could leave your hot house and go to the air conditioned restaurant or movie theater. By the 1970s, the price of air conditioning had come down to the point that people were able to install it in their homes--first with window units, and then with larger compressor units. So, we shouldn't be surprised that between 1950 and 2015, as the population of the entire U.S. doubled in size from 152 million to 321 million, the population of Florida increased more than seven-fold, from 2.7 million in 1950 to 20.3 million in 2015. It vaulted from the 17th most populous to the 3rd most populous state--behind only California and Texas (both of which have also benefitted from air conditioning). The only states to have grown at a more rapid rate than Florida, in percentage terms, between 1950 and 2015 are also beneficiaries of air conditioning--Nevada and Arizona.

But, back to the older population more specifically, Florida has a high percentage of older people because people move there to retire. The other top states in terms of the older population--Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Montana, are states where youthful populations are exiting the state, in the process leaving behind the older population to age in place. Thus, the decision of people to migrate from wherever they are (e.g., New York) to Florida to retire may increasingly take into account the potential for deadly storms. Arizona is currently 12th among states in terms of the percent aged 65 and older. Will that increase at Florida's expense?

UPDATE: Here's an example of why air conditioning is a key to well-being in Florida, as reported by CNN:
At least eight nursing home residents have died in Hollywood, Florida, according to city officials. The deaths may be due to the loss of the home's air-conditioning after Hurricane Irma struck Sunday, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Drop in Child Mortality Helps Explain the Population Explosion

Many people in the world have the view that the population explosion is a thing of the past. After all, the world's rate of growth is lower now than it was back in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb was published. Indeed, the rate of growth peaked at about that time...but not the number of people being added each year. The 84 million people being added to the world each year right now is a greater number than were being added when the rate of population growth was nearly twice what it is now. We're building on an ever bigger base of people, so even a low rate of growth adds a lot of people. Figure 2.3 in my text gives you this information graphically.

Why do I mention this? Because Max Roser at Oxford has put together another really informative and useful (and interactive) graphic on child mortality (deaths to children under age 5) over time. The increasing survival of children is the single most important cause of population growth in the world, since it almost never is accompanied early on by a compensating drop in fertility. Everyone wants children to survive--not everyone wants to use birth control. Here is the graphic:

You can see that Sweden and France experienced long-term and relatively slow declines in child mortality. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Europeans, in particular, were figuring out the value of vaccinations and, on top of that, incomes were generally rising so people were eating better and living in cleaner environments. It was only after WWII, however, that death control technology was actively spread around the world, and child mortality rates responded quickly. This graph shows Ghana (where I am currently analyzing child mortality at the neighborhood level), Iran and South Korea. You can modify the map yourself if you go the website

These very rapid declines in child mortality were eventually met by rapid drops in fertility in South Korea and Iran (both of which are currently below replacement level) and a considerable drop in Ghana as well--even though still well above replacement level. The gap between when child mortality drops and fertility responds with an equivalent drop is what generates the population explosion--and it's still happening, folks.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Muslims Not Wanted in Myanmar--The Rohingya Refugee Situation

It has been more than four years since I mentioned Myanmar in this blog. At the time the country had transitioned from a military dictatorship to a democracy and there was general optimism about the country's future. However, there was one issue that stood out--violence by the Buddhist majority against the minority Muslim population (Rohingya) in the country. I ended that blog post with the comment that the situation "seems like a recipe for even more disaster." To be sure, last year there were as many refugees from Myanmar (Burma) into the U.S. as there were from Syria. 

This situation has hit the headlines again this week as nearly 125,000 Rohingya fled violence against them in Myanmar and sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. NBC News notes that:
Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state since the violence began on Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people. 
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Myanmar authorities on Tuesday to end violence against Rohingya Muslims in the country's Rakhine state, warning of the risk of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilization.
Taking a page seemingly from Donald Trump's playbook, the leader of Myanmar--Aung San Suu Kyi--"on Wednesday alleged a “huge iceberg of misinformation” was distorting the picture of the Rohingya crisis, which has forced 125,000 of the Muslim minority to flee to Bangladesh." 
In her first comments since Rohingya militant attacks sparked unrest on August 25, Suu Kyi said fake news was “calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities” and to promote “the interest of the terrorists”. 
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has come under intense pressure over her refusal to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya or chastise the military. 
Analysts say her obduracy despite the years of pressure from rights groups is a sop to the still powerful army and surging Buddhist nationalism in the Southeast Asian country.
And the problem is greatly exacerbated by the fact that Muslim-majority Bangladesh doesn't really want the refugees, as NBC News indicates:
Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest and most crowded nations, plans to go ahead with work to develop an isolated, flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, officials say. 
Dhaka says the Rohingya are not welcome, and has told border guards to push back those trying to enter the country illegally. But close to 125,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh in just 10 days, joining more than 400,000 others already living there in cramped makeshift camps.
Once again, this seems like a recipe for even more disaster... 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Send in the Robots? Is This the Answer to Low Fertility?

Joseph Chamie, former head of the UN Population Division, has posted a new article in which he lays out the case for (and, to be fair, also against) an increase in the use of robots in aging, low-fertility countries. This would be a way of getting around the need for bringing in immigrants to compensate for the lack of younger workers. Notice in the graph below that the current top countries in terms of robots per 100 workers are, in fact, countries that have strong issues with respect to immigrants.
High robot-to-worker ratios are found in South Korea, Japan and Germany (Figure 3). While more than half of the top ten countries in robot-to-worker ratios belong to the European Union, 75 percent of the world’s robots are geographically concentrated in five countries: China, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide will increase to around 2.6 million by 2019, which is nearly a doubling since 2015.

South Korea and Japan have long resisted immigrants, while Germany has a large Turkish-origin population that was originally recruited to help rebuild the country after WWII, but then the guest-workers stayed on--with social and political ramifications that the country is currently dealing with, as discussed in an article in this week's Economist. And, of course, the German resistance to allowing in Syrian and other refugees is the main reason why the EU is paying Turkey to "warehouse" them for the time being.

I haven't spent any time around robots, so it is hard for me personally to know how their widespread presence would alter human society. In my recent stay in the hospital here in San Diego, I was very aware and appreciative of the immigrant physicians and nurses who were keeping me alive. Not everyone can be replaced, in my opinion. Furthermore, we need to keep in mind that the large bulge in the aging population is a transition--not a permanent feature of human society. We need to get through this age transition, and change the way that society thinks about and prepares for the older ages, as I have discussed before.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Houston's Demographics Revealed by Hurricane Harvey

Who lives in Houston? A lot of people, to be sure, but until Hurricane Harvey hit, the city's demographics were not a regular topic of conversation, at least not among people with whom I associate. We know Houston as a city that evolved by annexing every piece of land it could and allowing growth to occur without much zoning or regulation. We also know it as a city that has attracted a lot of corporate headquarters. Economic and spatial growth and the creation of jobs have gone together in an almost unique way. An article in today's NYTimes notes that:
This city sprawls over 600 square miles, an area so big that Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit could all fit within it simultaneously. The nine-county Houston metropolitan region, covering more than 10,000 square miles, is almost as large as the entire state of Massachusetts.
Yesterday, an article posted by NBCNews suggests that the population boom in Houston created a bigger disaster there than might otherwise have been the case:
When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston last week, it hit a city that is much bigger and more diverse than it was in 2000. Those changes made the storm’s impacts bigger and more complicated.

Growing immigrant populations and sprawling construction have remade the region and will likely make rebuilding efforts, which were never going to be easy, even more difficult.

Since 2000, Houston and surrounding Harris County have undergone a population explosion. Harris County has climbed from 3.4 million people to 4.6 million in 2016 — a 35 percent increase. As a point of comparison, the population of the United States as a whole has grown by about 15 percent since 2000.
Much of Harris County’s population is foreign-born — about 1.1 million people. Roughly 730,000 people are not U.S. citizens, according to Census data. Pew Research estimates that more than a half-million people in the Houston metro area are undocumented immigrants.
Along with that growth has come an increasing ethnic diversity in the population, as evidenced by the following graphic:

I conclude Chapter 9-- "The Urban Transition"--by looking at issues of urban sustainability. Houston is clearly putting urban sustainability to the test.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2020 Census Still in Limbo in the U.S.

It has been almost three months since I blogged about the serious financial difficulties facing the U.S. Census Bureau as it gears up for the 2020 Census. If you follow the Census Project blog, you will know that the situation remains dire, and the warning lights went on in this week's Economist, as well.
Spending usually rises greatly in the years before a census, to pay for testing and technology. But pending legislation would appropriate only $1.5bn for the 2018 fiscal year, nearly $300m less than needed, according to Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census expert. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has placed the 2020 census on its list of high-risk projects. Lack of funding has already caused the bureau to cancel two of its three “end-to-end” tests, as dress rehearsals are called. John Thompson, the agency’s director, unexpectedly left in June [as I noted at the time]; President Donald Trump has yet to nominate his replacement.
America’s census is an astounding, expensive event. In 2010 the Census Bureau amassed 550,000 temporary employees and spent $12.3bn trying to count every American resident. The GAO notes that costs have increased from $16 per household in 1970 to $92 in 2010. If an accurate tally is costly, though, an inaccurate one is probably more so.
Congress will return to work this week, and it is imperative that we all contact our members of Congress in both the House and Senate to remind them how important the Census is to the American economy and how foolishly cost-ineffective it is to not properly fund it. The Population Association of America has some good talking points to help you out on this important task.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Immigrants May Not Be Contributing Much to Spain's Fertility Levels

Until the 1970s, Spain had one of the highest fertility levels in Europe, with women bearing an average of nearly 3 children each. However, the bottom fell out in the 1970s and by the 1980s fertility had dropped below replacement level. Today fertility is very low--scarcely more than one child per woman--and so the question arises as to whether immigrants might provide a boost. A paper just out in Demographic Research by Amparo González-Ferrer, Teresa Castro-Martín, Elisabeth Katharina Kraus, and Tatiana Eremenko suggests that the answer might be no.

Now, to be sure, they offer evidence that immigration during the economic boom just before the Great Recession may have pushed Spanish fertility up a bit, but after the economic collapse many people left Spain because of the high rate of unemployment, and so the immigrant picture is different now than it was for that brief period of time.

In particular, their analysis of survey data suggests that most immigrant women mimic the Spanish pattern of significantly delaying the first birth--the average age at first birth in Spain is now in the low 30s. Women from Morocco are the only exception to this rule, and many of them are "traditional" wives who married a man who had previously migrated to Spain for work and then sought out a wife back home in Morocco.

Overall, the authors conclude that:
Although forecasting the future is beyond the scope of this paper, our findings challenge the widespread belief that immigrants’ childbearing alone will allow Spain to leave behind the current lowest-low and latest-late fertility scenario.
This suggests that it is not simply the case that migrants bring higher fertility with them to low fertility countries. The environment into which migrants are arriving and their own characteristics play important roles. Put another way, it might be incorrect to compare what is happening in the U.S. with what is happening in Spain.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Immigrants Continue to Contribute to the "Birthing" of America

Preface: I want to offer a deeply sincere "thank you" to everyone who supported me, directly and indirectly, through my recent near-death experience. I am very pleased to report that I am nearly back to full health, and I quite literally wouldn't be here without a lot of help from a lot of people. I am very appreciative! 

Now--back to business: In my last posting, exactly two months ago(!), I was noting that the birth rate in Switzerland was up, but in the U.S. it was down. Nonetheless, the birth rate in the U.S. is still higher than in Switzerland--hovering just below replacement level instead of being well below replacement level. Of course, as I point out in my text, and as I have often written in this blog, the U.S. birth rate would look more like Switzerland and other very low fertility countries were it not for the contribution of immigrants. Thanks to my long-time friend and colleague Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to an article in this week's Economist that uses data from Pew Research to remind us yet again of the demographic importance of immigration.
For decades America’s birth rate has been stuck below the level at which a given generation replaces itself. This means that without a steady influx of young migrants down the line there will be fewer working-age people supporting a greater number of retirees. But according to analysis published earlier this week by the Pew Research Centre in Washington, DC, things would have been worse if it weren’t for immigrants. They make up 13% of the population but nearly a quarter of births in 2015 were to immigrant women.
This is happening all over the country, not just in a few select states like California, Texas, and Nevada, as you can in the graphic below:

Donald Trump's rhetoric against immigrants is not a new phenomenon, of course. His grandfather was an immigrant, but like so many people over the years, he wants to close the door behind his family of immigrants. And what happened to the birth rate the last time we slammed the door on immigrants back in the late 1920s? Yes, you remember--the birth rate dropped below replacement level and there was a lot of concern about depopulation in the United States. American became "great again" in the decades after World War II when we opened the door again to refugees and other immigrants.