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:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Land Degradation Threatens More Than 3 Billion Humans

A new report was published this week detailing the worsening worldwide land degradation. The research was produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with support by the United Nations.
Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world, the report says.
“With negative impacts on the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction,” said Prof. Robert Scholes (South Africa), co-chair of the assessment with Dr. Luca Montanarella (Italy). “Avoiding, reducing and reversing this problem, and restoring degraded land, is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and to ensure human well-being.”
“Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment. We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation – they each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together.”
As I discuss in Chapter 11 of my text, this is the bottom-line for humans--can we continue to feed ourselves, especially in the face of a still growing population? The answer from this report seems to be 'no', unless we can reverse the degradation generated by the population pressure over the past 200 years, but especially over the past 74 years since the end of WWII. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

As Venezuela Implodes, Measles Explodes

The Venezuelan economy has been going through horrible times recently, leading people to escape by migrating to neighboring countries. The Miami Herald reports that some of these migrants are carrying the measles virus with them. Why? Because lack of vaccines in Venezuela has led to an explosion of new cases.
In 2016, after a massive, decades-long vaccination campaign, the World Health Organization declared Latin America free of measles — the highly contagious virus that curses the young and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis and even death.
But less than two years later, a virulent outbreak in Venezuela, combined with a mass exodus from the South American country, is threatening that medical success story.
According to new figures from the Pan American Health Organization, Venezuela has seen 886 cases of measles since June, including 159 cases this year alone.
The second-biggest outbreak in the hemisphere this year is Brazil, with 14 cases, and all of them were imported from neighboring Venezuela. Colombia has also reported three confirmed cases, all from Venezuela.
The health crisis in Venezuela is not new. I talked about the chaos in health care there nearly a year ago. But the situation is clearly getting worse, not better, and there is no obvious end in sight.

Read more here:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Will the Citizenship Question Wind Up on the 2020 Census Form?

A few days ago it seemed as though Congress might pass legislation that would effectively block the addition of a question on citizenship being placed on the 2020 Census form in the U.S. Well, not so fast, as it turns out. Last night the Commerce Department issued a memorandum from Secretary Wilbur Ross directing the Census Bureau to put the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. He says that this has to be done by March 31st--and of course Congress is out on recess until after that date. 

The memo seemingly lays out a clear case for why the citizenship should be on the questionnaire. Similar questions have been asked on the 100% form in the past, although not since the 1950 census (70 years prior to the 2020 census!). Since then they have only been on the long-form which was asked of a sample or, more recently, on the American Community Survey. The argument is made that this is enough to get around the idea that this is a "new question" that might need three years to prepare. The memo also notes that no one can really say how this question will affect the response rate. You and I might answer that this is good enough reason to test it out before putting it on the survey. Ross argues that this uncertainty tells us that it is OK to put it on the census, because we don't know how people will respond!

Most importantly, the whole motivation for wanting this question on the census is a request from the Department of Justice to help it in "determining violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act ("VRA"), and having these data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the Act. Section 2 protects minority population voting rights." Well, let's see--that Act was first passed by Congress in 1965 and while it has been regularly amended by Congress, it is hard to know why all of a sudden it is so important to have these data. Oh, that's right. That's not really why they want the question on the census...

Remember that the Constitutional mandate for the census is to count the total number of people so that Congressional Districts can be drawn in a way that includes essentially the same number of people (regardless of whether or not they are voters), so that the number of constituents served by each member of the House of Representatives is the same. If the citizenship question winds up discouraging people--especially undocumented immigrants--from responding to the census, the states with larger fractions of such people--including especially California and Texas--will be affected and might lose one or more seats in Congress.

On that score, we learned this morning that California has sued the Trump administration over the addition of the citizenship question. A battle looms.

Monday, March 26, 2018

US Population Ages as the Pig is Still in the Python

As I note in Chapter 8 of my text (the chapter on the age transition), the baby boom generation has long been characterized as a pig in a python--a bulge in the population age structure that starts at one end (the youngest ages--or the python's mouth) and works its way to the to other end (the oldest ages--the python's rear extremities). This came up a couple of weeks ago in an NPR interview with Ronald Lee at UC, Berkeley, who is a Past President of the Population Association of America and someone I've known and admired for a long time. Now I admit that I missed the on-air interview, and have to thank the PAA for calling it to our attention. Professor Lee was contacted to comment on the new population projections put out by the U.S. Census Bureau, which highlighted--among other things--the continued aging of the American population. Here are some of the main points--all of which I hope will already sound familiar to you:
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is giving us a glimpse into our future. According to the latest population projections, adults 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by the year 2035. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Baby boomers are driving this graying of America. It's a group that Ronald Lee has been tracking for decades at the University of California, Berkeley. That's where he was a founding director...
RONALD LEE: ...Of the Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging.
WANG: And he says you can think about the aging of baby boomers like a pig being swallowed whole by a python.
LEE: The pig is a baby boomer. It's not that they're greedy. It could as well be a sheep or a big rock. It's just - it's a bulge.
WANG: And as this bulge of baby boomers moves through each decade, they're making dramatic shifts in the country's demographics. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, and the Census Bureau projects that will grow the size of the older population so much that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will be retirement age. And by that point, the baby boomer generation, or that pig, if you will, will be closer to the end of the python.
LEE: Unlike the pig in the python, it doesn't get digested. It gradually dies off.
This wouldn't necessarily be a big issue were it not for the increase in dependence that typically accompanies aging. People need health care--which is expensive--and if they haven't saved enough for retirement (as most people have not), then they are economically dependent upon pensions paid to them by people who are still in the labor force--typically the younger generations.

Almost two decades ago, Paul Krugman was thinking about this in a piece he wrote for the NYTimes in 2000.  One of the issues in the 2000 U.S. presidential race between George Bush and Al Gore was the funding of Social Security. Al Gore was interested in protecting those funds in a "lock box" and Bush wasn't. But Bush won the election, so the money wasn't locked up. 
And where will the money come from? Remember that Mr. Bush is also proposing huge tax cuts. Aside from eliminating a surplus that might have been used to help Social Security, those cuts will encourage the nation as a whole to consume more and save less, exactly the opposite of what an aging society should be doing. 
Meanwhile the pig is still in the python, inching inexorably toward its destiny. Is anyone paying attention?
The real answer is NO, no one with political power was paying attention. Indeed, much of the Social Security surplus that existed at the time was spent on the Iraq War that followed 9/11.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The U.S. Census Gets a Budget Boost

Yesterday President Trump signed the Omnibus spending bill that will fund the U.S. government through this September--up to the end of the fiscal year. The House had passed the bill on Wednesday, and the Senate passed it on Thursday. The approval of this bill avoided a government shutdown, which was a good thing, but what is actually in this 2,232 page document? Todd Gardner has pointed out that one good thing in there is money for the Census Bureau to continue preparations for the 2020 Census.
The 2018 funding bill gives the Census Bureau a much-needed shot in the arm as it enters a make-or-break testing period.
The omnibus spending bill allocates more than $2.8 billion for Census in fiscal year 2018, with over $2.5 billion going to "periodic programs," which include the decennial census, other surveys conducted by the bureau and support programs.
The boost represents more than a $1.3 billion increase over enacted fiscal year 2017 levels -- and more than $1 billion over the administration's adjusted fiscal year 2018 request.
More good news from this article in FCW is that Democrats in Congress have this week pushed legislation that would make it impossible for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census.
Perhaps the biggest looming threat to an accurate count, experts say, is the Trump-Pence campaign's push to add -- and fundraise off the possibility of adding -- a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Census experts and civil rights groups have consistently opposed adding the citizenship question. 
In response to the Trump-Pence campaign email, House Democrats introduced legislation March 20 to prohibit the addition of such a question.
The bill, introduced by co-chair of the House Census Caucus Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would prevent the secretary of Commerce from adding "any major operational design" -- including a question -- that hasn't been researched and tested for at least three years before the start of a decennial. It would also require the Government Accountability Office to certify that the topics and questions on the decennial have been adequately researched and tested "to the same degree as in previous decennial censuses."
We can't let our guard down, but at least for the moment, things seems to be going in the right direction for a successful 2020 census count. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

A New Birth Control Pill--for Men!

The birth control options for men have historically been very limited. We know that the Bible references withdrawal (coitus interruptus), but its effectiveness is very limited. Some type of condom has probably been used over the centuries, but not until the mid-19th century did the rubber condom come onto the market. The condom is, in fact, an effective measure of birth control, but most users don't like it, so the motivation has to be high for it to be regularly used. Until now, that was it when it came to temporary measures of birth control for men. Vasectomies have been available for nearly a century, but younger men, in particular, are not apt to opt for a permanent measure of birth control. 

So, the good news for men this week has come from researchers at the University of Washington who seem to have generated a birth control pill for men, as reported today by the Washington Post:
This week marks a new addition to the annals of contraceptive history: dimethandrolone undecanoate, a potential new birth control pill for men, is being touted as the “best hope” for a nonpermanent male contraceptive option yet.
Developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health by a team at the University of Washington, the formula is a tweaked version of previous failed attempts
While it comes with caveats — the pill must be taken with food to be effective, tests showed that usage had slight negative effect on cholesterol levels and over time might raise the risk of heart disease — right now the drug has shown itself to be safe for short-term use. (The next step? A trial that will show whether the pill decreases sperm production, followed by another test that will measure its efficacy in control groups of married and long-term partnered men.)
Will men use it? The author of this article isn't sure, especially since she points out that this male pill has the same side-effect as female methods--the risk of weight gain. It seems to me, though, that it is bound to gain momentum if the clinical trials are successful. Will it affect the birth rate? Perhaps not, since over the years, I have repeatedly heard women say that they would never trust a man who told them he was using a male contraceptive. Since it is still women who bear the burden of pregnancy, women are unlikely to rely on their male partner to avoid a pregnancy if they themselves do not want to chance a pregnancy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Polygamy and Violence Often Go Together

Thanks to my son, John Weeks, for the link to a very interesting article in the Economist this week linking the practice of polygamy to violence in various parts of the world. This is essentially an extension of the youth bulge issue, but it pertains to a situation in which polygamy takes a disproportionate share of women out of the marriage market, leaving many young adult men wondering what to do...
Wherever polygamy is widely practised (in South Sudan, perhaps 40% of marriages involve multiple wives) turmoil tends to follow. The 20 most fragile states in the world are all somewhat or very polygamous. Polygamous nations are more likely to invade their neighbours. The polygamous regions of Haiti and Indonesia are the most turbulent. One London School of Economics study found a strong link between plural marriage and civil war. How come?
Polygamy nearly always means rich men taking multiple wives. And if the top 10% of men marry four women each, then the bottom 30% cannot marry at all. This often leaves them not only sexually frustrated but also socially marginalised. In many traditional societies, a man is not considered an adult until he has found a wife and sired children. To get a wife, he must typically pay a “brideprice” to her father. When polygamy creates a shortage of brides, it massively inflates this brideprice. In South Sudan, it can be anything from 30 to 300 cattle, far more wealth than an ill-educated young man can plausibly accumulate by legal means.
In desperation, many single men resort to extreme measures to secure a mate. In South Sudan, they pick up guns and steal cattle from the tribe next door. Many people are killed in such raids; many bloody feuds spring from them. Young bachelors who cannot afford to marry also make easy recruits for rebel armies. If they fight, they can loot, and with loot, they can wed.
Polygamy has been practiced for millennia in various parts of the world and is, of course, legitimized in Islam, where the only proscription is that a man should not have more than four wives at any one time. The Economist refers to an article published last year in the journal International Security, authored by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess. They point out that Saudi Arabia deals with the problem of polygamy potentially producing instability by limiting brideprice and arranging low-cost mass marriages so that young men with lower levels of income are not pressured into "extralegal" means of acquiring enough money to get married.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When It Comes to Income, Race Matters & Place Matters

You may already have seen a widely circulated story from the New York Times summarizing a recent research report on what the NYT writers call a "Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys."
Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children. White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.
The study's authors, who are from Harvard, Stanford, and the U.S. Census Bureau, offer these major takeaways from their analysis:
Finding #1: Hispanic Americans are moving up in the income distribution across generations, while Black Americans and American Indians are not.
Finding #2: The black-white income gap is entirely driven by differences in men’s, not women’s, outcomes.
Finding #3: Differences in family characteristics – parental marriage rates, education, wealth – and differences in ability explain very little of the black-white gap.
Finding #4: In 99% of neighborhoods in the United States, black boys earn less in adulthood than white boys who grow up in families with comparable income.
Finding #5: Both black and white boys have better outcomes in low-poverty areas, but black-white gaps are bigger in such neighborhoods.
Finding #6: Within low-poverty areas, black-white gaps are smallest in places with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks.
Finding #7: The black-white gap is not immutable: black boys who move to better neighborhoods as children have significantly better outcomes.
The last finding is reminiscent of a point made in my blog post yesterday, underscoring that immigrants to happier places are happier than immigrants in less happy places. Place matters, just as race matters. This is not environmental determinism, of course. Both matter because of the nature of human society. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Spatial Demography of Happiness

It has been two years since I commented on the World Happiness Report, sponsored by the United Nations, and edited by Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University. At that time, Denmark was the happiest country on earth. This year's report, drawing upon country-level responses to Gallup polls, has just been released and another Nordic country--Finland--has now taken the top spot, as detailed by the NYTimes.
Finland is the happiest country in the world, it found, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. Though in a different order, this is the same top 10 as last year, when Norway was No. 1 and Finland was fifth.
As for the United States, it is 18th out of 156 countries surveyed — down four spots from last year’s report and five from 2016’s, and substantially below most comparably wealthy nations. Though the economy is generally strong and per capita income is high, it ranks poorly on social measures: Life expectancy has declined, suicide rates have risen, the opioid crisis has worsened, inequality has grown and confidence in government has fallen.
What is the difference between the Nordic countries and the U.S. that leads to these differences in how people perceive their happiness?
Dr. Sachs noted that the happiest countries have very different political philosophies from the United States’. Most of the top 10 are social democracies, which “believe that what makes people happy is solid social support systems, good public services, and even paying a significant amount in taxes for that.”
A very interesting new angle in this year's report was the measurement of happiness among immigrants to a given country.
Most notably, it found that the happiness of a country’s immigrants is almost identical to that of its population at large — indicating, Dr. Helliwell [one of the editors] said in an interview, that “people essentially adjust to the average happiness level of the country they’re moving to.” 
“The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live,” the report’s executive summary said. “Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live.”
And, as the report notes, this also means that people moving to a less happy country are likely themselves to become less happy in the process. To a certain extent, who we are depends upon where we are.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

U.S. Demographics are in Transition and We Have to Adjust

The demographic metabolism of the United States has been creating a lot of anxiety over the past several years, ultimately helping to engineer the election of Donald Trump, who ran on the promise of building border walls and ending immigration, especially from non-European countries--essentially a throwback to the discussions in the 1920s that led to the National Origins Quota system that cut off a lot immigration to the country just as the Great Depression was getting under way. For much of the 20th century the United States was dominated demographically by WASPs--white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But that has changed fairly dramatically over the past few decades--a trend that is bound to continue, as I noted a few days ago, based on the latest Census Bureau projections. The latest National Geographic has a lengthy story detailing the ground-level experience of these changing demographics, focusing especially on the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a place that had been decimated by the loss of coal-mining and factory jobs. 
Hazleton was another former coal mining town slipping into decline until a wave of Latinos arrived. It would not be an overstatement to say a tidal wave. In 2000 Hazleton’s 23,399 residents were 95 percent non-Hispanic white and less than 5 percent Latino. By 2016 Latinos became the majority, composing 52 percent of the population, while the white share plunged to 44 percent.
That dizzying shift is an extreme manifestation of the nation’s changing demographics. The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than 50 percent of the population by 2044, a change that almost certainly will recast American race relations and the role and status of white Americans, who have long been a comfortable majority.
In a period bookended by the presidential elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the question of what it means to be white in America has increasingly taken center stage.
Keep in mind that Hazleton came to fame not because the city embraced immigrants, but because it wanted to legislate specifically against undocumented immigrants.
Just over 10 years ago, Hazleton was thrust into the national spotlight when the mayor, now U.S. congressman Lou Barletta, urged the city council to pass a first-of-its-kind ordinance called the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. It set steep penalties for those who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants. It was accompanied by an ordinance that sought to make English the official language of Hazleton. The laws were introduced amid rising cultural tension in the community, which was seeing an influx of Latinos, many moving from New York and New Jersey.
A lawsuit stopped that ordinance from going into effect, buttressed by the testimony of my good friend, Professor Rubèn Rumbaut, who laid out the statistics showing that immigrants--whether undocumented or legal--were far less likely to commit crimes than were U.S.-born residents. 

The point is that no matter what our opinion about them might be, demographic, economic, and social changes are occurring in the United States--indeed the entire world--and there is no immediate end in sight. We have to adjust, no matter how painful we think that might be. That's the world that lies ahead of us.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Did the Low Birth Rate Kill Toys R Us?

This past week saw the closure of all of the Toys R Us stores in the U.S., following the company's closing of its stores in Britain. A story in the NYTimes emphasized the debt the company had piled up in a leveraged buyout in 2005 by a group of private equity firms. Competition was also fierce, especially from e-commerce such as Amazon. But the Washington Post picked up on a distinctly demographic aspect of the company's problem--the low birth rate. In its own statement, Toys R Us had stated the following:
The decrease of birthrates in countries where we operate could negatively affect our business. Most of our end-customers are newborns and children and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase. A continued and significant decline in the number of newborns and children in these countries could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.
The Washington Post reporters then dug into the numbers, comparing trends in the number of births to the company's revenue. Here's one of their graphics:

So, you can see that revenues tended to track births, if you believe these data. The problem is the number of births in the U.S. between 2010 and 2016 did not change in the way the above graph suggests. Here are the numbers from latest report by the Centers for Disease Control:

I'm sorry, but I don't see the trend. Toys R Us wasn't paying attention to the pattern of births, I suspect. They were focused on other things and that's what sunk them.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Arctic Ice is Melting Fast--This is Not Good

It has been many years now since we had the first confirmation of the rapid melting of Arctic ice. But every time I see a new story about it, I am startled to remember what a big deal this is--and who is responsible. The latest information comes from an op-ed in today's NYTimes written by Dr. Cecilia Bitz, who is a professor of atmospheric sciences and director of the Program on Climate Change at the University of Washington.
In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. 
These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.
The extreme Arctic warming this winter is a foreshadowing of things to come. On our current greenhouse emissions trajectories, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be ice-free in late summer by about midcentury or possibly as early as 2030, depending on natural variability. The impact will extend beyond the Arctic, adding to warming and sea level rise throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
If you have read my book, or any number of other books and articles, you know that the proximate cause of these rapid climate changes is human activity. Over the last century we have grown in unprecedented numbers and have used resources and polluted the earth and atmosphere in unprecedented ways. We are not on a sustainable path at the moment. We know what to do (stop population growth and use resources only in a sustainable way) but as a group we can't yet come to grips with those solutions. For additional useful information on these things, I recommend you visit the website of UK-based Population Matters

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Immigrants the Key to Continued U.S. Population Growth

The U.S. Census Bureau just released its latest projections of the U.S. population. This is called the 2017 series and, like the previous 2014 series, it builds on the base of the 2010 census. Of particular note, of course, is that despite the gradual aging of the U.S. population (which is mainly what has been hyped in the press), we are projected to continue growing in number, from 326 million this year to 404 million by 2060. This is true even though the fertility rate remains low, largely because of the projected continued net immigration into the country. Todd Gardner very astutely picked up on this particular graphic from the Census Bureau's news release about the projections:

Notice that if we assume a continuation of approximately one million new immigrants per year, then by 2030, the immigrants will make a bigger contribution to U.S. population growth than will natural increase (the excess of births over deaths). And, of course, since migrants tend to be young adults, they also contribute more to the births than to the deaths during the first several years after their arrival. What could change those ratios? Obviously a change to immigration policies could slow down the flow of migrants. An improvement in the death rate among the very young and the elderly (the ages where the U.S. lags behind other rich countries) would push up the rate of natural increase, as would an increase in the birth rate. The latter is probably the least likely of those three scenarios.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New Additions to the PAA Oral History Project

I am taking the liberty today of copying an article that I wrote for the latest issue (Spring 2018) of PAA Affairs (the quarterly newsletter of the Population Association of America), since I think that this stuff is important!

The PAA History Committee is very pleased to let you know that two new interviews of Past PAA Presidents have been added to the PAA Oral History Project archives on the PAA website: .

The latest interviews are with Dr. Andrew Cherlin (PAA President in 1999) and Dr.Arland Thornton (PAA President in 2001). Both of them are self-described family and household demographers. Here’s how Cherlin describes the field of demography as he saw it in his early years in the profession:
In the 1960s and early ’70s, the PAA was still about the population problem, how to reduce the birth rates. And a huge proportion of all the people who attended the meeting or were presenting papers were presenting on fertility—some on mortality, because we wanted to get death rates down. Fields like family and household demography and also migration were very underdeveloped. There were a lot of changes happening right at that time in the American family. And so there was a good group of people who were interested in these changes. And I think that group attracted people like Arland Thornton and me at the time.
To be sure, Thornton tells a similar tale:
I first went [to a PAA meeting] in 1972—I think we met in Toronto that year. It would be nice to see that program. I think that program would have been dominated by international family planning. I don’t think there was very much on mortality or on migration. I think that there would have been things on these issues, but not a lot. I think the main focus was on family planning. I think that the 1972 session where Paul Glick had a paper in a session on the family was the only one on the topic we now call family demography. And now, PAA is much bigger. The list of topics is much, much bigger. I think I would have had a little bit of a hard time in 1975, ’6, ’7, ’8, saying that divorce was part of demography. I think some people would have defined it as being outside demography. But with Andy [Cherlin] and Linda [Waite] and—oh, I didn’t mention Larry Bumpass and Jim Sweet before--it all soon became part of PAA. And studying school and mobility and occupational attainment, I don’t think there was very much of that at PAA in 1972. But Dudley Duncan was doing it, and if he was doing it, it almost had to be part of PAA. I think the expansion of topics at PAA has been amazing, and I’m delighted. I like demography being a big tent.
He also adds some advice for young people starting their careers:
I tell graduate students and post docs—this might be worth saying—to pick things to study that you’re passionate about. Do things that captivate you, that are enjoyable, that are fun. And if you do that, you’re going to work all the time, but it won’t seem like work.
The PAA Oral History Project is a unique source for the history of demography. It currently includes interviews with 51 of the 71 demographers who have served as president of the PAA since 1948. The project began in 1973 as the brainchild of Anders (Andy) Lunde. In 1988, Jean van der Tak replaced Andy as PAA Historian, and Jean was tireless in her pursuit of interviews until 1994, when the job of PAA Historian was handed over to John Weeks. He subsequently formed the PAA History Committee, whose current members include Karen Hardee, Dennis Hodgson, Deborah McFarlane, and Emily Merchant.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Will Old People and Robots Dominate the Future?

I've discussed the future role that robots might play in human society several times over the years--first in 2011, and most recently just last month. And, of course, I've blogged a lot about aging because the richer countries, in particular, are almost obsessed about the perceived negative consequences of the transition to a higher proportion of people being older (e.g., 65+). If you follow the interesting posts of John Mauldin, as I do (following up on a reader's recommendation several years ago), you may already have read his summary of his recent Strategic Investment Conference held here in San Diego last week. I was especially intrigued by his description of Karen Harris's presentation (she's from the Macro Trends Group at Bain & Company).
Last month Karen’s group issued a magnum opus report called “Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality.”...Bain thinks automation will eliminate up to 25% of US jobs by 2030, with the lower-wage tiers getting hit the hardest and soonest. That will be devastating, and it’s not that far away...Why is this happening? Demographics and automation are mutually reinforcing trends. One we already see: Employers turn to automation increasingly because they can’t find workers with the skills they need in sufficient numbers. The Baby Boom generation is leaving the workforce (though many Boomers are delaying retirement as long as they can). The additional labor that came from one-time factors like China’s opening has mostly run its course. If sufficient numbers of qualified people aren’t available, employer turn to machines.
Notice in the graph above from the Bain Group that greater inequality is one of the projected dimensions of this future scenario. As Mauldin notes:
The result will be even more inequality between lower-wage workers, highly skilled professionals, and business owners. That will create a variety of problems, one of which is consumption growth. The small number of wealthy people at the top can only spend so much. They save most of their income. Lower-income people spend more of their income. This pattern will only intensify.
Mauldin tends to be politically conservative and so is not too happy about the likely prospect that there will be calls for the wealthy to pay more in taxes to keep society afloat. This is, in fact, exactly the issue raised by Steven Ruggles in 2015 in his Presidential Address to the Population Association of America, as I noted at the time. Keep in mind that the U.S. population is aging, but not nearly as quickly as most European and East Asian societies. As automation and artificial intelligence replace the younger workers who are not being born, and people work longer into older age, a bit of transfer from the wealthy to everyone else is the likely answer to keep the country on track.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Irregular Migration from Africa to Europe Has Been Shifting

Dr. Debbie Fugate's visit here to San Diego State University was a reminder to us all to stay on top of the incredibly detailed and useful maps that she and her staff put together at the State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit. The maps are technically generated for use by the White House and the Secretary of State, and the U.S. government more generally, but the unclassified versions are available online to the rest of us. The most recent map details the trends in irregular ("undocumented") migration from Africa to Europe. Here's what is looks like, but you need to download it yourself to clearly see all of the information that is conveyed:

Here are two key summaries of what's going on:
1. Although European and African efforts to reduce irregular migration have successfully lowered overall numbers entering Europe, some migrants are transiting increasingly hazardous smuggling routes across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea, risking human rights abuses and indefinite detention. The UN’s voluntary humanitarian return program assisted over 19,000 migrants to return to their home countries from Libya in 2017, up from around 3,000 assisted migrant returns from Libya in 2016. An estimated 400,000–700,000 migrants live in detention in Libya.
2. UN agencies estimate that more migrants may die attempting to cross the Sahara than the Mediterranean.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Empowering Women: Show Me the Money!

It is too bad that we have to have a single day to try to remind the world that women are at least as important as men. Of all the things that are being written about and discussed on this International Women's Day, my view is that money is the most important. When people are equally compensated, society is sending the obvious message that they are, in fact, equal. My older son, John, is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland--a point I make not simply to brag, but to note that he knows what is required to get organizations to wipe out the gender pay gap. He sent me a link to a very informative story on this score from today's Financial Times. Here's what's going on in France:
Emmanuel Macron’s feminist activism is expected to extend further into the realm of business this month, when the French president outlines a plan to close the country’s 25 per cent gender pay gap. It is high time: Mr Macron, who has chosen the fight for gender equality as the “grande cause nationale” of his presidency, is the first French leader in three decades to show a willingness to tackle a problem that even the country’s feminists have long ignored.
Some companies have been creative in addressing the question, says Ms Trostiansky, a former diversity manager at Crédit Agricole, France’s largest retail banking group. For the past 10 years, LCL, formerly Crédit Lyonnais and now part of Crédit Agricole, has been closely monitoring its pay gap to smooth out abnormal differences. The bank is doing so by using several metrics to correct biases. Not only must individual bonuses and pay increases be the same on average for women and men, but also the number of women benefiting from pay increases must at least equal the number of men receiving a rise.
So, these and other examples in the Financial Times story help provide a road map for improving the income levels of women relative to men. Over time, of course, more money can lead to more wealth. There is still a lot of ground to be made up there, as today's Economist points out in a story comparing the wealthiest men and women in the world:

The top 10 richest humans are all men, 7 of whom are American. We have to get down to #16 to find the wealthiest woman, Alice Walton (of Walmart fame), who is also American. Yes, there's still a lot of work to do!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Was the Agricultural Revolution History's Greatest Fraud?

I mentioned a few days ago that I had read (and enjoyed) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. Enjoying it does not mean, however, that I agreed with everything. In particular, I strongly disagree with his “signature” revelation in the book—his belief that the agricultural revolution was the biggest fraud in history. Here’s his synopsis of that idea, from page 79 of his book:
Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.2
The reference (2) at the end of that paragraph refers to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. I like that book and reference it in mine, and was sure that Diamond had never made such an assertion about the Agricultural Revolution. I grabbed my copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel and found that I was right—he had not. Harari just made this stuff up. Diamond is quoted on the cover of Harari’s book, but he never actually says that he agrees with Harari.

When I finished the book, I went online looking for reviews to see if people had the same reaction I did (a reaction predicted by my older son, John, who had recommended that I read the book). Behold, there was review by none other than Bill Gates who, as I recently noted, is clearly becoming a demographer. Here is what he says, and I don’t think I could have said it better:
As much as I enjoyed Sapiens, there was plenty to disagree with in the book. For example, Harari sets out to prove that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistakes in human history. Yes, it allowed civilizations to thrive, but on an individual level, he writes, we were much better off as hunter-gatherers. As farmers, people had to work a lot harder and in exchange they had a worse diet than they had as foragers. Agricultural societies also created social hierarchies in which the majority toiled as peasants and a minority of elites ruled over them.
That’s certainly a provocative argument, but I wasn’t convinced. First, arguing that we were happier as hunter-gatherers than as farmers creates a choice when there isn’t one. It’s not as if we can turn back the clock and restart as hunter-gatherers or we can run an experiment to prove one way of life is better than the other. Second, I think Harari underestimates the hardships of being a hunter-gatherer. He suggests that death and violence rates were much lower in hunter-gatherer societies than after the agricultural revolution. But it’s more likely the violence was higher because of competition over resources. A farming society can support many more people per square mile than a hunter-gathering society. In order to keep population densities low, conflict was inevitable among groups of hunter- gatherers. Finally, calling the shift to agriculture a “mistake” overlooks the fact that farming societies were able to specialize, leading to written languages, new technologies, and art—all things we value today.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dr. Fugate Visits From Washington, DC

This coming Friday, the Geography Department at San Diego State University will be hosting one of its illustrious alums--Dr. Debbie Fugate, from the U.S. State Department.
Dr. Debbie Fugate is the Deputy Director of the Office of The Geographer and Global Issues in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Department of State. The office provides timely, independent analysis on a range of global issues to inform foreign policy decisions. She co-directs the research and analysis of the office, including work on civilian security, health and environment, human rights, migration and refugees, trafficking, and war crimes. She reports directly to The Geographer of the United States, a position that was established in 1921 and bears the statutory responsibility for providing guidance to all federal agencies on international boundaries and sovereignty.
Debbie oversees the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU), an interagency unit that produces written and visual analytics on humanitarian challenges and complex emergencies worldwide. The HIU employs geographic methods and technologies, serves as an information-sharing node, and manages projects that facilitate the creation of geospatial data. She is also Director of the Secondary Cities Initiative, a field-based program that engages communities to build capacity in geospatial science and open data with partnerships addressing disaster preparedness and urban resiliency in secondary cities globally.
You'll know from my past posts (here's the most recent) that she and I co-edited a volume on The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity?, as well as a variety of papers and chapters. We are happy to have her "back home" for this talk (with reception to follow). Please join us if in you're in the area!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hungary is Hungry for People

As the Historian of the Population Association of America, I automatically keep my eye on stories that relate to Past Presidents of the PAA. I don't know how he does it, but Todd Gardner has his eye on everything and just posted a tweet link to a story about Hungarian demographics featuring Past PAA President Paul Demeny. Paul is Hungarian by birth, but received his PhD at Princeton and was President of the Population Council and Editor of the prestigious journal Population and Development Review until his retirement just a few years ago, which I commented on at the time. My wife and I had dinner with him at the PAA meetings in San Francisco just a few months before he retired, but I haven't seen him since, so it was very nice to "be in touch" again.
Hungary Today recently published an interesting interview with Pál Demény, a demographer who is researching population trends. The 85-year-old Demény left Hungary in 1956, lived in the US and now has decided to retire to Budapest. (Read here.) [And, yes, I definitely recommend that you click on that link]
He was born in Nyíregyháza, went to university in Budapest and in 1961 received a PhD in Economics from Princeton. Demény has analyzed the links between demography, economics and policies and claims that Hungary will face a dramatic population decline soon. He agrees that by 2100 Hungary’s population will be halved; it will drop to 5.4 million. According UN estimates Hungary’s population will drop to 8.3 million by 2050. Can this trend be stopped, or only slowed down?
Mr. Orbán [Hungary's Prime Minister] thinks that by spending 4.6 percent of the GDP on family support programs sooner or later fertility rates will dramatically increase. I think he is mistaken and Demény also disagrees with him. He says that Hungary’s population decrease is irreversible!
Many demographers have warned that the Hungarian government is already late to start an immigration program. Demény thinks that the population problems of poorer countries will not be solved by emigration, “because only a small fraction of the population might conceivably leave.” He is probably right, but the “small fraction” can run in the millions.
In the lengthy interview with Paul Demeny in January, referred to above, Paul discusses the immigrant issue in more detail. He also offers a very interesting stimulus to the birth rate, which I had never heard of before: give children a vote! Of course, you don't actually let them vote until they are adults, but their parents could have a weighted vote. So, if you are a mother with 2 children you would have 3 votes in an election instead of just 1. The rationale is that your vote doesn't just affect you, but also the future of your children. That adds nuance to the idea that demography is destiny.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

We're No Longer Making Much Progress on Life Expectancy Gains

Yesterday I discussed the claims by Hong Kong that it has the highest life expectancy at birth in the world. Every country would undoubtedly like to be in the running for that honor as long as it means that we are all on an upward trajectory. Back in December, I noted that U.S. life expectancy had gone down for the second year in a year, after reaching a record high in 2009. Of course, even at the time of that record high, the U.S. lagged behind every other rich country in the world with respect to life expectancy, despite having the highest per person health care costs of any nation in the world.

The slowdown in the U.S. life expectancy trajectory is, unfortunately, not too far different from the global pattern. Thanks once again to Todd Gardner for pointing to a story on WebMD summarizing a recent paper published by Carolina Cardona and David Bishai, both of whom are in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Bishai is well qualified on these topics, having a PhD in Health Economics, along with an MD and MPH, and Cardona is a PhD student of his. They provide a concise summary of their analysis:
New technological breakthroughs in biomedicine should have made it easier for countries to improve life expectancy at birth (LEB). This paper measures the pace of improvement in the decadal gains of LEB, for the last 60-years adjusting for each country’s starting point of LEB.
LEB increases over the next 10-years for 139 countries between 1950 and 2009 were regressed on LEB, GDP, total fertility rate, population density, CO2 emissions, and HIV prevalence using country-specific fixed effects and time-dummies. 
Contrary to the expectation that advances in health technology and spending would hasten improvements in LEB, we found that the pace-of-growth of LEB has slowed around the world.
The WebMD article adds a bit of background to this:
They [Cardona and Bishai] said the slowdown in life expectancy gains does not mean that humans have simply reached their maximum biological life span. Rather, the researchers argue that their findings could mean that recent medical advances have not sustained historic increases in average life expectancy.
"This is not about us hitting the ceiling," researcher David Bishai said in a Hopkins news release. "The slowdown has been sharpest in countries that have the most life expectancy to gain."
"It's a rebuke to the idea that you can fix global health just by inventing more stuff," he said. "New health technology has been essential to making strides in life expectancy, of course, but our predecessors in the 1950s were making faster progress with the basics of soap, sanitation and public health."
This latter point is one I have tried to make emphatically in my book. The big gains in life expectancy in the world have come from a combination of public health science and medical science. Both are important and countries have to invest in both in order to keep people alive longer.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Can Hong Kong Really Claim to Have the Highest Life Expectancy?

A story on CNN yesterday saw the boast from Hong Kong that it has edged past Japan in terms of life expectancy at birth. 
Narrowly beating residents of Japan and other "blue zones" such as Italy, men in Hong Kong are living, on average, up to 81.3 years and women even longer, 87.3 years, as of 2016. "Over the last few decades, (Hong Kong) has caught up in a big way," said Dr. Timothy Kwok, professor of geriatric medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Dr. Gabriel Leung, dean of the faculty of medicine at Hong Kong University, noted that "we inched past Japan about five years ago. It's not a position that we've found ourselves in for decades."
The latest PRB World Population Data Sheet shows Hong Kong and Japan neck-and-neck in terms of life expectancy at birth for males and females, while the UN Population Division still gives Japan a slight edge. Still, Hong Kong has accomplished a lot in terms of keeping people alive from birth into old age. And of genuine interest is the fact that researchers there have been trying to figure out why this is true. Here are their hypotheses about long life in Hong Kong:
1. Easy access to everything
2. 'Greener than most'
3. Good hospitals -- for everyone
4. A determined population
5. Good weather
6. A take on the Mediterranean diet
7. The value of family
To the extent that these factors make a difference in Hong Kong, then we might expect them also to show up as causal factors in the other countries with the highest life expectancy, including Japan, Italy, Spain, Australia, Sweden, and Norway. Someone needs to volunteer to do that research...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Economic Uncertainty Keeps Fertility Low in Italy

The rich country angst about low fertility is widespread, and often overshadows the concern about fertility levels that are higher than wanted in many less-rich nations. At the same time, if we believe that every person and every population of people should aim for replacement-level fertility, both concerns are equally important. I thought about this demographic divide as I was reading the latest publication in Demographic Research--a paper by Francesca Fiori, Elspeth Graham, and Francesca Rinesi titled "Economic reasons for not wanting a second child: Changes before and after the onset of the economic recession in Italy".

This is a very nice descriptive analysis of data drawn from ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics) surveys conducted in 2002 and 2012. The authors focus on women who have already had one child and look at which ones in each of the two surveys (before and after the Great Recession) are thinking about having a second child.
Between 2002 and 2012, the proportion of primiparous mothers in Italy intending not to have a second child increased. The economic recession appears to have played a role in shaping their negative intentions, as the proportion of mothers who reported economic constraints as their main reason increased significantly.
This raises the interesting question of whether the increase in negative fertility intentions simply reflects the higher proportion of women experiencing economic hardship. Our findings suggest that it does not, but rather that it is also the consequence of a more pervasive feeling of insecurity which has affected the wider population, including those who have not been as severely hit by the crisis. Our results show a narrowing of socioeconomic differences, which indicates a greater increase in the propensity to avert risks associated with having another child among mothers with medium or high educational levels, and even among mothers with permanent employment contracts. At the same time, age differences have become more pronounced, mainly in response to the particularly adverse effect of the economic recession on younger individuals, suggesting that personal experience of economic difficulties may be more influential among younger women.
Keep in mind that economic insecurity has been rampant among humans forever, but very low fertility is a relatively new phenomenon. Obviously, it is the relative level--the gap between expectations and reality--that is important. The authors do not get into issues for which there were no data collected in the ISTAT surveys, such as the role of patriarchy and paternalism in pushing fertility to below-replacement levels in rich countries, but they leave the door open for these kinds of discussions. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Racism in China

Racism has been an issue in the United States since the founding of the country. For that sad reason, we are familiar with the topic and race/ethnicity is routinely analyzed as an important demographic characteristic. At the same time, we generally lump all persons of Asian-origin into a single race/ethnic category, even though there is tremendous cultural variability within the Asian-American community. And, of course, we have to remind ourselves that the cultural differences are the only things that really separate people. Ethnicity as a cultural variable is real in a way that race as a biological variable is not. This latter point is important to keep in mind when reading an article in The Economist about racism in China.
Chinese officials often try to portray racism as primarily a Western problem. Yet there is a widespread tendency in China to look down on other races, especially black people. Two years ago a television ad for a laundry detergent showed a young Chinese woman luring a black man closer, triumphantly popping a detergent capsule into his mouth and stuffing him into a washing machine. At the end of the cycle, out came a fresh-faced Chinese man, over whom the woman swooned. Among the tens of thousands of Africans living in a neighbourhood of Guangzhou known as “Chocolate City”, many report racist slights.
The outraged response of many netizens in China to the African skit suggests a growing awareness at home that bigotry is a Chinese problem, too. It may be one that time will help alleviate. After all, America went from bans on inter-racial marriage to electing a black president in a mere four decades. And even those Chinese who acknowledge that China has a problem rightly observe that it is far from the worst offender. Myanmar burns Rohingya villages, Islamic State tried to wipe out the Yazidis, and Sudan until recently enslaved black Africans. Racism in China, by contrast, is seldom expressed violently.
But a problem it is, and one that is aggravated by the authorities’ efforts to suppress discussion of it (censors raced online to delete criticism of the TV sketch). The Communist Party fears that such debate may undermine its efforts to portray Chinese people as victims of Western racism during the 19th and early 20th centuries—a narrative of humiliation which the party regards as a crucial explanation of why it has the right to rule.
This is an under-appreciated demographic reality in modern China, and one that Westerners may confront in person as the Chinese government seeks increasingly greater influence in the global economy and global politics. No one can profitably ignore the country that for several centuries has had the world's largest population.