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:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Who Knew That Migration Could Get Even Messier?

Immigration to the United States has been a messy issue forever, as you know if you've read my book, or any of Professor Rubén Rumbaut's books--among many others who have traced this sordid history. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, having stamped out nations of native Americans to get to that point. But let's face it, if you weren't white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) you were highly suspect, pretty much up to the point at which the 1965 Immigration Act was passed. If you watched the PBS American Experience episode on the Chinese Exclusion Act, you'll have a good feel for this. Once in the country, harassment of immigrants and their families is nothing new. The Japanese internment camps are among the worst of the examples, but the discrimination was aimed also at non-English speaking European immigrants. My mother-in-law was born in South Dakota in the 1920s to her Danish-immigrant farm-owning parents. She was the middle child of 12 kids, and the first one to grow up not learning Danish. Why? Because when she was very young the state of South Dakota passed a law making it illegal to speak anything but English in public. The Supreme Court ultimately tossed that out, but it worked in the sense that her parents stopped speaking Danish at home and my mother-in-law and her younger siblings grew up only with English.

I thought of all of these things (and many others, but this is just a blog post!) as I have read over the past several days about the horror stories of the U.S. government separating parents from their children upon a family's arrival at the border as undocumented immigrants. This is part of a "zero tolerance" policy implemented last month by the Trump administration. The Washington Post has a nicely detailed article that tries to summarize what's going on.
But none of these legal developments requires the Trump administration to separate children from their families. Instead, separations are rising in large part because of a “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In April, Sessions directed prosecutors to charge as many illegal entry offenses as possible.
Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman, said in the May 29 briefing that people charged with these offenses often are sentenced to time served and transferred to the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.
So, on one hand, the Flores settlement and the TVPRA require that children be released. On the other, Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy subjects any accompanying parents to criminal prosecution and eventual deportation.
Laying this on Democrats does not track with reality. The TVPRA was signed by Bush, and the Flores settlement is a court-approved agreement, not a law. Nothing required the Trump administration to separate children from their families until Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy made it a practical necessity.
And this is only part of the story. The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, just today announced that they are going to be having a seminar on 12 June to discuss a forthcoming rule change by the Trump administration that could allow an immigrant to be deported for using government benefits like food stamps, even though they are legally entitled to those benefits. The bad old days aren't gone yet.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Higher Status for Modern Women Increases the Birth Rate

There has been a lot of discussion over the past week and a half about the decline in the birth rate in the U.S. When the National Center for Health Statistics revealed this news, I suggested that an underlying factor was the increasing level of income and wealth inequality in this country, aggravated by lower taxes and thus fewer government programs designed to help ordinary people in ways that would encourage them to have a chid. A few days ago, Michelle Goldberg wrote a very good column for the NYTimes in which she got much more specific about what she thinks is going on. 
Most women seem to want both jobs and children, and when they’re forced to choose, some will forgo parenthood, or have only one child. In a 2000 paper, the Australian demographer Peter McDonald theorized that if women have educational and employment opportunities nearly equal to those of men, “but these opportunities are severely curtailed by having children, then, on average, women will restrict the number of children that they have to an extent which leaves fertility at a precariously low, long-term level.”
Livia Oláh, a demographer at Stockholm University, has studied how gender equality affects choices about having children at the family level. She found that in Sweden, women were more likely to have a second child if their male partner took paternity leave with their first child, a proxy for his willingness to share the work of parenting. In Hungary, she told me, couples that shared housework equally had a higher probability of having a second kid. Women “want structures and policies that make it possible for them to combine family life — housework and child care — with career,” she said.
The policy point here is that if you want a higher birth rate, the government needs to subsidize child care for women, so that they can combine a career with parenthood. Men always have that option because society assumes that the child's mother will be the caregiver. But the evidence from Europe suggests that the government has to step in with child care to free women to be both workers and mothers. In essence, governments must accord women equal status with men on this score.

The idea that a feminist, rather than a patriarchal approach will increase the birth rate is also exactly the conclusion drawn by a group of European demographers in an article published online today by the IUSSP in Paris:
Interacting the effect of women’s labor market status with that of their partner, we found that dual employment favors the transition to a second child more strongly than any other configuration. Dual-earner couples are more likely to have a second child than “traditional” couples, in which only the man is employed, probably because of their greater economic security.
And, of course, the idea that a feminist, rather than a patriarchal approach will increase the birth rate is exactly the opposite of how the current Prime Minister of Hungary thinks his government should approach its low birth rate.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Irish Vote to End Abortion Ban

In a truly historic vote, the Irish decided yesterday that they wanted to end the ban on abortion in that country. Every news source has the story, such as the NYTimes:
The surprising landslide, reflected in the results announced on Saturday, cemented the nation’s liberal shift at a time when right-wing populism is on the rise in Europe and the Trump administration is imposing curbs on abortion rights in the United States. In the past three years alone, Ireland has installed a gay man as prime minister and has voted in another referendum to allow same-sex marriage.
The “yes” camp took more than 66 percent of the vote, according to the official tally, and turnout was about 64 percent.
The vote means that Ireland's Parliament will repeal the Eighth Amendment, which was put into place in 1983, banning abortion in almost every circumstance--allowing no exceptions even for fatal fetal abnormalities, rape or incest. In place of the Eighth amendment, Parliament has pledged to pass legislation that will allow unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. 

The Prime Minister said that: "We want a modern constitution for a modern country, and that we trust women and that we respect them to make the right decisions and the right choices about their own health care.” That's really the point here--granting to women the right to make their own choices about their own reproductive health. These are decisions that, of course, men never have to make with respect to their own bodies. 

An important complement to the availability of abortion is the availability of contraception, in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and thus help to reduce the demand for abortion. Irish lawmakers clearly had this in mind a couple of months ago, as the Irish Times reported that the government was thinking about introducing free contraceptives for everybody if the vote to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution was approved. Since the vote did go that way, we'll have to keep tabs on the next moves.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Hungarian Prime Minister Blames Low Fertility on "Liberal Democracy"

According to a report today from US News and World Report, the Hungarian government is blaming its low fertility and declining population on liberal democracy, and it intends to fight back.
Hungary's government will launch measures to stop and then reverse a demographic decline by 2030, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, as he blamed liberal democracy for undermining traditional families.
Orban said the key question was whether the Hungarian nation was preserved "biologically and in numbers" and what the government should do to stop the demographic decline. He said the government would launch a "serious family policy action plan" but did not go into detail.
Liberal democracy had failed to halt immigration, protect Christian culture or strengthen the traditional family of one man and one woman, Orban said.
"Christian democracy protects us from migration, defends the borders, supports the traditional family model of one man, one woman, considers the protection of our Christian culture as a natural thing," he said.
Orban, 54, took power in 2010 and has continually increased his control over the media, put allies in charge of once-independent institutions and campaigned on a platform of fierce hostility to immigration.
This seems more like a rant against Muslim immigrants than anything else, especially since low fertility and population decline have been characteristics of the entire Central and Eastern European region for a long time. Hungary's next-door neighbor, Romania, has been experiencing similar trends and a paper just out in Demographic Research by two Romanian demographers suggests, somewhat ironically, that the best route to higher fertility in Romania is by increasing the levels of female labor force participation which can increase economic development and make it easier for couples to be able to afford children. This is probably not what the Hungarian Prime Minister wants to hear, but it just might work.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Global Gag Rule Bites Africa

Shortly after Donald Trump assumed the presidency in January of 2017 he reinstated the "global gag rule" that had been originally put into place during the Reagan administration, as I discussed at the time. This is a regulation that says that any organization in the world receiving money from the U.S. government (typically through USAID) was prohibited from providing abortion, abortion counseling, or abortion-related services. As a story in Reuters from yesterday notes:
The goal is to please Christian conservatives who strongly oppose abortion and are a major part of Trump’s political base.
MSI [Marie Stopes International] and the International Planned Parenthood Federation are among only four to reject the conditions of the order. They offer abortion services, in accordance with local rules, and say it is a last resort in preventing unwanted or unsafe births.
USAID says 733 other NGOS still receive funding. But in Africa, MSI and IPPF are the two largest NGO providers of free contraception and family planning advice.
Note that none of these organizations are suggesting or doing anything that is unlawful in those places. Abortion is legal under various circumstances in a large number of African countries, but that doesn't mean anything to the Trump administration with regard to Africa, just as it doesn't mean anything to them here in the U.S., where abortion is also legal. Furthermore, these organizations are not promoting abortion. They are promoting contraception, and the more effective those programs are, the lower will be the demand for abortion--everyone knows that.

Who will step up to fill in the gaps left by drops in funding from USAID? The Reuters article suggests the following candidates: They include the Hewlett-Foundation, the Waterloo Foundation, the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Gates Foundation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Can Egypt Survive Its Demographic Storm?

It has been over a year since I last blogged about Egypt, and the concern then was that rapid population growth was threatening to undermine the country's fragile stability. A major issue then was that, as I pointed out three years ago, the birth rate in Egypt has been rising, not falling. Fast forward to an article that came out today* from the Brookings Institution written by two economists at the World Bank:
Egypt’s worrying population boom fails to generate the same headline attention as terrorist attacks, the impact of economic reforms on the poor, the country’s hyper-constrained politics, or accusations of human rights violations. Yet, the very real dangers it poses were highlighted when the head of the country’s statistical agency, Abu Bakr el-Gendy, called this seemingly irrepressible tide a “catastrophe.” To Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it is a “challenge as critical as terrorism.”
This growth has grave implications. The number of primary school students grew by 40 percent from 2011 to 2016. One can imagine the impact on a system where 35 percent of students entering middle school cannot read or write. Employment is another challenge, with 700,000 new entrants annually into a labor force where over 25 percent of those 18-29 years old—one-third of whom have university degrees—are unemployed. The International Monetary Fund projects a labor force of 80 million by 2028. Reminiscent of the 2011 revolution, in which youth played a major role, 61 percent of the current population is under 30 years old and 34.2 percent is under 15 years old.
Back in 2015 I noted that "[i]t will be very important for the current or future governments to reinvigorate family planning programs so that married women have greater access to birth control (historically these programs have been much more available to married than to single women), and to invest again in education for women and create employment opportunities for young women, so that they will be encouraged to delay marriage and thus lower their lifetime number of births."

It seems as though the government is finally getting serious about this.
The government has launched a family planning campaign with the slogan “two are enough.” The Ministry of Health’s Operation Lifeline aims to reduce the birth rate to 2.4, targeting rural areas where many view large families as a source of economic strength and resist birth control believing that it is un-Islamic. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s foremost sources of Islamic learning, supports the ministry.
We know that concerted efforts to make family planning available to women work--look at Iran, as I discussed last month.  The world needs to step up to help Egypt succeed in this, because demographic chaos in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.

*And, yes, thanks to Todd Gardner yet again for the link!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Population Bomb's 50th Anniversary

This year marks 50 years since Paul Ehrlich published his seminal book The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race to Oblivion?  Professor Ehrlich is a biologist, not a demographer, but his impact on public discourse and policy about population has been enormous, which is why we are still talking about his book a half century later. And it's not just us talking about it. So is he! My thanks to Population Matters for the link to a nearly one-hour interview with Paul Ehrlich put together by Climate One.

Ehrlich is a classic Neo-Malthusian and you may disagree with a lot of what he says, but his demodystopian view of the world (which I talked about yesterday) is powerful. It also led to death threats and other kinds of abuse hurled at him over the years. As he discusses in his interview, the prevailing criticism is that he was "wrong" in that there weren't the kinds of famines that he predicted. A number of years I ago I invited him to come down here to SDSU from Stanford to give a talk at a colloquium that I had helped organize for our Graduate School of Public Health. He and I discussed the fact that he was delighted to have been wrong! Despite what some of the haters seemed to believe, he was not wishing for the end of the world or the deaths of millions of people. Rather, he was sounding a warning signal. That we are still talking about it today is reminder of how important that warning was--and still is. We are by no means in safe territory with respect to the future. But that doesn't mean we're doomed. We just have to stay focused on what a sustainable future means. 

As Ehrlich discusses in the interview, we cannot assume that incomes for everyone in the world can keep going higher and higher if that means ever more consumption of non-renewable resources. We have to protect our environment, including the land, water, and air. And we have to recognize that intentionally small families are much better than the historical small families that came about as a result of high death rates. Most of human history has been characterized by lives that were short and brutish. No matter how much we may "enjoy" the demodystopian movies, that's not the direction we want to be going.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Power of Overpopulation in Movies and Literature

If you've seen the wildly popular movie "Avengers: Infinity War" you know that the plot revolves around the issue of overpopulation. Thanks to Todd Gardner (@PopGeog on Twitter) for linking me to a story in The Guardian that digs into this a bit:
There are 7,622,000,000 people in the world today, and not all of them are superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But even though rising population figures are good for box-office receipts, it is a real-world trend that has sparked alarm and controversy for decades. And, while it is still a somewhat peripheral concern in contemporary politics – unlike, say, climate change – overpopulation has nevertheless become the crisis du jour in modern blockbuster filmmaking. As a movie-plot issue, population crisis exists between a plausible future and an imagined dystopia, offering Hollywood a force of moral nuance that exceeds the brute power of pure evil’s wrecking balls.
The makers of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) actually grappled with a double-pronged population crisis in the latest instalment in the Marvel’s Avengers series. First, they had to ram dozens of standalone superheroes, from Doctor Strange to Black Panther, into a tolerable length of film, and second, only anxiety over population growth could provide sufficient moral complexity for the franchise’s big boss, Thanos.
The term "dystopia" (essentially Hell on Earth) is of course the opposite of "utopia" (essentially Heaven on Earth) and the role of demography in dystopias was labeled "Demodystopias" by Andrew Domingo in an article published in 2008 in Population and Development Review. Indeed, it seems that dystopian publications are typically the inspirations for the movies.
Hollywood’s interest in population crises reflects a publishing trend. Back in 2013, in the space of a month, two books were published with near identical titles and subjects: Stephen Emmott’s bite-sized, apocalyptic, vision, Ten Billion, and Danny Dorling’s longer, more optimistic, Population 10 Billion. Both posed the question: when the global population count hits 10 billion, as projections suggest it will around 2050, can we sustain life on Earth at current levels of consumption?
As Dorling observes, “At some point we should begin to get low fertility apocalyptic films, when a director realises that average human fertility is falling rapidly and not set to stop at two babies per couple but below that after 2100 (if not before 2100).” As Luthersdottir says: “Popular culture reflects that which is popular – and as such it will always reflect that which is the perceived reality … rather than attempting to enlighten us about actual reality.”
In his 2008 article Domingo talks about these kinds of low-fertility scenarios, and in particular mentions Ben Wattenberg:
Ben Wattenberg presented himself as a prophet of the disasters that demographic implosion would bring to the planet in his book The Birth Dearth (1987), although with far less popular success than Ehrlich on the population explosion. In 2004 he returned to the theme in Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future.
Hollywood producers haven't yet jumped on this... 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Wealth Inequality Hits Families with Children Very Hard

Yesterday I suggested that an important reason for the continued drop in the U.S. birth rate was the rising level of income and wealth inequality. Professor Rubèn Rumbaut pointed me to an Op-Ed in today's NYTimes that underscores that thesis. The article is drawn from a paper just accepted for publication in Demography, the official journal of the Population Association of America (PAA), so it represents peer-reviewed scientific research. Their article in Demography starts out with the following comments:
In his 1984 presidential address to the Population Association of America, demographer Samuel Preston called attention to what he saw as a troubling trend: the transfer of resources to the elderly at the expense of children (Preston 1984). As Preston noted, society bears responsibility for taking care of the elderly and children, who often rely on others for resources. As America’s primary dependents, however, the elderly and children often compete for resources. By prioritizing the elderly over children in the provision of public transfers, Preston argued, society risked negative consequences because subsequent generations would have insufficient resources to thrive. More than three decades later, little has changed: the United States still directs a disproportionate amount of social welfare dollars to those over the age of 65 relative to those under the age of 18 (Moffitt 2015).
That last reference is to yet another Past President of the PAA, Robert Moffitt, who is at The Johns Hopkins University. Professor Preston was, as it turns out, a member of my own PhD committee at UC, Berkeley, so you can see that these issues are central to what demographers do. 

The authors of this paper--Christina M. Gibson-Davis of Duke University and Christine Percheski of Northwestern University--analyzed data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a cross-sectional study of U.S. households conducted by the Federal Reserve approximately every three years. Data come from the years 1989 to 2013. They found that the elderly are doing OK over this time, but--consistent with Professor Preston's concern--the same is not true for families with children:
Families with children fared worse as a group. Overall, their wealth declined by 56 percent in the same period. More important, they also faced a wide and growing divide: Wealth inequality for these households grew significantly from 1989 to 2013. The top 1 percent saw their wealth increase by 156 percent, while parents in the bottom half saw their wealth shrink by 260 percent. About a third of all families with children in 2013 had no wealth, only debt.
In 2013, the top 1 percent of these families had a median wealth of $5.1 million, thanks to skyrocketing incomes, increasing home values and strong returns on stocks and investments. They have millions in savings and generous trust funds for their children.
Families on the bottom rungs live very differently. They may not even own a home, and if they face an unexpected expense, like a medical emergency, they don’t have a cushion of savings or other assets to draw on. And when their children start college, some of these parents may still be paying off their own student loans.
This is precisely what I had in mind in suggesting that rising economic inequality was causing people of reproductive age in this country to think hard about having a child. And, I could not agree more with their overall conclusion: "The United States needs a fundamental rethinking of public policy priorities to improve the lives of the next generation of children." This should include the creation of better, higher-paying jobs for young adults (the potential parents), along with strong support for academically excellent (and safe) public education so that these kids can grow up with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

US Birth Rate Down Yet Again

Women in the U.S. continue to have fewer babies. That's the news from the National Center for Health Statistics, highlighted in today's NYTimes (and thanks to Rubèn Rumbaut for the link).
The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year, federal officials reported Thursday, extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession.
You can see in the graph below that both the number of births and the general fertility rate (births per 1,000 women aged 15-44) plummeted in the 1970s as the country went through the Baby Bust that followed the Baby Boom. The number of births recovered over time, largely because the number of women of reproductive continued to increase. But you can see that the birth rate itself never really recovered. It bounced up a bit in line with the rise in economic activity that ultimately led to the Great Recession in 2008, which was followed by a relatively precipitous drop in numbers of births and the birth rate.

It is good of course that the teen birth rate continues to drop, and it is interesting that the only age group with a clear increase was 40-44. The long-term trend has been for rates to be declining at all ages under 35, and rising at ages 35-44. Clearly women are postponing births. Why? The reaction to the economic rise (an increase in the birth rate) and the Great Recession (a drop in the birth rate) suggests that the economy has a lot to do with people's decision-making, especially in an era where birth control is readily available (no matter how hard some people want to put a lid on that!). My theory is that the root cause of the fertility trend is the increasing level of income and wealth inequality in the United States. Neither the President nor Congress seems to have any inclination to invest in infrastructure improvement and other government-sponsored programs that have been key components to past economic growth. Handing big tax breaks to a relatively small number of wealthy people and large corporations has no history of stimulating the kind of economic growth that helps a wide swath of people, whereas government-sponsored programs do have that kind of history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Urban Population of the World Projected to Increase by 2.5 Billion by Mid-Century

Thanks to Todd Gardner for the link to a report released today from the UN Population Division detailing their new projections of the urban population.
By 2050, two out of every three people are likely to be living in cities or other urban centres, according to a new United Nations report, highlighting the need for more sustainable urban planning and public services.
Most of the increase is expected to be highly-concentrated in just a handful of countries. “Together, India, China and Nigeria will account for 35 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050…It is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million,” said DESA, announcing the findings on Wednesday.
By 2028, the Indian capital, New Delhi, is projected to become the most populous city on the planet. Currently, Tokyo is the world’s largest, with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi (29 million), and Shanghai (26 million). Mexico City and São Paulo, come next; each with around 22 million inhabitants.
As the report suggests, these projections imply a tremendous demand for services to meet the needs of these new (and current) urban residents in a sustainable manner--shelter, food, water, sanitation, education, law enforcement, and of course jobs, many of which will be focused precisely on servicing those needs. This will be simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity, and guarantees that the world will be a different place at mid-century than it is now.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Demography and its Consequences

One of the consequences of the age transition in many countries is that at some point the working age population shrinks in comparison to the other age groups. These changes require a response and therein lies the linkage between demography and everything else going on in society. Last week's Economist had a story in the print edition that addressed this issue with the heading "Demography and its Consequences: Small Isn't Beautiful." The geographic focus is on Eastern Europe and the way in which its labor force has been decimated both by emigration and a low birth rate, keeping in mind that emigration exacerbates the birth rate issue because it is typically adults of reproductive age that are moving out. 

So, we get back to the questions of how to keep the economy going and how to pay for the retirements of the elderly if there are fewer workers than there used to be? The Economist puts forth some suggestions: (1) increase the labor force productivity of women; (2) increase the retirement age; and (3) let immigrants replace the "missing" workers. These are not new ideas, but they obviously bear repeating, and I appreciated the fact that this article quoted a Past President of the Population Association of America, Ron Lee of UC, Berkeley:
The levers for governments to pull are well known: they can remove financial incentives (tax or benefits) to retire early and increase those to keep working. Raising the state retirement age is a prerequisite almost everywhere; if the average retirement age were increased by 2-2.5 years per decade between 2010 and 2050, this would be enough to offset demographic changes faced by “old” countries such as Germany and Japan, found Andrew Mason of the University of Hawaii and Ronald Lee of the University of California, Berkeley.
So, if countries chose only this one option of delaying retirement, much of the demographic angst would go away. And keep in mind that none of the options laid out require a push for a higher birth rate.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

There is Still a Question About the Citizenship Question of Census 2020

A few days ago a House of Representatives panel met to ask questions of the person in the U.S. Justice Department who had officially requested that a citizenship question be included on the full census in 2020--not just on the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, as is currently the practice. He didn't show up. Fortunately, it seems that both Republicans and Democrats in the House were unhappy about that, but if my own Congressman is any indication, it may nonetheless be a tough fight to keep this question off the census form. On Friday, his office finally responded to my messages to him about the census question. Here is his response, which is just the usual talking points:

Dear John:

          Thank you for contacting me regarding the 2020 Census.  I welcome the opportunity to respond to this important issue.

          As you may know, the U.S. Census acts as a numerical count of every resident in the United States.  The Census is mandated under Article I, Section II of the Constitution and takes place every ten years.  This data is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the United States House of Representatives, distribute billions in federal funds, and ensure the safety of our communities.  Federal law requires all residents of the United States to answer the census.  

          Per the request of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the 2020 census would include a citizenship question in order to help better enforce the Voting Rights Act.  You'll be interested to know that Representative Carolyn Maloney [D-NY] introduced H.R. 5359, the 2020 Census Improving Data and Enhanced Accuracy (IDEA) Act in the House and Senator Brian Schatz [D-HI] introduced S. 2578 as the Senate companion bill under the same title.  Both measures would require the Secretary of Commerce to provide advance notice to Congress before changing any questions on the decennial census.  Currently, H.R. 5359 has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and S. 2578 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for further consideration. 

          As illegal immigration continues to be a serious problem in our country, I believe individuals who lawfully seek to become citizens of our country should be welcomed into our democracy.  It is important to know who resides in the United States, whether they are legal residents or not.  Additionally, between 1820 and 1950, almost every census included a question on citizenship in some form.  Today, other surveys used to sample populations, such as the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, continue to ask a question on citizenship. 

          Again, thank you for contacting me about this issue.  If you have a questions or concern please don't hesitate to contact me. 

                                                                                  Duncan Hunter
                                                                                  Member of Congress

This response from Congressman Hunter arrived on Friday, shortly before he appeared live on the Bill Maher show on HBO. He wasn't asked about the census, but he was asked about a variety of other things, for which he also just spouted the talking points.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Can We Keep Feeding the Population?

This was the question that Malthus asked most famously way back at the end of the 18th century. We have been very innovative in our ability to grow food faster than the population has grown over the past two hundred years since Malthus first raised the concern. But we have to constantly keep our eye on this prize of feeding an ever larger number of humans, as I am prone to remind you on a regular basis (for example, recently on Earth Day!). As I noted in yesterday's blog post, two recent articles speak to this issue--one negatively, and one positively.

The negative one is a story that you probably already know about. We're losing good farmland all over the world, including here in the United States:
Around any large or mid-size city in America, one can find land that was previously rich, fertile farmland being bulldozed and segmented to make room for housing and/or commercial businesses. It might be a well-deserved retirement fund for farmers, but once the land is covered with buildings and residences, it will never be farmland again.
The rise of cities over the past two centuries, in particular, has meant that an increasing fraction of the population is not working on a farm, and so food has to be brought to them. A well-positioned city is obviously one that is near good farmland that can provide food for the urban residents. This is a pattern we see all over the world. But the downside is that a lot of this good land gets wiped out over time by the sprawl of the cities. This is one of the reasons why the amount of good farmland is so limited.

What can we do about this? Aqua-culture has been one answer--farming the sea for fish and other things. An article in Al Jazeera points to a "farm" in Connecticut:
Bren Smith is in the process of creating thousands of decent jobs, transform how we harvest food from the oceans, and blunt the effects of climate change and marine degradation - all at the same time. The system he has developed to do this is called '3D Ocean Farm', a polyculture vertical farming system under the water's surface which grows a mix of seaweed crops and shellfish. Requiring zero inputs, it is the most sustainable form of food production on the planet, and it also sequesters carbon and rebuilds reef ecosystems. The crops can be used as food, fertiliser, animal feed and even energy.
And then there's the process of creating "meat" in the lab, instead of raising and killing animals for meat. 
While the statistics surrounding the industry are terrifying, there is no sign that the industry is slowing down. Meat consumption is on track to rise 75 percent by 2050. Scientists at Mosa Meats in the Netherlands believe they have found a solution to this dangerous trend: growing meat in a lab. This technique eliminates the need to harm live animals, eradicates the dedication of large swathes of land to the cultivation of animals and dramatically reduce methane emissions.
"Methane is actually a very powerful greenhouse gas," says Dr Mark Post at the University of Maastricht. Post is part of a number of teams involved in research surrounding the production of lab-grown meat."[Methane is] 20 times more powerful than C02 and livestock is accountable for 40 percent of all methane emissions. This process would reduce the number of animals from 1.5 billion to 30,000," continues Post.
These two innovations sound very promising, you have to admit. Now the question is whether science and the marketplace can come together. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Thanks to Todd Gardner...

Thanks to Todd Gardner for linking us today to a story in Al Jazeera about some new ways of growing food that may keep future humans from starving. Before I get to this story, however, let me point out that you will often find the comment "thanks to Todd Gardner" at the beginning of my blog posts. Dr. Gardner is a researcher at the Center for Economic Studies in the U.S. Census Bureau. Although his Ph.D. is in history, he was trained by the historical demographers at the Minnesota Population Center, home of IPUMS, and he is also a very good population geographer. Given the scope that he brings to demography, it is also not surprising that in his spare time he keeps track of news stories that might interest demographers and posts them to his Twitter account: @PopGeog. I follow him and you should, too, if you don't already. 

I had the pleasure of sitting down for breakfast with Todd when we were both at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America a couple of weeks ago in Denver. The work that he and his colleagues do at the Census Bureau is not just fascinating--it is a very important part of what keeps the economy of this country growing. It is hard to conduct business well in the absence of good information, and the U.S. Census Bureau is one of, if not the, best data-gathering institutions in the world. Mention that to your Member of Congress every time you have a chance!!

Now, about that story. I'll get to it tomorrow, when I will link up that story with this one about the loss of farmland in the U.S. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Economy of Cities Helped Drive 19th Century Urbanization

Philippe Bocquier and Sandra Bree have just published an article in Demographic Research that takes us back to 19th century France in search of the major drivers of the early parts of the urban transition in that country. Consistent with what you already know from my book, the death rates in urban places in France in the 19th century were higher than in the countryside, while the urban birth rates were a bit lower (although even in rural areas the birth rate was dropping in the mid to late 19th century in France). So, the rate of natural increase was lower in cities than outside of cities, and it was clearly the economic attraction of the cities that led people in rural places to migrate to the cities.

As I read the article (which is very dense with a lot of discussion about data, methods, and results) I couldn't help but think back to the trip that my wife and I made to Denmark a couple of years ago, in which we visited the rural village where her maternal grandfather had been born and raised late in the 19th century (the village of Tranekaer, on Langeland--an island about a two-hour drive from Copenhagen). We actually found the thatched roof house where he was born, because one of her uncles had been there right after WWII (he had been stationed in Germany), and we knew what we were looking for. It seemed like a good-sized house, but the local historian showed us the census forms for a year close to when he was born and we confirmed her suspicion that several families were sharing the house. Indeed, she told us unequivocally that it was rural poverty that drove people to migrate. Cities were an obvious choice, because they were just ramping up their level of economic activity in the 19th century, but for many Scandinavians the choice was rural America. A woman at a local shop told us that every summer she is visited by Americans whose family members migrated from Denmark to the upper midwest of the U.S. to start a new life, which is exactly what my wife's grandfather and his family did--moving to South Dakota where they became successful farmers. 

Anyway, thanks to Philippe Bocquier and Sandra Bree for a very nice research article and for triggering that trip down memory lane!!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Culture and Money are Part of Demography

Demographic research shows us very clearly that culture and money influence the way we organize our lives, and in turn affect underlying demographic trends such as the birth rate, death rate, and migration patterns--which in turn circle around to affect culture and money. I was inspired to point these things out by an Op-Ed in today's NYTimes by Andrew Cherlin, Professor of Sociology at The Johns Hopkins University, and a Past President of the Population Association of America, as I've mentioned before. He was weighing in on the ongoing question of how did it happen that Donald Trump was elected President? On what basis, for example, did white voters who had helped elect Barack Obama to the presidency, wind up then voting for Trump? Was it culture (a fear of "cultural displacement" that can lead to or exacerbate racism?) or was it economics (a feeling that lower-income white workers had been left behind by Democrats?). Professor Cherlin was very clear about his view of the matter--you can't separate these things:
The debate over why the white working class supported Mr. Trump raises a question: Why do we care so much about determining precisely how much political upheaval is due to economics and how much is due to culture?
Perhaps we are drawn to this futile quest because economic problems seem more tractable — more easily dealt with through the levers of government policy — while cultural issues seem more resistant to change. Perhaps it is because people’s economic troubles are often said to reflect larger, structural problems beyond their control, whereas their cultural deficiencies are sometimes seen as their own fault. When academics and journalists want to express affinity with the working class, in other words, they focus on poverty, and when they don’t, they focus on prejudice.
Controversy over economic versus cultural explanations of poverty can be traced to 1966, when the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, in his book “La Vida,” on Puerto Ricans in New York, wrote of a “culture of poverty” that seemed impervious to change.
Today, however, astute scholars do not see a wall between economics and culture. They acknowledge that financial hardship affects the daily lives of working-class Americans, but they add that how they respond is based on cultural beliefs that may lead them to scapegoat minority groups.
People with unstable or insufficient incomes may express their fears by talking about race because that is the way they have learned to interpret the world. People who are frustrated by their lack of progress may still try to defend the dignity of their work. It is a mistake to see economics and culture as distinct forces. Both propelled Mr. Trump to victory.
If you read this and think to yourself, "what does this have to do with demography?" the answer is of course that everything is connected to demography. Patterns of migration, patterns of births and deaths, and the demographic characteristics of different groups that are shaped by cultural changes taking place are all wrapped up in what we can generally call "cultural demography."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Can China Be Both Old and Rich?

The common mantra in the world is that "China will grow old before it gets rich." This is based on the fact that the rapid drop in fertility in China, which began in the 1960s but was entrenched with the implementation of the one-child policy in 1979, was a major contributor to China's economic rise. We demographers know with certainty that such a rapid drop in fertility, especially when combined with declining mortality and a distaste for immigration, will lead first to a "demographic dividend" of a large working age population in relation to the younger and older populations, and will then lead to an aging of the population in which the older population increases rapidly in relation to the working age population. Chinese demographers understand the age transition and China's rise in economic growth has been fueled by this age transition in combination with hard work and rising levels of education. 

Will that aging population lead to economic collapse? The common view is that it will, and this is expressed in a story published a couple of days ago in the Wall Street Journal. The headline is "A Limit to China's Economic Rise: Not Enough Babies." 
China is careening toward a demographic time bomb. In another decade, it will have more people over 60 than the entire population of the U.S. Its workforce is shrinking, and not enough babies are being born.
Actually, the story is more nuanced, because it mainly talks about the constraints that the Chinese government continues to put on people to limit family size. To be sure, I am not in favor of any government telling people how many children they should or shouldn't have. But it has seemed clear to me for a long time that the Chinese government (which continues to drive the bus in China) does not see a larger population as a "solution" to the aging problem. Rather, it has been going around the world investing in projects and grabbing technologies that will allow its economy to survive even in the face of an aging population. The best new evidence of that is an Op-Ed piece in today's NYTimes by Thomas Friedman.
ACT III opened in October 2015, when China announced its new long-term vision: “Made in China 2025,” a plan to dominate 10 next-generation industries, including robotics, self-driving cars, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, biotech and aerospace. 
When the U.S. and Europe saw this, they basically said: Wow. We were ready to turn the other cheek when your combination of hard work, cheating and industrial policy was focused on low-end industries. But if you use the same strategies to dominate these high-end industries, we’re toast. We need some new rules.
The point is that "Made in China 2025" is clearly a plan to keep the economy booming despite China's aging population. In some ways, that would only be fair, since the graying population represents the cohort that suffered through the one-child policy and worked hard enough to propel the Chinese economy forward. Friedman does not talk about the demographic issues, but his other writings in the past suggest that he is well aware that a clear underlying motivation for what is happening in China is that the government wants the country to be both old and rich.