This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Friday, August 31, 2018

Max Roser and Our World in Data

Over time I have regularly given shout-outs to the great work that Max Roser and his team at Oxford University do in assembling and presenting data for the world around us--focusing heavily on demographically-related themes (remember, indeed, that nearly everything is connected to demography!). There is no time like the start of the Fall term to go online and access these resources. You could start with the graphs of world population growth, such as:

Or, you may want to start with a YouTube video sponsored by Bill Gates, focusing on the important demographic work that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does around the world:

And there's lots more. Browsing these resources is a great way to start the term.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

North Carolina Ordered by the Court to Redraw its Gerrymandered Districts -- UPDATED

You may recall that two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals a ruling that North Carolina's Congressional District boundaries had been gerrymandered in order to favor Republican candidates. The obvious evidence of this is that 10 of North Carolina's 13 Congressional Districts are held by Republicans, despite the fact that Republican candidates had won only 53% of the overall popular vote. The Supreme Court suggested that perhaps the parties bringing the lawsuit forward didn't have the standing to do so. This week the lower court rejected that idea, as the NYTimes reported:
In a lengthy ruling on Monday, the panel reached largely the same conclusion that it had in January. And the judges agreed that the plaintiffs in the case — voting-rights advocacy groups and residents of each of North Carolina’s 13 districts — had standing to bring the suit.
The judges left open the possibility that they could order new maps to be drawn before the 2018 election, either by the North Carolina General Assembly or by a special master appointed by the court.
The ruling sets up a delicate tactical question for the Supreme Court, which has never ruled a partisan gerrymander to be unconstitutional, passing up three separate opportunities to do so in its last term. With the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the end of July, the court is now divided between four conservatives who have expressed skepticism about the court’s ability to tinker with political maps, and four more liberal justices who have argued that it has that ability.
As you might imagine, this turn of events so close to the midterm elections in November has "plunged North Carolina politics into disarray" since no one knows what the district boundaries will be and thus who the viable candidates might be. Now, keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution does not require a person to live in the District they represent, but most voters are going to expect that they will. And, of course, redrawn boundaries will only be good until the 2020 census numbers are finalized late in 2020, at which time the new census figures will likely lead to new boundaries...and probably new lawsuits.

Politico has just reported that the Federal Court will not require North Carolina to adjust its Congressional District boundaries prior to this year's midterm election coming up in November.
"Having carefully reviewed the parties’ briefing and supporting materials, we conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019. And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina’s congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State’s electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout," Judges James Wynn Jr., William Osteen Jr. and W. Earl Britt wrote in a joint order.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Reminder of Why Congress Can't Pass Immigration Reform

Thanks to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a story from NPR a few days ago about the quick rise and fall in the summer of 1965 of the A-TEAM--"Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower." 
The year was 1965. On Cinco de Mayo, newspapers across the country reported that Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers who had labored in the United States under the so-called Bracero Program. Started in World War II, the program was an agreement between the American and Mexican governments that brought Mexican men to pick harvests across the U.S. It ended in 1964, after years of accusations by civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions.
The end of the Bracero Program came about as part of the 1965 Immigration Act which also ended the decades-old National Origins Quota System that had been designed to limit legal migration to the U.S. to Northern and Western Europeans. Ending the guest worker program meant that farmers had no one to pick the crops, so strong (athletic) young male high school students were supposed to fill in the gap. 
Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California's Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. "We worked three days and all of us are broke," the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again.
So farmers went back to using Mexican immigrants, except that now they were undocumented immigrants or, more diplomatically, people who had entered without inspection (EWIs). And that is still where we are today. We don't want to legalize these workers because then they would have be paid good wages and have adequate housing and health care provided to them. That would raise the prices the farmers would have to charge for their produce, and consumers would complain or start buying food imported from elsewhere. This is the impasse that for decades since has prevented agreement on a reasonable immigration policy in this country.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The World Needs For China to Rejuvenate its Plant-Based Diet--UPDATED

I have mentioned before that as China gets richer, the population has been demanding more meat in the diet, especially pork. While the pigs are mainly grown in China, a lot of the food for those pigs is grown elsewhere and imported to China. Since nearly one in five humans lives in China, this is a big deal. The environmental impact of growing food for the pigs and the climate impact from pig waste all are huge problems going forward. 

There may be hope in sight, however, given the prospect of new innovations in plant-based diets in China. The story is from The Economist's 1843 magazine, and I thank my older son, Professor John Weeks, Jr., for pointing it out to me.
In the last few years there has been a rush in demand for vegan and vegetarian foods in Western countries. Much of it is coming from flexitarians – people who have not renounced meat completely but want to cut their consumption. To satisfy them, companies are developing products that look, taste and feel as close as possible to meat and dairy dishes – most famously a plant-based burger made by Impossible Foods that appears to bleed like a rare beef patty.
Amid this flurry of innovation in the West, it’s worth remembering that the Chinese have been using plant-based foods to mimic meat for hundreds of years. In the time of the Tang dynasty (AD618-907), an official hosted a banquet at which he served convincing replicas of pork and mutton dishes made from vegetables; in the 13th century, diners in the capital of the southern Song dynasty (Lin’an, now Hangzhou), had a wide choice of meat-free restaurants, including those that specialised in Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
The tradition is still alive in contemporary China. In Shanghai, most delicatessens sell rolled-tofu “chicken” and roast “duck” made from layered tofu skin. Restaurants offer stir-fried “crabmeat”, a strikingly convincing simulacrum of the original made from mashed carrot and potato flavoured with rice vinegar and ginger. Elsewhere, Chinese food manufacturers produce a range of imitation meat and seafood products, including slithery “chicken’s feet” concocted from konnyaku yam and “shark’s fin” made from translucent strands of bean-thread noodle.
My wife and I gave up meat 30 years ago when we got our first German Shepherd. It was an animal rights decision, not an environmental impact decision, but over time two important things have happened: (1) our knowledge of the environmental impact (not just the inherent cruelty) of growing animals to kill and eat them has expanded exponentially; and (2) the volume and quality of plant-based diets has expanded exponentially. This latter aspect is a great trend not just for China, but for the entire planet. 

UPDATE: A special report today from Reuters discusses the ecological damage being done in Brazil as it tries to meet China's demand for meat and grain:
Deforestation in the region has slowed from the early 2000s, when Brazil’s soy boom was gaining steam. Still, farmers continue to plow under vast stretches of the biome, propelled largely by Chinese demand for Brazilian meat and grain. The Asian nation is Brazil’s No. 1 buyer of soybeans to fatten its own hogs and chickens. China is also a major purchaser of Brazilian pork, beef and poultry to satisfy the tastes of its increasingly affluent consumers.
Rising trade tensions between China and the United States have only deepened that connection. Brazil’s soybean exports by value to China are up 18 percent through the first seven months of the year as Chinese buyers have canceled tens of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts with U.S. suppliers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Female Impressionist Makes a Demographic Impression

Today's Washington Post carries a very interesting story about a female Impressionist painter from the 19th century with whom I was not familiar--as the writer assumes most of us are not.
Berthe Morisot painted women, mostly, and adolescent girls. Her delight in the way blades of light were scattered by their pinafores and ribbons, pounced off furniture and coaxed bright color from flowers could not mask the sense she developed — and kept close, like a secret dispatch — of life’s brutal transience.
It’s easy to overlook how radical Morisot’s apparently nonchalant brushwork was in the late 1870s. Her work’s lack of finish conveys, like no other Impressionist, a sense of evanescence. We do not live long, her paintings attest. We hesitate, like teenagers, in thresholds. We know almost nothing.
She was an incredibly talented painter in a world that had very little interest in or tolerance for female artists. So, the gender equity issues are very strong in this story. But the other demographic impression the writer wants you to get from this article is the role in life still being played by high mortality as recently as the late 19th century.
Conditions in Paris were harsh. Morisot’s health suffered, and at the end of 1870, she contracted pneumonia. Her studio was destroyed by the Prussian bombardment, which may well have concentrated her mind: Mere months later, as the Paris Commune was getting established, Morisot confessed to Edma that painting was now “the sole purpose” of her existence. Finding buyers for her paintings, she wrote, was now all she cared about.
The years passed, but the shadow of death never lifted. Morisot lost her father in 1874 and, over the following decade, her mother, two brothers-in-law, her mother-in-law, a close confidante (the female sculptor Marcello) and the man one feels sure she loved above all others, Manet.
In 1895, Julie [her daughter] became ill. While caring for her, Morisot contracted pulmonary congestion. “My little Julie, I love you as I die,” she wrote in a farewell note. “I will love you when I’m dead; please don’t cry. . . . I would have liked to survive till your wedding. . . . Work and be good as you have always been; you haven’t made me sad once in your little life.”
For young people growing up in the 21st century this may all sound like ancient history, but in the scope of human history Morisot's life haunted by gender inequity and death in 19th century Paris was only a short time ago.  We have come a long way since then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Gen Z about to Outnumber Millennials Globally

Thanks to Todd Gardner for the link to a story in Bloomberg about their analysis of data from the United Nations Population Division in which they find that, at the global level, members of Generation Z are projected to outnumber Millennials by next year. Here we have demographic metabolism on display:
Gen Z will comprise 32 percent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5 percent share, based on Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data, and using 2000/2001 as the generational split.
Does that matter? With social, political, and economic changes taking place at a pretty rapid pace it almost certainly affects you to be growing up in a "different world" than previous generations.
Gen Zers have never known a non-digital world and have grown up amid events such as the "war on terror" and Global Recession. "The key factor that differentiated these two groups, other than their age, was an element of self-awareness versus self-centeredness," according to “Rise of Gen Z: New Challenge for Retailers,” a report by Marcie Merriman, an executive director at Ernst & Young LLP. Millennials were "more focused on what was in it for them. They also looked to others, such as the companies they did business with, for solutions, whereas the younger people naturally sought to create their own solutions."
There are two things to keep in mind in thinking about this generational transition. The first is that it is occurring earliest in developing countries that have higher birth rates and thus a younger age structure, as you can see in the map below:

And the second point is that not everyone agrees on the exact definition of the generations.
For this Bloomberg comparison, millennials were defined as people born in 1980 through 2000, with Gen Z classified as anyone born starting in 2001 -- at least until the next meaningful cohort emerges. The U.S. Census Bureau also bookends the generations at the end of 2000.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, American historians and authors who first coined the term "millennials," use 1982 and 2004 as the cutoff years. The Pew Research Center defines those born in 1981 through 1996 as millennials, a time-frame also used by Ernst & Young in the survey Merriman wrote about.
Finally, note that there is money to be made in these kinds of comparisons for those who provide advice based on demographic trends--this is a great example of applied demography.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Horrors at the Borders

The unbearable stories of children being still separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border just because they were trying to gain asylum in this country continue unabated. Over the weekend a plaintive story of a previous migrant was published in the NYTimes, and at least that story seems to be associated with a united outcome. 

But while our own border horrors continue, there are others erupting elsewhere. Venezuela is imploding and people want to get out. Who can blame them. The Guardian provides some recent accounts:
More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year as part of one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history, the United Nations said on Friday. That is nearly 10 times the number of migrants and refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Europe over the same period. The International Organization for Migration this week announced that 59,271 migrants and refugees tried to reach Europe by sea between January and August, with most coming to Spain, Italy or Greece.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said a daily average of up to 3,000 Venezuelan men, women and children had entered Ecuador this year but that the already “massive influx” was now accelerating further.
More than a million Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia since the exodus began in 2015. Others have fanned out across Latin American and Caribbean nations including Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Trindad and Tobago. Tens of thousands have hiked into Brazil down a remote Amazon road known as the Hunger Highway.
As is always true, these migrants are creating xenophobic reactions in the places to which they are going. It doesn't matter that they are culturally very similar to the people in the countries to which they are fleeing--they are still different, and that causes problems. So far, however, I have not seen news stories suggesting that any of these migrants out of Venezuela have been separated from their parents. Let's hope that horrible idea doesn't spread.

China Now Pushes For More Children

A story this weekend in the NYTimes discusses new moves by the Chinese government to encourage a rise in the birth rate, since the continued low birth rate is leading to a rapidly aging and eventually declining population. The one-child policy has been scrapped in favor of a two-child ideal, but Chinese couples are not hopping on the baby wagon in great numbers.

Now, keep in mind that fertility was already declining pretty rapidly in China before the implementation of the one-child policy back in the late 1970s, so the government may have helped to lower the birth rate, but its nasty, repressive policies were not the underlying cause of the low birth rate. This is at least one reason why lifting the one-child policy hasn't yet encouraged an increase in the birth rate. So, it may be that the government is going to get nasty again.
The new campaign has raised fear that China may go from one invasive extreme to another in getting women to have more children. Some provinces are already tightening access to abortion or making it more difficult to get divorced. 
“To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a matter of the family itself, but also a state affair,” the official newspaper People’s Daily said in an editorial this week, prompting widespread criticism and debate online.
A plan to end the two-child limit was floated during the legislative session in Beijing last spring and now appears to be under consideration with other measures, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
Experts say the government has little choice but to encourage more births. China — the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people — is aging quickly, with a smaller work force left to support a growing elderly population that is living longer. Some provinces have already reported difficulties meeting pension payments.
It is unclear whether lifting the two-child limit now will make much of a difference. As in many countries, educated women in Chinese cities are postponing childbirth as they pursue careers. Young couples are also struggling with economic pressures, including rising housing and education costs.
It is my hope that these and related issues are being discussed among demographers attending this year's American Sociological Association meetings in Philadelphia. I'm sorry I can't be there to contribute. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Good Contraceptive Approved/Not so Good Contraceptive App Exposed--UPDATED

Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaginal ring that provides a year of birth control for women who use it. The method was developed by the Population Council in New York City, and I first became aware of it eight years ago. The FDA describes it this way:
Annovera is a reusable donut-shaped (ring), non-biodegradable, flexible vaginal system that is placed in the vagina for three weeks followed by one week out of the vagina, at which time women may experience a period (a withdrawal bleed). This schedule is repeated every four weeks for one year (thirteen 28-day menstrual cycles).
The efficacy and safety of Annovera were studied in three, open label clinical trials with healthy women ranging from 18 to 40 years of age. Based on the results, about two to four women out of 100 women may get pregnant during the first year they use Annovera.
That is a very good use-effectiveness rate, as you can see if you look at Table 6.2 in my book. 

On the other hand, a widely used Swedish phone app called "Natural Cycles" designed to help women avoid pregnancy through fertility awareness methods (natural family planning) is not so good, as a recent story in The Guardian points out. Indeed, it is now being investigated in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority:
The Advertising Standards Authority has launched a formal investigation into marketing for a Swedish app that claims to be an effective method of contraception, after reports that women have become pregnant while using it. An ASA spokesman said it had received three complaints about Natural Cycles and its paid advertising on Facebook, which describes the app as highly accurate contraception that has been clinically tested. “We would require robust substantiation from any company to support such a claim,” he said.
The app was developed by two scientists from Sweden and Austria: Elina Berglund, who worked at the Cern laboratory in Geneva on the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, and Raoul Scherwitzl. The married couple originally devised the algorithm for their own family planning, and now both work full time for the company they founded. They claim to have 600,000 users worldwide, who pay an annual subscription.

Users monitor their fertility with the app by taking their temperature each morning. It tracks the results to detect ovulation, and advises which days are safe or unsafe to have unprotected sex without the risk of conception. The app relies on users taking their temperature at around the same time every morning, and cautions: “Remember that you must always measure as soon as you wake up before you snooze, sit/get up, or check your phone.”
Like all methods of natural family planning, there is a lot of room for error--which leads to unintended pregnancies and possibly then to abortions. 


CNN today published an op-ed piece by Caroline Criado Perez that gives us more background into the Natural Cycles app, and how suspicious its claims are. She argues that since getting pregnant is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do in her life, governments should make it harder to market birth control methods that aren't very effective.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Poor Health Behaviors Increase Risk of Poor Birth Outcomes

My hope is that anyone reading this blog post will know immediately that if you engage in risky health behaviors before or during pregnancy you increase the chance that your baby will be born with health problems that may indeed last a lifetime. Still, additional research findings along these lines never hurt to keep driving home the point. For this reason I was very interested to read the summary of an article forwarded to me by Professor Rumbaut at UC, Irvine, demonstrating that the behavior of mothers matters for their baby's health. More specifically, mothers who smoked as teens are more likely to deliver smaller babies.

The article was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine by Jennifer Kane--a colleague of Professor Rumbaut at UCI, Kathleen Mullan Harris at the Carolina Population Center (UNC, Chapel Hill), and Anna Maria Siega-Riz, also at the Carolina Population Center. There are two interesting aspects to this paper: (1) the data and analysis are importantly connected to Past PAA Presidents; and (2) the whole subject matter takes me and Professor Rumbaut back to our collaborative research many years ago.

The data in this paper come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health or Add-Health as it is popularly known. This project was put together by Kathleen Mullen Harris (PAA President in 2009) and Dick Dry (PAA President in 1994). It was highly controversial at the time, as you can read about in my interview with Professor Udry as part of the PAA Oral History Project. The paper also references the work of Past PAA President Greg Duncan at UC, Irvine, whose interview has just been posted to the PAA website.

Professor Rumbaut and I collaborated on research aimed at understanding the differential birth outcomes among immigrants to San Diego from Indochina and also from Mexico. You can get a feel for our research in this paper, in which we found that infant death rates among Indochinese refugees was lower in San Diego in the 1980s than among Hispanics, Whites, and Blacks. One of the reasons was that they were less likely to smoke. Yes, their husbands were quite likely to smoke (and that's not good, of course), but very few women smoked. Furthermore, babies were conceived almost entirely to women older than the teens who were married. These are all predictors of better birth outcomes, a topic I recently discussed.

U.S. Census Removes Its 2017 Projections from its Website--UPDATED

Thanks to Beth Jarosz for pointing out that the U.S. Census Bureau has removed its latest (2017) set of national population projections from its website, saying only that:
An error was identified in the 2017 population projections data release. All data files have been removed. Corrected news products and data files are forthcoming.
I most recently used these data exactly one month ago, so we will have to see if my conclusions in that blog post still hold when the revised projections are posted. 


Today the Census Bureau has posted its revised population projections, with the following explanation of what happened:
The 2017 National Population Projections were revised after their original release date March 13 to correct an error in the calculation of infant mortality rates. The files were removed from the website on August 1, 2018 and an erratum note was posted. The error erroneously caused an increase in the number of deaths projected in the total population. The revised calculation in the infant mortality rate results in a decrease in the number of deaths and a slight increase in the total projected population in the revised series. The error did not affect the other two components of population change used in the projections series (fertility and migration). Additionally, major demographic trends, such as an aging population and an increase in racial and ethnic diversity, remain unchanged.

​The corrected data files are now available here.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Age at First Birth Tells Us a Lot about the Status of Women and Their Children

The New York Times today led with an interesting demographic story on the average age at first birth in America, and thanks to my good friend, Professor Rubén Rumbaut for sending me the link to it last night. The story is about starting families and my wife and I have been "vacationing" at home with the family we started several decades ago when we were ourselves married college graduates.
Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.
[The analysis] was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The results are not necessarily surprising, but they reinforce other research findings showing that women who have their first baby at a young age tend to be disproportionately unmarried, not a college graduate, and more likely from a rural area. By contrast, the later ages at first birth tend to occur among college educated women, who are also more likely to be married and to live in urban areas. This matters more now than in the past because the growing inequality in income and wealth makes it ever more difficult to launch children in the direction you, as a parent, want them to go.
There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation's inequality -- and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers' circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.
“These education patterns do help drive inequality, because well-educated women are really pulling ahead of the pack by waiting to have kids,” said Caroline Hartnett, a sociologist and demographer studying fertility and families at the University of South Carolina. “But if going to college and achieving an upper-middle-class lifestyle seems unattainable, then having a family might seem like the most accessible source of meaning to you.”
The law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn described in a 2010 book how red and blue families were living different lives. The biggest differentiating factor, they said, was the age that mothers had children. Young mothers are more likely to be conservative and religious, to value traditional gender roles and to reject abortion. Older mothers tend to be liberal, and to split breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities more equally with men, they found.
You can see, then, that the age at first birth is a key indicator of how a woman's life is going, and at the same time is a key predictor of how her children's lives are apt to turn out.