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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How Big a Burden Will Boomers Be?

Much of the demographic "press" over the past few months has been about the increasing diversity in the ethnic identity of Americans. To be sure, this has been an underlying message of "concern" about this emanating from the Trump administration. However, in the background is a bigger demographic change--the aging of the Baby Boomers. The U.S. Census Bureau just today posted a demographic snapshot of the older population.
The growth of the U.S. population age 65 and older exceeds that of the total population and the popula­tion under age 65.  Lower birth rates and increased longevity have led to this rapid growth not just in the United States but across the world.  So what does it mean to be a part of this increasingly larger segment of American society?
The website allows you to click on different characteristics for different states and make your own comparisons about the current older population. Very cool!

But what those maps don't tell us is how well prepared the Baby Boomers are for old age as they rapidly move into this time of their life. A story on CBS News today suggests that the picture is not as good as we might hope.
Boomers have accumulated less household wealth and carry more debt relative to those who've come before them, according to the Sightlines report recently released by the Stanford Center on Longevity (SCL). Given that boomers will likely live longer and rack up higher lifetime medical costs than prior generations, the inevitable conclusion is that boomers will face some tough challenges during their retirement years.
The Sightlines report compares the household wealth of four generations as of 2014:
    Older silent generation, born before 1942
    War babies, born from 1942 to 1947
    Early boomers, born from 1948 to 1953
    Mid-boomers, born from 1954 to 1959
These are close to, although not identical to, the generational breakdowns that demographers typically use, but still useful.
Boomers are carrying more debt of all kinds -- mortgage debt, student debt and credit card debt -- compared to older generations. For example, the proportion of homeowners age 65 and older who haven't paid off their mortgage rose to 35 percent in 2012, up from 23.9 percent in 1998. The median outstanding balance almost doubled, from $44,000 to $82,000.
Boomers will need to learn how to move forward with their current circumstances. They can't go back in time and save more for retirement or accumulate less debt. And it'll be very difficult for them to save enough in their remaining work years to make up for retirement savings shortfalls.
The bottom line is that Baby Boomers are poised to be a larger burden to the younger generation than previous generations of people moving into the older years. There are lots of them, and they are not very well-prepared financially for retirement. Cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits (as some Members of Congress have proposed doing to pay for the big tax cuts earlier this year) will not help. The obvious solution is to recruit more immigrants, but that doesn't seem like a popular option at the moment...

Friday, October 26, 2018

Cohabitation and Divorce: A Case of Complicated Connections

Thanks to PAA President Wendy Manning for the link to a recent article in The Atlantic discussing two academic papers that seem to come up with different conclusions about the relationship between cohabitation and divorce after looking at the same dataset.
Late last month, the Journal of Marriage and Family published a new study with a somewhat foreboding finding: Couples who lived together before marriage had a lower divorce rate in their first year of marriage, but had a higher divorce rate after five years. It supported earlier research linking premarital cohabitation to increased risk of divorce.
That study was conducted by Michael Rosenfeld at Stanford and Katharina Roesler at Quora. 

As evidence of the importance of this topic to family demography, I noticed that the authors referenced four different Past Presidents of the PAA--Larry Bumpass, Andrew Cherlin, Arland Thornton, and Linda Waite. 
But just two weeks later, the Council on Contemporary Families—a nonprofit group at the University of Texas at Austin—published a report that came to the exact opposite conclusion: Premarital cohabitation seemed to make couples less likely to divorce. From the 1950s through 1970, “those who were willing to transgress strong social norms to cohabit … were also more likely to transgress similar social norms about divorce,” wrote the author, Arielle Kuperberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. But as the rate of premarital cohabitation ballooned to some 70 percent, “its association with divorce faded. In fact, since 2000, premarital cohabitation has actually been associated with a lower rate of divorce, once factors such as religiosity, education, and age at co-residence are accounted for.”
That report is actually based on a paper just accepted for publication in the journal Marriage & Family Review, and in that paper the author references six different Past Presidents of the PAA--Larry Bumpass, Andrew Cherlin, Paul Glick, Daniel Lichter, S. Philip Morgan, and Arland Thornton. 

Both papers utilize data from the National Survey of Family Growth and of considerable interest is that both papers include the following graph illustrating the genuinely revolutionary change in cohabitation patterns in the U.S. The chart below, taken from Kuperberg's article, graphs the percentage of first marriages preceded by cohabitation with the current spouse, according to the year of marriage.

Given the recent rapid rise in cohabitation in the U.S., it should not be surprising that researchers are finding what seem like conflicting findings. It is more likely the case that things are so complicated that it is very difficult to pin down patterns in and causes of the observed changes.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Second Demographic Transition Comes to America

The Washington Post recently published a widely retweeted story (at least among demographers!) about the continued decline in fertility in the U.S., focusing on the fact that every demographic group has experienced the drop. 
The CDC said Wednesday that the total fertility rate — a theoretical figure that estimates the number of births a woman will have in her lifetime — fell by 18 percent from 2007 to 2017 in large metropolitan areas, 16 percent in smaller metro areas and 12 percent in rural areas. A similar downward trend holds for white, black and Hispanic women.
Low fertility in the U.S. is not, in and of itself, news. I last blogged about this only three months ago. But this new analysis of the birth data takes us into the comparisons among groups that we hadn't seen before. So, what's going on? The Washington Post sought answers from demographers:
The University of Pennsylvania’s Hans-Peter Kohler, who studies fertility and birthrates, said the data indicated that many shifts affecting fertility are occurring “in the transition to adulthood.” The biggest recent drops in birthrate have been among teenagers as well as people in their 20s. In 2016, the teen birthrate hit at an all-time low after peaking in 1991.
“The declining total fertility rates are children not born in the moment, but the hope is that they are delayed, not forgone,” Kohler said. “The exact details we won’t know until the young adults who are currently delaying having children are in their 30s or 40s.”
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said that what struck him about the new report is the figures on Hispanic women, who have traditionally had high fertility rates. From 2007 to 2017, Hispanic women experienced a 26 percent drop in fertility rates in rural areas, a 29 percent drop in smaller metro areas and a 30 percent decline in large metro areas.
The reality is that the Second Demographic Transition--the decline of fertility to below replacement levels in rich countries--has finally caught up with America. It seemed for awhile as though we might somehow avoid it, but these new data illustrate the amazing changes in family demography that have been taking place over the past couple of decades. Women are delaying marriage and child-bearing--or avoiding one or both altogether at levels that are historically unprecedented. They are living for themselves, not just for their husbands and children. As in Europe, the percent of births that are out-of-wedlock is historically high, as Bloomberg reported a few days ago, building on data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 
The data show such births in the U.S. and EU are predominantly to unmarried couples living together rather than to single mothers, the report says. The data suggest that societal and religious norms about marriage, childbearing and women in the workforce have changed, said Kelly Jones, the director for the Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Welcome, America, to the Second Demographic Transition. We don't know how this is going to turn out, but we're clearly in the middle of it. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tanzania Expels Pregnant Girls From Schools

Scarcely more than a month ago I blogged about the President of Tanzania telling women that they should stop using birth control. Their job was to have babies and, presumably, not try to compete with men in society. Another approach to this extreme level of gender inequality is to expel girls from school if they become pregnant. CNN reports that:
It happens twice a year at Arusha Secondary School. Each one of the school's 800 female students is accompanied into a toilet and told to pee in a jar. Outside the cubicle, a teacher waits to make sure the samples are not swapped. The girls are taking compulsory pregnancy tests. And if they come back positive, the student is expelled immediately. The tests have been happening at this school, for students from grades eight and up, for three years.
Tanzania uses a morality clause in a 2002 education law to give schools the legal framework needed to expel students -- the practice originally dates back to the 1960s. The law has been more widely applied since President John Pombe Magufuli took office in 2015.

Last June, Magufuli, dubbed "The Bulldozer," went a step further, announcing that pregnant students would not be allowed to return to school after giving birth. "In my administration as the President no pregnant girl will go back to school... she has chosen that of kind life, let her take care of the child," he said at a public rally in 2017. His speech removed any discretion schools had over how they enforced the morality rule.
Expelling a pregnant girl from school sets her life on a different course than if she were able to continue her education even while having to care for her child. Furthermore, the schools do not teach sex education nor are contraceptives available. If her parents don't teach her about sex, the CNN writers suggest that many of these girls will not be aware that sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy. So, if the whole idea is to scare girls into not getting pregnant while in school, a little bit of education along those lines would clearly be beneficial. In theory, any male who impregnates a schoolgirl could be sent to prison, but the CNN report does not indicate that this has ever happened.

The CNN report also summarizes the situation in Tanzania with respect to teenage pregnancies:
Around a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged between 15 and 19 are mothers or pregnant. Child marriage is still prevalent in the country -- 37% of women aged 20 to 24 having been married before they turned 18, according to official data from 2010, the latest available. More than a quarter of girls married before the age of 19 have husbands who are 10 or more years older, according to the same survey.
I should note that the 2010 data are not the most recent. The results of the 2015-16 DHS in Tanzania are available online at Sadly, they show that teenage pregnancy has increased slightly since 2010, rather than declined.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Power of Plants to Save the Planet

The new UN report on the quickness with which climate change will dramatically our lives has attracted more attention than I was worried it would, and I was especially drawn to an article in the Washington Post reminding us that it is not just cars, trucks, and planes that are the problem--we are ruining the environment with our unsustainable pattern of food production.
The human population has reached 7.6 billion and could number 9 billion or 10 billion by midcentury. All those people will need to eat. A sobering report published Wednesday in the journal Nature argues that a sustainable food system that doesn’t ravage the environment is going to require dramatic reforms, including a radical change in dietary habits. 
To be specific: Cheeseburgers are out, and fruits and veggies are in.
Global warming has typically been linked to the burning of fossil fuels, but food production is a huge and underappreciated factor, and the new report seeks to place food in the center of the conversation about how humanity can create a sustainable future.
I've discussed the planetary benefits of a plant-based diet on other occasions--check out this post from August or just search in the blog for "plant-based". In that August post I comment on the increase in meat consumption in China, which is a wrong-way trend that the whole world needs to reverse. Indeed, I was thinking about that today as I read another Washington Post article about the dilemma faced by North Dakota soy farmers who are caught up in the Trump administration's trade war with China:
For the past decade, North American soybean production has exploded, driven by an intense demand from China. Peterson and other Great Plains farmers directly fed the overseas markets, harvesting more than 243 million bushels in North Dakota, at a price of $2.1 billion in the last market year. The majority of that crop fattened Chinese livestock.
If the majority of that crop were to start going to soy-based food for humans (or if farmers were growing potatoes!), we would all be better off and, in fact, that is what we are going to have to do if we are to sustainably feed the next generation of humans and, more generally, sustain life on this planet. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Demographics of Global Climate Change

I'm sure that you've seen the report that came out this week from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projecting that the negative impacts of emissions on global climate change are likely to come about even sooner than previously thought. The NYTimes summarizes the report and reactions to it.
The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
“This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report.
Burning coal was, of course, a huge asset to the economic development that has brought us the current global prosperity. The same is true of petroleum. Population and prosperity have grown together over the past two centuries as a consequence not just of the spread of the potato, but because of human ability to harness energy sources. The problem is that both have the potentially disastrous side-effects of putting us on the path to unsustainability with respect to growing food, and putting people on the path--literally--to another home because rising sea levels are swamping the land they live on. As the NYTimes notes we can either act now and try to avoid those disasters, or decide to wait and see how bad the disaster is and act then. We know what to do--switch to sustainable energy sources like solar and wind power, and we need to do it sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Demographic Power of the Potato--UPDATED

The European "discovery" of the Americas was amazingly consequential in demographic terms. I discuss this in my text, of course, but a story in today's Washington Post has a pretty good summary of the three key elements: (1) bringing the potato to Europe to help fuel population growth; (2) the spread of disease that killed a huge proportion of the indigenous population; and (3) the enslavement of Africans to work on plantations created by Europeans in the Americas. Let me focus here on the first of these:
The potato alone gets credit for population booms in parts of northern Europe that paved the way for urbanization and, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. Tobacco had such value it was used as currency in some places. Some American foods became staples abroad, from the tomato in Italy and cassava in Africa to the peppers that became the paprika of Hungary and the curries of India.
Eventually, starting with a group of monks on Spain’s Canary Islands in the 1600s, Europeans figured out how to cultivate potatoes, which form a nutritionally complete — albeit monotonous — diet when combined with milk to provide vitamins A and D. The effects were dramatic, boosting populations in Ireland, Scandinavia, Ukraine and other cold-weather regions by up to 30 percent, according to Qian’s [Nancy Qian, an economics professor at Northwestern University] research. The need to hunt declined and, as more land became productive, so did conflicts over land.
If you've read my book, you know that the statement above may give a bit more credit to the potato than it deserves. The potato arrived in Europe at about the same time that the plague was leaving, and at about the same time that the Little Ice Age was receding, thus opening up more farmland for cultivation. Still, were it not for the potato, it is unlikely that the health of the European population would have improved as it did, thus helping to set off population growth that eventually revolutionized the world. 

UPDATE:  Maybe this should really be a PRE-DATE instead of an update, but I just realized that I blogged about the demographic impact of the potato six years ago, based upon a paper just published at that time by Professor Qian, who was quoted in the above Washington Post story. Here's a link to that earlier blog post.

Friday, October 5, 2018

More Demographic Resources at the Local Level

Thanks to Meredith Gerhardt for linking me to a great source of data about communities in the U.S., based on a compilation of data largely drawn from the Census Bureau. It's called Data USA and it is funded by Deloitte Touche, a global consulting firm. Here's the background they provide:
In 2014, Deloitte, Datawheel, and Cesar Hidalgo, Professor at the MIT Media Lab and Director of Collective Learning, came together to embark on an ambitious journey -- to understand and visualize the critical issues facing the United States in areas like jobs, skills and education across industry and geography. And, to use this knowledge to inform decision making among executives, policymakers and citizens.
Data USA puts public US Government data in your hands. Instead of searching through multiple data sources that are often incomplete and difficult to access, you can simply point to Data USA to answer your questions. Data USA provides an open, easy-to-use platform that turns data into knowledge. It allows millions of people to conduct their own analyses and create their own stories about America – its people, places, industries, skill sets and educational institutions. Ultimately, accelerating society’s ability to learn and better understand itself.
The opening page puts the data at your fingertips when you type in a place name:

When you add this to the set of data and the USALEEP neighborhood life expectancy project, your ability to know about local demographics and to compare your place with others is all of a sudden genuinely amazing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Citizenship Questions on Census Won't Be Good For Anyone

Thanks to PAA President Wendy Manning for the link to an Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes by demographer William Frey, discussing the likely negative consequences for everyone of adding the citizenship question to the full count 2020 census. Remember that the consensus among everyone--based especially on past field experiments by the Census Bureau--is that the presence of this question on the census form will reduce the response rate among not just non-citizens, but also among other members of households in which there is a non-citizen. The Trump administration likes this idea because it would increase the percentage of the counted population (which determines Congressional Redistricting) that is non-Hispanic White. But here's the bigger set of problems laid out by Frey:
If it is added to the census form, the citizenship question will distort our understanding of who resides in the country. What this selective underenumeration will not do is make America’s growing racial minority populations disappear. The losers from this undercount include members of Mr. Trump’s older white base, who will suffer from lost investments in a younger generation, whose successes and contributions to the economy will be necessary to keep America great.
The demographic trends make this plain. America’s white population is growing tepidly because of substantial declines among younger whites. Since 2000, the white population under the age of 18 has shrunk by seven million, and declines are projected among white 20-somethings and 30-somethings over the next two decades and beyond. This is a result of both low fertility rates among young whites and modest white immigration — a trend that is not likely to change despite Mr. Trump’s wish for more immigrants from Norway.
Let's face it, what we really need is to make sure that everyone has the resources to succeed in society, so that we all are better off. As I recently noted, this process starts at the neighborhood level, and the best way to get rid of the us/them dichotomy that we have fallen into is to bring everyone into the mainstream. That's obviously not easy, but the longer we sit on our hands, the harder it will be. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Your Neighborhood Shapes Your Children's Lives

I recently blogged about a new website that uses vital statistics data to calculate the life expectancy in your neighborhood. Well, closely related to your health and mortality is your income and overall level of economic well-being. Today the Census Bureau unveiled another very important website that can track the chances of children in your neighborhood being in or out of poverty--with all of the implications that has for their lives. The NYTimes picked up on the announcement:
The research has shown that where children live matters deeply in whether they prosper as adults. On Monday the Census Bureau, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard and Brown, published nationwide data that will make it possible to pinpoint — down to the census tract, a level relevant to individual families — where children of all backgrounds have the best shot at getting ahead.
This work, years in the making, seeks to bring the abstract promise of big data to the real lives of children. Across the country, city officials and philanthropists who have dreamed of such a map are planning how to use it. They’re hoping it can help crack open a problem, the persistence of neighborhood disadvantage, that has been resistant to government interventions and good intentions for years.
“That’s exciting and inspiring and daunting in some ways that we’re actually talking about real families, about kids growing up in different neighborhoods based on this data,” said the Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the project’s researchers, along with Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard, John N. Friedman at Brown, and Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter at the Census Bureau.
Be sure to click on all of the links above, because this is really important work. As with the life expectancy website, this is spatial demography at its very best.