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, January 16, 2019

Pakistan's Supreme Court Drops "Population Bomb"

The Supreme Court of Pakistan yesterday produced a genuine "wow" moment when they urged the country to strive for a two child per family norm. The Times of India reports that:
Describing Pakistan's rapidly growing population as a "ticking timebomb", the Supreme Court Tuesday urged religious scholars, the civil society and the government to back population control measures, including a two children per family norm, in the Muslim-majority country.
A three-member bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar made the observations during a hearing in a case related to population control in Pakistan, now the world's fifth most populous.
"The increasing population is a burden on the country's resources. It is about the future of the next generation. It would be unfortunate if the population is not controlled. Two children per home will help to control the population. There is a need for a campaign on the matter," the apex court was quoted as saying by the report. "The entire nation needs to stand together to control the population," the chief justice said.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has also voiced its concern at the rapid increase of population in the country, calling it a looming disaster.
In a recent press statement, the PMA said the birth of 15,000 babies in Pakistan on the 1st day of 2019 was alarming. The PMA thinks that it is a distressing situation as at the moment as 60 per cent of the national population stands below the age of 25 years; 25 million children are not going to school and 90 per cent the population is not being provided with clean drinking water. Malnutrition is another big issue and food scarcity is a big problem, the association said. 
The PMA said it believes that the unchecked rise in the population is a looming disaster, and concrete steps should be taken to implement family planning and make people-friendly economic policies to overcome these difficulties and save the coming generations.
Pakistan has wrestled with the question of family planning for most of its history. During the 1950s and 1960s there were concerted efforts to organize government-sponsored programs, but political instability has undermined their efficacy over time. With any luck, this time will be different. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Court Blocks Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Today a federal judge in the Southern District of New York ruled against placing a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The NYTimes reports that:
The ruling marks the opening round in a legal battle with potentially profound ramifications for federal policy and for politics at all levels, one that seems certain to reach the Supreme Court before the printing of census forms begins this summer.
In a lengthy and stinging ruling, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the United States District Court in Manhattan said that Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the commerce secretary, committed “a veritable smorgasbord” of violations of federal procedural law when he ordered the citizenship question added.
Mr. Ross “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Judge Furman wrote.
You will recall that this matters because the Census Bureau's own analysis suggests that immigrants would be less likely to respond to the census questionnaire with such a question included in it. That would lower the number of people counted in the census, which could affect Congressional redistricting. Since immigrants disproportionately live in districts with a Democratic representative, this could skew redistricting, and thus Congress, more toward Republicans. The Washington Post has a nice graphic showing how this might work.

This case will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court, and it could also influence decisions in similar cases in California (where a trial is currently underway) and Maryland (where the trial starts next week).

These are among the many issues facing the new Director of the Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, who was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month. He has prior experience managing government organizations, and does not appear to have specific political agendas to push, so the hope is that the Census will move forward smoothly. Of course, there is this partial government shutdown to worry about in terms of census funding...

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Crisis at the Border is Different Than Trump Claims

Yes, there is a crisis at the border, and it is almost entirely created by the Trump Administration, as the Washington Post recently noted. As a result of insufficient funding even in good times--made massively worse by the current government shutdown affecting agencies like Homeland Security--there are too few resources to process asylum seekers, so they sit in camps and get sick (and some die). All of the other stuff that Donald Trump likes to talk about is mostly false, as pointed out by Op-Ed pieces published the past few days by highly acclaimed demographers who actually do know what they are talking about.

The first of these was written by Dr. Rogelio Saenz, Professor of Demography at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune. His main point is that we are trying to curtail migration from Latin America at precisely the same time that is had already reached a nearly historic low. What does that mean for the average American? Well, who's going to pick your crops, who's going to work in your restaurants, who's going to do your yard work? We have, in truth, exploited undocumented immigrants for our mutual benefit for a long time, and we will pay the price for their absence. You could call that a crisis...

The second piece was was written by Dr. Dudley Poston, Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University and was published in the San Antonio Express-News. He focuses especially on the wall:
Trump’s wall won’t work. It won’t reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and could well have the opposite effect. Plus, it won’t stop drugs and contraband from entering the U.S.

Let me tell you why.

Almost one-quarter of the 44 million people living in the U.S. who were born in another country, or about 10.7 million people, are undocumented immigrants. These are the immigrants Trump wants deported. But he apparently doesn’t know that more than two-fifths of these undocumented immigrants, or almost 4.5 million, are visa overstayers. They entered the U.S. with legal passports and legal visas but either stayed past their visa expiration dates or otherwise violated the terms of their admission into the U.S., perhaps by accepting employment. Most flew in legally from Asia, Europe and other continents, and entered at major airports in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Houston and elsewhere. Trump’s wall won’t be high enough to keep them out. There is no plan to address the issue of visa overstayers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not match entry and exit records of people coming into and leaving the U.S. The 5 million to 6 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are not visa overstayers are formally referred to by demographers and immigration officials as EWIs, persons who “entered without inspection.” They entered the U.S. without detection or used fraudulent documents when crossing the border. Almost all of them entered at the U.S.-Mexico border, and until recently most of them were from Mexico. Now, most are from Central America.

Demographers have conducted extensive research about EWIs. They are not criminals, and they don’t take jobs from U.S.-born Americans. Almost all EWIs end up doing work Americans don’t want to do. Demographers have found little, if any, evidence that EWIs harm or suppress the employment or wages of local people.
A wall will not work any better than the existing security arrangements along the border to stop EWIs or to stop the flow of drugs from South America into the U.S. Most of those drugs come through the regular ports of entry in cars and trucks--no matter what Trump may say. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Have We Been Fooled About Jeanne Calment Dying at age 122?

A few days ago, Carl Schmertmann tweeted a link to a paper in ResearchGate in which a Russian academic offered evidence that Jeanne Calment--widely recognized to be the oldest verified human being at her death at age 122--had, in fact, died many years earlier and her daughter had assumed her identity. Thus, it was really her daughter who died at age 99, pretending to be her mother who would have been 122 had she not died many years earlier. 

Given the proliferation of fake news, with special suspicion on Russian fake news, I admit that I read the paper but chose not to blog about it. However, Smithsonian Magazine did pick it up, and then today's Washington Post grabbed the Smithsonian story.
Nikolay Zak, of the Moscow Center For Continuous Mathematical Education, said in a report that he believes Calment was actually Yvonne Calment, Jeanne’s daughter, who Zak says assumed her mother’s identity to avoid inheritance taxes in the 1930s. If true, Yvonne Calment would’ve been 99 if she died in 1997.
He points to studies that show Calment had lost less than an inch of her height by the time she was older than 100, significantly less height loss than what would have been expected; Yvonne was taller than Jeanne, he says. A passport for Jeanne in the 1930s lists different eye colors for her than she had later in life. He also raises questions about other physical discrepancies in her forehead and chin. He also claims Calment had destroyed photographs and other family documents when she had been requested to send them to the archives in Arles. 
The study has caused a global stir since it was issued. It has been covered by news media organizations around the world.
The evidence pointing to the sham is all circumstantial and incredibly complex, and Zak himself admits that he hasn't presented an iron-clad case. My view is that it doesn't matter too much, since the odds of any of us reaching an age even close to 120 are very long. It perhaps is more discouraging to those researchers searching for the clues to keep humans alive to ever older ages. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Top Ten Posts for 2018

As I do at the beginning of each year, I have taken a look back at the most popular of my posts in the past year. Who are the winners among the 175 that I posted in 2018, based on the number of hits on each one? Here are the Top Ten:

1. Over the years I have been very impressed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been moving into the mainstream of demographic trends. Initially they focused especially on childhood diseases, with a special emphasis on malaria prevention. But then they added reproductive health, especially family planning, to the program. Throughout all of their work, they clearly recognized that extreme poverty aggravates every problem in life, and my blog post about this year's annual report from the Gates Foundation on the demographics of extreme poverty was the top hit of my posts during the year.

2. I blogged about Iran three times in 2018 and the one about Iran's eye-popping demographics was the second most popular post. In an historically short period of time, Iran went from a country in which women were averaging nearly 8 children each, to the current situation in which fertility is below replacement level. Considering the way in which explosive population growth has contributed to the mess in the Middle East, this is quite a story.

3. There have been many books and movies over the years built on the dystopian idea that population growth is leading us to a hell on earth scenario, and my blog about the power of overpopulation in movies and literature was number 3 on the year's list. Of course, the hope is that if we scare each other enough about these possibilities, we will work to avoid them.

4. If you have read "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, you will appreciate that he has sort of a dystopian view of the Agricultural Revolution. But would we all prefer to be hunters-and-gatherers still? I don't think so, as I said in my review of his book.

5. The fifth most popular post brings us to the question about baby boomers in the U.S. and how big a burden they are going to be. The answer is that they will be the biggest burden of any older generation in American history. There are more of them than any previous generation, and they represent a greater share of the population than any previous generation. That wouldn't necessarily be so awful were it not the case that a large fraction seem to be financially unready for retirement.

6. The United States has often been described as a country where languages other than English come to die. I regularly recount the story that my mother-in-law, whose parents were from Denmark, did not grow up speaking Danish as did her older siblings because South Dakota, where they lived, passed a law when she was young (later struck down by the courts) that it was illegal to speak a language other than English in public. In my blog post about bilingualism I show that it can, in fact, be good for your pocketbook to speak another language, and the fact that I could speak Spanish when I got to college essentially launched me on my career path.

7. Donald Trump has made a huge deal about needing a wall to protect us from the marauding caravans storming our southern border. As I point out in the 7th most popular blog, the problem with that claim is that it simply doesn't fit the facts: there is no crisis at the border.

8. The U.S. Census Bureau employs a large staff of well-qualified people, so it is very unusual when something goes wrong. To their everlasting credit, they admit and fix it, as they did when for a short time they removed their latest set of population projections for the U.S., so that they could fix the error. All is now well.

9. The ninth most popular post was inspired by a talk given here at SDSU by Dr. Debbie Fugate of the U.S. State Department. She discussed the shifting origins and destinations of "irregular" migrants from Africa to Europe. The flow of refugees into Europe captures most of the headlines, but there is a large, sustained outpouring of Africans to Europe, and this is a hugely risky undertaking for those who attempt it.

10. Finally in the Top Ten we have the story of the decline in the U.S. birth rate, which I first mentioned back in May, but then, in a story tied for 10th place, I also discussed in October, noting that the U.S. was clearly entering the Second Demographic Transition.

Please enjoy these and all of my blog posts, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!