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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Incomes are up in the U.S., but so is inequality

The U.S. Census Bureau today brought out data from the 2018 American Community Survey, and it was a combination of good news and bad news. The good news is that median household income has been generally on the rise, and the percent of the population living below the poverty line has declined. The changes are not huge, but they are in the right direction.
Median household income between 2017 and 2018 increased for all households across all major race and Hispanic origin groups. Median household income ranged from $87,243 for Asian households (up 2.1%) to $41,511 for black households (up 1.5%). Median household income for households with non-Hispanic white householders increased by 1.0% to $67,937 in 2018. Households with Hispanic householders increased by 1.5% to $51,404 in 2018.
In 2018, 13.1% of the U.S. population had income below the poverty level, down from 13.4% in 2017. This is the fifth consecutive annual decline in the ACS national poverty rate.
This good news was tempered by the finding that income inequality continues to get more extreme. The NPR program "Marketplace" covered this development this morning, and they were able to interview Beth Jarosz from PRB:
Income inequality increased in nine states, including California. That’s a reflection of the effects of the tech boom, according to Beth Jarosz, a demographer with the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.

In other words, Jarosz said, the contrast between “the level of income in Silicon Valley compared to the really extraordinarily high poverty rate in a county like Imperial County, where the economy is predominantly agricultural and there often is not much work for people who live there.” Jarosz says the same contrast may be behind increasing inequality in other states.
The hi-tech sectors have been raking in a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth, while the quality of other jobs seems to be on the decline, leaving average families at a relative disadvantage, even if things aren't awful. For more on this, I recommend taking a look at this month's issue of The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, edited by David Howell and Arne Kalleberg and devoted to "Changing Job Quality: Causes, Consequences, and Challenges."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Remembering Past PAA President Sidney Goldstein

The arrival today of the latest IUSSP newsletter brought the news about the death last month of Sidney Goldstein, who was president of the Population Association of America back in 1976. He died just one day after celebrating his 92nd birthday. He had retired to Lexington, Kentucky, although most of his career was spent at Brown University, where he helped establish, and then directed, their Population Studies and Training Center. This has long been an important resource in demography, as another Past PAA President, Robert Moffitt, recently discussed in his interview with the PAA History Committee. Here's a nice synopsis of some of Goldstein's important work in demography:
Sid’s specific area of interest was the migration of people within countries, especially their movement from rural to urban areas. Beginning with analyses of migration in the United States and Denmark, his focus shifted to less developed countries, including Thailand, China, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and South Africa. In each case, he was especially interested in the impact of rural-urban migration on the welfare and life patterns of the migrants and how they differed from those who were residentially stable. An important component of his work in these countries was the development of local expertise, so that the work that he had begun could be carried further by in-country researchers.
You can read more about his professional life in an interview that Jean van der Tak, former PAA Historian, conducted with him many years ago. It is on the website of the Population Association of America (it starts on page 313 of that document). Check out this rather amazing exchange between Jean (VDT) and Sidney Goldstein:
VDT: And you went through your Ph.D. program in just two years. You got the degree in 1953.
GOLDSTEIN: Was it that soon?
VDT: Yes. And Charlie Westoff and Richard Easterlin got Ph.D.s at Penn the same year.
GOLDSTEIN: Right. I still have movies of that commencement, in which the three of us are marching together down the line.
VDT: You marched together a long way in the same field.
GOLDSTEIN: I always thought that was symbolic. I've often thought back to that commencement, the three of us being together. And a number of years later, the three of us were presidents of PAA almost consecutively [Westoff, 1974-75; Goldstein, 1976-77; Easterlin, 1978].

Thursday, September 19, 2019

How to Avoid Hunger and Environmental Catastrophe

A new report has just been issued on the threats to our food supply and environment. ABC News has the story about the report, which comes from the Food and Land Use Coalition. I had not heard of them until today, but I see that two of the partners in the coalition are IIASA and the World Resources Institute--both of which are very high quality organizations to whom we should pay attention.

The report comes out now to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which will be held in New York beginning next week, and here are two key background notes:
The world’s food supply largely relies on just five countries – the United States, Argentina, Brazil, China and India – for 60% of its calories. Additionally, much of the world’s food supply depends mostly on four crops – rice, wheat, potatoes and maize, a concentration that leaves the food supply vulnerable to risk.
Food and land use systems are currently responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. The emissions from the agricultural system alone will heat the environment beyond the level that scientists have warned about.
And here are two things that are important for the world to do:
The report outlines ways in which money can be better spent to reforest land, and promote biodiversity, and how land can be used more efficiently at local levels to produce a greater diversity of food crops.
Diversifying crops would mean a change in diet for many people in the developed world. To remain sustainable, the world will have to look to more diverse sources of protein and sharply reduce meat consumption. Experts say these changes will lead to healthier, more varied diets.
The important thing here is that we have to act now. We are spending a lot of money on agricultural subsidies and on growing food for animals rather than people. We need to change how we think about agriculture, the environment, and our diet. Not an easy project, but it beats the alternative. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Urbanization in Bangladesh

The urban transition has been one of the most important changes taking place in the context of the overall demographic transition of the past two centuries. But, despite its role in remaking human society, it rarely gets into the news in any real way. That's why the headline from this week's Economist caught my eye: "Urbanization in  Bangladesh: Life after Dhaka."
In 1974 just 9% of Bangladeshis lived in towns or cities. Today 37% of the country’s 170m people do. In a few decades more than half will. The capital, Dhaka, which attracts the majority of rural migrants, has grown from 3m in 1980 to 18m today. It is “already bursting at the seams”, says Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, a think-tank trying to bolster education and employment in eight places, including Mongla, to help absorb migrants.
Mongla is a small city of 40,000 people whose mayor wants some, or a lot, of those people going to Dhaka to move instead to Mongla, which is about an 8-hour drive south of Dhaka. Why might they be tempted to do that? At least partly because the description of living conditions in Dhaka is reminiscent of European cities in the 19th century.
According to an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company to The Economist, Dhaka, notorious for traffic jams and pollution, is the world’s third-least liveable city. Some 60% of residents live in makeshift structures, according to the Centre for Urban Studies (CUS), another think-tank. Many of these slum-dwellers lack access to clean water and sanitation and are at constant risk of eviction. 
In such conditions diseases—especially waterborne ones—thrive. Frequent bouts of illness that stop slum-dwellers from working keep them trapped in poverty, says Abdus Shaheen of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, an NGO. “This, of course, hampers the wider economy, too,” he adds.
The government is working on the problem, including a program to bring better living conditions to rural residents so that they will stay down on the farm. As China found out, however, that is very unlikely to work. Building better cities is the long-term answer.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Are European Countries Abandoning Census-Taking?

No matter how much other information we might collect about people, history suggests that censuses are the best way to know how many people there are in a given place. It was thus a little worrisome to read the new article by Paolo Valente, a statistician in the Social and Demographic Statistics Section at United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, published online by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). He points out to us that European countries are going through a process of modernizing the census, which means cutting back on the traditional forms of data collection. Here's his assessment of the upcoming round of 2020 censuses in Europe compared to earlier census rounds:

I'm not so worried about the combination of population registers and census data collection, but the increasing reliance on population registers as the sole enumeration method can be problematic unless we are talking about a highly regimented society that can readily document migration and other demographic events. 

I personally like the U.S. method of using the short-form to gather the demographic essentials of age, sex, race/ethnicity, and household composition, with other more detailed data being gathered on a rolling survey basis through the American Community Survey. To be sure, the process is being modernized by the increased use of Internet responses, and electronic (rather than paper) gathering of data, as Valente points out. But we really do need the census, even if people want to complain about it.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Mothers Are Increasingly Working Full-Time

Yes, I get it, mothers have always been working full-time, but this story is about paid work out in the labor force. Juliana Menasce Horowitz of Pew Research has just posted an analysis that combines data for the U.S. from Current Population Surveys with Pew Research survey data. The results are not necessarily surprising, but they nicely illustrate what we can see going on around us. 

First, the shift in mothers with children under age 18 who are working full-time:

You can see that there has been a substantial increase in the percentage of mothers who are working in the last half century, and all of that increase has been among women employed full time. Some of this is obviously related to the decline in fertility over that time. Fertility was already on its way down in the U.S. in 1968, but the total fertility rate was still well above replacement, whereas it is now below replacement.

The second part of the story, drawing on Pew Research survey data, is that attitudes toward mixing work and parenthood are generally positive. To be sure, there are downsides, especially among mothers compared to fathers (for whom working and being a parent has, of course, long been the norm). Children can slow down promotions at work, and work can lead parents to feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids. The survey results also exhibit a lot of variability among respondents in attitudes toward women combining work and parenthood, but the employment patterns among mothers--as shown in the above graph--tell us what mothers themselves must be thinking.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Xenophobia is not Just a "First-World Problem"

Donald Trump was elected to office on an anti-immigrant platform. Brexit was at least partly a response to the arrival of Eastern European immigrants in the U.K. Populism--an outgrowth of xenophobia--is currently rampant throughout Europe. But we have to remember that it is a human frailty, not just a "First-World Problem." The latest example of this comes from South Africa, as reported this week by The Economist:
Waving fighting sticks, improvised spears and shields, they advanced like an army through the streets of central Johannesburg, chanting and singing in Zulu: “Foreigners must go back to where they came from.” As they went they looted and burned shops, attacked a mosque and killed two people. The murders on September 8th came after more than a week of attacks—mostly by South Africans against migrants from other African countries—that had already led to ten deaths.
Nigeria will repatriate 600 of its citizens affected by the violence, starting today. Other foreigners are considering leaving on their own. Government officials and senior leaders of the ruling African National Congress are scrambling to meet African counterparts in an attempt to mend ties—in their own interest. Rioters in Nigeria and Zambia have attacked South African-owned businesses.
These kinds of responses to economic migrants get us back to the long-term solutions that I recently discussed, especially investments in developing countries that can create jobs and keep people home, where in most cases they want to be.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Immigration: A boon or Burden to U.S. Society?

Last May, the University of California, Santa Barbara, hosted a debate on "Immigration: A Boon or Burden to U.S. Society?" The debate featured my good friend, Rubén Rumbaut, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UC, Irvine, and genuinely one of the world's foremost authorities on immigration, especially to the United States. He was debating Mark Krikorian, who is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is an anti-immigration organization based in Washington, DC. Most importantly, Krikorian's ideas have been picked up by Donald Trump and have clearly influenced Trump's approach to immigration. [Indeed, because of his anti-immigrant influence on Trump, there were a lot of protesters outside the auditorium as the debate was taking place.] The moderator of the debate was Donald Kerwin, Jr., Director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, which is a nonpartisan migration-oriented think tank in New York City. Among their activities is the publication of the academic journal International Migration Review (and, full disclosure here--Professor Rumbaut and I have published in that journal).

We have been waiting all this time for the promised video of the debate to be made public and that has just happened. It is now available as a YouTube video through UCTV. I encourage you to watch this. It is a great inspiration for discussion. Keep in mind, though, that it is about an hour and a half, although of course you can scroll through it, if you have to.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Can Pineapples Slow Down Migration?

And, no, I don't mean by throwing them at people. Rather, the story is that growing pineapples in Guinea may be slowing down the outmigration of young Guineans to Europe. The government has partnered with international supporters to promote the development of pineapple farms that can quite literally keep young workers "down on the farm."
Despite large bauxite and iron ore deposits, this tiny West African nation has an annual per capita gross domestic product of just $885. More than half of the country’s 12 million-strong population is under the age of 25, and that combination of youth and poverty has long fueled migration. In 2016, two years after the outbreak of an Ebola epidemic added another incentive to leave, 13,342 economic migrants from Guinea reached the shores of Italy. Only Nigeria and Eritrea sent more migrants to Italy that year.
The point is an obvious one: People need jobs, and so they go where the jobs are. If the jobs are near where they live, the need to migrate is diminished. Rounding up the money to invest in developing countries is the issue, however, and this article documents that the government of Guinea has a Development Unit that seeks financial input from the outside.

This is an important development that needs global support. Indeed, I served on the Steering Committee of the World Commission on Forced Displacement, organized by the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership. One of the products of the project was the rationale for and design of a "Merchant Bank," which would be a public sector entity aimed at promoting private investment. This seems to be what's going on in Guinea. These are the sorts of positive moves that the world can make that ultimately help people to stay home, where most would prefer to be--if the local situation allowed it.

Friday, September 6, 2019

PAA History Through the Eyes of Past PAA President Robert Moffitt

Interview with Past PAA President Robert Moffitt

By John Weeks, PAA Historian and the PAA History Committee: Win Brown, Karen Hardee, Dennis Hodgson, and Emily Merchant

At this year’s annual meeting in Austin, the PAA History Committee had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Robert Moffitt, who was PAA President in 2014, for the PAA Oral History Project. Dr. Moffitt is the Krieger-Eisenhower Chaired Professor in the Department of Economics at The Johns Hopkins University. He is also Professor, Depart- ment of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University. He received his BA in Economics from Rice University, and MA and PhD in Economics from Brown University. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Brown University, and since 1995 at The Johns Hopkins University.

In the following excerpt, he gives us his overview of how the PAA has changed over time:
I think my first PAA was in the 1980s. I think it wasn’t until I went to Brown and I met all the demographers there. Sid Goldstein had been President of PAA back in 1975 and was very well connected to it and so was Fran Goldscheider and [current PAA President] John Casterline. Of course, PAA is a great organization and not only on scholarship; a great thing about PAA is its collegiality and the personal nature of it, which I’ve never found in any other association.
The field has definitely changed from my initial study of it. When I first got interested in demography back in the Mathematica years [when he was working as a researcher at Mathematica]—so that was the late 1970s— even then, it was pretty much dominated by population control and family planning and related kind of issues. Those were important issues. But the social demography side was really in its infancy and the big change that I see, particularly from my perspective, is the growth of social demography. You come to the PAA this year and the number of sessions on that topic or something related to it is tremendous. And, as a whole, the field of demography has broadened out away from those core issues of fertility, mortality, and migration.
You come to PAA today and you’ve got health and population health, for example. You’ve got applied demographers. You’ve got geographers. You’ve got survey issues and survey statisticians, although the Census Bureau has always been involved. You’ve got economists, of course, here. You’ve got anthropologists. It’s a big tent and that’s a nice thing about demography. Although I have to say that you’ve got to expect a little bit of tension between the traditionalists who say “this is what demography should be” and the younger people who say, “No. I want to do this. It’s not quite the traditional stuff. I want to bring this in.”
The big tent, with a lot of different disciplines represented at the PAA is, I think, very healthy. I also think that it’s one reason for the vibrancy and intellectual excitement of demography. Four thousand submissions this year. It’s amazing how many people come and many young demographers are interested in all different aspects of the field. This is why it is thriving and why the broadening out brings so many people to PAA. It’s the reason that PAA has succeeded.
But demography has gone through a tremendous evolution. Even when I went to Johns Hopkins, it was still Johns Hopkins—a place excelling with demographers working on population control. It still has people like Stan Becker, a distinguished demographer who works on those issues. But [Past PAA President] Andy Cherlin is there, too, and he is representative of social demography—he is concerned with inequality, poverty, and marriage. The tremendous development has been very healthy, in my view.
Moffitt also discussed the way in which his career evolved, leading to his recent participation in a committee of the National Academy of Sciences chaired by Past PAA President Greg Duncan that issued a very important report this Spring on how to reduce child poverty by 50% in ten years.

The entire interview is available on the PAA website.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Spatial Diversity of Racial Diversity of the United States

My thanks to Rubén Rumbaut for pointing me to a new infographic put together by demographer Bill Frey at the Brookings Institution. These maps show the spatial diversity of racial diversity in the United States, using the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, anticipating what we are likely to find in the upcoming 2020 Census.
The new estimates indicate that, for the nation as a whole, Hispanic residents comprise 18.3% of the population. The shares for black and Asian residents are 12.5% and 5.9%, respectively.[1] But these national numbers change dramatically when you look closer at the country’s 3,100-plus counties.
Here's the breakdown for San Diego County, for example:

As you look at these data, remember that diversity is partly in the eyes of the beholder. As I have discussed before, most Hispanics in the United States identify themselves racially as "white," so if we organized the data differently, we would come to different conclusions about the nature of diversity. Remember, too, that it took people of Irish and Italian origin, as two prominent examples of those who are now in the "non-Hispanic white" category, to become part of the ethnic mainstream--but it did happen. At the same time, each of these broad groups of race/ethnicity has a lot of diversity within its boundaries. An immigrant from Korea is unlikely to think of themselves as ''Asian" (instead of just Korean) until she arrives in the U.S., and immigrants from Chile have probably never heard the term "Hispanic" until they arrive in the U.S.

I admit that one the more interesting demographic facts that Bill Frey puts into the description of data is this:
Among the 100 largest metro areas, only 29 do not contain a highly represented racial minority. These are mostly located in the middle of the country; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Kansas City are the three largest, with Scranton, Pa. as the smallest. As a group, they are growing more slowly than those with a larger minority presence, but each one has become less white than was the case with the 2010 census.
I highlighted Scranton, because it was the home of Dunder-Mifflin paper company in the hit TV series "The Office." The cast in that program exhibited what we might call a minimal amount of demographic diversity. 

North Carolina Judges Deal With State's Gerrymandered Districts

You may recall that in July of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that federal courts had no role to play in dealing with political gerrymandering of districts at the state level. This week, however, a panel of judges in North Carolina showed that courts can act to keep state legislatures from designing district boundaries that defy the demographics of the state. The New York Times has the story, including commentary from its editorial board. 
The existing maps were so effective that they helped entrench Republican majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. In 2018, Republican candidates for North Carolina’s House of Representatives won less than 50 percent of the two-party statewide vote, but walked away with 65 seats to the Democrats’ 55. Republican candidates for the State Senate also won a minority of the popular vote, and still took 29 of 50 seats.
This kind of abuse of the democratic process is precisely what courts are designed to fix. But when North Carolina voters begged the United States Supreme Court for relief, arguing that they had been written out of the political process by the very people who were supposed to serve them, the five conservative justices turned their backs. The court could do nothing, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a demoralizing opinion in June — not because the Republicans are innocent, but because the judiciary can’t hold them accountable for what are, in essence, political crimes.
But the North Carolina judges did do something about it, requiring that the legislature redraw boundaries for state offices, and the Republican-led legislature seems to be agreeable to the court's decision. The only caveat here is that so far the ruling applies only to the boundaries for electing representatives to the state government, and not to U.S. Congressional Districts. There's still more work to be done, but this is obviously a move in the right direction.