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:

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Is It OK to Say "OK Boomer"?

Yesterday's climate change protest during the Harvard Yale football game highlighted the growing use of the phrase "OK boomer" to suggest that older people are out of touch with the world. It was followed today by a very interesting commentary posted to The Conversation by Elizabeth Tippett at the University of Oregon. She wonders if this is, in fact, a real issue about age discrimination.
The phrase “OK boomer” has become a catch-all put-down that Generation Zers and young millennials have been using to dismiss retrograde arguments made by baby boomers, the generation of Americans who are currently 55 to 73 years old.
Though it originated online and primarily is fueling memes, Twitter feuds and a flurry of commentary, it has begun migrating to real life. Earlier this month, a New Zealand lawmaker lobbed the insult at an older legislator who had dismissed her argument about climate change.
As the term enters our everyday vocabulary, HR professionals and employment law specialists like me now face the age-old question: What happens if people start saying “OK boomer” at work?
The reality is that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which she references, was written because of real-life discrimination of older people by employers who were doing things like firing workers just before they qualified for a company pension plan, or firing older workers only because they were making more money than younger workers. Those were (are) real issues that needed to be legislated against.

To me, the "OK boomer" phrase mainly highlights the generation gaps and clashes that exist in every society, but which have become increasingly noticeable as the age structure changes in ways that didn't used to happen. Here's a graph of the generations in the U.S. that I prepared for the 13th edition of Population, which will be available in January:

Younger people have not always respected their elders, and older people have routinely chided and made fun of younger people. Two things, though, have changed over time: (1) the absolute and relative numbers of people by age; and (2) the names that we have attached to generations, so that we can identify (and stereotype) people by age. That is why the "snowflakes" are yelling "OK boomer."

Friday, November 22, 2019

Americans are Moving Less--Is That a Good Thing?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to a story that came out in the NYTimes yesterday while I was out of town (on the move, but not migrating) about the decline in American migration rates. The story comes from a data drop by the Census Bureau from the 2019 Current Population Survey (CPS). The data show that between 1947-1948 and 1984-1985 it was common for about 20% of Americans to have changed residence during the previous year. This is, of course, a reminder of the fact that historically the country has been a nation on the move. However, since 1985, the mobility has been dropping, and last year, for the first time in the post-WWII era, less than 10% of the population moved during the 2018-2019 period covered by this Spring's CPS.

Is this a good thing, or just a thing? Sabrina Tavernise looks for answers in her article:
The decline in moving rates has happened slowly, over many years, and marks a major shift in how Americans live. It is partly demographic: The country is aging, and older people are much less likely to move than younger people. But even younger people are moving less than before, and economists, who have been studying it for years, are still puzzling over the primary driver.
“The decline in migration is really widespread,” said Abigail Wozniak, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “It applies to all demographic groups — younger and older workers, renters and homeowners, more-educated and less-educated workers.” The change is important, she said, but it is still too early to tell if it is good or bad. “We still do not have quite enough information to know if this is worrying,” she said.
Now, to be honest, I do not see tables from the Census Bureau that show these rates by age over time. We might have to download data from IPUMS to know if she is right that this trend is happening across all age groups. However, there is no question that the aging of the U.S. population, accompanied as it is by lower birth rates among all groups, is both a cause and consequence of the changing economy of the country. Closely related (although rarely discussed) is that globalization--created by post-WWII population growth throughout the world--has dramatically altered the way the economy works, and thus how people respond to it. Other factors include the increasing gender equity that puts two workers in an increasing number of households, thus making the decision to move a much more difficult one than in the past.

This does strike me as a long-term trend that needs a lot more scrutiny. It is very likely that research grant applications are already in the works!

Monday, November 18, 2019

The End of Babies? Probably Not.

This weekend's NYTimes included a widely-read opinion article titled "The End of Babies," which lamented the low birth rate in the richer countries. As of this writing, the article had almost 1,400 comments (and I admit that I have read only a few of them). The writer, Anna Louie Sussman, dives into the issues surrounding the Second Demographic Transition without seeming to know that this is what she is doing. 

As of yet, no one has come up with a single answer as to why so many countries now have below-replacement level fertility, and this is largely due to the unprecedented demographic situation in which we find ourselves. Never before in human history have death rates been so low, nor have women (and men) had such control over reproduction. Both of those phenomena have become associated with greater gender equality than ever before. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but things are moving in the right direction. It is easy to forget that Margaret Sanger started a world-wide movement for female reproductive rights because of the unwanted pregnancies (and attempted abortions) that she saw so often in the slums of New York City a hundred years ago.

In other words, we need to relish the fact that childbearing is now a choice. It is not something that societies demand of couples in order to counter the high death. And, increasingly it is not something that a man can foist on a woman whether she wants it or not. Furthermore, as the writer herself notes, it is not something that any longer requires having sexual intercourse with a man! These are genuinely revolutionary times in which we live. We are not living in a time associated with the end of babies (remember that there are still about a million more babies born each year in the U.S. than there are people dying). We are living in a time of choices, and that's a good thing.

The combination of lower mortality and lower fertility has, of course, altered the age structures of all modern societies. In particular, the populations of most countries are aging. But, rather than lament that fact and long for the days of higher birth rates (which the world really cannot afford), we need to adjust to these new realities of changing age dynamics, and gain a better understanding of how age structures influence politics and the economy. A good place to start getting your head around this is with the work of political demographer Richard Cincotta.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Educational Level as a Key Predictor of Human Well-Being

Yesterday I was scheduled to be in Vienna presenting a paper on "Educational Level as a Key Predictor of Human Well-Being" at the Wittgenstein Centre on Demography's Conference on Demographic Aspects of Human Wellbeing. Unfortunately, a cabin crew strike at Lufthansa Airlines scuttled my travel plans and so I wasn't there after all. However, thanks to the efforts of the conference organizers, I was able to record my presentation and it played while my slides were being shown. My thanks to Dr. Raquel Guimaraes for sharing some photos of that on Twitter!

I was using data from the Women's Health Survey of Accra (WHSA) that my colleague Dr. Allan Hill  (now at Southampton University in the UK) and I (and many other important collaborators) organized in Accra, Ghana a few years ago. You can find details of the project at the SDSU International Population Center website.

The talk was based on the postulates that good health is the single best (even if clearly not the only) measure of human well-being, and that education is the single most important reason for better health. I tested these ideas with our Ghana data, showing that both self-reported health and biometrically-measured health vary in predictable ways by educational level.  Here is a sample of the findings:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Would China's Population Be Even Smaller Had There Been No One-Child Policy?

For many years, the accepted wisdom in the world has been that China's one-child policy was the reason for the rapid decline in that country's birthrate. In the last several editions of my Population text, I have questioned that assumption, noting the incredible similarity between the fertility trajectories in China and its geographically and culturally close neighbor Taiwan (indeed, close enough that China claims it as its own). Here is my graph from the 13th edition of Population, which will be out very soon:

Given my history with this issue, I was very interested to read a paper by Stuart Gietel-Basten and his colleagues that was published just this week in PLOS/ONE: "Assessing the impact of the “one-child policy” in China: A synthetic control approach." They use a set of sophisticated demographic techniques to make the case that fertility might have declined even more quickly in the absence of the one-child policy--albeit in the continued presence of the wan xi shao ("later, longer, fewer") campaign launched a few years prior to the one-child policy. Here is their summary graph:

The implication of their findings is, of course, that a faster decline in fertility would actually have produced fewer people in China than there are now. Their results also help to explain why fertility has not risen in China despite the official end of the one-child policy. This is an important article regarding population policy, and I strongly recommend it to you.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Northern Triangle Countries Are NOT Falling Off a Demographic Cliff

Thanks to my son and co-author Greg Weeks for pointing me to a recent online commentary from the Center for Global Development, a "think-and-do-tank" in Washington, DC. Michael Clemens and Jimmy Graham posted "Three Facts You Haven't Heard Much About Are Keys to Better Policy Toward Central America." The first one they discuss is that "Central America is falling off a demographic cliff—so migration will slow." They argue that UN demographic data show that the youthful populations in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are about to decline dramatically and that will slow down migration from those countries, just as it has from Mexico--as a result of declining fertility--as I discuss in the forthcoming 13th Edition of my text.

The problem with their analysis is that the data simply don't show what they say. The United Nations demographers' medium projections show that the youthful, migration-age populations in Guatemala and Honduras will continue to increase in number for at least another decade, and after that we will see only a gradual slowdown. It is true that the number of youths in El Salvador will be a bit smaller in 2030 than now, but the change is not dramatic. There is no current evidence that any of the three Northern Triangle countries are falling off a demographic cliff. As much as I would have liked for their story to be true, the data simply don't paint the picture they have put out there.