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:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Income Inequality Alters Marriage Rates

Marriage in the United States used to be nearly universal, and nearly all children were born within marriage. That has changed in important ways in recent years, as noted by a story in today's NYTimes.
Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.
Currently, 26 percent of poor adults, 39 percent of working-class adults and 56 percent of middle- and upper-class adults ages 18 to 55 are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America.
As blue-collar (working class) jobs have been automated and/or gone off-shore, people (men, especially) have found it harder to find good employment (the group that Donald Trump aimed for in his presidential campaign), and that has led to a drop in marriage rates.
“The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor’s or not,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.” [And, also, I might add, a Past President of the Population Association of America.]
But this doesn't mean that people without college degrees aren't making babies--they're just more likely to be out-of-wedlock births.
Researchers found a corresponding increase in births to unmarried mothers. The decline in marriage was not offset by more couples living together.
And, of course, those children born out-of-wedlock tend to have a heavier burden, especially if the father is not involved too heavily:
While researchers say it’s stability, not a marriage license, that matters for children, American couples who live together but don’t marry are generally less likely to stay committed.
This point was emphasized in an on-line article posted today by the IUSSP headquarters in France. Elena Mariani and Alice Goisis reported on their research in the UK where they found that:
Children whose biological father joined the household after their birth had better cognitive skills and were less likely to develop depressive symptoms than children who only lived with their single mothers. Conversely, the arrival of a stepfather in the family was not associated with improvement on any of the outcomes (and was instead associated with a marked worsening of cognitive verbal skills).
Overall, then, the evidence suggests that if we could create a more equal income distribution and increase marriage rates (and marital stability) among people with less than a college education, the kids as well as the parents would be better off. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Chinese Cities Combat Low Fertility With High In-Migration

This week's Economist has a very interesting story about the spatial variability in (already low) fertility in China. Sadly, it starts the story with the following quote:
IF DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, as Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, once said, then China has many destinies.
This is sad because it shows that the writers for the Economist don't read my blog, so they don't know the story behind the phrase "demography is destiny," which I laid out more than four years ago.

The story has some sad elements because it reveals that the rural population of China continues to be exploited by the cities. All provinces in China have below-replacement level fertility (see map below), but the rural provinces still have the highest fertility. Fertility is lowest in Beijing, at 0.71 children per woman. Provincial governments handle pensions in China, so those rural provinces that are experiencing migration to the cities are finding that their dependency ratio is rapidly rising (more pensioners per worker), while the cities are replacing the unborn children with rural migrants.

As a whole, China has too few young adults relative to the size of older generations, meaning it will not have enough workers to support its pensioners (or children) properly in the future. But some areas will hit demographic trouble earlier and harder than others, with serious implications for economic growth and regional stability. Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, dubs the problem “the Balkanisation of Chinese demography”.
Unlike in Guangzhou, the national authorities have been slow to recognise the problems of demographic decline. As a result, low fertility, ageing, labour shortages and dependency have all taken on a provincial aspect. The three great cities look relatively healthy, as do Guangdong and Zhejiang, a nearby province that shares some of its features. But provinces with low fertility, declining or ageing populations, and rising dependency are in deep trouble. These include the north-east, Sichuan and Chongqing in the west and several provinces in the third category in terms of fertility, such as Anhui.
The result is a big problem for the national government. Even now, it is having to bail out some provincial pension funds. But the threat is also philosophical. The Communist Party has long sought to narrow economic differences and erase local political distinctions because it is terrified of regional challenges. It thinks the only way to keep China together is to impose strong central control. If it is right, its failure to deal with demographic problems is setting back that cause.
The Chinese government is certainly aware of demographic problems--that is why the one-child policy was implemented in the first place. And it is certainly aware of the common prediction that "China will grow old before it gets rich." At the moment, it may be that government policy under Xi Jinping is to focus in the short term only on getting rich, rather than worrying about how many people are getting old and what that might do to the economy.