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: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can We Save the Census? Part Two

The problems surrounding the upcoming 2020 census came under additional scrutiny in today's NYTimes. Michael Wines has a lengthy piece covering the issues I mentioned a couple of days ago, but going into even greater depth than had the previous articles. In particular, he discusses some of the planned changes to the administration of the census that could be problematic if there is too little money to go around, especially if that were to be coupled with an inexperienced person at the helm.
The bureau has been working on the 2020 count since the 2010 census was completed. The complete overhaul now underway seeks to shrink the count’s costliest and toughest task: sending hundreds of thousands of enumerators to find and interview the millions of people who fail to fill out their census forms.
An online head count, the reasoning goes, should reach more households more efficiently than mailed forms. The enumerators who track down those who do not respond (in 2010, almost 3 in 10 households) will use smartphone apps that instantly send data to the bureau’s computers and track the canvassers’ progress.
The bureau also hopes to mine federal databases and even satellite images for information that could reduce wasted trips by enumerators — to vacant buildings, for example — and automatically fill in personal data like addresses and ages.
The consequences of a flawed census are, of course, enormous and the Times article points out a scary political scenario:
A marked undercount, especially one that appeared driven by partisanship, could spark an unsettling battle between the census’s political winners and losers. There is precedent: Article 1 of the Constitution requires a decennial census for reapportionment purposes. But after Republicans took control of Congress and the White House in 1920, the House of Representatives refused to allow reapportionment of House seats, fearing that the rapid urbanization the census had documented would shift political power from rural areas to cities.
The last word in the article goes to one of the very best directors that the Census Bureau has ever had:
“The record of the census in counting people from all income groups, all racial and ethnic groups, is really extraordinary,” said Steve H. Murdock, a Rice University sociologist who led the Census Bureau under President George W. Bush. “Once you break that belief in the activity, it’s hard to replace.”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

More Evidence That Contraception is a Good Thing

With reproductive rights generally under assault by the Trump administration, it is helpful that a new study just came out highlighting the importance of having contraception available to young women. This week's Economist reports on a working paper (presumably about to be published) by researchers at Stanford University.
Few tasks in developing countries are as tricky—or as important—as convincing parents to keep their daughters in school longer. One way of doing so is to make contraceptives available, concludes a new working paper by Kimberly Singer Babiarz at Stanford University and four other researchers.
Conducted in Malaysia, the study used a happy coincidence of surveys going back decades and family-planning programmes rolled out in a way that made it possible to measure their effect. Starting in the 1960s, these programmes were introduced in some areas a few years earlier than in others. So researchers could compare what happened to girls in areas where contraceptives became available when they were very young with girls from the same cohorts in areas with no contraceptives.
It turns out that girls in the areas with higher contraceptive availability stayed in school longer, had better jobs when they left school and were more likely to invite their parents rather than the in-laws to live with them. Of course, you could argue that correlation is not necessarily causation, but the impact of family planning programs is something that this group of researchers has been working. Check out the article published last year in Population and Development Review.