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:

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Earth Day 2018

This is Earth Day 2018, although as I've said many times over the years, every day really is Earth Day, because we don't have any alternative place to live if we ruin our home here. And, of course, we are very much in the process of ruining it. The important issue is whether or not we change course quickly enough to sustain our global population indefinitely. The Earth Day Network has suggested that this year we focus on ending plastic pollution, which is affecting water-borne plants and animals in ways that are hard to see directly, but are nonetheless incredibly destructive.

I remind you every year that I have participated in each of the 48 Earth Days that have so far been celebrated. Back in 1970 I was just finishing my doctorate in demography at UC Berkeley and I accepted the invitation to drive down to Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) for their Earth Day festivities (and it was a very nice celebration). At the time the world's population was estimated to be 3.7 billion--a bit less than half of what it is today--but the growth rate was the highest the world had ever recorded. My message to the audience 48 years ago was not much different than it would be today:
It seems likely that if we don't change our ways the ultimate creditors of the world--our food resources, our water, our air, the quality of human life--all those things from which we have been so heavily borrowing, may just foreclose on us. Frankly, there are just too many people around, and if you don't think so now, you can wait another 30 years when there may well be twice as many people on this planet.
Fortunately, the birth rate did drop somewhat faster than we were expecting at that time and so 30 years later, in 2000, the population had increased "only" to 6.1 billion--not a doubling, but still a significant increase creating even more issues in terms of environmental impacts and questions of sustainability. Of course, we now do have more than twice as many people on the planet as we did on the first Earth Day. The good news about that is that the average person in the world is better off now than then. The bad news is that the probability is extremely low that we can keep this up. Maybe some miracle will pop up to save us (and many people obviously live with that expectation in mind), but in my view we have a key list of things that must be done if we are to sustain life on the planet:

  1. Make sure that the birth rate stays low in places that it is already low, and keeps coming down everywhere else;
  2. Move to diets that are more plant-based, reversing the extraordinarily harmful environmental consequences of growing food to animals that we intend to kill instead of growing it to directly feed humans.
  3. Dramatically lower our pollution of the land, the air, and the water.
These things don't require miracles--just a lot of ingenuity and hard work.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Can China and India Handle Their Excess of Males?

The Washington Post has created a very good--and visually entertaining!--story about the problems that China and India face as a result of their unbalanced sex ratios. In both cases, the societal preference for males over females has combined with ultrasound technology that can identify the sex of a fetus which can then lead to sex-selective abortion. In the old days, infanticide was the only way to handle this issue, but the new methods make it vastly easier to have a son rather than a daughter.
The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: Beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labor markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values, and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.
Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.
India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous. The imbalance creates a surplus of bachelors and exacerbates human trafficking, both for brides and, possibly, prostitution. Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice.
So, what to do about this problem? In China there is a booming business devoted to bringing in brides from neighboring nations, but those countries do not have an excess of females over males, so that is not a societal solution. There is no clear way to make up the difference without "stealing" women from other countries. This is a generation that will work its way through the age structure coping with the imbalance. My view is that in the short-term societal resources are going to have to be devoted to creating new attitudes and activities that allow unmarried men to feel integrated into society. In that process, the societal preference for sons needs to be seriously revisited and revised so that the future sex ratio is more balanced--as the UNPopulation Division assumes will happen in its projections for these countries. These things obviously won't happen easily...we're in for a rough ride.