Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who'll pay for IVF in Ontario (and elsewhere)?

Recently, an interesting proposal was made regarding a new service to be covered by OHIP, Ontario's public health insurance plan.

The Ontario government should provide funding for up to three cycles of in vitro fertilization for women under the age of 42, according to a report released Wednesday.

An expert panel on infertility and adoption, appointed by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last summer, is also recommending replacing a "patchwork" of adoption services with a centralized adoption agency.

One in six couples will struggle with infertility and the greatest barrier to assisted reproduction services is the cost, with one cycle of IVF costing about $10,000, according to the panel.

The group said the high cost of fertility treatments is leading to decisions which result in an unacceptably high rate of multiple births in Ontario.

To increase chances of success, women and couples choose to have more than one embryo transferred, say the authors of the report. As a result, the rate of multiple births from assisted reproduction was 27.5 per cent in 2006, compared to rates below 10 per cent in other jurisdictions with controls on the number of embryos transferred, they say.

This plan is relatively controversial, given Ontario's own budgetary problems and concerns over strains on the healthcare system.

[The report] points to other jurisdictions that have used public funding as a mechanism to reduce multi-births and argues this saves money down the road by avoiding medical complications from twins and triplets.

But counting on those (imputed) savings requires a leap of faith. It may not fully account for the possibility that many other couples would line up for IVF at public expense – crowding out a strained health budget. In any case, if multiple implantations are medically unsound, they ought to be banned on medical grounds; it's not clear that the province should use its chequebook to discourage what it could otherwise accomplish through regulation and standards of practice.

Welcoming the report, Premier Dalton McGuinty expressed sympathy for families but warned that Ontario faces difficult economic times. That is a good place to start an informed public debate.

The question of government funding for fertility treatments has been a notable issue, triggering lawsuits against the provincial government.

In Quebec, high-profile TV personality Julie Snyder, the wife of Quebecor CEO Pierre-Karl Péladeau, urged the province to cover IVF treatments. She made a documentary about infertility and put pressure on politicians.

In April, Premier Jean Charest's government announced that it will fund three IVF cycles for couples, making Quebec the only province to do so.

Seang Lin Tan, a fertility expert at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, said one in eight Canadian couples struggles with infertility.

"What's frustrating, is that people who would be good candidates are routinely told they have to dig into their pockets," Prof. Attaran said. "I'm fortunate, law professors get paid decently. But that's not true for everyone."

After a year of trying to conceive, the couple paid $6,300 for one IVF treatment at an Ottawa fertility clinic. A further $6,500 in drugs was covered by private insurance.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister David Caplan said he would not comment on the case.

OHIP paid for IVF in the past, but in a cost-cutting measure in 1994, Ontario withdrew funding except for women whose fallopian tubes are blocked. That applies to about 25 per cent of infertile patients, said Jeff Nisker, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and oncology at the University of Western Ontario.

Just to the northeast, it should be noted that Québec has adopted a policy of subsidizing fertility treatments, first offering a refundable tax credit paying for 50% of the costs of the treatment up to a maximum of $C 10 000 and now preparing to fund the first three cycles of in vitro fertility treatments. This, it should be noted, is part of a historic policy on Québec's part of heavily subsidizing parents and their children.

Since 1997, the province has implemented a panoply of measures to support women who want to be good mothers without sacrificing their careers.

They include generous parental leave, affordable child care, tax incentives for child-bearing, and employment premiums for working parents.

They appear to have worked: Twelve years ago, the province's fertility rate stood at 1.51 children per woman. Today it stands at a 30-year high of 1.72 children per woman, significantly higher than the Canadian average of 1.58.

Premier Jean Charest calls his province "a paradise for families." He boasts that Quebec has succeeded in slowing its population decline, reducing child poverty and increasing the employment rate among women.

His government plans to go further, offering public funding to infertile couples who want in vitro fertilization.

Quebec's programs are expensive. The province will spend $6.5 billion to support families this year (45 per cent more than Ontario).

But its fertility rate is on par with those of the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Britain.

Critics call Quebec's approach costly social engineering. But the majority of citizens support their government's family policies because they make life easier for parents and safeguard the province's francophone identify.

No other government in the country is following Quebec's example.

In covering this issue, many journalists have noted that in addition to Québec, countries like Belgium, Sweden, Australia, and Israel all pay the costs of at least several cycles of in vitro fertilization. I wonder if the number of countries providing fertility treatments will grow, perhaps driven by concerns over population issues as they effect national populations and national power. Certainly Australia and Israel have histories of wanting to boost their populations, motivated by concerns for these nation's continued survival.

At any rate, the question of assisted reproductive technologies and how they'll be used in different societies is sure to be a major issue, not least because of the continued increase in the age of women at their first child. The women might be blamed for their acting in non-traditional roles, and stigma surrounding male infertility will continue to some degree, but these technologies will continue to be used. In countries with any kind of health insurance program, the emotive question of whether or not aspiring parents will be supported in their desire to have children will continue to be asked.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the growing gender imbalance among young Vietnamese

IPS' Helen Clark reports that Vietnam is joining that cluster of East Asian countries marked by a strongly male-biased sex ratio, following the standard rationale.

Vietnam is something of a regional leader when it comes to gender equality. There are laws against domestic violence and discrimination, and very high female literacy.

Yet its sex ratio is skewed. For every 100 girls born, there are 112 boys. People prefer sons.

"If you have sons and they have children, they will carry on the family name," says Ngo Thi Thanh Nhan, 32. "People want boys so when they are pregnant with girls - abortion. This thinking must change," she adds, cradling her second daughter who is less than a month old.

In keeping with Vietnamese tradition, mother and child will remain confined to their home in District 10, Ho Chi Minh city, for the next two months.

Nhan watches as female relatives coo over her daughter, Dang Nghi. "I prefer girls but my husband likes boys. Boys and girls are the same, I think," she says. Will she have a third child? No, she has been sterilised.

The Population Ordinance, restricting families to two children, was reinstated in November 2008, after being rescinded in 2003. It was originally brought in during the mid-1980s thanks to government fears of a population boom and corresponding strains on resources.

Vietnam's sex ratio at birth (SRB) has been rising steadily for the past few years, from the "average" 105 boys to 100 girls in 1999 to 110:100 in 2006. This year it topped at an average of 112:100.

There are regional variances, with rates remaining around the natural average in the southern Mekong provinces but rising as high as 120:100 in the northeast. This mirrors neighbouring China with its one child law, repealed only recently. The SRB there had climbed to 120:100.

A recent UNFPA report noted, "(The) SRB is a reliable indicator of women's status in terms of gender inequality." "Confucian values" which prize sons over daughters and men over women have been blamed in part. Vietnam traditionally has been a patrilineal society, with sons responsible for caring for parents in old age. Daughters, who marry and leave, are considered "outsiders".

"If you don't have a son you are considered finished. You don't have happiness or luck in your life," Dr Nguyen Dang Anh, a research fellow at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, told IPS via phone.

The General Statistics Office of Vietnam suggests that, as a result of past war casualties and male-dominated emigration flows, there is a slight excess of women over men for the population as a whole, as the tables for men and women illustrates. This new trend, then, is a change.

Back in 2006, Edward and I examined the consequences of an artificially-created excess of male children over female. By taking so many children out of the reproductive equation, for instance, replacement-level fertility rates in Vietnam have been biased upwards just as much as by infant mortality, as per Aslak's post. The longer-term consequences for Vietnam also bear consideration, since as Edward pointed out last year Vietnam actively promotes emigration, particularly but not only temporary emigration, while one of the most notable vehicles for female emigration is through "marriage migration", joining male partners in wealthy similarly gender-unbalanced East Asia countries like South Korea and Taiwan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On fertility and ethnicity in Malaysia

This news item got a certain amount of coverage, here thanks to Aslak as well as more widely.

An increasing number of Malaysian couples are seeking fertility treatment as the country's birthrate declines, a newspaper has reported.

A recent United Nations report showed the country's fertility rate dropped from 3.6 babies per couple in 1990 to 2.6 babies currently, the New Sunday Times said.

A key reason for the decline is an increasing fertility problem among Malaysian women, with as many as half of those who visit gynaecological specialists asking for treatment to help them conceive, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said.

"Many of the couples will remain childless unless they are helped using the 'assisted reproductive technology' technique," Liow told the paper.

Liow said between 10 and 15 percent of childless couples in the country, aged between 30 and 40, had fertility problem.

A 2004 government study predicted that Malaysia's fertility rate would decline 0.1 percent every five years, as women postpone marriage and having children.

The study also revealed the number of children being born varied widely according to the educational level of the mother. Women with no formal education had almost twice as many children as those with a tertiary education.

What this news item doesn't begin to mention is that Malaysia's population is famously diverse, and that this diversity has strongly influenced the country's population history and future. Malaysia is home to three major ethnic categories. The largest ethnic category, now numbering some 15 million, are the Malays, a relatively diverse category including tribal populations of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as partially assimilated communities with diasporic links, like those uniting the Minangkabau of Sumatra with their co-ethnics in Negeri sembilan state or those linking the Cham of Vietnam and Cambodia with Kelantan. Their defining bond is use of the Malay language and profession of Islamic faith, their perceived indigeneity leading the country to define members of this group as bumipetera deserving of special state subsidies in business and education. The second-largest major community is that of the Malaysian Chinese, numbering more than seven million and concentrated in urban areas. The smallest of the three major communities are the Indians, mostly descended from Tamil migrant workers in rubber plantations and now relatively badly off. Other minority populations, mainly migrants from Malaysia's poorer neighbours, are relatively unimportant.

Fertility, whether TFR or cohort, varies very considerably between each of these populations.

Between 1957 and 1977, the total fertility rate (TFR) in Peninsular Malaysia fell from 6.2 births per woman to 4.0, with all of the principal ethnic groups (Chinese, Indians, and MALAYS) Registering fertility declines. However, in 1988, the TFR among the Chinese and Indians was 2.3 and 2.8 births per woman, respectively, but the rate among the Malays was 4.5 births per woman. The leveling of Malay fertility in the past 10 years is mainly due to a rise in fundamentalist Islamic principles, coupled with pronatalist governmental policies. Data from the 1984-1985 Malaysian Population and Family Survey indicate that currently married Chinese and Indian women are considerably more likely than Malay women to practice contraception (64% and 66% vs. 41% respectively). Furthermore, between 1974 and 1985, use of effective contraceptive methods increased among Chinese and Indian women, but declined among Malays; by 1985, a higher proportion of Malay women were using traditional folk methods of contraception than were using the pill, which had previously been the most popular method.

why? The spatial and occupational distribution of the different ethnic groups in colonial Malaya differed from the start, with the traditional Malay society surviving--as evidenced by its very unusual monarchy--alongside Chinese and Indian migrants who immigrated to Malaya under British auspices to extract local resources, like tin and rubber. Once displaced, these migrants urbanized fairly rapidly, eventually producing significant disparities, particularly between Malaysian Chinese and more traditional Malays. One consequence of this greater Malay traditionalism, as Puzziawati Ab Ghani concluded in the paper "Modelling of Cohort Fertility Changes Among Major Ethnics in Peninsula Malaysia", which compared cohort fertility schedules of Malaysia's three major ethnic groups, meant that Malay cohort fertility patterns over three generations did not obviously differ. "Marital fertility schedule of the granddaughters’ cohort tends to espouse that of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ especially after certain reproductive age. For the Malays, fertility experiences acquired by the mothers throughout their reproductive age and values of children in a family seems to be shared or passed down to their daughters. [. . .] This phenomenon leads us to conclude that intergenerational continuities in fertility behaviour are evident among the Malays, but not among the Chinese and the Indians.

As Tey Nai Peng describes "Social, Economic and Ethnic Fertility Differentials in Peninsular Malaysia", despite general economic growth, signfiicant differences in the spatial and occupational distribution of ethnic groups cotninue to exist.

The various ethnic groups are at different stages of demographic transition. Mortality rates have fallen to a low level for all segments of the population, with a crude death rate of less than 5 per thousand population. The infant mortality rate is lowest among the Chinese (5 per thousand live birth) and highest among the Malays (9 per thousand live births), with the Indians in-between. Female life expectancy ranges from about 73 years for the Malays to 78 years for the Chinese (Department of Statistics 2001b). Substantial fertility differentials still exist among the various sub-groups of the population.

With increased rural-urban migration, about two-thirds of the population now lives in urban areas, compared with just 25% in the 1960s. In the past, most Malays were in the rural areas and engaged in agricultural activities, while the non-Malays were mainly in the urban areas. However, the Malays have been urbanising rapidly in line with the objectives of the economic policies implemented since 1970. The urbanisation rate of the Malays increased to about 54 per cent in 2000, up from about 15 per cent in 1970. During the same period, the rate of urbanisation of the Chinese and Indians has increased from 47 to 87 per cent and 35 to 80 per cent respectively (2).

Peng's description of regional patterns of fertility follows the expected lines, more rural, less economically developed, and more conservative areas producing higher fertility rates than more urban, more economically developed, and more untraditional areas.

The total fertility rate varies widely across states and regions. The pronounced state level differentials in fertility can be attributed largely to differences in socioeconomic structures. In 1998, total fertility rate is highest in the predominantly Malay East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. These two states are currently ruled by PAS, an Islamic fundamentalist opposition party. Both states have relatively low level of urbanisation. The TFR was lowest in Pulau Pinang and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur where the Malays made up less than half the population, and where the majority of the population lives in urban areas. The fertility level is negatively correlated with household income at the state level. The mean age at marriage among women in the high fertility states is about 3-4 years younger as compared to those from states with low fertility. At state level, total fertility rate is negatively correlated with contraceptive prevalence rate (see Table 2).

[. . .]

Within each state, substantial fertility differentials can be observed between urban and rural areas, and between the ethnic groups for each location. Hence, it may be inferred that social cultural factors and differential response to government policies has resulted in fertility differentials among sub-group that are exposed to the same level of socio-economic development (6-7).

The most obvious consequence of these differences for Malaysia lies in the changed proportions of different ethnic categories. Swee-Hock Saw in his 2007 The Population of Malaysia expects the Malaysian population to reach a total of some 41 million people by 2035, with natural increase flagging first among the Malaysian Chinese, then among the Malaysian Indians, with the Malays following in behind. He doesn't expect any of these populations to experience negative growth. As a result of this, he expects the percentage of Bumiputra citizens will rise from 65.9% to 2005 to 72.1% in 2035.

But. Asan Ali Golum in his Growth, structural change, and regional inequality in Malaysia suggests that the major migratory trends in Peninsula Malaysia are directed away from relatively poor areas in the north and east--i.e. the least developed and more traditional areas of Malaysia--towards the prosperous southern and western regions. This migration, accompanied by the continuing intrusion of modern values throughout Malaysia can't help but alter demographic patterns, perhaps more radically than expected. As this study concluded, education and the number of living children seemed to play the most significant role in completed fertility regardless of ethnicity. As Saw concluded in a 1990 study comparing Malaysia and Singapore, there is little reason to expect Malays to retain high fertility rates indefinitely. "By 1987, the Malays experienced the highest fertility rate in Peninsular Malaysia, while the Chinese had the lowest rate in both countries. It is noted that the Chinese fertility rate in peninsular Malaysia (Malays 4.51, Chinese 2.25, Indians 2.77) is greater than the Malay's fertility in Singapore (Malays 2.16, Chinese 1.48, Indians 1.95)." Some of the major differences separating high-fertility Malaysia from low-fertility Singapore was more traditional gender mores, lower incomes, and less urbanization. Later data shows that between 1991 and 2003, Bumiputra fertility rates fell sharply, from exceeding Chinese TFRs by 68% down to a smaller if still significant gap. Peng's conclusion is worth noting.

Increased education, urbanisation and female labour force participation represent strong social forces that would bring about continuing decline in fertility among all groups. The eventual reduction of direct assistance from the government that looks to promote competitiveness in light of globalisation, will also increase the cost of children among the Malays. The switch from extended families to nuclear families is eroding the family support system for childcare. The Malays are still relatively less urbanised and few are using efficient contraceptive methods, and as such they have a bigger scope for the fertility decline. The religious barriers for fertility decline of the past may also be giving way. This can be seen in the sharp fertility decline in a number of Islamic countries, notably, Indonesia (with a TFR of 2.4), Bangladesh (with a TFR of 3.7), Iran (with a TFR of 2.9), Brunei (with a TFR of 2.7), as well as the Muslim population in Thailand and Singapore that have experienced below replacement fertility (UN, 2000). The sharp decline in the total fertility rate in Kelantan and Trengganu points to the fact that with social and economic development, the fertility level will probably be declining at a faster pace among those that lag behind, resulting in the narrowing of the differentials (17).

Malaysia will very likely become increasingly Malay in terms of population proportions, sure, but not nearly as thoroughly and almost certainly not as quickly as some have predicted. The New Economic Policy adopted after ethnic riots in 1971, heavily subsidizing businesses, education, and sundry other elements of Malays, has accelerated this trend by bringing Malays fully into the Malaysian economy. As all Malaysians continue to progressively adopt the same sort of low fertility rate regime that being taken on by other middle-income countries, that assisted reproductive technology will certainly be more common used by people of all ethnicities.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Québec and Alberta are (so far) avoiding lowest-low fertility

Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders recently drew my attention, and that of others to an interesting new study on fertility patterns in his article "Making more babies: a stimulus plan." Saunders explains for the curious the import of population increase generally and replacement-level fertility specifically.

Here is where you start to understand the obsession with birth rates: The catastrophic credit-crunch recession is making those rates fall at precisely the moment when the economy badly needs them to rise.

Germany announced this week that economic growth has resumed for the first time in a year. It accomplished this by dumping huge sums of government money into the economy, at great cost: Its government debt is now equivalent to around 70 per cent of its entire economy, and it is about to borrow another 350 billion euros.

Such debt levels are a temporary worry provided that long-term growth returns. Public-debt levels were higher after the Second World War, after all, and spending didn't have to come down: The economy simply outgrew the debt, as did government revenues, until it became negligible.

But that recovery was accompanied by a baby boom, bringing new young taxpayers and revenue-generators into the economy. A declining population, on the other hand, is by definition an aging one, and the pension, health and other public costs of an old population, combined with the lost tax revenue of a big non-working population, are enough to kill the economy.

Canada is--much as we might deny it--basically a multinational polity with component provinces jealously guarding their autonomy, some like Québec in particular maintaining policies quite different from those of the Canadian average, allowing for some degree of variation. Saunders points to a recent study, Roderic Beaujot and Juyan Wang's "Low fertility lite: The Nordic model in Quebec and the U.S. Model in Alberta", that might explain why TFRs have been sharply rising in those two provinces.

Canadian fertility has increased over the last four years, from 1.51 in 2002 to 1.59 in 2006. The increases have been highest in Quebec and Alberta. In Quebec, the increase has been occurring over the period 2000 to 2007, from a total fertility rate of 1.45 to 1.65 (Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2008: 28). In Alberta, the increase is from 1.64 in 2000 to 1.82 in 2006.

While many considerations are at stake in low fertility, it would appear that questions of economic risks and policy support are key matters (McDonald, 2006; Gauthier and Philipov, 2008). Roy and Bernier (2006) had argued that the Quebec family and policy trends were coming to resemble the Nordic model, with a high proportion of births in cohabiting unions, and considerable state support, especially through the Ministère de la Famille, des Aînés et de la Condition féminine.

But other countries, and the United States in particular, have managed higher fertility through a model that involves low state support. The strong job growth experienced in the United States since the recession of the early 1990s meant that, even with poor job protection, withdrawals from the labour force were less risky; people could be confident of their employment prospects when they desired to return to the labour market. In Canada, the most recent period has seen Alberta emerge as the province of strong job growth, to the point that in some years it was the only province with a substantial positive net internal migration. Commenting on the labour force data for 2006,
The Globe and Mail used the headline: “Women in the East join work force, women in West leave in droves” (Scoffield, 2006). Exaggerated as the headline was, it may have touched a reality in terms of alternative opportunities and preferences during this period of resource-sector growth in Alberta (2-3)

The general shift towards delayed fertility has helped boost cohort fertility. "[C]onsequently, completed fertility as of age 50, which had declined to 1.61 for the 1954-58 cohorts in Quebec, is estimated to rise to 1.72 for the 1972-73 cohort. For Canada as a whole, cohort fertility declined from 3.4 in the birth cohorts of the late 1920s, to 1.8 in the cohorts of the early 1950s, but it has been estimated in the stable range of 1.74 to 1.76 for cohorts from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s (Statistics Canada, 2008: 33)."

But the shift upwards has been most pronounced in Alberta and Québec. What's responsible for this? Saunders summarizes their conclusions.

They identified two baby-friendly systems. There's the “American” model, in which, thanks to high employment, “even with poor job protection, withdrawals from the labour force were less risky; people could be confident of their employment prospects when they desired to return to the labour market.”

On the other hand, in the “Nordic” model, even with poor employment levels, combining family and work was possible because of strong child-care, family-support and maternity-leave programs. (Canada, like Germany, lacks both high employment and generous child care, so doesn't really fit into either model.)

“In that context,” they conclude, “it is noteworthy that fertility is rising most in Alberta and Quebec, that is in provinces where young families have had the security of either good job opportunities or supportive social policy.”

It may also be worth noting that Canada as a whole has low total and completed fertility. Here in Ontario, for instance, child care spaces are hard to come by and things aren't getting better, while Ontario's unemployment rate continues to rise as the automotive manufacturing sector continues its slow-motion implosion and takes the rest of the industrial economy with it. (Québec, as an article I linked to a while back noted, had a much more diversified and stable economy going in and, for the first time in a while, has lower rates of unemployment than Ontario.)

If these trends continue, I wonder how the balance between provinces might evolve. Ontario has traditionally been the dominant player in Confederation, but if its economy continues to perform below-par while demographic trends turn against it, even as Québec remains stable and Alberta continues to grow, interesting things could happen. Canadian political analyst James Laxer has suggested that the Québec-Alberta alliance that brought Canada into North America free trade alliances in the 1980s might be revived, perhaps to further decentralize the country. (Will we one day speak not of "Canada" but rather of "the Canadas"?)

While we're waiting for the very fabric of Canada to be rewoven beyond all recognition, in the meantime Beaujot and Wang's study makes a valuable contribution to the study of demographic differences between societies. Insecurity and uncertainty of whatever kind never helps.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A new perspective on Eurabia

The Vancouver Sun's columnist Douglas Todd produced an interesting column, "Do Muslims seek to dominate the West? And could they do it?", with an associated conversation at his blog. It mentions me by name, and perhaps unsurprisingly it also deals with Eurabia.

It is a frightening vision of future Europe, the logic of which Canadians would be wise to monitor.

It goes like this: The population of Europe will be 40-per-cent Muslim by 2020.

Due to high immigration and birthrates, the forewarning declares, Muslims from the Middle East and Africa will soon dominate much, if not all, of European politics, education and the courts.

Some prophets warn Muslims in Europe will impose shariah law on everyone -- banning homosexual relationships, forcing all women to wear headscarves and allowing men (not women) to be polygamous. The continent might as well become known as "Eurasia."

It's a disturbing vision.

Is there anything to it?

- Will hundreds of millions of Muslims soon take over Europe, demographically?

- If they do, would they impose conservative moral values on non-Muslims?

After pointing out the numerous studies demonstrating that Muslims are in fact not taking over Europe demographically, as Muslim immigrants tend to adopt the demographic patterns of their new countries sooner or later, whether through immigration or through completed fertility, Todd--a religion in culture writer--examines the qu

Moderate Muslims are increasingly becoming influential in Europe and North America. I have interviewed Muslim leaders in the Netherlands, such as Turkish immigrant Haci Kraceur, who was encouraging Muslim immigrants to fully embrace the Dutch approach to religious freedom and free speech.

Kraceur's organization, called Milli Gorus or National Vision, was calling on Dutch Muslims to avoid living in all-Muslim neighbourhoods and to open up the country's 400 mosques to everyone with cafes, bakeries and Turkish massage parlours.

I've also talked to the influential European Muslim intellectual, Tariq Ramadan. He's calling on Muslims everywhere to be more "self-critical," while urging Christians, Jews, secularists and others in Europe and North America to resist the temptation to make Muslims the new enemy.

Ramadan, a gracious man and subtle thinker, was recently asked a tough question by a Dutch interviewer: Would Muslim leaders want to ban homosexuality if they ever became a majority in parts of Europe?

Ramadan maintained Muslims don't want to "silently colonize" Europe. As beneficiaries of multiculturalism and human rights, most Muslims, he said, want to respect over-riding Western values, which include tolerating homosexual relationships.

Closer to Canada, Todd also has a long history of interviews with Canadian Muslims.

[T]he Canadian Muslims I have met are a mixed bag when it comes to how seriously they follow their religion. Many Canadian Muslims are basically "non-practising Muslims," like France's Zinedine Zidane.

However, I have talked to many devout Metro Vancouver Muslims, including young people. The teenagers I met are, like many Muslims, left-wing about economic issues, but morally conservative about sex outside marriage, homosexuality and drinking.

They both celebrate and criticize North America's libertarian culture. I was glad they attended public universities and public high schools (even though many others attend separate Muslim schools, which raises legitimate questions).

The Muslim teenagers I met interacted with Canadians from all ethnicities and walks of life. They did so especially through sports teams. Perhaps most important of all, the Muslim teens deeply appreciated the freedom they have in Canada. Most said either they or their parents come from countries in the Middle East and Asia where free speech and association is not at all a given. They were grateful to be in a democratic country.

Douglas Todd is quite right to observe that culture is as much of a factor in Eurabia fantasies as demographics, that Eurabia is the product of an ill-founded existential fear for the future of a culture that can't be explained away by, well, reality. (See the comments at Todd's blog if you don't believe me.) This sort of sloppiness hurts all of us interested in population trends, as I noted last year.

For people like ourselves, interested in researching population trends here at Demography Matters and elsewhere, this sort of rhetoric creates yet another set of myths that have to be debunked. It is interesting to trace out some of the likely population futures of different regions, countries and continents, as is determining the different factors operating in different communities within a given territory. Turning a field that could be filled by an ongoing stream of productive research into an endless cycle of disproved popular mythologies would be boring. More to the point, the constant repetition of myths like the ones enunciated by Romney -- that the European continent is declining, that Europe is threatened by foreigners -- poisons public discourse by legitimating ever more radical statements. If Europeans at large are concerned about the extent to which communities of recent immigrant origin are or are not acculturating to the norms of a wider society and want to influence public policy accordingly, how likely will the debate be calm and rational if many the people who participate seriously believe things scarcely more sophisticated than "OMG the Muslims are going to P3WN Europe"?

Culture certainly plays a role in the study of demographics, especially in multicultural societies like the ones that nearly all of our readers now live in. Understanding the peculiarities of the demographics of the different component groups--the degree and speed of fertility and mortality convergence to national averages, the rate and extent of cultural assimilation, the changing spatial distribution of population, and so on--is very important indeed. But again, we have to make sure that we're not studying their differences all the better to produce alarmist propaganda.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"How migration transformed Martha’s Vineyard"

Readers may be interested in Daniela Gerson's excellent article in the Financial Times, "How migration transformed Martha's Vineyard". In it, Gerson descreibes how the tourist island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, acquired a permanent population of which 20% was of Brazilian background, in a classic example of chain migration.

One December morning in 1986, a Brazilian immigrant named Lyndon Johnson Pereira strode down the ferry dock of Martha’s Vineyard, an island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A job tip had lured the young man with shaggy brown hair and blue Converse sneakers to leave Boston, where he had been working as a dishwasher for a little over a year. But as he took in the deserted streets and weather-beaten buildings, he worried he had made a mistake. “The island appeared poor, badly maintained,” a now middle-aged Pereira recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do here?’”

With those unsteady steps Pereira would forge a link between his home town in the backwaters of Brazil and what was, contrary to appearances, the holiday retreat of many of America’s richest and most influential citizens. During that first winter he had a hard time believing anyone would choose to live there. Then the sun emerged, turning the steely ocean a brilliant blue. Fudge shops, fried-clam shacks and chic boutiques opened their doors. And boatloads of vacationers arrived hourly, filling the old whaling towns with summer revelry.

Pereira was in the thick of it, helping to start a new restaurant on prime real estate just off the same wharf where a young Teddy Kennedy swam ashore after his accident on the nearby island of Chappaquiddick almost two decades earlier. Soon, the Brazilian immigrant was making more money in his 100-hour working week than he could in a year at home.

Gerson sensitively explores the issue, covering everything from the mechanics of chain migration and the benefits to the community to the problems regarding the immigrants' integration and their popularity in the time of the credit crunch. Go, read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quelques liens de la francophonie (1)

English isn't the only language out there on the Internet. Other languages--French, for instance--are also present, and other languages--again, like French--feature news article and contents concerning demography, not only in France but throughout la francophonie. Here's a few of the more recent articles. If you can't read French, Google Translate will provide a serviceable translation.

  • Ndeye Maty Diagne at Press Afrik reports briefly on Senegal and migration. More than 5% of the Senegalese population lives outside the country, which has become a land of emigration and a land of transit all at once.

  • Slate's French-language edition features an article by Gilles Bridier examining how, in the current recession, current migration policies in the developed world are counterproductive even as immigrants experience very hard times.

  • Le Monde's Bucharest correspondent Miral Bran reports on the phenomenon of Moldovans using their acquired Romanian passports to access the European Union.

  • The French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna, the only French territory governed by tribal chiefs, is experiencing both the demographic transit and mass emigration, the latter mainly to the larger and richer New Caledonia.

  • In North Africa, Amel Djait reports that Tunisia has become a popular tourist destination for Algerians, in France as well as in Algeria.

  • Jeune Afrique's Abdelaziz Barrouhi examines the very difficult path for Tunisian migrants to France.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some demographic news links

I've stored up a few, so please forgive me. I promise not to let the links accumulate quite so much.

  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports debate on the extent to which Australia's rapidly growing population--possibly as high as 44 million by 2050!--will be driven by natural increase or immigration.

  • At Inter Press Service, Vesna Peric Zimonjic reveals the new phenomenon of Ukrainian (and even Albanian!) women marrying bachelors in rural Serbia.

  • Grace Puliyel has an article at examining the phenomenon of brain drain and remittances in the Kenyan context, particularly but not only examining South Asians.

  • New changes in British immigration policy allowing Ghurka soldiers to settle in that country may precipitate a mass exodus from at least one Nepalese town.

  • The Malta Independent announces that despite a rapidly falling total fertility rate, Malta's population grew not only because of continued natural increase but because of immigration, while the percentage of births outside marriage continues to grow.

  • The American state of Utah's traditionally high TFR is slowly converging to the American norm, and there's some conflict as to whether this is a good thing or not.

  • Finally, Reuters explores the growing number of Sudanese refugees and migrants in Egypt, and how crackdowns in Libya and Italy is encouraging many to try to flee to Israel.

More on fertility and the HDI

James Holland Jones, a biodemographer at Stanford has posted a critique of Edward's critique of the recent paper by Kohler, Myrskylä and Billari et al. in Nature arguing that development beyond a certain level reverses the fertility decline usually associated with development. Jones' response is a good and fair one and well worth reading, because it gives a good overview of some of the issues involved. However, much of the response amounts to "you work with the data you have, not the data you'd like to have". This is true, but it troubles me that Myrskylä et al. are making a fairly strong claim based on fairly weak data. I would like to add some of my own critique of the Nature paper, which I think complements the points Edward raised.

First, maybe I should say something about why Edward and I are devoting so much attention to this article. If the claims are correct, it really would have very important consequences. Almost everybody would agree that excessive aging is an important impediment to economic growth, both because of the sheer fiscal cost of paying for a large population of retirees and because of structural issues associated with aging, like increasing export dependency, increased savings, reduced consumption and lackluster growth. If the article is correct, this would imply a couple of things: first, that to a certain extent (but not completely) this is a problem that resolves, or at last alleviates itself somewhat as long as one can attain a certain level of development. Second, it suggests a different kind of low-fertility trap where countries who pass a certain tipping point in development can raise their birth rates whereas countries who fail to get to that point may enter a vicious economic circle.

This may in fact be the case, but I dont think Myrskylä et al. make a convincing case for it. Let's have a look at their graph:

Now what's important here, as Jones, Hugh and I all agree on is the black line, which shows adjusted total fertility rate that is not distorted by birth postponement. Looking at, it does indeed seem like there's a positive correlation between adjusted total fertility rate and the Human Development Index. However, in this case correlation does not mean causation. If you look at the countries with an HDI above 0.9, you can distinguish a few important groups. The Nordic countries ( 5 countries, average aTFR in 2005: 1.99 range: 1.92-2.2), English-speaking countries (4 countries, average aTFR: 2.01, range:1.91-2.2 Canada and New Zealand are not included in the data set, so UK, US, AUS and Ireland). These are two cultural groups that both have a great deal of gender equality, the Nordic countries also have a similar social model. There's a bit more variation in the Anglophone group in terms of economic model, but also many similarities. Together, these two groups dominate the upper range of the HDI and they all also have high fertility. Since Canada is not in the data set, they have the top five spots in terms of the HDI.

On the other hand, you have groups countries with more conservative family models: German-speaking countries (3 countries, average atfr 1.58, range 1.47-1.72) and Mediterranean countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy :average aTFR 1.51 range 1.37-1.65). Mostly, these countries rank slightly lower on the HDI but even when these countries rank high like Switzerland and Spain, they maintain low fertility. Ditto for Japan which has a very HDI, but an extremely conservative family structure.

My point is that cross-country comparison between high-HDI countries are distorted by groups of countries that are culturally similar with similar fertility regimes. The Anglosphere and the Nordic countries have had high and stable fertility -and moreover they had the same level of fertility they do now even at lower levels of development. The presence of these two groups largely explains the correlation between adjusted TFR and HDI. The more conservative countries have had fertility rates that are low and stable. It's therefore difficult to see the impact of HDI on fertility that Myrskylä et al. are claiming

Myrskylä et al. do try to do a longitudinal survey, where they try do look at developments within a country over time and they get similar results. However, the manner in which they conducted the study is, I think, deeply flawed. Since they didn't have a time series of aTFR that went far back enough in time for a sufficient number of countries, they put together a combined series, using TFR when they didn't have adjusted TFR and then controlling for the change in level in the year that they switch between the series. This really seems problematic since TFR and aTFR don't really measure the same thing. Edward pointed this out by looking at the Cohort Fertility rates, but even looking at just the ajusted fertility rate series, it's hard to discern any trend at all. They fact that they got a statistically significant result must be a statistical artifact of the method they used and the limited amount of data available. Just have a look at the graphs for adjusted TFR for the 25 countries in their time series (this is just aTFR and not the combined series they use):

I find it hard to find any support for their argument here. Estonia has experienced an upswing but it happened before the level they claim would induce a fertility increase. The UK series is too short to really tell, but you might be able to make a claim for the US. Either way, the data does not really support their conclusion. I take Jones's point that we can't expect all the hard data we want, but in the absence of it, it would perhaps be better if we all refrained from strong claims without much empirical evidence.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Fertility in Israel: Is the Transition to Replacement Level In Sight?"

Israel is a nation marked profoundly by planning, from the construction and adoption of Modern Hebrew as a common tongue then as a first language, from the design of agricultural communities and the designation of settlement patterns, to the construction of the basic institutions of state and civil society.

That's why it's ironic, as detailed in Dov Friedlander's paper on Israeli demographic trends, that fertility and migration trends in Israel have to be considered not so much nationally as sectionally, with European and American Jews, Sephardim and Arab Jews, different religiously- and territorially-defined Arab populations, and recent eastern European immigrants all constituting their own relatively self-contained communities and are themselves divided between secular and religious groups.

Friedlander's paper provides a fascinating look at demographic trends in one of the world's most ethnically and religiously complex economically developed countries. Go, read.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines" - Science or Hocus Pocus?

According to a once-upon-a-time post on the Economist's Certain Ideas of Europe Blog Edward Hugh “was very cross” about some of the journalism they were serving up over at that prestigious journal. Well, not to worry, since this time he is hopping mad. And the issue which lies behind his wrath is essentially the same one, how to interpret and understand the demographic processes which are currently so evidently affecting our societies. In what is simply the latest episode in a long and sorry saga (if you want documentation, please see the comments Claus Vistesen and I nailed to their "Wall" in the above linked post) this week's print issue contains a research review from their science and technology correspondent who is evidently not backward in coming forward with headline grabbing claims. According to the said corresponedent the demographic transition (a process which has been ongoing for over two hundred years now) has finally and definitively gone into reverse gear:
"One of the paradoxes of human biology is that the rich world has fewer children than the poor world. In most species, improved circumstances are expected to increase reproductive effort, not reduce it, yet as economic development gets going, country after country has experienced what is known as the demographic transition: fertility (defined as the number of children borne by a woman over her lifetime) drops from around eight to near one and a half. That number is so small that even with the reduced child mortality which usually accompanies development it cannot possibly sustain the population.

If Mikko Myrskyla of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues are correct, though, things might not be quite as bad as that. A study they have just published in Nature suggests that as development continues, the demographic transition goes into reverse."

Well quite a strong claim is being made here. The idea that a group of researchers have come up with a finding that shows the "rule....that people have fewer children as their countries get longer holds true" is certainly not one to be sniffed at. Such a strong claim needs some very heavy backing you would think, given all the research that has gone into the topic in recent years.

In fact, the research makes no such direct claim, since Myrskylä et al simply find statistically significant evidence for a reversal in the relationship between the human development index (HDI)
and the total fertility rate (Tfr) at HDI levels around 0.85–0.9. The rest is only interpretation. As we will see, to move from a simple statististical correlation to formulating a hypothesis you need an explanatory framework, and you need to be able to make falsifiable predictions. The Nature letter from Myrskylä et al is far from being at this stage of development. They have simply found an interesting correlation, and the rest is in the eye of the observer.

"Back in 1975, a graph plotting fertility rate against the Human Development Index fell as the Human Development Index rose. By 2005, though, the line had a kink in it. Above an HDI of 0.9 or so, it turned up, producing what is known in the jargon as a “J-shaped” curve (even though it is the mirror image of a letter J). As the chart shows, in many countries with really high levels of development (around 0.95) fertility rates are now approaching two children per woman. There are exceptions, notably Canada and Japan, but the trend is clear."

However, according to the Economist the trend is clear. But is it? Edward has been doing some digging.

In fact the problem goes beyond the Economist, since the source behind the article is a letter published in Nature. Below you can read that letter.

"During the twentieth century, the global population has gone through unprecedented increases in economic and social development that coincided with substantial declines in human fertility and population growth rates. The negative association of fertility with economic and social development has therefore become one of the most solidly established and generally accepted empirical regularities in the social sciences. As a result of this close connection between development and fertility decline, more than half of the global population now lives in regions with below-replacement fertility (less than 2.1 children per woman. In many highly developed countries, the trend towards low fertility has also been deemed irreversible. Rapid population ageing, and in some cases the prospect of significant population decline, have therefore become a central socioeconomic concern and policy challenge10. Here we show, using new cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of the total fertility rate and the human development index (HDI), a fundamental change in the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development as the global population entered the twenty-first century. Although development continues to promote fertility decline at low and medium HDI levels, our analyses show that at advanced HDI levels, further development can reverse the declining trend in fertility. The previously negative development–fertility relationship has become J-shaped, with the HDI being positively associated with fertility among highly developed countries. This reversal of fertility decline as a result of continued economic and social development has the potential to slow the rates of population ageing, thereby ameliorating the social and economic problems that have been associated with the emergence and persistence of very low fertility."

Here is the chart (reproduce from Nature data) which the Economist presents to illustrate the 'J curve' relationship.

Nice, isn't it? Nature even go to the lengths of a putting up a special "event" podcast featuring an interview with Hans Peter Kohler (click here for link) as if to underline the importance of the "finding") But does any of this have any compelling validity?

Methinks not as much as the authors of the letter, or those who are covering it in the media, are trying to make out. There are many issues which are raised here, but I would just like to mention three.

The first is the decision of the research team to work with a period based fertility measure which is known to be very unreliable for "tempo" reasons (the Total Fertility Rate- Tfr) as the basis for a longitudinal study. And let us remember, the authors only really claim to have found a correlation between HDI levels in the 0.85–0.9 range and movements in the Tfr, and there could be many explanations for this. Indeed the authors themselves even offer one of them in their supplementary information - "countries at development levels near the critical level HDI = 0.86 might have a more rapid postponement of childbearing than more advanced countries.. " - a possibility which, in fairness to the authors, they try to test for.

And you don't have to rely on me for the suggestion that the Tfr is hardly the most desireable measure for what they want to do, since the authors themselves point this very fact out in the supplementary information (and the only thing which surprises me is that nobody else who has reviewed the research seems to have twigged the implications of this). So the very title of the Letter is totally misleading, they have not found that "Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines" -since in the first place the direction of causality is not adequately determined (it might be that reverses in fertility decline advance development, as I try to show in a piece referenced below) and in any event the research only shows movements in the HDI correlate with movements in the Tfr (and not with "fertility").

The recent literature on low fertility in developed countries has pointed to the important role of delayed childbearing, that is, the ongoing postponement of childbearing to increasingly later ages. In the context of this paper, delayed childbearing is potentially important because the postponement of childbearing can distort the total fertility rate as a measure of the quantum (or long-term level) of fertility. “Tempo effects”, or the reductions in the total fertility rate resulting from a postponement of childbearing, have been shown to partially explain the very low fertility rates observed in some European countries.

So this is the first issue. Due to the phenomenon of birth postponement, the Tfr is a hopelessly unreliable indicator, and what is often called "the birth recovery" is in fact a statistical issue produced by the fact that the Tfr first sinks to very low levels (the birth dearth) and then recovers as women reach the new (higher) childbearing age. Since all of this is simply so obvious, I am absolutely astounded that two such well known and highly respected demographers - Hans-Peter Kohler and Francesco Billari - have placed their name on a piece of research that could almost be described as a publicity stunt. I am even more astounded by the way Nature appear to have been hoodwinked.

Basically, I don't think that there can be any doubt that if they used a more comprehensive measure of fertility - say completed cohort fertility - they wouldn't get the correlation they claim to have found, since CFRs never fell so low, and have not bounced back in the same way. This is essentially because this indicator removes the temporal component found in the TFR (older first birth ages among women in developed societies) and only focuses on quantity. True, they did carry out a robustness test using an adjusted Tfr, but the results are much weaker, and the sample far from satisfactory (at least for the claims being made), and the authors well know this (see below).

In their longitudinal study the authors look at Tfrs for a number of countries over the period 1975 to 2005 and compare these to the lowest Tfr reading observed while a country's HDI was within the 0.85–0.9 window. For all countries considered, the HDI in 2005 was found to be higher than the HDI in the reference year. For 18 of the 26 countries that attained a HDI 0.9 by 2005, the Tfr in 2005 was found to be higher than the TFR in the reference year. As I say, this is hardly surprising, given the tempo impact on Tfrs. The "2005 18" are Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Israel, Italy, Sweden, France, Iceland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and Ireland.

Perhaps it is more surprising (and interesting) to learn that they found six countries where the HDI was over 0.9 but where the Tfrs didn't pick up: Japan, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Canada and South Korea. Clearly the absence of "rebound" in even the Tfrs is something of a cause for preoccupation in these countries, and examining the background to what is happening in these countries could at the end of the day turn this research into something quite interesting. That is to say, if for their level of development we might have expected the tempo effect to be more or less over, why do some countries continue to have very low fertility levels?

Basically, to shoot a hole straight through their hypothesis (falsify it that is, surely in science things should be falsifiable), I would say it is only necessary to find a significant number of countries in the first group where fertility as measured by a better indicator didn't rise. Unfortunately we don't have a really good time series for such an indicator, but Eurostat have published statistical estimates for Completed Cohort Fertility Rates (Cfrs) for EU countries up to the 1989 cohort. That is, estimates of what fertility is likely to be for women who were 30 in 2009. Looking at this data, the following countries would appear to offer no evidence whatever for a rebound in cohort fertility in what we know to dat: Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden, France, Iceland, the UK, Greece and Ireland. That is to say, as far as I am concerned, the whole hypothesis falls till at least subsequent data confirm it.

I haven't been able to check foir the US (but the Cfr is probably up) Israel (also) or New Zealand. Belgium has little available data. So the only two European countries which you could say with some degree of security actually could confirm the hypothesis would be Luxembourg and Spain - but if you just look at the increases in Spain - from 1.34 to 1.35 - and think about the fact that 5 million new migrants arrived (mainly in childbearing ages) between 2000 and 2009, then the result is hardly dramatic, and if you look what just happened to the economy, it is more than likely that GDP per capita is plummeting, and and household income (which has a weighting of more than one third in the HDI) with it. Which brings me to the second question, the reference year. But before I move on to that, as I say above, the authors are perfectly well aware of the issue with using Tfrs.
In particular, one could speculate that tempo effects might be—at least partially—responsible for the observed change in the development–fertility association. For example, countries at development levels near the critical level HDIcrit = 0.86 might have a more rapid postponement of childbearing than more advanced countries. If this were the case, tempo effects would reduce the TFR more strongly at intermediate than at advanced HDI levels, and the positive association between HDI and TFR in Figures 1–2 could be partially explained by differences in the pace of fertility postponement, rather than by variation in levels among advanced countries.

The authors therefore carry out a robustness test which effectively amounts to a cross-sectional study (cross-sectional note, not longitudinal) of the relationship between the total fertility rate with and without adjustment for tempo effects, and the human development index in 1975 and 2005. Tempo adjusted TFRs are not available over the period in question so they simply took data for 2005 (for those countries for which it is available from the ’European Demographic Data Sheet 2008’ (published by the Vienna Institute of Demography, Vienna, Austria) and from McDonald P, Kippen R. The Intrinsic Total Fertility Rate: A New Approach to the Measurement of Fertility (Population Association of America Annual Meeting 2007, New York, 2007). What they can then show is that the HDI–TFR relationship at persists at advanced development stages persists even after adjusting the total fertility rate for tempo effects. But, as I say, this is cross sectional, not longitudional. What does this jargon mean? It means there is no clear causal relationship, since equally it could be better HDIs which is driving better fertility, and hence you can use the HDI to explain differences between countries if you wish, but not the evolution of fertility in individual countries. The 2005 result is show as a black line in the chart below, where you can see that as HDI goes up, Tfr also seems to be higher.

Which is very much to the point, and brings me to my second issue, since in my blog post "Taking Solow Seriously - Does Neoclassical Steady State Growth Really Exist?" (which you can find here) - I demonstrate using a few simple charts that the evolution in GDP per capita (which accounts remember for one third of the HDI) may well be a function of underlying population dynamics, since three countries with stronger population growth and higher fertility (the US, the UK and France) evidently perform much better than three will low-to-negative population growth and very low fertility (Italy, Japan and Germany).

Also, it should be remembered, as I mention, we need to think about base years. 2005 was the mid point of a massive and unsustainable asset and construction boom. I think there is little doubt that if we took 2010 or 2011, the results would be rather different.

Finally, the piece in the Economist article that I personallyfind most interesting is the following:

"Dr Myrskyla’s data, however, suggest the ultimate outcome of development may not be a collapsing population at all but, rather, the environmentalist’s nirvana of uncoerced zero population growth."

I want to stress, I certainly think this stationary population idea is certainly one possibility in the more highly developed nations - but if we move to stationary populations, with higher and higher proportions of the population in the older age groups the result is - as we know - a rising median population age. It is the economic impact of the abrupt rise in median age that I personally am focused on, and how just this rise, and the resulting fall in living standards for many young people, might feedback in a negative way on fertility and thus produce ever more rising median ages. In recent days, some have been asking why people like myself are so focused on what is going on in Latvia, which is after all, a pretty small country. Well, I think here in the issues raised by the Nature letter we have just one more reason why that country is important, since in a sense it is conducting a "live" experiment.

Finally, I want to say, none of the above should be read as suggesting that there isn't a great deal of interest and material to talk about in the study the authors have carried out. Nor would I hold them entirely responsible for the way in which others have used and abused their work. I just the reserach doesn't demonstrate what they want it to demonstrate, and that the study doesn't deserve the kind of high media profile it has been receiving, since it is going to mislead the general public more than it will enlighten them, given the important methodological issue which are still to be clarified.

The heart of the problem is twofold. The excessive reliance on a rather problematic indicator (the Tfr) and the causality issue when it comes to GDP per capita and higher fertility (which way does the arrow point?). In fairness the authors do attempt to construct their own combined time series based on a mixture of tempo-adjusted Tfrs and Tfrs, a procedure which seems at the very least to be somewhat problematic if you want to reverse fifty years of academic consensus. And they do get the same sort of result, but the outcome is much weaker and is based on a much smaller sample of only 25 countries. But even this result is at the very least odd, since, as I argue above, cohort fertility hasn't really increased in most of thecountries concerned. So I think we really all need to see more details of how the authors actually constructed the time series to be able to form a better judgement.

But all this being said, and whatever the original intentions of the authors, serious scientific debate does seem to have been turned here into something of a media circus. Wasn't it blogs that were supposed to do that?


Below I offer a series of charts showing estimated completed cohort fertility rates based on data compiled by Eurostat using the distribution of births by parity (first and second or higher order births) and mean age of mothers at respective parities to carry out the calculations. Evidently, the most recent data for hard data on completed cohort fertility comes for the 1960 - 1965 cohort. These charts should not be treated as hard data, but a rule-of-thumb type quick visual inspection suggests that it is hard to accept the case for a substantial fertility rebound in many European countries.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Weekend Demographic Link Dump

A recent article in Nature has been given a lot of media attention because it argues that at high levels of development, as measured by the Human Development Index, there is a positive correlation between HDI and fertility. I'm personally not convinced and Edward does a good job of pointing out some the many weaknesses of the study here.

Birth rates in the US are falling, largely because of the recession. This is of course not unsurprising and there are signs of the same thing happening in some countries in Eastern Europe. I suspect that in countries with extensive welfare states you might see the opposite effect, which means that French fertility may exceed US fertility this year, C'est peut-être le bon moment pour pratiquer son français, mes amis.

If anyone has had the misfortune of stumbling upon a Youtube movie called "Muslim demographics in Europe", the BBC has a good debunking of the "statistics" used in that clip.

Germany has the lowest birth rate in Europe despite recent efforts to boost fertility. In order to reverse the trend, the German family minister proposes part time parental leave with full-time pay (article in German), which seems like a good idea. Personally, I've always felt that subsidized or free day-care and after-school programs seems like the best natalist measure, but they're very expensive and take time to implement even in the best-case scenarios. In addition you need a child-friendly culture, which Germany seems to lack. At lest they've belatedly realized they have a problem.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The ticking population bomb

The primary focus of this blog is on the rapid aging and low fertility in much of the world. Had this blog been written forty or even twenty years ago, it is likely that the focus would be completely different. Back then, people like Paul Ehrlich wrote books like the Population Bomb, arguing that the rapidly expanding population would quickly exhaust the world's limited resources leading to mass starvation and the deaths of literally billions of people. Things have changed in the forty years since The Population Bomb was published. The world's resources are still limited, and the global population is projected to peak at 9 billion, which is still a very high number but much less than was feared back then. Ehrlich's projections turned out to be very wrong on a global scale. And yet... There are places where the population bomb is still ticking and hasn't been defused. In fact, it seems likely to detonate at any moment.

One such place is Yemen. Yemen is among the poorest of Arab countries and unlike its neighbors Saudi-Arabia and Oman it has very limited supplies of oil and gas. In fact, Yemen is not a bad template for what Saudi-Arabia might have looked like without any oil. It is not a pretty sight. Originally a collection of tribal fiefdoms united as a British protectorate, Yemen in the post-colonial era has been defined by periodic wars, most recently in 1994. Even today, Yemen has a weak state with limited control over its territory and power dispersed between various clans and tribes. To add some spice to the mix, it has also been a recruitment center and shelter for Jihadists of various stripes.

Yemen has experienced extremely rapid population growth over the last century. The total fertility rate was stable somewhere between 8-9 for the better part of the 20th century and only started to decline slowly in 90's. According to UN estimates, it still at a high level of about 5.3. The result is of course entirely predictable. From a relatively small population of 4.5 million in 1950 it now has about 25 million people, which the UN expects to double again to more than 50 million by 2050. Yemen has an extraordinarily young population with a median age of about 18 years and almost two thirds of the population younger than 25.

Such a young population would be a challenge for far more functional states than Yemen. With a stagnant economy and a state so weak it's barely existant outside cities, Yemen can't provide jobs and education for its young. The unemployment rate is estimated (and it's probably a very rough estimate) to be aroundd 35%. The education system can't keep up with the exploding population and it is estimated that around 2/3 of women are illiterate and more than two million children do not attend school.

To top it all of, Yemen is one of the most arid places on Earth. The average Yemeni has access to around 155 cubic metres of renewable water resources per year - 10% of the average for the Middle East and 2% of the world average. If the population really doubles, those numbers would be halved. Since rain is woefully insufficient, Yemen is rapidly depleting its groundwaters. The aquifer under the capital Sana'a is expected to be depleted by 2025. In richer countries, water shortages can be solved either by imports or desalination, but Yemen's neigbors have no spare water to share, long-distance transport of water is infeasible on a large enough scale and Yemen can't afford desalination. The problems could be somewhat alleviated if the Yemeni government was able to reign in cultivation of the water-hungry narcotic khat crop, but it has so far shown little inclination or capacity to do so and even if they did it might just delay the inevitable.

Thus, Yemen is incapable of dealing either with the speed of population growth or the current population level, which is beyond the long-term carrying capacity of the land. Unskilled Yemenis are not welcomed as immigrants many places, and I find it extraordinarily hard to see how this can possibly end well. The world will be at least as concerned about Yemen a few years from now as it is about Pakistan and Afghanistan today. And unlike Afghanistan or Somalia, Yemen sits right next-door to the world's largest energy reserves.... Suffice it to say that as serious as the aging problems the developed world faces are, there are worse demographic problems to have.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Christopher Dye on Human Evolution

Following Aslak's link dump below, I thought that I would share the video below of a lecture given by Professor Christopher Dye from the World Health Organizatio on human evolution, what it is and where it is going.

Especially relevant to the readers and contributors here is the discussion on births and especially teenage pregnancies where Dye makes the interesting observation that while an evolutionary push might lead to a higher prevalence of teenage births there is a strong cultural push in the other direction. One could also turn the perspective up a notch and ask the simple question of whether there isn't a contradiction between a demographic transition (development) driven by economic development which so obviously favors below replacement birth rates which seems, to me, to be trait not consistent with evolution. This is to say that it could appear that we are currently in a situation where our institutional set-up, as it were, tend to select for a reproductive profile which is not consistent with basic evolutionary tenets.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Weekend Demographic Link Dump

A recent survey by the Dutch statistics office indicated that Muslims constitute 5% of the population in the Netherlands, or 825 000 people. This is an absolute decline from 865 000 in 2006. This survey actually asks people what religion the belong to, instead of presuming that everyone with a background from Muslim countries are in fact Muslim, which is often the case when people discuss Muslims in Europe. There were 296 000 Moroccan Muslims and 285 000 Turkish Muslims, out of overall populations of 340 000 Moroccans and 400 000 Turks. Mosque attendance declined from 47 to 35% of Muslims.

Sales of pregnancy aids, like nutrients and pregnancy tests are soaring in the UK and in Canada, leading people to predict a baby boom caused both by the end of the postponement process I've been harping on about and perhaps by the recession. I would'nt be surprised if the recession actually leads to increased birth rates in welfare states, at least in the short run. It's another story in countries that have relatively little welfare, either because they can't afford it (Eastern Europe) or don't want to (the US).

The Washington Post has a great article on South Korea. The savings rate has apparently plunged along with the birth rate and hose factors are obviously connected. I have this ongoing fascination with Korea because it's such an extremely competitive society where everything is done to excess, including work and education. They benefited from that during industrialization, but it's really hurt their birth rate as it takes an enormous amount of effort and money, as the article notes, to bring up children Korean-style. In related news, half of Japanese colleges can't find enough students.

India's health minister promoted extending electricity and late-night TV as a way to bring fertility down. This is one of those ideas that sound silly in theory, but in practice has some things going for it. Humans are odd that way. It's of course not a sufficient means, but every little bit helps. Besides, electricity and TV do have other advantages as well.