Thursday, January 27, 2011

What the cats of Houtong say about the population of Taiwan

Back in September at my blog, I linked to an interesting news story describing how the Taiwanese village of Houtong, located just outside the capital of Taipei, has managed to find new life after its coal mining economy went under thanks to its large feral cat community.


Visitors' raves on local blogs have helped draw cat lovers to fondle, frolic and photograph the 100 or so resident felines in Houtong, one of several industrial communities in decline since Taiwan's railroads electrified and oil grew as a power source.

Most towns have never recovered, but this tiny community of 200 is fast reinventing itself as a cat lover's paradise.

"It was more fun than I imagined," said 31-year-old administrative assistant Yu Li-hsin, who visited from Taipei. "The cats were clean and totally unafraid of people. I'll definitely return."

On a recent weekday afternoon, dozens of white, black, grey and calico-coloured cats wandered freely amid Houtong's craggy byways, while visitors captured the scene with cellphone cameras and tickled the creatures silly with feather-tipped sticks.

I'll happily admit the article caught my attention because it dealt with cats. Since I got my own cat, Shakespeare, a bit more than two years ago, I've paid a lot of attention to the species and the genus.

Shakespeare in front of the webcam

This isn't just a cat photopost, mind. The ohenomenon of the cats of Houtong actually helps illustrate any number of interesting things about Taiwanese--and world--demographics.

1. Houtong is a community that was a one-industry town, dependent on coal mining. That source of income has disappeared, as cheaper foreign imports and perhaps a move away from coal as an energy source led to the industry's complete disappearance from Taiwan in 2001. Houtong is a community ultimately undermined by globalization. With three-quarters of Taiwan's population fertility rates drop and foreign women immigrate to compensate for a male-biased sex ratio.

Indonesian-born Sumarni, 35, who married a local man six years ago, says she is grateful to the tourists for relieving the town's isolation.

"My three-year-old daughter gets to play with some children of her age when visitors bring their kids here," she said. "There is really not any playmate of her age in the community."

Sumarni has also benefited financially from the tourist influx, piggybacking it to set up a profitable food stall next to her modest home.

One major theme of my Taiwan posts here has been the very low fertility rate, for the main the standard combination of patriarchal cultural norms with the substantial emancipation of women. Another theme has been the sex ratio strongly biased towards men, producing a deficit of marriageable women. Just as in South Korea, this has led to substantial marriage-driven immigration to Taiwan, as Hsieh and Wang describe in their paper, with women from mainland China and Southeast Asia--particularly but certainly not only Vietnamese women--contributing a
notable, if declining number and proportion of newborns.

The number of newborns born to foreign brides in Taiwan plunged to a low of 17,038 in 2009, reaching only 56 percent of a peak of 30,428 recorded in 2003, according to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Health Promotion under the Cabinet-level Department of Health. Foreign brides mainly refer to women from mainland China and Southeast Asian countries who marry Taiwanese men.

The ratio of their babies to the total number of newborns in Taiwan hit a high of 13.51 percent in 2003, meaning that one out of every seven to eight babies were born to such brides.

The ratio fell under the 10 percent mark in 2008 and declined further to only 8.58 percent in 2009, indicating that one out every 11 to 12 babies was born to foreign brides.

The figures have clearly demonstrated that the number of newborns born to foreign brides has been trending downward at a rapid pace.

Observers attributed the decline in the number of babies which foreign brides have given birth to in the past few years mainly to the decrease in the number of foreign brides over the years.

Taiwanese men used to be a priority husband target for women from Southeast Asian countries during the years of Taiwan's economic prosperity. But their willingness to marry Taiwanese men has been undermined by Taiwan's economic shrinkage in recent years.

Statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior showed that the number of registered alien brides hit a high of 48,600 in 2003, and then declined steadily to a low of only 18,241 in 2009, accounting for only 38 percent of the 2003 level.

Houtong is a small rural community; given the tendency of immigrant women to marry relatively low-status and economically marginal men in rural areas, it wouldn't be surprising if a disportionate number of wives there, like Sumarni, might be of foreign background. As this Wall Street Journal article on Taiwanese immigrant wives and their children points out, the village with the highest proportion of immigrant-mother children--17.5%--is Shihding, like Houtong a coal-mining village in rural Taipei County.

3. On a related note, the immigrant-wife phenomenon illustrates the diversity of the Taiwanese population. This diversity doesn't include only the Taiwanese aborigines who form 2% of the Taiwanese population, but the mainlander tenth of the Taiwanese population disproportionately concentrated in Taipei, along with the Min Nan/Fujianese-speaking Hoklo who form 70% of the Taiwanese population and the Hakka who form nearly a fifth of the population, alongside non-Chinese immigrants.

4. Incidentally, Houtong has become a tourism destination for tourists across greater China, i.e. China and Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan. This may indicate the growing integration of Taiwan's population into the population of Greater China, as demonstrated not only by the Chinese immigrants to Taiwan but by the growing Taiwanese migrant population in mainland China, for instance the tens of thousands in Shanghai. China's not going to be the only reference point, as the Southeast Asia immigrants indicate, but it'll be quite important, arguably most important.

5. Finally, the demographics of the cat species are the dismal demographics that once afflicted the human species. Cats have a spectacularly high birth rate, bearing multiple litters with multiple kittens for most of their lives; female cats can actually become pregnant too early. Why, then are there not more cats out there? A terribly high death rate: indoor cats live for decades, outdoor cats for years. (Shakespeare's an indoor cat, if you're wondering.)


How emigration is hurting Gaelic football

The sport of Gaelic football, one of the prototypical Gaelic games revived as part of the Irish national awakening of the 19th century, finds itself threatened thanks to the Irish economic collapse. The County Clare branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association--the governing body of the sport--warned that the young men playing the game are leaving the country.

Clare senior hurling manager Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin fears he may lose more players to emigration.

The Banner County was rocked last week by the departure of midfielder Brian O’Connell, who captained the team for the last three seasons, to Australia.

And O’Loughlin fears that O’Connell, 26, may not be the only departure from his squad in the months ahead.

O’Loughlin revealed: "In fairness to our county board, they have put together over the last two years a work committee, with three or four people involved in that.

"They are fantastic. They sit down, search and see are there any companies around the Clare and Limerick area (looking for people) to get guys something, even on a temporary basis, to see them through the season. We got two or three jobs last year that kept lads off the dole queues and this year, we have three lads not working. We’ll work hard to see what we can do, but is the environment out there? We’re not alone and this is a European problem. Unemployment has risen substantially over the last 12 months. We’ll see can we hold them here but it won’t be easy."

O’Loughlin, a successful businessman in his own right, noted: "Manufacturing companies have dwindled considerably. I see it big time in the Shannon Industrial estate. We’ve had multinationals folding after 25 or 30 years, with very little previous talk of them closing their doors. The Shannon Industrial Estate is fairly depleted if you drive through it. Dell and others have relocated to Poland and Hungary with the loss of thousands of jobs. Counteracting this is a big challenge but we have to come up with new ideas, know our cost base and see can we attract manufacturing companies. The situation is more severe than the 1980s, when I started out. Then, you could go to England or America but jobs there are very hard to come by as well."

Why does the domestic economic meltdown have such a direct effect on Gaelic football players? Shouldn't they be insulated by salaries. They are not, for they are amateurs: they don't receive an income for their sport. They do get compensation for expenses, and acquire a certain amount of cultural capital through name recognition, but that's it. Notwithstanding new schemes to provide financial and other assistance to players, the situation for many relatively marginal clubs seems dire.

[County board secretary Pat Fitzgerald] also highlights the fact that the survival of many clubs is being threatened because of emigration, as reported in The Clare Champion recently.

“Some rural clubs in the county, in a perennial struggle for survival, now fear woes of a more monumental nature – their very existence and identity. What had been a trickle of young players heading abroad to find employment has now turned into a steady exodus as the economic crunch continues to hold the country in a vice-like grip.”

He explains a county board survey showed in the last three years alone, over 200 players have emigrated. “Recently, in Shannon Airport, the extent of the problem facing clubs was graphically illustrated when no fewer than 17 players from three clubs in North Clare boarded flights for foreign destinations.”

He states the findings of the survey showed there was a 3% increase in emigration figures from 2008 to 2009, while this jumped dramatically to 15% in the last 12 months.

“It is not overemphasising the point to state that this represents a catastrophe for a great percentage of clubs because the loss of even a handful of established players can undermine a club, particularly small rural clubs with small catchments. Furthermore, there is no club that isn’t and won’t be affected, particularly in the next six months when a lot more are expected to leave.

“Against the backdrop locally, the Gaelic Players’ Association has also admitted that 15% of inter-county players are unemployed, which is 2% higher than the national average.”

The sport doesn't seem to be that well-entrenched outside of Ireland, concentrated in the Irish diaspora. There is, local to this writer, Toronto affiliate group and a youth organization offering four teams in Ontario, but the density of teams in Ireland seems absent. It is true, however, that Gaelic football is close enough to Australian rules football--a professional sport, with salaries--to attract Irish players to play the sport for an income. Or, as in the case of O'Connell, just to earn an income at all.

Clare hurling boss O'Loughlin says Brian O'Connell's decision to emigrate to Australia is a massive blow to the Banner County.

O'Connell, who had served as Clare captain for the last three years, moved Down-Under last autumn on a temporary basis, but has now returned to Australia for the foreseeable future.

"Originally, Brian was in Australia for three months from last October," said O'Loughlin on the Wolfe Tones, Shannon star, who is a qualified civil engineer.

"He came home before Christmas for his brother's wedding, but earlier this month he decided to go back to Australia long-term. He was in limbo with the job situation in this country not being very favourable, and while he was home he had plenty of time to think about his future.

"And the fact that some of his mates had already gone to work in Australia was also probably a major factor."

On O'Connell's attributes as a player, Clare legend O'Loughlin (right) said: "You'd always regret losing a player of Brian's quality, and as he was only 26, he was really coming into his prime as an inter-county hurler.

The sport's continued existence isn't at risk, as such, but emigration of a disproportionately large number of potential players--and spectators?--for a sport so geographically concentrated in a single island won't do good things in the short or the long runs. The GAA might be well advised to extend its benefits plan.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Tunisia’s Shot at Democracy: What Demographics and Recent History Tell Us"

Behind the Numbers pointed to a post by Richard Cincotta taking a look at the Tunisian revolution from a demographic perspective: do the demographics look to be helpful? Short answer: hopefully yes.

How long could it take Tunisia to move from Freedom House’s “not free” category (7.0 to 5.5) to “free” (2.5 to 1.0)? South Korea ascended in five years (1983-88). For Indonesia, the same journey took eight years (1997-2005), and for Taiwan, it took over 15 years to inch through the partly free category to free (1980 to 1995). Recent European ascents were somewhat quicker: Poland took four years (1987-91); Romania, six (1990-96); Portugal, three (1973-76); and Spain, four (1973-77). Greece jumped from not free to free in only one year (1973-74), following the collapse of a repressive anti-communist military regime.

To understand how age structure can directly influence a state’s chances of attaining and maintaining liberal democracy requires a discussion of two models of sociopolitical behavior: (1) the Hobbesian bargain and (2) the youth bulge thesis. Assuming, as the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes did in the middle of the 17th century, that citizens are willing to relinquish political liberties when faced with threats to their security and property (the Hobbesian bargain), it is not surprising that support for authoritarian regimes – especially among commercial and military elites – appears high when societies are very youthful and prone to political violence (the youth bulge thesis). When fertility declines, the population’s bulge of young adults ultimately dissipates over time. With much of society’s political volatility depleted, authoritarian executives tend to lose the support of the commercial elite, who find the regime’s grip on communication and commerce economically stifling and the privileges granted to family members and cronies of the political elite financially debilitating.

[. . .]

What does this mean for Tunisia? First, the good news: Despite journalists’ focus on youth in the streets, Tunisia is not a youth-bulge country. Its population’s median age is 29 years – exceedingly more mature than the populations of most states in the Arab Middle East, such as Yemen (median age of 18 years), the Palestinian Territories (18 years), Iraq (19), Syria (23), and Jordan (23). Tunisia’s consistent declines in fertility pushed it into the class of intermediate age structures in 2005.

Intermediate age structures (also known as “early worker-bulge” populations) are distinguished by having a median age between 25 and 35 years. In its most recent report, Freedom House assesses about half of these states – which include Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and Turkey – as free or partly free. According to the UN Population Division’s database, several countries in the Arab Gulf region – Kuwait (partly free), Qatar, and Bahrain (not free) – also have age structures that fit into this “intermediate” classification. But this is misleading; the Gulf states’ median ages are inflated by the presence of large numbers of temporary labor migrants in the prime working ages. Tunisia and Lebanon share the distinction of having the eldest native populations in the Arab world. Better yet, Tunisia does not suffer Lebanon’s difficulties with internal (Hezbollah) and external (Syria, Israel, and Iran) actors.

[. . .]

Now for the bad news: Tunisia’s ascent to liberal democracy is still uncertain. In the annals of history, nearly all of the youth-led revolts aimed at achieving liberal democracy have fallen far short of their mark. Instead, they tend to descend into infighting and typically produce a partial-democratic or autocratic regime capable of quelling violence and limiting the destruction of property. This tendency lays bare the most serious limitation of an age-structural theory of democratization: ultimately, personalities and political action – non-demographic factors – are needed to consolidate elite and popular support for a liberal democratic regime. To eventually attain liberal democracy, Tunisia’s political elite, or what remains of them after years of expulsion and political exclusion under the Ben Ali regime, must seize the democratic initiative from demonstrators and make it their own.

Commenter Jack Goldstone does take issue with Cincotta's analysis on the grounds it's not fine-grained enough.

Richard's insights into Tunisia's prospects for democracy are terrific and I agree with him. However, in regard to the causes of the rebellion,I have to disagree with him in one respect - Tunisia in 2010 is VERY MUCH a YOUTH BULGE country, at least as far as political theory would see it. As Henrik Urdal has shown, youth bulge should NOT be measured as the size of the youth cohort (15-24) against the entire population, but as the fraction of youth in the adult population, those aged 15 and older. The 0-14 group is politically not relevant, and should not be counted in assessing the impact of youth cohorts on the total population's political mobilization potential.

For Tunisia, median age may in fact be misleading (as I didn't realize until I looked at the age pyramids that Richard has posted above). Because birth rates fell very very rapidly after 1995, median age in 2010 is intermediate; but if you look only at the population aged 15 and up, you still see very large cohorts of youth compared to total adults.

Because Tunisia's birth rate only started falling sharply after 1995, the large cohorts born in 1986-1995, now age 15-24, still make up a VERY large portion (33%) of all adults. While the next cohorts are much smaller, so this 'youth bulge' will soon fade, it is still very much present, as Richard's graphs show.

Go, read the article and comments.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Astrology and birth rates in East Asia

Behind the Numbers, the US Population Reference Bureau's blog, has a post by Carl Haub highlighting the very low fertility rate in Taiwan. Why? It's the Chinese zodiac's Year of the Tiger.

Taiwan’s government has just announced that the country’s total fertility rate (or TFR, the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime if the birth rate of a particular year were to remain unchanged) in 2010 was the lowest in its history at 0.91 children per woman. It’s the lowest rate any country has ever reported in history. The announcement itself is a bit of a projection since births have been officially reported only through November 2010. The country’s TFR had declined to 1.1 in 2005 and had remained there through 2009.

The rather spectacular drop in 2010 was due to an additional reason: 2010 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar, beginning on February 14. The Tiger year is particularly inauspicious for births since Tigers, while seen as brave, are also seen as headstrong and possibly difficult to work with. It is quite common for employers to consider the zodiac of job applicants and Tigers may be avoided so that parents have some concrete reasons to avoid having a child in Tiger years. While there has been a lot of concern over the demographic situation for some time, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has now called for measures to increase the birth rate to be raised to the “national security level.”

Births for the 12-month period ending November 2010 dropped to 169,884 from 191,310 in 2009 but there is some hope for those wishing to raise the birth rate. The Year of the Dragon is a favorable year for births and is two years after the Tiger year in the zodiac cycle. In 1998, the last Year of the Tiger, births dropped to 271,450 from 326,002 the year before. But, in 2000, the following Dragon year, births jumped back up to 305,312. A similar pattern had been seen in previous cycles. Nonetheless, the sharp decline in births, regardless of which year it might be, from the late 1990s to the present is very obvious. Another helpful sign is that the number of marriages increased in 2010 by about 20,000 over 2009, a year known as a “widow’s year.” The effect of astrological concerns, common in many other Asian countries, also extends to the more precise timing of births. For that reason, Taiwan has a rather high proportion of caesarean section births, about 30 percent.

Over at Asia Times, Jens Kastner traces the intimate link between the zodiac and the fertility rate in Taiwan's demographic history. The noteworthy thing, from the demographic perspective, is that birth and fertility rates haven't proven as quick to recover recently than a generation ago, if recover they do at all.

The historic graphs in the Statistical Data Book of Taiwan's Ministry of the Interior speak volumes. Recorded from the 1950s on, birth rates in Taiwan have been clearly influenced by the ancient Chinese zodiac's 12 animal signs. The years in which Taiwanese couples decided to give birth most often came in the Year of the Dragon: 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988 and 2000.

The belief is that children born under the dragon sign are not only honest, sensitive and brave, but will also be free from habits like borrowing money or making flowery speeches. Quite the opposite is believed about the Year of the Tiger. Whoever was born in 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986 or 1998 tends to question authority and is therefore likely to cause trouble for himself, his family or to his employers at some stage of life.

But aren't these worn-out superstitions that modern Taiwan, a world leader in information technology, no longer heeds? There is strong evidence that the island still does. Last year was again the Year of Tiger, and despite more subsidies, 24,424 fewer babies were born than in 2009. But for 2012, the next Year of the Dragon, it is feared that Taiwan could await the bounce back of the birth rate in vain.

"The effect of the tiger and dragon years on fertility behavior in Taiwan and many other Chinese societies in Southeast Asia is not just media hype but a very important issue," says Yang Wen-shan, professor at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Taipei's Academia Sinica, in an interview with Asia Times Online. "In Taiwanese demographic history, during the tiger years, the fertility rate drops, while in the dragon ones, it rises. The expert on demography nonetheless cautions that the Taiwanese could well be disappointed with the baby yield of the next Year of the Dragon. "In recent years, while fertility dropped as usual during the tiger years, it failed to fully recover in the subsequent Year of the Dragon, unlike in the past.”

The phenomenon of astrological influence on birth rates has been noted before, most famously in 1966, the "Year of the Fire Horse".

In general, Horses are outgoing, people-loving, and successful. However, in the Fire element their freedom-loving traits turn to rebelliousness, hubris, and destruction. While this potential was tolerated in a male child, it was thought to be ominous in a woman. The common belief in most Asian countries was that a Fire Horse woman would devastate her nuclear family, drain them of resources, and bring about the early death of her father. If a husband could be found for a Fire Horse woman, he would be mistreated and meet an early death himself. Several stories have perpetuated this fallacy such as a popular Japanese tale dating as far back as 1682 about a Fire Horse woman who nearly burned down the city of Edo.

This had a very strong effect on fertility in Japan, births fell by a half-million (by 20% or increased number of abortions, while one source claims that Taiwan's birth rate fell by a quarter in the same year. A similar effect may plausibly have been felt in South Korea. The extent of the fall may be overestimated owing to the delayed registration of births towards the end of 1966, but the effect is real.

The consequences of all this? Besides creating significant surges and falls in the size of age cohorts, with implications for everything from education to the labour market, there's some evidence that these astrological perceptions influence life outcomes. In the paper "Does Fortune Favor Dragons?" (PDF format) by Noel D. Johnson and John V.C. Nye, the authors argued that the stereotypes associated to births in different years do lead to different outcomes, simply because parents will treat different children born in different years according to different stereotypes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why did Tunisia revolt? Too-deferred dreams

The speed of change in Tunisia has been remarkable. Just to recap:

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled his North African country last night after a month of violent street protests over unemployment and corruption, leaving the government in the hands of his long-serving prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi.

Ghannouchi, who declared himself acting president late yesterday, will meet with representatives of the country’s political parties today to form a government, the official TAP news agency reported. A military curfew emptied the streets of the capital, Tunis, overnight, although there was some looting, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television network reported.

“These protests cut across all sectors of society, and I do not think the regime understood what was happening,” said Malika Zeghal, a North Africa expert and professor of contemporary Islamic thought and life at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The question now is whether Mohamed Ghannouchi will continue the old regime of Ben Ali or start anew, announcing real elections and a coalition government made up of all parts of society to hold free elections.”

Ghannouchi called on Tunisians to be united, saying the day will be crucial for both the country and future political changes. He said groups including civic organizations and several national figures will be included in a further round of talks, TAP reported.

Why the revolution? African-American writer Langston Hughes' poem "A Dream Deferred" puts it well.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

I've blogged here in the past about Tunisia's demographic transition, specifically the rapid shift to replacement-level fertility. This shift has created a demographic sweet spot--roughly 70% of Tunisia's population is in the 15-64 age group while barely more than 7% are over-65s--and Tunisia's economy has done reasonably well, evidencing sustained moderate growth from the early 1990s on in extractive industries, tourism, and light manufacturing. In many respects, Tunisia has been a well-managed society, with a good physical infrastructure, excellent health and education systems, and--very importantly--a very close relationship with the European Union that has helped Tunisia thrive economically. Combined with its strong links with Europe--especially France, but also Italy--it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Tunisia is the country in the Arab world most akin to Turkey in its successful semi-peripheral industrialization. Tunisia, along with Morocco and Algeria, has seen most successful developing countries in the world.

At Foreign Policy, Christopher Alexander examined the situation in detail. At one point, Ben Ali's regime could do whatever it wanted on the grounds of protecting Tunisia from the bloody chaos of 1990s Algeria. But now?

Once it became clear that the Islamists no longer posed a serious threat, many Tunisians became less willing to accept the government's heavy-handedness. The regime also lost some of its earlier deftness. Its methods became less creative and more transparently brutal. The government seemed less willing to at least play at any dialogue with critics or opposition parties. Arbitrary arrests, control of the print media and Internet access, and physical attacks on journalists and human rights and opposition-party activists became more common. So, too, did stories of corruption -- not the usual kickbacks and favoritism that one might expect, but truly mafia-grade criminality that lined the pockets of Ben Ali's wife and her family.

WikiLeaks releases helped destabilize the situation in the first place, providing confirmation of the corruption of the Tunisian political elite; this, along with the very well-documented authoritarianism of the Ben Ali regime, certainly created pressure for change. The political situation wouldn't alone have caused revolution, I think, if not for the incapacity of Tunisia's economy and polity to make adequate use of its demographic dividend. The discontented youth of Tunisia brought it all down.

“The fruits of progress have enabled Ben Ali to secure the support both of the middle class (whose standard of living has indeed steadily improved) and of his foreign partners (whose multinational companies find advantages in Tunisia’s lower labor-costs and tax-rates),”Amel BouBekeur wrote in an article on Tunisia published in 2009 on the Carnegie Foundation's website.

BouBekeur, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, views Tunisia as a distinct case within the region. It does not formally reject western democratic standards and its open-market policies and containment of Islamist encourage its European and American partners “with an economically stable and secure environment.”

At the same time, she adds, this model of governance allows the president - operating through his party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) - to present a benign face to the world while consolidating firm control over the country.

[. . .]

[There is a] growing divide between the wealthy, tourist-oriented, north and the “sulky” south.

"The weakness of the development model has caused inequality between regions, as witnessed by the fact that 90 percent of (investment) projects are in coastal areas, and 10 percent in the interior," opposition leader Rachid Khechana told Reuters.

The southern region, less touristic than the north and traditionally more hostile to Ben Ali, receives little or nothing in the way of infrastructural support or social services.

Peaceful protests against this situation are often suppressed.

In 2008, peaceful protests by workers of the southern mining region of Gafsa against their working conditions were violently suppressed by the authorities and eighteen trade unionists were subsequently sentenced for up to ten years.

As a consequence of the regional disparities, recent years have seen the migration of thousands of graduates from the poorer interior to coastal cities in search of work. Many come to Sousse, Sfax and Meknassi, trying to find work.

Mohammed Bouazizi was among the migration. A week ago he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight.

Other than the regional disparities, the country's pattern of growth - relying on textile and tourism - is heavily dependent on low-skilled labor and hence excludes the better educated.

Textiles are a major source of foreign currency revenue, with more than 90 percent of production exported, according to the official government website.

Investment in education has seen soaring numbers of graduates passing through the country's universities, from 41,100 in 1986 to over 357,400 in 2009. This trend has not been met by a corresponding rise in demand for highly skilled, notes a recent study published by Carnegie Foundation.

As a result, four out ten young graduates are now unemployed.

"Mismatch between the supply and demand of the labor market in Tunisia, is one of the major forces of the aggravated protest that spread all over the country," says Nadia Belhaj, senior economist at the Economic Research Forum.

Alexander went into more detail about the consistent failure to include the whole of the country in the economic growth.

Tunisia has built a reputation as the Maghreb's healthiest economy since Ben Ali seized power, as market-oriented reforms opened the country to private investment and integrated it more deeply into the regional economy. Annual GDP growth has averaged 5 percent. But the government's policies have done little to address long-standing concerns about the distribution of growth across the country. Since the colonial period, Tunisia's economic activity has been concentrated in the north and along the eastern coastline. Virtually every economic development plan since independence in 1956 has committed the government to making investments that would create jobs and enhance living standards in the center, south, and west. Eroding regional disparities would build national solidarity and slow the pace of urban migration.

But the disparities remained. Thus, this month the young, the educated, the newly urbanized, the people living away from the core the Tunisian state--all combined spontaneously, aided by social media, to challenge the legitimacy of a regime that didn't let Tunisia's young achieve their full potential.

Will a new regime change this? One hopes. Tunisia does have a solid foundation for growth, with the aforementioned close links with Europe, large and young labour force with good qualifications, and tradition of decent economic governance. Taking advantage of these factors to engineer a Turkish-style transition to high-speed, knowledge-intensive economic growth is another thing entirely.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Go to the Naked Anthropologist

Academic and blogger Laura Agustín's blog The Naked Anthropologist is a blog relating to particular types of migration, particularly but not only those involving sex workers. Some of her more recent posts, for instance, include a mention of people-smuggling shown in a John Le Carré novel, the refusal of Chinese sex workers in Congo to be "rescued" from their jobs, or a link post covering such diverse topics as the clothing styles of 17th century Japanese prostitutes, and Saudi stereotpying of Moroccan women as promiscuous.

One subtheme that the Naked Anthropologist concentrates on particularly is the unreliability of statistics and their misuse to justify different policies, not only for sex workers but for stigmatized population groups in general. In one recent post, for instance, she mentions how counts of sex workers in 19th century European cities tended towards the high end, using questionable statistics to imply that prostitution was relatively common and that prostitutes couldn't be permanently excluded (after they were reformed, of course).

Mr Tait, a writer on prostitution in Edinburgh, whose estimates I receive with every respect, but at the same time with considerable reserve, informs us that in that city they number about 800, or nearly 1 to every 80 of the adult male population. In London he considers they are as 1 to 60; in Paris, as 1 to 15; and in New York, as 1 to 15.

The manner of these calculations is as follows: One-half of the population of each place is supposed to be males, of whom one-third are thrown aside as too young or too old for exercise of the generative functions. The remainder is then divided by the alleged number of public women in each community-namely, in Edinburgh, 800; in London, 8000; in Paris, 18,000; and in New York, 10,000.

It appears that the above estimate for London is not far short of the mark, the number of recognised women being about 8600; but the number of males, of twenty years of age and upwards, being close upon 700,000 (632,545 in 1851), we should arrive at the proportion, for London of one prostitute overt to every 81 (not every 60) adult males.* It will be observed, also, that in attributing 8000 public women to London and 18,000 to Paris, this writer has not allowed for the enormous clandestinity of our own capital, while he has more than quadrupled the French official returns, I presume, on that account.

In her most recent post, Agustín criticizes the statistical methods used to estimate illegal immigrants in the United States as problematic.

Methods for estimating undocumented migrants do exist (undocumented migrants being the framework in which trafficking victims should be located). In the following example, the Pew Hispanic Center (in Washington DC) publishes its new figure (11.1 million in March 2009), asserting that their method of calculation, the residual method, is reliable and widely accepted because based on ‘official government data’. They explain that:

Under this methodology, a demographic estimate of the legal foreign-born population—naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary legal residents and refugees—is subtracted from the total foreign-born population. The remainder, or residual, is the source of population estimates and characteristics of unauthorized immigrants. These Pew Hispanic Center estimates use data mainly from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of about 55,000 households conducted jointly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. It is best known as the source for monthly unemployment statistics. Each March, the CPS sample size and questionnaire are expanded to produce additional data on the foreign-born population and other topics. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates make adjustments to the government data to compensate for undercounting of some groups, and therefore its population totals differ somewhat from the ones the government uses. Estimates for any given year are based on a March reference date.

The Pew says they use the Current Population Survey. That is a census exercise, in which a form is sent to households to fill out. Undocumented migrants have abundant reasons for not filling in census forms correctly (and there are no penalties for filling them in incorrectly). So undercounting is likely. The Pew Center know that and make an adjustment, but the range of adjustment methods is also very wide

Percentages ranging from 10 to 40 are suggested.

Anyway. There's plenty at the Naked Anthropologist to interest the average reader at Demography Matters. Go, read.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Rosling's "200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes"

I'm fond of statistics; I'm equally fond of innovative presentation of statistics. That's why I owe LiveJournal's centralasian thanks for linking to this clip from The Joy of Stats, a recent BBC show hosted by Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling. The clip's title? "200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes."

If you want to fast-forward through, the presentation proper starts at 0:31 and a compressed version starting at 3:52.

In it, Rosling shows quite graphically how the world began to shift from a demographc regime not that far removed from the high fertility/high mortality pattern experienced in the Roman Empire and in other traditional societies, Greater Europe with its industrialization proceeding while Asia and African stayed behind, with peak inequality occurring after the Second World War. It's at that point that the rest of the world began to converge with the developed world, first in health terms then in income. His suggestion that improved technology and increasing globalization will see this convergence continue--perhaps at least in demographic terms, if not economic--seems plausible on the face of it.

For more innovative statistical presentations on matters demographic, I highly recommend Rosling's Gapminder site. Go, peruse.

Some maps and some transitions

The Global Sociology Blog is located on my blogroll at A Bit More Detail, and a regular read with its sharp and acerbic comments on the world as it relates to the social sciences. Yesterday, the author reacted to Robert Kunzig's National Geographic article "7 Billion" and associated video, by observing that "population does not grow homogeneously but largely in the periphery."

As illustration, it's map time.

Originally found here, this map ranks the countries of the world according to total fertility rate over 2005-2010.


Originally found here, this map ranks the countries of the world by their 2008 GDP per capita at purchasing-power parity.


Originally found here, this map ranks the countries of the world according to the United Nations' Human Development Index.


As Kunzig observes in his article, decisions on fertility are product of any number of cultural elements, from the relative autonomy of women to the structure of economics to relationships with the divine. It may almost be clichéd to suggest that human and economic development are contingent on the sorts of the far-reaching of cultural norms that inevitable produce a four-stage--maybe five-stage--demographic transition. An excellent way to help reduce unwanted fertility, I'd argue, would be to help those countries disconnected from the world economy and in desperate need of health and education services for those populations to fill those needs.

As for the impact of the environment, the Global Sociology Blog's author went on to notice, population growth in peripheral countries doesn't have nearly the same effect as overconsumption (more regular consumption also, I'd add) in core and semiperipheral countries. It's not so much the quantity of people as the quality of their consumption that will determine the fate of the natural environment, in other words.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the migration-as-invasion motif

Back in August, a friend of mine, Andrew Barton wrote about the minor fictional sub-genre of invasion literature, which developed in Britain in the late 19th century in response to fears that the country was vulnerable to any number of military threats (first France, then Germany). It spread around the world, adopted in countries which feared their neighbours, adopted and maintained even to this day if less ardently.

The world has changed in the last hundred years; there's no longer a massive groundswell of anxiety in mainstream society about whether the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack or whatever flag you choose to fly is about to be lowered for the last time. This may be less true in Australia: yesterday I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie Tomorrow When the War Began, which appears to be nothing if not Red Dawn down under, and Red Dawn itself is being remade with the Chinese, not the Russians, as the invaders of America.

Migration is frequently seen as a form of invasion, as an intrusion by one alien population into the domain of another, ostensibly for practical purposes (work, say, or school) but actually hoping to destroy this nation and replace it with their own. Recently, the motif has made it into young adult literature, in Australian writer John Marsden's Tomorrow series, which features an invasion and occupation by a Southeast Asian power that might well be Indonesia, this Indonesia interested in colonizing that island continent.

If invasion literature does come back in a big way, though, it won't be the same as the original nineteenth-century wave; it'll be informed by the fears of the present. What I wouldn't be surprised to see is a new wave of invasion literature based around the idea of the developing world invading the developed.

It was the story of MV Sun Sea, a vessel loaded with hundreds of Tamil refugees that made landfall on Vancouver Island last week, that got me thinking along these lines. Refugees are always a hot-button issue, and there will always be people who agitate for them to just be sent back where they came from - the fear of strange Others coming to your land unbidden from over the sea is, like Michael Valpy wrote in the Globe and Mail, a kind of primal xenophobia. It's also something we're going to have to learn how to deal with, because unless all our projections are off, the incipient climate and food and water crises of the next fifty years are going to generate a massive tide of people desperate to escape the privations of the developing world.

I can easily see a new wave of invasion literature tapping into the undercurrent of xenophobia that this would generate: stories about how these other, impoverished countries are trying to "steal" the developed world's wealth, and probably also their women - because, honestly, invasion literature would probably be a man's genre. Hell, I can even see the possibility of "liberal" invasion literature, tapping into the developed world's culpability in keeping the developing world depressed and vulnerable to climate shocks.

The prototypical migration invasion novel is Jean Raspail's 1973 :Le Camp des Saints/The Camp of the Saints, where weak-willed and excessively humanitarian Westerners do nothing as waves of immigrants from the Third World both domestic and foreign come and take over (Indians in Europe, Chinese in Siberia, African-Americans in the United States).

It goes without saying that migration-themed invasion literature contributes nothing at all good to discussions on migration and population. The simple fact is that migrants are normal people (gasp!), experiencing conditions at home which make them try to take advantage of a better environment elsewhere, whether in another region or another country. Perhaps most of the time migration is intended as a temporary phenomenon, as a way to earn economic or social capital that could be used at home, wether to sustain a community of origin or to make investments. When migrants stay, dDiaspora cultures do endure, but they haven't conquered and do eventually assimilate; even in the course of the great Germanic migrations into the Western Roman Empire, where Germanic-speaking Arian Christians ruled over Romance-speaking Roman Catholics, in the end the ruling elite assimilated to the majority population. Identifying waves of migration that aren't military invasions as attempts to destroy the receiving country is ridiculous, with militarized borders ironically discouraging migrants from leaving, on account of the costs and risks of going to and from the country where they make their living.

All I can say is that the language, the rhetoric used by people matters. Especially in a time when literally unbelievable irredentisms--Greater Mexico, Eurabia, Indian and Russian caliphates, Greater China--are discussed much more by fearful people than by the irredentists' nominal audience, and are acted upon as actually existing threats, honesty counts.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Some predictions for the near future

Yesterday's post dealt with the demographic patterns of the past. What of the future?

I'm making these predictions keeping in mind what I noted in November about the huge error bars which can apply to predictions--especially but not only if they're not made conservatively. There are all kinds of feedback loops in different populations, with the selective incorporation and implementation of different cultural traits by different subpopulations, these subpopulations interacting and influencing each other in any number of unexpected fashions. I can imagine some interactions producing wildly different scenarios, unexpected surges (ro collapses) in migration and fertility and mortality and technology.

Still: Let me go out on a limb.

  • Reproductive medicine is going to become steadily more advanced, effective, and in-demand, as research continues encouraged by the continuing postponement and recuperation of fertility aqs a result of changing cultural mores and economic pressures. I want to write more about this next year, but suffice it to say that I think compelling reasons can be made for access to reproductive medicine as a human right, as a matter of equity.

  • As I've noted before, longevity is going to be interesting. On the one hand, we know the sorts of cultural and other interventions which produce not only extended lifespans but healthy lifespans--"integrated" cultures, moderation in diet, and so on; on the other hand, the growing importance of the metabolic syndrome of obesity's side-effects is going to create pressures for effective medical interventions. This may mitigate the effects of population aging by creating healthier elderly cohort better able to participate in society, thus undermining the premise of the classic dependency ratio. Whether or not cultural inclinations will change in response is another question.

  • There's going to be interest in any number of low fertility societies in the cultural norms of high-fertility societies, whether the American model of relatively early fertility accompanied by more classic patterns of nuptiality in an individualistic context, or the northwestern European model of relatively late fertility largely outside of traditional family contexts (common law relationships and civil unions, say) in a state supported context. Immigration can only compensate so much. Again, whether or not the changes necessary to support shifts to higher-fertility regimes will be implemented--not only government policies, but the underlying cultural attitudes towards the role of women and the composition of families--is another question. At some point change may be necessary.

  • The economic incentives for migration remain, and notwithstanding the shift to lower and eventual subreplacement fertility in traditional sending countries migration from relatively disadvantaged to relatively advantages regions and countries is going to continue. These migrations won't be defined solely by geography, but will be defined by cultural and historical connections and may be quite unexpected in their directions and intensities. I'll go out on a limb and expect that Poland, with its cultural ties to a poorer eastern Europe, a dynamic economy, and links to China and Vietnam, will follow Spain as an emergent and major destination for migrants from its Eurasian hinterlands.

  • Thoughts?