Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three demographics-themed links in the blogosphere

I thought I'd share with our readers three interesting links from the blogosphere.

1. Burgh Diaspora's Jim Russell believes that the close links between Brazil and Boston--driven by migration, at first strictly economic but then driven by interest in Massachusetts' institutes of education as Brazil tries to improve its workforce's skill levels--could serve Boston quite well relative to other American cities.

Demography Matters has touched on Brazil before, both as a source of immigrants and as a destination. Back in 2009, I'd even linked to an article on Brazilian migration to New England (building substantially on the links of other Lusophone immigrant-sending countries, including Portugal and Cape Verde, to the region) that made the point that, as the American economy declined and the Brazilian economy grew, migration was starting to become circular; Brazilians weren't moving to the United States to look for a new life abroad, but rather to accumulate capital that could be taken back to the homeland. As a commentor notes at Burgh Diaspora, will the increased volume of temporary migration from Brazil to New England result in strong linkages between the longest-settled region of the United States and one of the rising BRICs? If Brazilians assimilate quickly and/or maintain few links with Boston and New England, that's open to question.

2. Geocurrents' Asya Pereltsvaig deflates the myth that Chinese men (lacking spouses owing to a male-biased sex ratio at birth) will flood into Russia (especially Siberia) looking for Russian women (lacking spouses owing to a high male death rate). Among other things, there actually isn't much of a shortage of theoretically marriageable men in a Siberia that has traditionally had more balanced sex ratios than European Russia going back at least a century.

Neither Russia’s female bias nor the higher sex ratio in Siberia than in the European Russia are new. A preponderance of women has been observed since the first modern census of 1897, when Russian Empire had the average of 94.52 males per 100 females. [. . . T]he female bias has been observed in all population groups in all censuses except for the urban population in 1897. The much higher urban sex ratio at the time, 112.99 males per 100 females, stemmed from the fast-paced urbanization and industrialization of the country, with more men than women moving from villages into cities and joining the factory-working proletariat. During the early Soviet period, the female bias grew and the sex ratio went down to 90.25 in 1926 and 89.21 in 1939, as Stalin-era collectivization and purges impacted men much more than women. The peak in the female bias is evident in the first post-World War II census of 1959: the sex ratio had plummeted to just 80.45 males per 100 females, lower than in any Russian region today. Although the female bias has since gone down, it has not yet attained the prewar level.

According to Elizabeth Brainerd of the Economics Department of Williams College, the peak in the female bias in 1959 is due to the devastating Soviet population losses during World War II, currently estimated at 27 million or nearly 14% of the prewar population. These losses, Brainerd shows, disproportionately affected young men, significantly influencing marriages, fertility, and health among both men and women in the postwar period. Crucially, however, wartime demographic decline affected the European part of Russia much more than Siberia. A large part of the western Russia (as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states) was under Nazi occupation (see map on the left). While many women and children were evacuated from the occupied zone, most men either stayed behind or were shipped to the front. The military units stationed in the European part of the Soviet Union took a huge hit during the early months of the war. Massive disorganization led to extraordinarily high casualty figures, with the survivors either fleeing to the east or becoming prisoners of war, an experience that few survived. Siberian military units – which included 400,000 men, 5,000 guns, more than 3,000 tanks – were shifted to the Soviet Union’s Western front only in the late fall of 1941, after Stalin became assured that the Japanese would not attack the Russian Far East. These Siberian units were instrumental in the Red Army’s first counteroffensive at the gates of Moscow and later in turning the tide of war in the streets of Stalingrad. Trained as children to hunt and shoot, Siberians were a force to be reckoned with. “The Siberian… is tougher and stronger and possesses considerably more capacity to resist than his European countrymen,” the Chief of Staff of Germany’s Fourth Army reported ruefully at the time of their retreated from Moscow (quoted in W. Bruce Lincoln’s The Conquest of a Continent. Siberia and the Russians, p. 362). More importantly, Siberian units received better direction from the top of the Soviet military command, which resulted in lower – if still enormous – casualties.

Overall, a higher proportion of Siberian men survived the war than those of European Russia. The factories that were relocated to the Urals and beyond during the war, as well as the growing exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the post-war period, attracted even more men to the east. As a result “marriages” (legal or otherwise) between ‘white’ men and indigenous women became common. This higher wartime survival rate of men in Siberia, along with the post-war influx of men into the region, also had a positive effect on the second-generation (and perhaps beyond). As Brainerd shows, boys born to women in areas of higher sex ratios (Siberia) attain better health and nutritional status than boys born to women in areas of lower sex ratios (European Russia). This interesting finding suggests that sex ratios are to a degree a self-perpetuating phenomenon: having a higher sex ratio in a given area (community, or age cohort) at a given time promotes a higher sex ratio in the same place in the next generation as well, and similarly having a lower sex ratio results a vicious circle, which may be difficult to break.

(I've earlier mentioned here that the balance of migration between Russia and China is increasingly balanced, as China booms, Chinese migrants become more picky, and Russians start to be attracted to their prosperous southern neighbour).

3. Naked Anthropologist Laura Agustín takes issue with a recent New York Times article on the sex trade in Spain. Sensationalized coverage of the sex trade, and of abusive practice associated with it especially insofar as migrant workers and their experiences are concerned, isn't a substitute for good analysis.

I wonder if future historians will track how misinformation about migration and sex work was so willfully reproduced during the present period, how news publications with a reputation for actual investigation began to copy chunks of pseudo news and paste them together, were satisfied to quote only society’s most predictable, official and reductionist sources and failed to admit that the police force of any country is not the place to find out about complex social problems.

Any authentic interest in the topic at hand could not be titled In Spain, Women Enslaved by a Boom in Brothel Tourism – a cartoon-like story full of the most superficial sensationalist cliches, mostly derived from police sources and a few abolitionist advocates. Yet this is the story The New York Times published on its front page the other day, complete with a ludicrous photo of a young woman in high red boots worthy of the cheapest rag. As the story claimed to be about brothels (indoor venues), why did they illustrate the story with a picture of street prostitution – again, on the front page? I know of no serious research that talks about brothel tourism, by the way. On the other hand, men who live in places where no venues are available have always been known to cross borders or travel distances to get to them. There is no news about that.

The issue is failure to investigate and report dysfunctional migration policy and how growing economic inequalities promote the taking of unregulated, unprotected jobs in in underground economies, including in the sex industry.

Go, read.

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