Friday, October 30, 2009

A brief note on demographics and sex and fear and envy

I'd like to thank Conrad from Facebook for pointing me to this Asia Times article, " India lost in 'love jihad'". The Indian state of Kerala, with its population both multiconfessional and well advanced in its demographic transition, is seeing some unusual tensions.

As part of an organized campaign, young Muslim men are deliberately luring women from different faiths into marriage so they will convert to Islam, say radical Indian Hindu and Christian groups in south India.

The alleged plot has been dubbed "love jihad". It first surfaced in September, when two Muslim men from Pathanamthitta town in the southwestern state of Kerala reportedly enticed two women - a Hindu and a Christian - into marriage and forced them to convert to Islam.

The women first claimed to have became Muslims voluntarily, but after being allowed back to their parents' houses said they had been abducted and coerced to convert. The men were reportedly members of Campus Front, a student wing of radical Muslim group the Popular Front of India (PFI).

The Pathanamthitta incident was followed by an avalanche of media reports on "love jihad". Some described it as a movement, others claimed that forced conversions through marriage were actually being run by an organization called Love Jihad, or Romeo Jihad.

Hindu and Christian groups have weighed in with their own "facts" on the "love jihad".

The Sri Ram Sene, a fundamentalist Hindu group, now claims thousands of girls were forcibly converted to Islam in the past few years after marrying Muslim men. It says that after conversion the women were "trained in anti-national activities". India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said "love jihadis" have receiving foreign aid - from the Middle East - for the campaign.

Senior Christian leaders are now campaigning against the alleged threat.

"Around 4,000 girls have been subjected to religious conversion since 2005 after they fell in love," Father Johny Kochuparambil, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council's Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, wrote in an article in the church council's newsletter.

One thing that has constantly popped up in scare talk about population trends, not only in the discourses surrounding Eurabia (tackled here and here) and an Islamized India (here) but in relation to other disliked population groups, is the way that the superfecundity and ultratraditional family orientation of these other groups is made an object of fear and envy. The fear comes from a supposed recognition that these outsiders possess a population dynamic that is unstoppable, rooted in an unyielding tradition that is set on the destruction of our culture. The envy, well, it comes from a desire on the part of these terrified commentators to have the old-time family values reinstalled at home, traditional gender relations and economic structures and all. Take the Archbishop of Guam, who recently dispatched a letter praising Islamic fundamentalists, with their fervent belief and attachment to values of family and self-sacrifice, as an example of this sort of phenomenon.

Never mind if the reality fits, of course (people have been known to convert for love, and there are 30 million people in Kerala; methinks a Family Values Panic is ongoing); the threat is at least as effective a way to mobilize followers. Here, claiming that your group's young women are being enticed or worse abducted into the enemy's camp is as good a way of achieving this mobilization as any.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More on Australian population futures

Over at The Australian, that paper's David Uren and Michael Sainsbury report on how Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry expects Australia's buoyant population profile to help sustain a long boom there.

The world's third-largest economy, which is due to pass Japan to grab second spot next year, saw growth of 7.7 per cent in the first nine months. Its latest figures will all but assure the country of hitting its 8 per cent target for this year.

"China's investment-fuelled recovery has propped up Australia's economy," said Royal Bank of Scotland China economist Ben Simpfendorfer.

Evidence of China's effect on the economy came as departing BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus warned the Rudd government to keep Australia's mineral resources from being snatched by foreign state-owned entities.

Speaking in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Argus said Australia was at risk of following Canada in having much of its natural resources owned by foreign investors.

Dr Henry told a business forum at Queensland University of Technology that the rapid growth in the population, caused by much higher migration and a rise in the fertility rate, had transformed thinking about the impact of population ageing on the economy, and would require large-scale economic and social infrastructure.

He said the projection that the population would rise to more than 35 million people by 2050 implied that Sydney and Melbourne would grow to cities of seven million, while Brisbane would more than double in size to four million.

Sydney's population would rise by 54 per cent, Melbourne's by 74 per cent and Brisbane's by 106 per cent. This would impose challenges for planners, as the cities could not expand simply by increasing their geographic footprints. It would also put pressure on skills training and government services.

A 2006 projection project that the Australian population could rise from 20.3 million to nearly 28 million by 2051. The growth in projected numbers between 2006 and 2009 can be linked to Australia's rising period fertility and growing levels of immigration. A relatively larger Australian population, one that was relatively younger than its other developed-economy peers and hence had a relatively advantageous age structure, would be well-positioned in the global economy.

That assumes that Australians would want that population level. Many Australians are hostile towards the idea of a substantially larger Australian population, not only because the need for extra investment in cities and overcrowding might hurt Australians' quality of life, but because the scarcity of basic resources like water create significant environmental limitations on Australian population growth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Are Americans Becoming Less Nomadic?

I know that it is eons since I last posted here (thanks to Randy for ever great content), but I want to share this piece with you on declining nomadism amongst Americans; it is written for Newsweek by author Joel Kotkin. I am not quite sure whether he believes the ageing of the population to be the decisive factor contributing to the rise of localism which he speaks about or just a factor among many. I would presume that sociologists and historians could find an explanation for this development in their distinct theoretical tool kits too without invoking the demographic evolution. Although, it is tempting to go for a nostalgic narrative here I don't think this is appropriate. To me, an increase in physical localism could go well hand in hand with an ever greater degree of global integration and social mobility in the non-physical sense.

On almost any night of the week, Churchill's Restaurant is hopping. The 10-year-old hot spot in Rockville Centre, Long Island, is packed with locals drinking beer and eating burgers, with some customers spilling over onto the street. "We have lots of regulars—people who are recognized when they come in," says co-owner Kevin Culhane. In fact, regulars make up more than 80 percent of the restaurant's customers. "People feel comfortable and safe here," Culhane says. "This is their place."

Thriving neighborhood restaurants are one small data point in a larger trend I call the new localism. The basic premise: the longer people stay in their homes and communities, the more they identify with those places, and the greater their commitment to helping local businesses and institutions thrive, even in a downturn. Several factors are driving this process, including an aging population, suburbanization, the Internet, and an increased focus on family life. And even as the recession has begun to yield to recovery, our commitment to our local roots is only going to grow more profound. Evident before the recession, the new localism will shape how we live and work in the coming decades, and may even influence the course of our future politics.

Perhaps nothing will be as surprising about 21st-century America as its settledness. For more than a generation Americans have believed that "spatial mobility" would increase, and, as it did, feed an inexorable trend toward rootlessness and anomie. This vision of social disintegration was perhaps best epitomized in Vance Packard's 1972 bestseller A Nation of Strangers, with its vision of America becoming "a society coming apart at the seams." In 2000, Harvard's Robert Putnam made a similar point, albeit less hyperbolically, in Bowling Alone, in which he wrote about the "civic malaise" he saw gripping the country. In Putnam's view, society was being undermined, largely due to suburbanization and what he called "the growth of mobility."

Yet in reality Americans actually are becoming less nomadic. As recently as the 1970s as many as one in five people moved annually; by 2006, long before the current recession took hold, that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since the census starting following movement in 1940. Since then tougher times have accelerated these trends, in large part because opportunities to sell houses and find new employment have dried up. In 2008, the total number of people changing residences was less than those who did so in 1962, when the country had 120 million fewer people. The stay-at-home trend appears particularly strong among aging boomers, who are largely eschewing Sunbelt retirement condos to stay tethered to their suburban homes—close to family, friends, clubs, churches, and familiar surroundings.


After decades of frantic mobility and homogenization, we are seeing a return to placeness, along with more choices for individuals, families, and communities. For entrepreneurs like Kevin Culhane and his workers at Churchill's, it's a phenomenon that may also offer a lease on years of new profits. "We're holding our own in these times because we appeal to the people around here," Culhane says. And as places like Long Island become less bedroom community and more round-the-clock locale for work and play, he's likely to have plenty of hungry customers.

Well worth a look

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Migration, births gets Australia through GFC"'s Drew Cratchly writes about a report by Australian film PKF claiming that Australia's success in avoiding a recession is owing mostly to the country's high rate of population growth.

Natural population growth and a steady migration rate are the unsung heroes of Australia's economic resilience through the global financial crisis, new research suggests.

Small business owners should be confident of an economic recovery and the Federal Government should maintain a steady migration rate to underpin that recovery, advisory firm PKF Australia concludes in its latest annual Business & Population Monitor.

Australia's pre-crisis resources boom saw a 'mini baby boom' and record levels of migrant intake, which has gone on to assist the job market by increasing demand for housing, goods and services, the report found.

"Arguably the unsung hero of Australia's defence against the downturn has been our magnificent population growth," PKF national chairman of enterprise advisers Chris Allen said.

"People power is part of what is driving us along relative to others. Put simply, more people equal more customers, and therefore more jobs."

The report, compiled with Access Economics, finds Australia's population grew by 1.9 per cent in the past year, helped by the highest birth rate since 1971.

Migration rates remained steady, despite several reductions by the federal government, and that should be maintained to ensure continued economic stability, Mr Allen said.

The PKF report is here, and observes that things vary from state to state.

PKF’s Business & Population Monitor highlighted a mixed bag of growth for the States and Territories in relation to housing, retail, business investment, wages and job opportunities. The Northern Territory came out the clear winner, and has powered ahead across all indicators, with small business confidence well above the national average and the nation’s highest levels of job participation. The slowdown was most severe in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. While New South Wales’s small business confidence is well below the national average, retail sales are growing fast. Victoria leads the way in retail spending, and housing construction is speeding up to keep pace with population growth.

The most interesting shift from 12 months ago is in the ‘sun belt’ states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. All three geographic areas benefitted from a strong resource sector that last year promoted compelling population growth, and resulting increase in housing and retail activity, which in turn translated into low levels of unemployment and high wage growth.

Queensland’s population remains strong, but interstate migration is waning as mining and tourism jobs are lost, and the housing sector has flagged in the last year. Western Australia has the highest population growth, highest wage growth and highest levels of business investment in the nation, however retail spending is now the weakest in Australia.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On aging and education

Agence France-Presse recently published an article examining one of the less-examined consequences of Taiwan's very low birth rate.

More than one in three Taiwanese colleges are likely to be forced to close by 2021 due to a shortage of students as the island's birth rates continue to fall, local media said Tuesday.

Currently, around 300,000 school leavers are eligible to apply for college each year but the number is expected to drop to 195,000 in 2021, the Liberty Times said, citing the education ministry.

In 12 years, more than one-third of the island's 164 colleges are expected to have closed because they can not enroll enough students, forcing about 1,000 professors to lose their jobs, the report said.

Educational officials are not immediately available to confirm the report.

Taiwan's birth rates have been on a steady decline in recent years, and last year there were less than nine newborn babies for every 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to the interior ministry.

Education minister Wu Ching-ji was quoted by the paper as saying the ministry was considering measures for colleges to merge or become private for-profit learning institutes.

The Taipei Times goes into more detail.

Colleges and universities in Taiwan will see their lowest enrollment and highest vacancies when the new school semester begins next month, the latest enrollment statistics released by the Joint Board of the College Recruitment Commission showed.

A total of 76,434 students enrolled in Taiwanese universities, resulting in a record high of 6,802 vacancies on campuses and a ­record-high college admission rate of 97.14 percent, commission statistics showed. That was up from 4,788 vacancies and a college admission rate of 97.1 percent for last school year, it said.

Both admission rates and vacancies at higher learning institutions have been steadily rising in recent years.

Taiwan’s falling birth rate and the rapid increase in the number of colleges and universities that have opened in Taiwan in the past 15 years are the main reasons behind this trend.

In 1986, there were 28 four-year colleges and universities across Taiwan, but the number rose to 147 last year — the result of a government policy to make it easier for high school students to get into university.

[. . .]

Ho Cho-fei (何卓飛), director of the ministry’s Department of Higher Education, asked low-enrollment colleges and universities to remain committed to giving their students sufficient training, no matter how small their student population is.

To cope with this problem, Ho said the ministry would work out a mechanism to require schools with low enrollment to transform or withdraw from the market.

Eighteen college and university departments in Taiwan failed to recruit any students for the coming semester, commission figures showed.

All this is unsurprising, since it's well known that fertility rates, period and cohort, among the Taiwanese population rank among the lowest in the world. Numerous primary and secondary schools have also been forced to close down for want of young students. Taiwan's situation is admittedly extreme, but as the proportions of the young decrease as the proportions of the old increases, educational systems in any aging country are going to have to change. What can be done?

One approach would be for schools to try to recruit students from outside of their catchment area. Barring large-scale immigration to a region, it might be easy fo an educational institution--likely one at the university level--to recruit students internationally. Taiwan is reportedly trying to recruit mainland Chinese students, and Vietnam and the Philippines might also provide potential students through the marriage migration connecting these countries with Taiwan. This is hardly limited to Taiwan, but is worldwide. Certainly in the Canadian universities I've attended international students are quite numerous.

Another approach might be for these educational systems to retool themselves to deal with an older workforce. Greenspan in 2003 observed that aging populations had to increase their productivity to continue economic growth, yet relatively older populations often had relatively low education levels. Creating systems that would allow relatively older people to enter the education system in order to upgrade and renew their skills. Rihpahl and Trübswetter suggest in their discussion paper that this sort of phenomenon has already been going on in Germany.

Both of these approaches will likely be taken, along with others I've not mentioned here. Education systems are going change vastly, that's for certain, but what's not for certain is the possibility for these to adapt more-or-less successfully.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Prince Edward Island's recent migration-driven population growth

I was surprised by this Globe and Mail article about my native province of Prince Edward Island, located in eastern Canada near the Atlantic. Apparently the Island has become something of a hotspot for international immigration.

An aggressive marketing strategy – focused on selling a lifestyle over poster-perfect vistas – along with investment and settlement help for newcomers may be paying off for PEI: Recent numbers from Statistics Canada show the province reporting one of its largest population spikes in more than 20 years, mostly because of immigrants choosing island life for a fresh start. Although statistics bounce up and down, in the second quarter of 2009, the population growth of PEI was second among provinces only to Alberta and well ahead of the rest of the Maritimes, continuing a trend that started in January.

It was the slower, safer lifestyle that won over Cherry (Cuiling) Xie, a 47-year-old clothing-factory owner from Shenzhen, China, who arrived in Canada in May, along with her husband and 17-year-old son. She now lives in her “dream house” in Stratford, a small town next door to Charlottetown, with a backyard that slopes to the river. Her son has settled into school – soaring to the top of his class in math – and she is studying English at Holland College, courtesy of the province. Her list of the island's pros: cheap housing, lobster dinners and no traffic jams.

“In Shenzhen, it would always take an hour to travel by car somewhere 10 minutes away,” she says.

Her classmate, Min Jiant, an engineer from Beijing who also came with her 17-year-old son (her husband is still working in China), offers the same sentiment. “We wanted to change our lifestyle. We wanted to find a place that was peaceful.”

More than a year after arriving, she says PEI, where her son no longer crams for school until midnight and a friendly neighbour shovels her driveway in the winter, has lived up to its marketing.

The overall numbers are small--just over 700 people, as this commenter at the corresponding article in the Charlottetown Guardian notes--but it differentiates the province from the other three provinces of Atlantic Canada, all of which have seen population declines of various degrees. This document makes the point that, between 1 July 2007 and 1 July 2008 the Island's population grew by some 1.23%, the highest rate of any Canadian province other than Alberta. The promotion of Prince Edward Island as a place with a more relaxed, hence superior, lifestyle that I
blogged back in December 2007 seems to be working. Certainly the web presence helps direct the curious towards a province with a relatively aggressive immigration policy.

This migration can't necessarily be considered a net plus to the province. Firstly, as a commenter at the Guardian article notes, this doesn't count as a rejuvenating replacement migration.

Let's get something straight here:

The majority of people moving TO this province are retirees - former Islanders returning home after a big career in Ontario or the U.S.

A small minority are immigrants, who, once they come here, use PEI as a stepping stone to move to a larger centre in Canada which has more economic opportunities (and possibly other cultural communities similar to wherever they came from).

PEI is forecast to decrease its school enrollment by 40% (that's PERCENT) by 2015-2020. You think the school closures this spring were painful? Can't wait to see the whining in 5 years time.

Schools, hospitals, public services - everything is going to be forced to retract.

And at the same time, we're going to be stuck with an ever-increasing number of elderly pensioners requiring more complex health care in a tiny province with a declining tax base.

Secondly, as one of Canada's poorest provinces there isn't necessarily much to keep international migrants from moving to larger centres.

provincial officials are realistic about the province's challenges – long walks on the beach and quick cross-town errands won't offset a past-due mortgage payment. Says Allan Campbell, the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning, whose portfolio includes immigration: “PEI is a very attractive option for people. But at the end of the day we all have to eat and pay our bills.”

And that means competing with Montreal and Vancouver – not an easy feat for a province with a capital city of 35,000 people. For Jim Ferguson, executive director with the recently created Population Secretariat, whose mandate is boosting PEI's population by 1.5 per cent a year, that means ensuring that newcomers remain long-term islanders. “Our job is to make sure they don't get off the plane [in Toronto].”

For as much as Ms. Xie and Ms. Jiant gush about the province, they are also realistic. When their English gets stronger, they want good jobs – Ms. Xie already explored opening a clothing store in Charlottetown and found the market too small. Soon, their sons will be off to university – they might want to follow them. But for now, Ms. Jiant brightly concludes: “So far, so good.”


This migr

Friday, October 09, 2009

The UNDP on Russia's demographic crisis

My thanks to the Financial Times' Tony Barber for linking to this UNDP report describing Russia's situation. As Barber points out in his own summary, it isn't pretty.

The report describes the stark reality of a country whose population is falling fast, to a considerable extent because of rampant alcohol abuse among men, who on average are dying before they make it to 60 years old. “Short life expectancy is the main feature of this crisis, though by no means its only feature. The birth rate is too low, the population is shrinking and ageing, and Russia is on the threshold of rapid loss of able-bodied population, which will be accompanied by a growing demographic burden per able-bodied individual. The number of potential mothers is starting to decline and the country needs to host large flows of immigrants,” the report says.

Since 1992, the natural decrease of Russia’s population has amounted to a staggering 12.3m people. This has been compensated to some degree by the arrival of 5.7m immigrants. But many are ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics, and the source is drying up. Overall, Russia had 142m people at the start of 2008, compared with 148.6m in 1993. By 2025, the figure will almost certainly fall below 140m and could be as low as 128m.

The implications for Russia’s economy are enormous. The authors cite forecasts from Rosstat, the national statistics agency, that Russia’s working age population will decline by 14m between now and 2025. As Vladimir Putin said three years ago when he was president, the demographic emergency is “the most acute problem facing Russia today”.

On the subject of migration, the study's authors point out that the supply of politically acceptable Russophones is running out. In the Baltic States, higher living standards would presumably encourage Russophones to remain in those countries or to go the wider European Union, while in Ukraine and presumably Belarus low living standards don't compensate for the ongoing assimilation of ethnic Russians to the titular nationality, as has happened in independent Ukraine. Indeed, the authors point out that there is no reason Russia can't become a source of emigrants, not only to a Poland that offers higher wages than Russia but to the wider European Union. As for the birth rate, the authors argue that substantial changes in everything from popular culture to government funding would be needed.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

On the new wave of Portuguese emigrants

Over the years I've blogged extensively about Portuguese-Canadians and Brazilian-Canadians, the various things happening with the Portuguese language in the world, and about Lusophone countries like Portugal and Angola and Brazil, because my past five years of residence in Toronto have all been spent in one Portuguese neighbourhood or another and I've become much more aware of what's going on, and what has went on, in the Lusophone world. Brazil's slow-but-steady development is one thing; the massive scale of Portuguese emigration.

Between 1886 and 1966, Portugal lost an estimated 2.6 million people to emigration, more than any West European country except Ireland. Emigration remained high until 1973 and the first oil shock that slowed the economies of West European nations and reduced employment opportunities for Portuguese workers. Since then, emigration has been moderate, ranging between 12,000 and 17,000 a year in the 1980s, a fraction of the emigration that occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The main motive for emigration, at least in modern times, was economic. Portugal was long among the poorest countries in Europe. With the countryside able to support only a portion of farmers' offspring and few opportunities in the manufacturing sector, many Portuguese had to go abroad to find work. In northern Portugal, for example, many young men emigrated because the land was divided into "handkerchief-sized" plots. In some periods, Portuguese emigrated to avoid military service. Thus, emigration increased during World War I and during the 1960s and early 1970s, when Portugal waged a series of wars in an attempt to retain its African colonies.

For centuries it was mainly men who emigrated. Around the turn of the century, about 80 percent of emigrants were male. Even in the 1980s, male emigrants outnumbered female emigrants two to one. Portuguese males traditionally emigrated for several years while women and children remained behind. For several decades after World War II, however, women made up about 40 percent of emigrants.

The United States, Venezuela, France, Luxembourg, and many other countries all received very substantial numbers of immigrants. This net emigration came to an end in the mid-1980s, when Portugal began to receive immigrants on a significant scale, but the onset of a harsh recession in the first years of this decade has caused emigration to shoot up again.

What's going on now? Noel Maurer, occasional commenter and blogger, reports that the biggest destination for Portuguese emigrants of late is Angola, where an oil-driven economic boom has created any number of opportunities for ambitious Portuguese. Go, read his analysis.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More on Canadian regional demographics

Following up on my post last month about rising Canadian period fertility, the CBC reported recently that western Canada, led by Alberta, has seen the highest rate of population growth.

Alberta was the fastest growing province with a growth of 0.59 per cent — or about 20,000 new residents — in the quarter, but its growth was slower than the previous year, when it had a growth of 0.80 per cent.

Statistics Canada said growth in Alberta slowed because the number of residents from other provinces moving to Alberta declined, though Alberta still led the provinces in interprovincial migration gain with 4,700 net additions.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia also recorded higher than usual population growth.

Prince Edward Island had the highest demographic growth among Eastern provinces, with a 0.53 per cent increase in the quarter, mostly attributable to international immigration. Nunavut had the highest growth among the territories, with an increase of 0.68 per cent.

The remaining provinces and territories had growth rates less than the national average. Ontario's population grew by 0.34 per cent in the quarter, the seventh quarter in a row that its demographic growth has been below the national average.

Saskatchewan, interestingly, has recently experienced relatively rapid population growth driven substantially by migration in contradiction to past trends.

All this represents a continuation of the trends described by Patrick White recently in The Globe and Mail.

While their populations increased over all, Ontario and Quebec combined to shed nearly 7,500 residents to interprovincial migration between April and June of this year. For Ontario, it was the largest second-quarter migration loss since 1990.

Most headed for the Prairies. Saskatchewan recorded its biggest year-over-year population increase in five decades between July, 2008, and July, 2009, adding more than 16,500 new residents. The influx pushed the province's population beyond the one-million mark for the first time in 22 years.

“In Saskatchewan, we've been a net loser in the interprovincial sweepstakes for some time,” said Rosemary Venne, a demographer and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business. “Many of the people coming now are returnees.”

Alberta was the biggest beneficiary of the movement away from Central Canada, picking up more than 4,700 internal migrants and 8,600 immigrants during the quarter. But overall population growth in the province cooled considerably – from 0.78 to 0.59 per cent – compared to the same period last year.

Manitoba and British Columbia also grew at higher-than-normal rates.

“That's a continuation of the westward drift we've been seeing for some time,” Dr. Venne said.

Over all, Canada's population inched up 0.36 per cent in the quarter, reaching 33,739,859, due largely to the addition of about 84,800 immigrants, the second-highest figure for the quarter since 1972.

Monday, October 05, 2009

On the developed world's cohorts of future centenarians

When blogger James Nicoll linked to this Guardian report suggesting, after The Lancet, that "50% of Britons born now will see their century," he did so using the link label: "Experts warn of nightmarish future filled with healthy and productive old people."

Sarah Boseley's article reports that the researches of Kaare Christensen et al., recently published in The Lancet, suggest the majority of children born in economically developed nations are likely to live at least to the age of 100.

Professor Kaare Christensen and colleagues at the ageing research centre at the University of Southern Denmark calculate that at least half the babies born in the UK in the year 2000 will reach their 100th birthday. Life expectancy is increasing so fast that half the babies born in 2007 will live to be at least 103, while half the Japanese babies born in the same year will reach the age of 107.

The bad news is that the ageing populations of rich countries such as the UK threaten to unbalance the population. It "poses severe challenges for the traditional social welfare state," write Christensen and colleagues.

But they have a radical solution: young and old should work fewer hours a week. Over a lifetime, we would all spend the same total amount of time at work as we do now, but spread out over the years.

"The 20th century was a century of redistribution of income. The 21st century could be a century of redistribution of work," they write. "Redistribution would spread work more evenly across populations and over the ages of life. Individuals could combine work, education, leisure and child rearing in varying amounts at different ages."

It is a theory that is beginning to receive "some preliminary attention", the authors say, citing a study in the Science journal three years ago which suggested that shorter working weeks would help young people and increase western Europe's flagging birth rate.

Shorter working weeks might further increase health and life expectancy, Christensen and colleagues write. But redistribution of work will not solve all the problems caused by a society with a large number of very old people. Beyond a certain point, the old will need younger people to look after them – although technology is likely to provide some help in advanced countries such as the UK.

The growth in life expectancy, Christensen argues, was driven until the 1920s by declines in infant and maternal mortality, then by continuing and sustained improvements in old-age mortality.

The Danish authors say they see no reason why life expectancy should not continue to rise. "The linear increase in record life expectancy for more than 165 years does not suggest a looming limit to human lifespan," they write. "If life expectancy was approaching a limit, some deceleration of progress would probably occur. Continued progress in the longest-living populations suggests that we are not close to a limit, and further rise in life expectancy seems likely."

At this point, it's legitimate to recall the Greek myth of Tithonus, a Trojan prince whose lover Eos asked Zeus on his behalf that he be given the gift of immortality, but forgot to ask for eternal youth as well. There's no reason to think that poor health and social isolation must necessarily be the case for this new class of elderly, however.

The analysis suggests, however, that the health of the elderly is improving. Studies have rarely looked at people over 85, but improvements in their health are likely to translate into improvements also for the very elderly.

Although the number of cancers is rising as people live longer, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis are increasing, better diagnosis and treatment means that people can live good lives in spite of them. Obesity is expected to cause more health problems, but its consequences can be modified by the use of drugs.

Christensen has some suggestions of his own, and looks forward to new research that might isolate the various genetic and environmental factors behind extended lifespans. Population aging will cause problems, even if people who live very long remain fairly productive throughout their final years, but whatever helps.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On how Senegalese migrants measure risk and why they still migrate

It's a well-known fact that Senegalese and sub-Saharan migrants who try to make it to Spain by boat can easily encounter potentially lethal problems en route.

The sight of desperate developing world immigrants turning up on the beaches where Europeans routinely visit to sunbathe is becoming increasingly common in the Canary Islands. Spain says some 11,000 people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, have arrived in the Canary Islands so far this year.

Hundreds of people are thought to have died on the perilous crossing since new routes from distant Mauritania and Senegal opened up at the end of last year.

Last week alone four dead immigrants were found in two of the vessels that reached the islands, which lie in the Atlantic some 100 miles off north-west Africa.

Other vessels, usually carrying between 50 and 100 people, are believed to have sunk without trace on the voyage north along the coast of Africa and west to the Canary Islands.

One boat that got lost was eventually washed up, four months later, on the shores of Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. Eleven petrified corpses of would-be immigrants, thought to be from Senegal, were found on board.

One strategy aimed at diminishing the flow of migrants, adopted by the Spanish and Senegalese governments, has been to emphasize these very serious risks in the hope of deterring migrants. As Jørgen Carling and María Hernández Carretero argue in their paper "Kamikaze migrants? Understanding and tackling high-risk migration from Africa" on the basis of a Senegalese village known for producing migrants, however, factors as various as the identification of Europe as a land of jobs, to the need unemployed young men to be masculine risktakers, to beliefs that risk can be managed. Carling and Carretero's conclusion makes what's obvious, really, quite clear.

Risk acceptability is mediated by life opportunities. This explains how an option as dangerous as pirogue migration may seem attractive to young men with few realistic alternatives. The assumption that all migrants undertake highrisk migration because they are oblivious to the risks is misleading and may result in ineffective migration management policies. Instead, our analysis suggests that high-risk migration is perceived as a unique opportunity. Accepting the risks involved should not be seen as fatalistic behaviour. On the contrary, the risk-taking of pirogue migration is seen as purposeful and morally justifiable behaviour.