Monday, November 29, 2010

"Pure" north, "impure" south: Cause for conflict in Korea?

One very notable difference between North Korea and South Korea, quite apart from their broadly different demographic profiles, lies in the ethnic and national composition of the populations of the two Koreas. These differences might even explain part of North Korea's hostility towards the South.

North Korea's population is exceptionally homogeneous. Although North Korea's ties with Communist Vietnam did see some Vietnamese students migrate, thei North Korean women, and despite the settlement of some ethnic Koreans from Japan with their wives in the decades after the Second World War, North Korea is ethnically homogeneous. The only exception to this lies with North Korean female migrants, for whom survival sex is a frequent feature of life. The luckier women marry Chinese farmers and are integrated into local communities; the unlucky ones are deported back to North Korea, where they are stigmatized for having contaminated the Korean race by consorting with ethnic Chinese men and are subject to forced abortions (at least some of the time, more sophisticated than having prison guards repeatedly kick pregnant women), and infanticide if the pregnancy is advanced (their mothers frequently being forced to watch, so as to encourage them not to err in the future).

Why such an inhuman insistence on homogeneity? Brian Myers' The Cleanest Race, partially serialized here in the New York Times, the basis of a short article in the March/April 2010 issue of Foreign Policy, argues that North Korean identity is founded on the basis of extreme xenophobia and outright racism towards non-Koreans.

North Korea's race-centric ideology was inspired by that of the fascist Japanese who ruled the peninsula from 1910 until the end of World War II. Having been taught by their colonizers to regard themselves as part of a superior Yamato race, the North Koreans in 1945 simply carried on the same mythmaking in a Koreanized form. This can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure-blooded, and so too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader. This paranoid nationalism might sound crude and puerile, but it is only in this ideological context that the country's distinguishing characteristics, which the outside world has long found so baffling, make perfect sense. Up close, North Korea is not Stalinist -- it's simply racist.

The celebration of racial purity and homogeneity is everywhere in North Korea. The citizens pictured on the country's new currency, for example, could pass for members of the same family, which in a sense they are. A worker in one painting appears much like a farmer or soldier in another, while the children pictured in schoolbooks are downright identical. White is the dominant color in Pyongyang: White concrete plazas, white or at least blond-stoned buildings, and white statues of virginal maidens in long gowns abound. Pyongyang is often photographed or depicted under snow, a favored symbol of purity itself. "Our nation has always considered its pure lineage to be of great importance," a North Korean general told his South Korean counterpart during a 2006 meeting to discuss realignment of the maritime border between the two states. "Since ancient times our lands have been one of abundant natural beauty," he said. "Not even one drop of ink must be allowed."

And what about South Korea? There's a large and growing number of immigrants in South Korea, roughly divisible between economic migrants and marriage migrants. South Korea's future is as likely faces a as an immigration country.

As Young-bum Park observed in 2004, South Korea in the 1990s was caught up in the same consistent dynamic as other high-income economies.

Due to its low unemployment rate, by the early 1990s South Korea realized it needed temporary labor to fill unskilled jobs that natives were becoming less and less willing to do. In fact, without foreign labor, it would have been nearly impossible to keep the "tiger" economy growing.

As a country that places a high value on its homogeneity, this also marked the beginning of a tension that continues today: the need for foreign labor versus the desire to remain a purely Korean nation with strict immigration policies.

One early source of immigration to South Korea was the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, an autonomous district in eastern Jilin province historically with a Korean majority. This became a minority owing to various factors including low birth rates, assimilation proceeded and emigration to Chinese cities and South Korea, the claims that Yanbian constituted a "Third Korea" aside. Perhaps ironically, Jeanyoung Lee reports that these immmigrants are somewhat unpopular, especially in the work environment.

Other nationalities began to feature in the country's statistics. The number of Mongolian immigrants began to grow sharply--a 2008 press report commented on a Mongolian-born Korean citizen who was now herself an immigration official. Other large groups included Vietnamese and Filipinos, often workers or as women recruited to marry local men. This latter in particular may as radically alter South Korea's ethnic composition, at least as it is perceived to be homogeneous. Many smaller nationalities are also present, such as Iranians. All of these migrants could be far outnumbered by North Korean migrants/refugees if/when that country collapses.

Perhaps the most notable form of immigration, insofar as South Korea's future is concerned, is that of non-native women. For decades, selective abortions resulted in the local sex ratio being strongly biased towards men. In later years, this led to shortages of marriageable women, especially in rural areas of South Korea. How did South Korean men respond? South Korea, like Taiwan, responded to the gender imbalance by "importing" women of non-local background. Some of the effects of this are summarized in Yonhap News's English-language edition by Ben Jackson.

Until recently, any introduction to South Korea included the mention of its ethnic homogeneity without fail. Once known as a "Hermit Kingdom," the country was where blood and nationhood were one and the same, and mixing with foreign blood was considered undesirable.

These days, however, South Korea's rapid economic, cultural and demographic changes are unleashing new trends and currents that flow far beyond the country's borders. International marriage, once regarded as an anomaly by many Koreans, has become a significant social phenomenon.

[. . .]

Mixed-nationality unions in South Korea are often regarded as being confined largely to the countryside, where many young men struggle to attract Korean spouses to a life perceived as less comfortable than the city, but statistics show that the practice is now far from uncommon in Seoul and other metropolitan areas.

According to 2009 research, the rising ratio of men to women of "marriage age" would reach a peak by 2014. This means that in terms of pure numbers, two out of every 10 men will be unable to marry because of a lack of women.

Women also appear to be putting off marriage: While in 1975 only 11.8 percent of women aged 25-29 were unmarried, the figure had risen to 59.1 percent by 2005.

[. . .]

"A lot fewer Joseon-jok (ethnic Koreans living in China) are marrying Korean men, while the number of brides from places like the Philippines and Vietnam is increasing," she said.

"The recent decrease may be because Koreans and foreigners are becoming more aware of the potential difficulties of international marriage, and because many men that were looking for international marriages have now tied the knot."

Jang also points out that in terms of sheer numbers, many more international marriages take place in Seoul, its metropolitan region and other big cities because of the overall concentration of population in these areas.

In terms of percentage, more international marriages still occur in rural regions, she said.

Indeed, fertility rates among immigrant women in at least some parts of South Korea are significantly higher than among native Korean women, although fertility in the former population is well below replacement. These children of mixed nationality often face significant discrimination. Still, there are signs that the Korean government is trying to change this.

A recent study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs projected that immigrants and their descendants will account for more than 5 percent of the Korean population by 2050. That’s more than 2 million people, a sevenfold increase from the 309,841 this year.

According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, international marriages now make up 10 percent of all marriages in Korea. The ministry said the number of interracial children rose from 44,258 in 2007 to 121,935 in 2010.

[. . .]

To help absorb these multiethnic families, the ministry four years ago established about 160 family-support centers across the nation that offer language education and vocational training because immigrants often suffer from language and cultural barriers.

“The number of mixed-race children will continue to grow and [the future of] the Korean population depends on the fate of the immigrants’ descendants,” said Lee Sam-sik, director of the low-fertility division at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

Politicians are paying close attention to the surge in the number of multiethnic children, in part because they would have the right to vote when they turn 19.

The ruling Grand National Party has responded to such trends by supporting multiethnic centers in each district and devising assistance programs for families.

[. . .]

Foreigners in Korea have largely settled into low-incomes lives. Most foreign women marry older farmers or manual laborers, and 59.7 percent of mixed-race families live on less than 2 million won ($1,786) per month, according to statistics from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The migrants are themselves trying to organize, too.

The mixed-nationality children of South Korea are going to play a hugely important role in determining South Korea's future. If such a high proportion of South Korea's rising generation are of mixed ethnic origins, and if--as seems possible--their mothers retain links with their homelands, it's not impossible that South Korea could transition quickly enough into a society of mass immigration. Maybe South Korea will see a Spanish-style multiplication of its immigrant population; maybe it won't. Given current attitudes towards people of mixed and foreign background, I'd be inclined to expect relatively problematic integration, but then, things can change. Add to this the efforts of South Koreans to promote vulnerable Seoul as a world city, a cosmopolitan centre that plays a major role in the world's economic, political, and cultural circuits, one that will necessarily attract people from around the world. Whatever the outcome of these trends, the myth that South Korea is an ethnically homogeneous society is going to come to an end.

What does such a profoundly chauvinistic regime as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea think about what its leaders might consider the "adulteration" of "pure" Korean blood? I have my suspicions. Might this influence their policy-making? Possibly; would they see a government that did nothing to prevent the contamination of its supposedly pure gene pool, but actually encouraged it, as legitimate?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the inevitable dominance of Seoul in South Korea

The recent shelling of South Korea's Yongpyeong island by North Korean-South has obviously been quite disturbing. It likely won't come to war, notwithstanding being the most substantial confrontation between the Koreas since the armistice. If it did come to war ... Anatoly Karlin's scenario for a second Korean war does have an eventual South Korean-US victory over the North, but one coming at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties--military and civilian, mostly North but also South and American. The economic costs, both directly to the Koreans and indirectly to the wider world, almost don't stand thinking about.

One of the most worrying things about North Korea's military threat to the South lies in the fact that Seoul--the historical capital of Korea, and a metropolitan area home to half of South Korea's 50 million people--is within range of North Korean artillery. Although--as Karlin notes--growing military superiority may allow for successful preemptive strikes, and despite ongoing efforts to build sufficient shelters for Seoul's population, the city is obviously at risk. Close to the 38th parallel that inspired the post-1953 DMZ, Seoul's prosperity is fragile.

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Charli Carpenter put forward a proposal by one Robert Kelly to diminish South Korea's vulnerability to the North by decentralizing the country, moving population from the northwest of the country to the southern areas.

The various criticisms of this plan--that it would be very expensive, that it would take a long time to make any noticeable shift in the distribution of South Korean population, that it would be illiberal, that it would be a waste of money once reunification/regime change came, that it would be illiberal, that expecting South Korea to move its capital from Seoul would be as plausible as expecting France to move its capital to Lille or Lyon, and that given South Korea's small size it's not obvious that even a partially successful decentralization would make much difference--all stand. The first comment is the one I like best.

Cities are built on geography and human inertia. What starts as trade routes and resource-rich regions result in the financial, government and service structures to support those primary industries. That’s what causes the influx of immigrants, the concentration of wealth, and eventually the self-sustaining nature of the city.

Cities don’t die unless that fundamental geographic economic advantage disappears. While there might be ways of encouraging growth in the south, there won’t be a fundamental shift of population without a regional economic incentive.

Moving the government buildings from one spot to another might shift a population, but only a small portion of it. Only 16 US state capitals are located in the largest city of the state, after all.

The commenters, it should be noted, did agree that inasmuch as state policies discouraged investment and development outside Seoul, these policies should be changed to favour the growth of the second tier of South Korean cities.

This sort of sentiment isn't new. The idea of decentralizing population and industry in a centralized country was most prominent in France, where geographer Jean-François Gravier coined the phrase "Paris and the French desert" to describe the dominance of Paris over the rest of France. Owing to early declines in birth rates, and perhaps also the concentration of immigrants in Paris (and other cities), many regions of France saw their populations stagnate and decline, while Paris become ever-more powerful in a centralized republic. After the Second World War, systematic government planning did aimed to promote decentralization.

Industrialisation in France was based, as in other countries, on coalfields. The black countries in the North, Lorraine and Massif Central were the first centres of the steel, chemical and textile industries. But the second phase of industrialisation was of greater advantage to Paris, as major industries, such as cars, aircraft, engineering and electrical goods, began operations in and near the city. In one hundred years, the population of the capital, which was already 2 million at the end of the 19th century, grew fivefold.

[. . .]

The planning body, DATAR, was set up in the early years of the Fifth Republic (1963). Its work is centralising by nature, but its effects have been contradictory. At first, the division between Paris and the “provinces” (a condescending term, now replaced by “regions”) was accentuated. Paris, the centre of politics, the economy, research and culture is also the hub of infrastructure networks. The web of roads and railways was strengthened by new forms of transport: motorways, high-speed TGV trains and airports.

Furthermore, industrial policy in the Gaullist period focused on aerospace and the nuclear and electronic sectors for reasons both military and civilian. This planned industrial policy, based on nationalised industries, was the origin of what are now called new technologies. But the new technologies were located in the Paris region, where they had all the elements required for their development: grandes écoles, universities, CNRS and the military-industrial complex.

This process of concentrating highly qualified employment in metropolitan areas was extended to other cities. Those that already had an industrial, university and technological basis, such as Grenoble, Toulouse and Bordeaux, benefited from the establishment of aerospace industry, nuclear and electronic research centres and became science cities. Other regional cities created science parks, such as Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Metz, Rennes, Nantes, Lille, Nice and Marseille. Publicly funded science research was more evenly spread across the country and privately funded research set up closer to universities.

The net effect may have been to decentralize France, to allow second tier cities to emerge as niche competitors to Paris. French efforts to decentralize the country, however, had two negative effects.

  • First, as Bernard Marchand wrote in his September 2010 essay "The concept of "territory" in French planning: An essay in dialectical analysis", French planning not only aimed to support regional centres, but to support rural territories which possessed unviable economies at the expense of urban and suburban areas which desperately needed attention and government investment, what he called an overemphasis of territory over households.

  • Secondly, trying to diminish Paris risked harming Paris' status as a world city. In a very real sense, Paris' competitors aren't Lille and Lyons, but rather London and New York City. Depriving Paris to boost the second tier of French cities would harm Paris' rank in this clasisfication, and, by extension, France itself.

  • The same problems would apply to Seoul and South Korea. Indeed, Paris and Seoul are classified by one author as "macrocephalic" cities, places where geography and governance and economics and population have concentrated to produce one urban centre that completely dominates the rest of the country. (Vienna and Budapest, former imperial capitals now the metropolises of much smaller rump states, and a Bangkok more developed by far than the Thai countryside, also fall into this category.) Sociology Danny Dorling's 2008 paper "London and the English Desert: The grain of truth in a stereotype" argues that Greater London is starting to acquire a similar position of dominance in England. Other cities--Tokyo-Yokohama in Japan, Buenos Aires in Argentina, perhaps, Johannesburg in South Africa, or Baghdad in Iraq--might be in similar positions.

    Is it in the interest of the South Koreans to decentralize their population so radically? Military vulnerability aside, it doesn't seem to be the case. Regardless of what policies have encouraged Seoul to become so dominant in South Korea's urban hierarchy, and the legitimacy of these policies (the decisions of military dictators to concentrate everything in the national capital comes to mind), Seoul is now what it is. Trying to take the metropolis apart--as opposed to trying to promote growth in other major urban centres, and perhaps using high-speed commuter connections to functionally fuse more cities in South Korea with the capital--would involve massive and expensive population shifts, to say nothing of the strong possibility that there might not be many places to hide in a compact South Korea. It would certainly hurt Seoulites efforts to promote Seoul as a world city.

    South Korea's population is caught in an unenviable situation, living in a thriving city that's at risk of devastation. In this respect, Seoul might not be unlike the cities of the Cold War world, which regardless of their ideological affiliations were vulnerable to annihilation in the space of a half-hour at most. I can only hope that the experts are right when they say that an escalation to war is unlikely, and that the Koreas--even North Korea, however unlikely it may be--will be as lucky as the rest of the world was.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    A coda for Statistics Canada

    The long-form census so vital for Statistics Canada's production of information--something I blogged about this September--is not coming back. Statistical agencies elsewhere in the world have taken note, like the European Statistcal System in its Governing Advisory Board's annual report.

    Official statistics have to be professionally independent, strong and of high quality. One indispensable precondition is that the ESS as a whole must be in a position to resist outside pressures when it comes to its core professional competences. Since the peer reviews in 2006-2008, the legislation has been revised to strengthen the professional independence of the statistical services in one third of the countries in the ESS. In five countries the legal process is either under way or being planned. However, legal proceedings can be lengthy and in two countries the revision process is exceedingly slow. Moreover, some of the revisions do not yet guarantee professional independence explicitly enough, particularly in countries where complex legal structures or ministerial dirigisme can be observed.

    While close interaction with the political and budgetary authorities is required, the legislation should specify the parties involved in and procedures for planning statistical programmes. Legislation and the final perimeter of statistical outputs should be left to political decision-makers, but decisions on methods, standards and procedures and on the content and timing of press releases should remain in the hands of the statistical services. However, in one country the statistical institute itself reports, and in six others stakeholders have pointed to, shortcomings in the content and timing of releases, multiannual programming and the role and status of the Director-General.

    Strong legislation underpinning the professional independence of statistical services is a necessary condition for good governance, but is not sufficient on its own. For example, a revised Statistical Law is now in place in Greece, but implementation must still be carefully monitored, as it takes time to change the administrative culture. On the other hand, in a few countries history and tradition are considered to induce de facto professional independence, even if the legislation does not fully comply with the Code [of Practice]. This was also assumed to be the case in Canada but proved wrong (7-8).

    In an interview by Sharon Broadfoot in the Ottawa Citizen, this is expanded upon.

    "We were utterly astonished, given our view of Canadian statistics. We didn't expect it to happen in Canada, quite frankly," said Johnny Akerholm, chair of ESGAB. "We've all been full of admiration of everything that is going on in the statistical field in Canada. Canada has frequently been seen as the benchmark, the best performer."

    ESGAB was established by the European Parliament in 2008 to boost the professional independence, integrity and accountability of European statistical agencies. One of the tenets of the organization's code of practice is that the autonomy of statistical agencies should be guaranteed by legislation, and the annual report cites Canada as a country where the statistical agency had a tradition of independence, until the government exercised "dormant legal powers" in making changes to the census.

    [. . .]

    Greece provides a recent example of the importance of reliable statistics produced free of political interference, Akerholm said, noting that the country's statistics obscured the true depth of financial troubles that are now rippling through the European Union.

    "Of course, the figures might be all right even if you have a political influence, but there could always be the suspicion," he said.

    Note the linkage of Canada with Greece. This is not a good thing. And yet, as Don Cayo of the Vancouver Sun notes, Canada's situation will look brighter with the tricks of the new voluntary survey in much the same way that the tricks of Greece's government-influenced statistical agency made that country's economic situation look so much better.

    We'll be seen to be richer than we were just a few years earlier, not to mention better educated and more universally able to communicate in Canada's two official languages.

    Of course, it won't be true. This will be a distorted picture painted by the 2011 census. Thanks to the federal government's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire, it can be expected to seriously under-represent huge groups of lower-income Canadians who'd make the picture grittier -- not to mention more realistic. And much more useful.

    Of course, even though it's fairly easy to predict which groups are likely to be under-represented, there is -- without the mandatory long-form data -- no way to know the magnitude or distribution of the under-count for any given group. This matters.

    "The census is used enormously widely," Fellegi told me when we talked shortly after a private meeting of the cabinet-appointed National Statistics Council last week. "City planners, for example. Or business people who want to decide where to put a plant, and whether they can find the kind of labour they need in a neighbourhood, or where they should open another retail outlet or shopping centre. Or a school, for that matter, or an immigrant assistance centre, or a home for the elderly."

    John Richards, a public policy professor at Simon Fraser University and a member of the Statistics Council, noted that StatsCan has gone to unusual lengths to figure out who it's most likely to miss when the long-form survey becomes voluntary. It has reexamined its 2006 data from three cities -- Toronto, Winnipeg and Bathurst, N.B. -- to see which respondents replied readily and which ones had to be chased and cajoled. [. . .] What this study showed first is that it's the smaller centres -- places such as Bathurst, with about 15,000 people -- whose results are most likely to be seriously skewed. And those results will under-count immigrants and aboriginals in particular, as well as some other lower-income groups.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Five noteworthy links

    This morning, I thought I'd share five population-related blog posts of interest with you. (It is still morning in Toronto.)

  • At the Economist's Eastern Approaches blog, notice was made of a recent conference on the plight of the Romani of Romania. There's room for hope, but then, it also seems like the Romanian government and many ordinary people would like the Romani to, quietly, take advantage of Schengen Zone and leave, so lightening the burden. Among other things

  • No clear consensus emerged on the impact of EU funds on Romania's Romanies, most of whom live in dire conditions. This is no great surprise considering that red tape and ministerial incompetence has meant that only about 1% of the €20 billion allocated to Romania in EU structural funds has actually been spent. Government programmes for the Romanies, such as positive discrimination for universities, barely scratch the surface. Most of Romania's Romanies remain marginalised, with little or no access to healthcare, education or social services.

    But the conference did have two interesting outcomes. One was a discussion of an excellent piece of research by the World Bank, which states that the cost of educating Romania's Romanies would be far exceeded by the contribution an educated Romani workforce would make to the national economy. The opportunity presented by the report suggested that all the chatter—by both government representatives and Romani leaders—about strategy, empowerment, consultation, rights, monitoring, community projects, exclusion, research, discrimination and poverty was missing the point.

  • The Global Sociology blog examines the migration of soccer players from player-sending countries and regions (Africa, Latin America, eastern Europe) to player-receiving countries. It illustrates how "individual trajectories shape up to be [. . .] a function of interaction with specific social networks and human intermediation, social capital, economic and speculative interests, competitive advantages and structured inequalities in the world-system."

  • * The platform space: the first country to which the player comes from (often the periphery or the semi-periphery)
    * The stepping stone space: the country from which the player gains access to a “big league” country (for instance, less dominant European countries in the European football world)
    * The transit space: the country the player passes through and leaves and where the level of competition is what he is used to
    * The relay space: the country where the player was loaned before he returned to either the stepping stone or the transit space
    * The destination space: the wealthiest and most prestigious leagues and clubs (England)

  • At his New England History blog (New England being the northeastern part of the Australian state of New South Wales, not the American region), Jim Belshaw describes how demographic changes--accompanied, of course, by all manner of changes including fluctuation gender roles and theological and institutional innovation, with hostile and confused reactions to these prevailing--helped undermine the Methodist and Roman Catholic religious communities in his region (and, I suspect Australia, as most of the industrialized world).

    In the Australia of 2009, it is hard to believe that majority of the Australian population once lived outside the capital cities. The decline in country Australia began in the nineteenth century, but accelerated during the twentieth century and especially in the period after the Second World War. Uralla really suffered - by the 1960s and 1970s even its main stores had closed.

    This decline reduced the population available to the Methodist Church. However, the Church's decline was accentuated by other factors. A key was the social structure of the Church itself. To survive, the Church had to reach out beyond its now middle class base; it could not because of the attitudes of its membership and especially its senior laity. Dempsey quotes case after case where those in the lower middle and working classes with some connection to Methodism dropped out because they felt excluded.

    [. . .]

    The mass Australian mass migration program that began at the end of the Second World War brought to Australia more than a million non-Irish Catholics. The Church and its orders such as the Ursulines struggled to build and staff the schools required to educate the new arrivals. Then came waves of change and reform that swept the Church and confused the laity, but even more so the religious whose entire life had been built around previous structures.

  • At the Discover=hosted blog Not Rocket Science, Ed Yong reports on a study demonstrating that there is discrimination against people of Senegalese background in the French labour market. And if anything, relatively positive stereotypes of the Senegalese might mean they're doing better than other groups.

  • Khadija Diouf had a well-known Muslim first name and an obvious Senegalese surname and had worked with Secours Islamique, a humanitarian organisation. Marie Diouf had worked for its counterpart Secours Catholique and had an obvious Christian first name. And Aurélie Ménard had a typical French name with no religious connotations and had only worked for secular firms.

    In the spring of 2009, Adida collected ads for secretarial and accounting jobs from the French national employment agency and grouped them into pairs, matched for area, sector, company size and position. For each pair, both received Aurélie’s CV while one received Khadija’s and one received Marie’s.

    The results were striking. Marie Diouf got a positive response on 21% of her applications; she was clearly an employable (if fictional) young woman. But Khadija Diouf – her exact equal in virtually every respect – got callbacks from just 8% of her applications. For every 100 interviews that Marie was called for, Khadija was summoned for just 38. Even after Adida included a photo on the applications (the same one, showing a woman who was clearly not North African), she found the same bias.

  • Carl Haub at the Population Reference Blog's Behind the Numbers wonders whether, in light of continued low fertility rates and profound ambivalence towardss immigration, economic rationales might mean Germany could adopt a more open policy towards immigrants, perhaps using something akin to Canada's points system to accumulate skilled migrants.

  • [A}ccording to a study conducted by Bernd Raffelhü, [. . .] not only are immigrants being sought to fill technical positions in German industry but, throughout their lifetimes, they actually contribute more to government coffers than they take out. The German economics minister also stated that German companies are clamoring for workers.

    Often, immigrants are portrayed as a burden on the state budget. The study concluded that that was true in the past but well-trained immigrants in higher paying fields make an immediate contribution through taxes and increase the size of the consumer market. Given their younger age than the workforce in general, such benefits can begin immediately. While it is true that some immigrants will take lower paying jobs that Germans themselves no longer want, an increased emphasis on skilled workers will fill many gaps. The study also recommended that immigrants and their children must integrate into German society, a point recently made by Chancellor Merkel, so that Germans do not feel that their country is becoming too multicultural.

  • Co-blogger Scott Peterson, at Wasatch Economics reports on how Ireland's economic catastrophe has reawakened the old trade of emigration, this one directed to countries like Canada and Australia which have escaped the worst of things. The strict rules that potential destination countries have established, Scott notes, aren't going to help things.
  • Saturday, November 20, 2010

    On Guernsey's population control

    Reading yesterday's Financial Times, I found the insert describing how the Channel Island of Guernsey with its financial sector was coping with the global financial crisis interesting. (It's doing well, apparently.) My curiosity was piqued by a passing mention that Guernsey had an official policy of limiting population. What, I wondered, was up with that?

    Guernsey is an island with a land area of 78 square kilometres. As of March 2009, Guernsey (according to the government's 2009 Population Bulletin) had a total population of 62 274 people. Until recently, Guernsey's population history was one of slow growth (doubling from twenty to forty thousand from 1821 to 1901) followed by periods of decline and slow growth (growing from forty to forty-five thousand between 1901 and 1961). Migration tended to be emigration, nearly four thousand Channel Islanders settling in New Zealand in the late 19th century, for instance. With an economy historically dependent on agriculture, fishing, and long-distance trade, there was relatively little reason for anyone to stay and any number of pathways to leave.

    This changed in the post-war era when Guernsey's government, like the government of Jersey and the other Channel Islands, began to promote the island as an off-shore financial sector. This succeeded enormously, making the island prosperous, with barely any unemployment and a history of sustained growth that has made this microstate one of the richest entities in the world. Guernsey's comparative advantage remains there, with things like online gambling and forays into information technology being promoted for alternatives, tourism and the primary sector declining (Guernsey retains a more diversified economy than Jersey, mind). This prosperity attracted immigrants, both people with professional skills and people wanting to take advantage of other areas of the labour market. Guernsey's age pyramid shows a decided imbalance towards men in the younger age groups.

    The problem with immigration, as seen from the Guernsey perspective, is that Guernsey is already very densely populated. An increased population would impact negatively, it seems, on their perceived quality of life.

    On one side of the argument are those islanders – I suspect they’re a big majority – who feel the island is already rather overcrowded. It’s not an issue of misanthropy or xenophobia but rather just a natural desire to live in a place with a bit of breathing space. Most islanders don’t want to become urban dwellers. Not even in an up market, city-state, surrounded by pretty bays and beautiful seascapes. The vision of Guernsey as “Hong Kong dans la Manches” is a nightmare for most locals and settlers alike.

    Every time a few hundred more residents are added to the population it inevitably impacts on quality of life in the island. Not because the incomers aren’t thoroughly good sorts but just because its means more cars on our limited road system and more homes in a community where open space is already at a premium. It also puts more stress on our infrastructure – more water and electricity to be supplied, more educational and healthcare needs, not forgetting more rubbish to be disposed of.

    So there is a strong qualitative case for ending Guernsey’s historic trend of steady population growth which has gone on unabated, bar a couple of blips, since the island’s first census in 1821 showed a population of just 20,302. The $64,000 question is how?

    The key element to date in Guernsey's population control strategy is to strictly regulate housing. Most housing on the island is strictly licensed, and migrants fall into two categories, those who have essential skills and can settle with their families for extended periods of time, and those who don't.

    Is it working? Slow population growth is continuing notwithstanding these regulations, and--perhaps--a shift away from traditional sectors of the economy like horticulture dependent on unskilled workers. The restricted talent pool, is making many businesses favour greater flexibility--the Chamber of Commerce would like to see more flexibility, growth or (less likely) decline of up to 10%. The aging of Guernsey's population, meanwhile, will create more problems.

    [Consultant Greg] Yeoman said forecasts had predicted that by 2040, the number of people aged 65-84 would have nearly doubled and that those aged over 85 would have gone up by 150%, meaning the island’s dependency ratio will have increased by 64% from 0.48 to 0.79.

    ‘There will be an insufficient labour pool to support diverse business growth,’ said Mr Yeoman.

    ‘People are struggling to fill these positions now, so imagine how much harder it will be if we have 7,000 fewer in our working population.’

    He said the offshoot of this would be hugely problematic, with an explosion in the cost of providing health and social care and the unsustainability of the States pension given as just two examples.

    Based on my own personal and other history with small islands, I'm used to the idea that emigration is the major problem. Coming up against Guernsey with the reverse was a thought-provoking experience.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    On the difficulties of emigration in Senegal

    One theme we at Demography Matters have explored in the past is the substantial new phenomenon of Senegalese migration to Spain. Two news articles on some of the problems the people living in communities dependent on remittances face jumped out at me.

  • The Spiegel International's Dialika Krahe has an article, "The Second Niodior: Spanish Wages Keep African Island Afloat", examining how the island of Niodior off the coast south of Dakar is critically dependent on remittances in order to meet the demands of the villagers at home for a better life. The migrants are willing to take enormous risks to reach their destinations.

  • Those who believe that there are too many foreigners in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain perceive someone like Mamadou Ndour -- a man who has left Niodior Island for Europe's coast -- as a threat to peace and prosperity on the Old Continent.

    Ndour works in a gigantic greenhouse in Roquetas de Mar on the Spanish coast, where he is currently crouched over, cutting zucchini from low-growing vines. "You cut one off, throw it in the box and look for the next one. You spend the whole day bent over." The French words in his head have gradually given way to Spanish ones. He laughs when he confuses the two languages. "€30 ($42) for eight hours," says Ndour. "This isn't what I had expected in Europe."

    Ndour, 31, a tall young man, is wearing a light-brown T-shirt that's frayed around the collar. He has been living in Spain as a clandestino, or illegal immigrant, for the last three years. "It's hard work," he says, as he tosses the green vegetables into crates under the watchful eye of a Spanish farmer. He says that he was able to send his parents €150 ($214) recently.

    Ndour was a fisherman back in Niodior. The little money he earned was enough to pay for food, but not enough to buy medication for his parents. And it wasn't enough to make a wife happy one day, he adds.

    [. . .]

    Niodior is a test case of sorts, an island whose sons working in Roquetas de Mar in southern Spain are its most important source of income. Month after month, more of Niodior's young men disappear, traveling in their wooden boats to the Canary Islands, where they are then taken to the Spanish mainland. Almost every mother in the village now has a son living in Spain.

    [. . .]

    Since the economic crisis began, says [a migrant], unemployment in Spain has risen so sharply that they are no longer just competing with each other, but more and more frequently with Spaniards who come to Roquetas de Mar to earn money under the table. The unemployment rate among migrant workers in Spain rose to 27 percent in 2009, compared with 16 percent in 2008.

    [. . .]

    The next young man who plans to embark on the trip from the Senegalese Niodior to its counterpart in Spain is Sita Thiare, Moussa's younger brother. "I know that the trip is dangerous," says his father. When a family doesn't hear anything from a son for a year, he is declared dead and the imam is invited to participate in a ceremony. The father says that he knows of many families that have lost sons. "But we are all counting on Sita," he says, adding that he will have the money saved up for his passage in a few months, Inshallah.

  • The French-language Rue 89's Aurélie Fontaine, meanwhile, examines in "Au Sénégal, la solitude des femmes d'émigrés" ("In Senegal, the loneliness of the wives of emigrants") how some of the people left behind, while benefiting from remittances, are trying to cope.

    Seated on a beige leather sofa, his long legs dangle over the armrest. C'est dans son salon qu'Awa (les prénoms ont été changés) déroule sa vie de femme mariée à un « modou-modou », comme on appelle les émigrés au Sénégal. It was in her living room that Awa (all names have been changed) lives out her life married to a "modou-modou," as migrants are called in Senegal.

    The couple has a 3 year old boy. His father has never seen him. Without papers, he could not return to Senegal and run the risk of not being able to return. Meanwhile, phone call and daily video uploads maintain the link the link. : Awa asks:

    "In ten years of marriage, we have lived only four months together. Without this separation, how many children could we have had? How many things could we have done?"

    [. . .]

    Her story is that of most women of Louga, 200 km north of Dakar, the capital. It's in this city of 200,000 inhabitants that emigrants are most numerous.

    Pushed by their family, by their friends, many young girls believe that marrying a modou-modou will take care of their wants. And if the global economic crisis has complicated this pattern, ideals remain stubborn. Awa relates:

    "Between themselves, the girls say: 'If this is not an emigrant, did not marry him. Some even leave their boyfriends for a modou-modou they barely know."

    The model is so deeply rooted in society and in the Fouta region (northern Senegal), "the men complain about not finding women because they are not immigrants," said Fatou Sarr Sow, a sociologist and migration gender specialist migration.

    [. . .]

    15 000 to 20 000 men in the region of Louga are in Europe (Spain, Italy and France) and 5 000-6 000 in the U.S., according to Amadou Fall, Deputy Mayor of Louga. The young people are fleeing unemployment rate of 60%.

    As in the West during the wars, a large majority of the city's population consists of women who have not seen their husband for two, four, six or even ten years.

    The effects in subsequent generations on this disruption of family life will be worth studying.
  • The Spiegel on East German workforce shortages

    I thought our readers might be interested in the Spiegel International article "Eastern Germany Confronts Skilled Labor Shortage". Finally, the low fertility rates and mass emigration are starting to bite.

    The eastern states are ahead of the rest of the country in at least one respect: From Rügen in the north to Plauen in the south, the lack of skilled workers that western states will not fully experience until about 10 years from now has already become reality.

    In the third quarter of 2010, the number of open positions throughout Germany grew to 986,000, a 19 percent increase over the same period last year, and the trend will only intensify in 2011. Although some three million people are also registered as unemployed, this doesn't solve the problem.

    Labor market experts use the term "mismatch" to describe a situation in which an unemployed person is not offered any of the unfilled positions on the market. Either the job seeker has the wrong qualifications or none at all, is too old, is insufficiently mobile or is unsuitable for other reasons. Additional job training and costly qualification measures are a stopgap solution at best.

    [. . .]

    The microcosm of southern Thuringia offers a telling example of what has become symptomatic for parts of the east, particularly along the former border between East and West Germany and the booming regions surrounding the cities of Dresden, Jena and Potsdam. In the district around Eisfeld, not far from the border of Bavaria, for example, the number of open positions was 48.8 percent higher in October 2010 than it was in October of 2009. Unemployment there is 6.7 percent, which is about the same as the average in the West. There are already about 16,000 commuters who drive to work every day from the West to the East.

    [. . .]

    For employees, the initial consequences are not unpleasant. On the whole, wages will increase and the income gap between the East and the West will narrow. This is what the Dresden branch of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research expects, and so do others. "Wages will explode, especially for new hires," says industrial sociologist Burkart Lutz, adding that there will be a "substantial increase in average wages." At the same time, however, the lack of skilled workers creates "a substantial potential for crisis," especially for companies in eastern Germany, says Lutz. In the worst case, the region could be in for "another wave of deindustrialization."

    Go, read.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    On the poor sense of blaming the young for below-replacement fertility

    I want to begin this post by stating that this brief piece from the Baltic Course seems excessively compressed to me, and suspect it doesn't do Mezs' arguments about the tenuous nature of Latvia's demographic patterns justice.

    In a hundred years, the population of Latvia will have dropped to around 10 percent of its current level; if current demographic trends continue, there will be only 300,000 Latvians in the world in 2100, the newspaper "Latvijas Avize" was told by Ilmars Mezs, director of the Latvian office of the UN's International Organization for Migration.

    "The only way to stop immigrants overwhelming your country is to create more of your own children," believes Mezs, adding that if the demographic situation is not improved, the preservation of culture - the Song Festival, choirs, the Latvian language - are meaningless. "If we do not make sure that we have our own descendents, then there is no point in worrying about what to preserve or what songs to sing."

    Mezs notes that despite difficult historical conditions such as wars, plagues and famines, the country's forebears always managed to create a new generation and sustain the nation, adding that if they had made calculations based on their financial situation the way their descendents now do, many of the country's current inhabitants would never have been born.

    The UN expert notes that with each year, Latvia loses the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized town, such as Kuldiga or Talsi, due to deaths exceeding births. Meanwhile, "the Estonians have achieved the growth of their nation by a small county every year, while in Latvia every year we lose a whole town," said Mezs.

    According to Mezs, the problem in Latvia is the cult of possessions and careers. "We cannot afford children, because we have to finish our university course and start a successful career. After that we need to buy a big flat, pay off the loan for our new car, travel... but children come much lower in our list of priorities."

    Additionally, I would like to note that I agree quite entirely with Eliana Marino's guest blog this July past, exploring the particulars of the Latvian situation (below-replacement fertility, high mortality, very high emigration) and the ways in which this is already harming Latvia's future. Being concerned about population dynamics in Latvia is an entirely legitimate concern.

    But. I really have to say that, as a member of the younger generation that's often blamed for not producing enough children to keep working-age populations large and young, the strategy of blaming the young for not making massive compromises that previous generations chose not to make themselves, all with the goal of supporting previous generations in the expected style, is difficult. Why shouldn't I judge if I can afford to be a parent right now? Should I have stayed out of university? Is wanting something other than a studio apartment a sin? Maybe I should opt out of urban civilization entirely and become a peasant, tilling the fields to support a family of antedelivian proportions.

    Please. If young people can't afford the sacrifices needed to be parents at an early age, governments--elected, it should be noted, disproportionately by people from older age groups than the young being denounced--should perhaps try to change the economic and other structures which might keep us from being parents at a young date. Damning us for things not under our control and for not having done things others haven't done ourselves could be very counterproductive.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    War and demography

    The 11th of November is Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, known as Veterans Day in the United States or as Armistice Day in France and elsewhere. As a commemoration of the first industrialized mass war of the 20th century and prototype for the broader second, it's a unifying symbol.

    War impacts demographics. Obviously. My co-blogger The Oberamtmann at History and Futility noted that in a piece of his examining Armistice Day in France.

    In World War One, America lost 117,465, 0.13% of the population, and fought only at the end. The standard narrative of the war is fresh American troops coming and making the difference because they had not already been fighting for four straight years. France lost 1,697,800 soldiers and civilians, making up 4.29% of the population, a much bigger blow. The vast majority of World War One’s Western Front was on French soil. France’s early defeat in World War Two spared it from many of the human losses, in terms of body count, that it suffered in World War One. World War Two was America’s second-bloodiest war after the Civil War. I think France limiting November 11 to the First World War is a sensible decision.

    Not, it should be noted, that France did better than the United States in the second, particularly insofar as civilian losses were concerned, just that losses were well below one percent of the population.

    War changes demographics, through decreased natality and increased mortality, through forced migrations and rapid sectoral change in economies, through the different tissues of human relationships torn and knitted, through its asymmetrical impacts on different populations. France might well not have been such a magnet for immigration in the 1920s and 1930s had its population of young working-age men not been gutted; communal tensions in Canada, themselves partly motivated by demographics, were aggravated greatly by the First World War in particular; the relationships of Poles and Ukrainians with their shared province of Galicia has coloured the 20th century to a surprising degree; a partial homogenization of German culture across regions may owe much to the resettlement and redistribution of ethnic Germans from across central Europe across West Germany. War changes a lot of things.

    What specific changes, or impacts, come to your mind?

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Type II Diabetes and India

    Bloomberg has released an excellent report India’s Diabetes Epidemic Strikes Millions Who Escape Poverty which describes a new health problem for that country, which appears to be due to previously unknown factors. The scale of the problem today is described:

    The International Diabetes Federation in October 2009 ranked India as the country with the most diabetics worldwide. The umbrella group of more than 200 national associations estimates that the disease will kill about 1 million Indians this year, more than in any other country.

    With 7.1 percent of adults afflicted, India is on a par with developed countries such as Australia, where 7.2 percent of adults suffer. India now fares worse than the U.K., where 4.9 percent are diabetic. In the U.S., where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, 12.3 percent have diabetes.

    The cause of this rapid spread of diabetes in India seems to be different than the factors driving the disease in the US and other Western countries. A British researcher identified pre-natal factors as the cause; underfed mothers produce small, undernourished babies with metabolisms equipped for deprivation and unable to cope with calorie-rich diets available to people who have escaped poverty due to India’s economic progress.

    “Barker, the British physician studying lifestyle diseases, reported findings two decades ago that are helping scientists understand India’s diabetes surge. At the University of Southampton, Barker discovered that areas of Britain in which coronary heart disease was most common had had the highest infant mortality 60 years earlier.

    Studying the medical records of about 15,000 people born from 1911 to 1940, he found those who were small as infants were more likely to get heart disease, diabetes and stroke as adults. The link sparked Barker’s hypothesis that diabetics could trace their disease to how they adapted to malnutrition in the womb.”

    One explanation for diabetes in Western countries is over-eating and lack of exercise. Barker believes that this doesn’t apply in India:

    “The conventional explanation up until that time was that poorer people have worse lifestyles and so they are kind of bringing it all on themselves,” Barker, 72, says. “That would be the prevailing view in the U.S. today. There isn’t evidence for that.”

    As Barker sees it, malnutrition during a baby’s development affects how a person’s body behaves for a lifetime. An undernourished fetus prioritizes sugar for its growing brain. To make more glucose available in the blood, the fetus stores less of the energy in its muscles by making the muscles resistant to the effects of insulin.

    What starts as a clever survival trick in the womb becomes a liability in later life. When food is freely available but the muscles can’t store excess glucose, the blood floods with sugar and diabetes develops. Too much sugar in the blood damages the heart, small blood vessels and nerves, compounding the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.”

    A problem for health care workers promoting improved pre-natal care as a solution may be that governments aren’t inclined to promote maternal nutrition as a key diabetes prevention strategy without more scientific proof, and that may take decades according to an Australian researcher who contributed to identification of the surprising increase in diabetes rates in India.

    There are about 50 million Indians with Type II diabetes and the disease strikes at an average age of 42.5 years — about a decade earlier than it strikes people of European origin. One might say that India is experiencing an accelerated health transition, defined by the World Health Organization as follows:

    In the developing regions, where four-fifths of the planet’s people live, noncommunicable diseases such as depression and heart disease, as well as road traffic deaths, are fast replacing the traditional enemies such as infectious diseases and malnutrition, as the leading causes of disability and premature death. By the year 2020, noncommunicable diseases are expected to account for seven out of every ten deaths in the developing regions, compared with less than half today.

    With drug resistant microbes increasing in developed countries, and noncommunicable health problems increasing in rapidly developing countries it seems that the world may be in a period of health convergence.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    On projections and predictions and their flaws

    I'm a big fan of Canadian journalist Dan Gardner's new book Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Concerned with examining why so many confident people make so many predictions which tend to almost always be wrong, Gardner examines the many fields in which predictions are made. Demographics feature prominently.

    "To look into the future is not always an idle fantasy or a wasteful foolishness," wrote Robert Sencourt in 1925. A nation's power is based on the robustness of its population--in demography "the parchment of fate unrolls"--and so, by looking at fertility rates, it is possible to forecast which countries would be the dominant powers of Europe in 1950. The future belonged to Italy and Spain, Sencourt concluded. In 1922, the American political scientist and journalist Lothrop Stoddard cast a wider gaze and came to a more frightening conclusion. "Ours is a solemn moment," he wrote in his widely read and influential book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. "There is no immediate danger of the world being swamped by black blood. But there is a very imminent danger that the white stocks may be swamped by Asiatic blood." This would mean the end of civilization, apparently.

    In the 1930s, as fertility rates continued to decline, experts increasingly worried that fertility would slip below the level needed simply to replace populations. Growth would stop, then populations would shrink. A 1934 projection showed Britain's population falling from 44 million to 33 million by 1976. Fear that the West's political and economic fortunes would follow the population's trajectory became widespread. This was one of the "most critical epochs" in all of human history, wrote Aldous Huxley, author of
    Brave New World, in a British magazine. "Will the depopulation of Western Europe and North America proceed to the point of extinction or military annihilation?" (48-49)

    It goes without saying that these predictions did not take place. Projections even 40 years into the future--barely two generations, if that--were fundamentally wrong. Assumptions that fertility outside of North America and Western Europe would remain high indefinitely were wrong. Considerations of the effects of technology and organization and levels of economic development and education and health on human capital were barely taken into consideration, if ever. The result of these and other errors was terribly flawed statistics.

    I'd like to think that, here at Demography Matters, we've been good about this. The post that comes to mind approaching these errors is this one I made concerning Eurostat metadata projections for populations and population structures in European Union member-states by 2060. The projections are indicative of the ways things are expected to proceed, at least. I think it's possible to make some medium-run projections with some amount of certainty. I expect that those countries and societies which are kindest to women, allowing for a balancing of employment and parenting responsibilities between genders and not forcing women to choose between parenting and family, which tend to postpone family formation (childbirth particularly) and where marital relations tend towards the informal union if that, will experience higher net replacement rates than those societies which don't. I've a shortlist of countries and societies where I expect populations will start declining and aging soon, and societies where the reverse will happpen. I expect that pressure for migration from relatively poor to relatively rich societies will continue, the volumes being limited by the receptiveness of receiving countries and the numbers of people of migrant age in sending countries. I expect that as people live longer and healthier lives, pressure for the reform of social security systems will grow sharply. I'm almost entirely certain that the idea of Eurabia is ludicrous, inasmuch as it overlooks things like changing and converging fertility rates and diverse streams of migrants and the weakness of a common "Muslim" identity (among many other things).

    I'd like to think that these are fairly well justified, fairly conservative predictions, with details limited to fairly short timespans and predictions about the effects of cultural and economic dynamics that may continue for longer periods of time. The sort of radical doubt that Gardner identifies as key to making good predictions is something I'd like to think I've adopted for myself, and that I think my co-bloggers here have adopted. I think we've got a good track record. Certainly we're writing and arguing in good faith.

    And yet, sometimes there can be radical changes, transformations which occur in very short periods of time. The case of Spain comes quickly to mind. In the 1990s, Spain's population was expected to plateau in the near future at 40 million and to start a sharp decline. Instead, Spain's economic boom led to mass immigration, from societies in Latin America and eastern Europe and North Africa, to the point of reversing population trends entirely and leading to population growth of more than a fifth over 1999-2009. This was an entirely unexpected event that, in a very short period of time, changed the basic trend in Spain. What other trends and events, I wonder, shall appear out of nowhere in the near future?

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    On the problems of China's census

    Writing for the Globe and Mail, Mark Mackinnon has been writing a series of articles about the problems that the Chinese government is facing in this year's census. The government is trying hard, but the serious consequences that may face people who aren't doing what they should--living in places where they lack the registration, but especially having too many children--will limit the census' accuracy.

    More than six million people – a number almost three times the size of the People’s Liberation Army, and larger than the population of Denmark – will on Monday fan out across this country’s 31 provinces to begin China’s first national census in a decade. Though a population survey carried out at the end of last year estimated the population of the People’s Republic of China at 1.334 billion, there are far too many unknowns for that number to be considered definitive. Some demographers believe the real number of Chinese may be closer to 1.5 billion.

    There are several reasons China’s government has a poor handle on the number of people it rules, but the biggest one is that the country is in the midst of the world’s biggest-ever peacetime migration. Over the past three decades, hundreds of millions of rural Chinese have flocked to the cities in search of work and better lives. Estimates of the number of migrant workers and their families range from 130 million to more than 200 million. To find the real number will mean going door-to-door in villages such as Daxing, and asking those who live here to tell the truth, even when it could have uncertain consequences.

    “The number of people living here changes all the time,” said Xu Yingyun, who is raising her six-year-old grandson in two small rooms the family rents at the end of one of Daxing’s many alleys. She said the family had no idea who their neighbours currently are, since the other residents frequently change, with many staying only as long as their latest job lasts before moving on to another district or city.

    The numbers are imprecise because China’s hukou household registration system restricts where people can live and work, forcing migrants to live in the shadows of places such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. An unknown number – believed to be in the millions – have had second or third children in violation of the country’s once-child population control laws. While their parents are registered in the wrong place, the children often aren’t registered at all, leaving them without the necessary documentation to even attend school.

    Hoping to remove the asterisk that has long accompanied their country’s population counts, China’s government plans to marry a physical head count with their own population registry for the first time, with the in-person count taking precedence wherever there is a conflict. To encourage migrants to be honest about how and where they live, the government has mixed a massive propaganda campaign – green banners around the country urge citizens to “co-operate fully to reconcile household and population records” – with a promise of reduced fines for those who admit hukou violations or reveal their extra children to the census-takers.

    The wastage of potential human capital caused by the need of some Chinese parents to hide their unauthorized children, along with the rapid aging of China's population that has attracted considerable concern--as with Shanghai's recorded ultra-low fertility--as observers note China's pool of mobile rural migrants drying up, might lead to a change in China's one-child policy. Might.

    In the southern city of Guangzhou, an industrial hub that’s a magnet for migrant workers from the poor countryside, police had to set up special processing centres to deal with the number of parents who came forward with unregistered children in the weeks before the Nov. 1 start of the census.

    According to local media reports, some of those registered for the first time were already teenagers, hinting at the lengths some families have gone to in order to keep secret their decision to break the one-child rule. (The last census, in 2000, revealed a surprisingly low fertility rate of 1.22 in urban areas – lower than that in even neighbouring Japan – but demographers believe that figure was distorted by three million unreported births.) The government says part of the motivation for reducing the penalty is to get an accurate grasp of the number of children living among the tens of millions of migrant labourers who exist on the fringes of swelling cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

    “We want to provide an education to these kids, but in many cases [with migrant workers] we don’t know how many children there are. We need a better estimate of the number and distribution of these kids,” said Duan Chengrong, director of the population studies centre at Beijing’s Renmin University and one of those who helped design the census questions.

    Prof. Duan estimated that as many as 4 per cent of elementary and middle school-aged children were not receiving any education at all – a huge number in a country the size of China. “That’s a problem, not just for the children and their families, but also for the cities and the country.”

    Some of those with unregistered second children doubt that China will be able to get a completely accurate picture of their population so long as those who violate the population control policies face penalties of any kind.

    “Do you think it’s possible for the enumerators to knock on every door of every household?” asked He Kecheng, the owner of a small audio-visual supplies company in Beijing who with his wife has also refused to pay the fine for having a second child, their son Yiran, in early 2009.

    The human and economic costs of China's one-child policy aside, the vagueness underlying official statistics certainly makes them questionable--indicative, perhaps, more than perfectly descriptive.