Posts Tagged ‘demography’

making babies in China

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

FT Shanghai correspondent Patti Waldmeir has written yet another, superb column on social policy in mainland China.

Authoritarian governments can achieve many things by decree, but making babies is not one of them. It seems China has a shortage of that essential biological ingredient to power the next phase of the mainland economic miracle: sperm to fertilise the embryos of future workers.

There is a sex shortage, too: one recent survey showed that Chinese white collar workers slave so long in the office that half said they had intercourse less than once a month. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that a large proportion of 20-somethings still live with their mother (and for that matter, their grandmothers) in cramped urban flats. Surely that

urban versus rural retirement

Sunday, May 4th, 2014


demography is destiny

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Humanity is in the grip of three profound transformations: first, a far greater proportion of children reaches adulthood; second, women have far fewer children; and, third, adults live far longer. These changes are now working through the world, in sequence. The impact of the first has been to raise the proportion of the population that is young. The impact of the second is the reverse, decreasing the proportion of young people. The third, in turn, increases the proportion of the population that is very old. The impact of the entire process is first to expand the population and, later on, to shrink it once again. ….

For the countries with a young population, the immediate challenge is to create a dynamic economy that brings hope of gainful employment. It is surely the failure to do this that most threatens rule by gerontocrats such as Hosni Mubarak. ….

Meanwhile, in high-income countries, older people must work longer than they expected, without making the young believe their opportunities are blocked for what must seem like an eternity. These countries must also balance the fiscal books as the populations age.

In both cases, the young will raise a cry that has surely been heard throughout the ages:

schooling, human capital, and signaling

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Carleton University economist Frances Woolley has an interesting guest post at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative on the implications for policy of schooling as human capital versus schooling as a signal (sorting students by competence).

[I]f what is taught at universities actually makes people more productive, then simply taking university courses should be enough increase earnings. In fact, to get much of a payoff from university education, you have to finish your degree (the

Japan’s coming Greek crisis

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Japan’s economy has been in recession since 1991. Government debt, even factoring in foreign exchange reserves, now exceeds 100% of Japan’s GDP. Moreover, the country in the near future faces labour shortages because of low birth rates and resistance to foreign immigration. Harvard economist Ken Rogoff, surveying this scene, finds everything in place for a fiscal crisis of Greek proportions. Such dire predictions for Japan have proven wrong in the past, though. Could it be that ‘this time is different’.

Although hardly in crisis (yet), Japan

the population delusion

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

New Scientist editor Alison George ponders whether the so-called problem of population growth might be a delusion.

There are nearly 7 billion humans alive today, twice as many as there were in 1965, with 75 million more being added each year. UN predictions say there could be an extra 2 to 4 billion of us by 2050. The planet has never experienced anything like it.

Can the world sustain this growing horde? It’s a contentious question. While it is clear that the population cannot go on increasing forever, history is littered with dire but failed predictions of famine and death resulting from over-population. Most famously, Thomas Malthus warned more than two centuries ago that population would be held in check by rising mortality. What he failed to anticipate was the ability of newly industrialised societies to support large numbers of people.

Alison George, “The population delusion”, New Scientist, Issue 2727 (26 September 2009), pp. 34-35.

Alison George asked leading scholars to express their views in three short articles and one interview. On the heels of biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich – well-known for their fear of population growth – Jesse Ausubel responds to questions of Ms George and comes across as an extreme optimist.

I regard myself as neither an optimist nor a pessimist. But I do think that humanity is ingenious and enterprising. Throughout the ages people have doubted that their descendants could exist, with improving health and longevity, in the numbers and densities we do now. In the 19th century it was common to reason that horse manure or chimney smoke would bury or choke cities. Yet air quality in New York City and water quality in New York harbour are better than when I or my mother was a child. Over time people find, invent and spread solutions for many environmental problems.


You could say that fear-inducing articles like Hardin’s [1968 Science article “The tragedy of the commons”] are social equivalents of quorum sensing factors [of bacteria amd insects], and we have responded to the signals. Farmers have lifted yields to produce more crops without using more land. Engineers have improved the efficiency of power turbines so that the primary energy needed to serve today’s population is much less than if we were still using the engines of Malthus’s era or those of 1968. In general, humans are involved in “resource sparing” – the increasingly efficient use of land, energy, water and other materials that allows humanity to grow in numbers, lifespan or level of consumption while stopping the burden on nature from becoming too disastrous.

Jesse Ausubel, “Population: Technology will save us”, New Scientist, Issue 2727 (26 September 2009), pp. 38-39.

Environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel is director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, New York City. Mr Ausubel helped organise the first UN World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in 1979. From 1979 to 1981 he led the Climate Task Force of the Resources and Environment Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, coincidentally the current home of Thought du Jour.

Africa’s demographic transition

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Africa is still something of a demographic outlier compared with the rest of the developing world. Long berated (or loved) as the sleepiest continent, it has now become the fastest-growing and fastest-urbanising one. Its population has grown from 110m in 1850 to 1 billion today. Its fertility rate is still high: the average woman born today can expect to have five children in her child-bearing years, compared with just 1.7 in East Asia. Barring catastrophe, Africa