Facebook Blogging

Edward Hugh has a lively and enjoyable Facebook community where he publishes frequent breaking news economics links and short updates. If you would like to receive these updates on a regular basis and join the debate please invite Edward as a friend by clicking the Facebook link at the top of the right sidebar.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Population, The Ultimate Non-renewable Resource

Discussions of the population problem have always had the capacity to stir up public sentiment much more than most other problems....In fact, discussion of the population problem seems at all times and in all places to be more strongly dominated by the volitional elements of political ideals and interests than any other part of the established body of social and economic thinking. Here, as in perhaps no other branch of social theorizing, the wish is very often father to the thought.
Gunnar Myrdal (Economics Nobel), The Godkin Lectures

A Documentary about Ageing, Fertility, Immigration and Global Imbalances

We are getting older.

This commonplace notion is at one and the same time both self-evident - individually we are always that little bit older, all of us, each and every day - and surprising - countries and their populations are getting older, and indeed some very unexpected names appear in the list of countries who are getting older: Uganda is getting older, Mali is getting older, Chad is getting older. This latter list is a surprising one since these are, effectively, among the youngest societies on earth (Uganda, has a median population age of 14.9, Mali, a median age 15.9, and Chad, a median age 16.3). Everyone is already reasonably well aware that Japan is getting older, that Germany is getting older, that Italy is getting older (these three are currently the oldest societies by median population age on the planet, Japan median age 43.5, Germany median age 43, Italy median age 42.5), but Niger, Mali and Somalia!

What is happening here?

This documentary proposes to take you on a voyage. A voyage around the differing and diffuse features of a phenomenon - population ageing - which could easily be considered to be as much a defining characteristic of the age we live in as is the closely associated one of climatic change.

In fact, with the possible exception of some 18 'demographic outliers' - as identified in the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report - each and every country on the planet is getting older. And such societal 'ageing' is by now means a recent phenomenon, since it is set in motion virually with the onset of the process which has become known as the demographic transition - a process which began in many European societies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and which still continues its course, even in the deloped societies of the OECD.

The transition itself begins with a sudden and sustained drop in mortality, and especially in infant mortality, as a result the society becomes 'suddenly young' since the child and youth cohorts rapidly become large in comparison with the older age groups. But this is suddenly but not "forever" young, since fertility soon adjusts itself downwards from the previously very high levels and the successive size of each new age cohort gets smaller and smaller. What we now know, and what the founding fathers of classic transition theory did not, is that this whole downward movement in fertility has no natural and predeterimed end point (the magic replacement level number of 2.1 total fertility rate). What we do know is that in country after country fertility has moved below the natural replacement level and in many many cases continues its downward march, off to visit destinations unknown. So what we can say is that after the initial "settling" of fertility on its downward path following the arrival of the "great mortality decline" it is continuous ageing all the rest of the way, and as far ahead as the eye can see for each and every society.

But not each and every society ages at anything like the same pace. Arguably the United Kingdom, France and the United States all entered their demographic transitions somewhat earlier than Germany, Japan and Italy did, yet these three countries are all still considerably younger - United Kingdom median age 39.6, France median age 39, United States median age 36.6) - than the world's three leading "agers".

Ageing is conditioned by three factors, fertility, life expectancy and immigration, and in essence these three topics will form the kernel of this documentary. With a structured and regulated flow of images, fact and interviews to support and facilitate access to each and all of the perspectives being herein offered, many of which, as has been suggested, the viewer will find surprising and even challenging. Essentially, and following the famous expression "other things being equal", in an economically developed society the higher the level of inward migrant flows, the nearer to replacement fertility level the birth rate, and the steadier the upward rise in life expectancy, the slower the rate of population ageing, and the more rapid the rate of per capita income growth to make sustainable the reality of having to support an ever increasing elderly dependent population.

Global life expectancy is continuously rising and has, for example, more than doubled over the past two hundred years, climbing from an estimated 25 years in 1800, to the present level of around 65 for men and 70 for women. During this whole period maximum life expectancy has risen steadily by an average of a little over two years a decade.

So if our work is about ageing, its starting point is that this ageing is not a new or recent phenomenon (the 'discovery of ageing' is of course more recent, but that is another story). Nor is it a phenomenon which we should view with any particular preoccupation, except in those cases were ageing - for whatever reason, absence of immigration, excessively low fertility over a long period of time, unusually rapid increase in life expectancy - takes place at a rate which may be deemd to be "too rapid". In such cases the rapid increase in the proportions of the dependent elderly may well be such as to put in jeopardy the sutainability of social welfare systems which are, at the end of the day, supported by the proportionately ever diminishing working age population.

There is some potential bad news however, and this comes with the how. As I have said, following the sharp mortality decline which characterises the onset of the modern demographic transition ageing commences, but historically it has done so at a relatively slow rate. The difficult part of the ageing process as it affects us today is that this ageing is now proceeding more rapidly, with the most recent evidence suggesting that those societies which began the transition later are ageing even more rapidly than their predecessors. Countries like China and Brazil have experienced sharp declines in their birth rates accompanied by rapid increases in life expectancy. This means that the median age rises at historically unprecedented rates, and that these societies run the risk of becoming 'old' before they become 'rich', with old here, of course, being a fairly relative term.

Perhaps the most significant detail on the fertility decline front has been the arrival of what is called below replacement fertility. This has come as something of a surprise since it is now clear that as well as lifespans having no known upper limit, fertility also seems to have no natural bottom level. Once upon a time it was thought that human fertility in modern societies would have a natural tendency to stabilise around pure replacement level. This idea, however, has no strong theoretical foundation, and also seems to lack empirical justification since fertility levels have now remained consistently below the theoretical replacement level of 2.1 children per woman for at least 25 years in 20 European countries and Japan, whilst between 1995 and 2000 a further 44 countries began to 'enjoy' below-replacement fertility. Such countries now include several Caribbean islands (Barbados, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago) as well as a number of countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR, the Republic of Korea and Singapore) all of which have one thing in common: they have entered the below replacement zone even though their fertility only began its substantial decline well after 1950.

In addition, a further 13 countries seem likely to start to exhibit below-replacement-level fertility in a not too distant future: in Latin America - Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico; in North Africa - Algeria, Egypt, Morocco; in Asian - Indonesia, Iran, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and in sub-Saharan Africa - South Africa.

Indeed the key issue which is looming in global demographics is what will actually happen to those countries which are termed by the United Nation as the intermediate-fertility ones. Before the start of their transition to low fertility started in the years after the second world war, most of the 143 countries in what we currently describe as the developing world had total fertility levels of 5 children per woman or higher. Today, only 49 countries still do. Among the rest, 73 had a total fertility between 2.1 and 5 in the years 1995-2000, and 21 already had below-replacement fertility. Those in the 2.1 to 5 range (the so-called intermediate fertility countries accounted for 43 per cent of the world population in 2000.

What about the end point? Where does this process end. Well, here is the interesting part, it doesn't. There is no end point.

Fertility (at the cohort level) has been and continues to decline in almost every society on the planet. Life expectancy, on the other hand continues to push ever onwards and upwards in a which which means we will all be living longer, and to date there does not seem to be any special biological limit to this process. That is the good news.


Wolfgang Lutz

Professor Wolfgang Lutz, co-principal investigator, is leader of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis's Population Project since 1992. He is also director of the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences since 2002. He holds an association as adjunct professor for demography and social statistics at the University of Vienna and served as a Secretary General for the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) for the period 1998-2001. His main interests are in population forecasting, family demography and population-environment analysis.

Topics: low fertility, low fertility trap.

Here is a videocast from WolfgangLutz on low fertility.

Bo Malmberg

Bo Malmberg is Professor in Geography, Dept of Human Geography, at Stockholm University. He has written extensively on demographic phenomenon, and has developed a theory of stages in relation to the demographic transition, whereby each stage is associated with a given set of median age thresholds, and a variety of social and economic phenomena. Bo Malmberg has been studying age structure effects on macro-economic variables since the early 1990s. He has been project leader for several projects concerning the effects of demography on development processes within Sweden, Europe and the developing countries. Since 2000 he has been responsible for the organization of three international symposia on the effects of demographic change on macro-economic development. The first resulted in the publication of a special issue of the Scandinavian Economic Review while the second and third were published in a special issue of the International Journal of Forecasting.

Professor Malmberg has a long and extensive list of publications and participation in international meetings and symposia. Among these stand out:

Age and productivity, Expert Meeting on Ageing Societies, December 2006, Oxford, Oxford Institute of Ageing.

”Growth and Longevity from the Industrial Revolution to the Future of an Aging Society” 26th International Symposium on Forecasting, Santander, Spain, June 12 2006.
European Society for Population Economics, ESPE, 15th Annual Meeting, Athens, June , 2000.”Age structure change and long-term economic growth in the Western World”
”Generations at War or Sustainable social policy in ageing society”, AFSR Social Science Workshop on the Ageing Society, Swedish Institute for Futures Studies, Stockholm, 7-8 April 2005

Topics: demographic transition, economic consequences of age structure.

Tomás Sobotka

Tomas Sobotka is a research scientist at the Vienna Institute for Demography. He is the leader of a research group in Comparative European Demography. A frequent contributor to academic journals and European level symposia, Tomas is an expert in the process which has become known as "birth postponement", and perhaps his single most influential piece of writing is the book which resulted from his original PhD research.

A useful power point presentation summarising some of Sobotka's more recent work can be found here.

Topics: low fertility in Europe, birth postponement, "replacement· migration.

Caleb Finch

Caleb Finch - who is one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists - is Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California, Davis School. He is a founding member of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Neurobiology. He also holds adjunct appointments in the Dept of Psychology, Dept of Physiology and Dept of Neurology. He is also one of USC's 12 University Distinguished Professors. Dr. Finch's major research interest is the study of genomic controls of mammalian development and aging.

Topics: mortality and life expectancy, phenotypes and genotypes, ageing and performance.

Jeffrey Williamson

Jeffrey Gale Williamson served as Chairman of the Harvard Economics Department 1997-2000 and as the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies 2001-2002 and 2004-2005. He is cuuerntly the Laird Bell Professor of Economics at the University of Harvard and Faculty Associate at the Center for International Development. Professor Williamson teaches and does research on economic history and the contemporary Third World. He is one of the world's leading experts on the economics and demography of migratory flows. Some topics he has explored recently include: the growth and distributional implications of the demographic transition in Asia 1950-2025 and the Atlantic economy 1820-1940; the impact of international migration, capital flows and trade on factor price convergence in the greater Atlantic economy since 1830; the sources of globalization backlash before World War I; the causes of the cessation of convergence during the de-globalization years between 1914 and 1950; a detailed analysis of both the sources and consequences of the mass migrations prior to the 1920s and after the 1950s.

Perhaps Jeffrey Williamson's most important recent contribution to the global migration debate has been his book with Timothy Hatton. Global Migration and the World Economy covers two great migration waves: the first, from the 1820s to the beginning of World War I, when immigration was largely unrestricted; the second, beginning in 1950, when mass migration continued to grow despite policy restrictions. The book also explores the period between these two global centuries when world migration shrank sharply because of two world wars, immigration quotas, and the Great Depression. The authors assess the economic performance of these world migrations, the policy reactions to deal with them, and the political economy that connected one with the other. The last third of Global Migration and the World Economy focuses on modern experience and shows how contemporary debates about migration performance and policy can be informed by a comprehensive historical perspective.

Topics: globalisation and migratory movements. Economics and the demographic dividend.

David Bloom

David Bloom is Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography and chairman of the Department of Population and International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. His recent work has focused on the links among population health, demographic change, and economic growth, and on primary, secondary, and higher education in developing countries. He has been on the faculty of the public policy school at Carnegie Mellon University and the economics departments of Harvard University and Columbia University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he co-directs the Academy's project on Universal Basic and Secondary Education. Professor Bloom has published over 200 articles and books in the fields of economics and demography. He has been honored with a number of distinctions, including fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, and the Galbraith Award for quality teaching in economics.

Professor Bloom's current research interests include labor economics, health, demography, and the environment. He has written extensively on the linkages between health status and economic growth; the effects of population change on economic development; the determinants of wages, fringe benefits, and total family income; the adjudication of labor disputes; the measurement of discrimination; the emerging world labor market; the effects of rapid population growth; the economics of municipal solid waste; the sociology and economics of marriage and fertility; and the global spread and economic impacts of HIV and AIDS.

Topics: the demographic dividend, age structure and economic performance.

Ralph Bryant

Ralph C. Bryant has been a Senior Fellow in the Economic Studies program of the Brookings Institution since 1976. His primary fields of expertise are international economics, monetary economics, and macroeconomic policy. He is a co-organizer of a Brookings project, The Global Dimensions of Demographic Change, which carries out research on the consequences for the world economy of population aging.

Topics: global imbalances and demography, capital flows and population ageing.

Ronald Lee

Ronald Lee is Professor and Chair at Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging, at the University of California, Berkeley. Ronald has both taught courses and published extensively over a lifetime's work on topics associated with economic demography, population theory, population and economic development, demographic forecasting, population aging, indirect estimation, and research design, as well as a number of pro-seminars. Honors include Presidency of the Population Association of America, the Mindel C. Sheps Award for research in Mathematical Demography, the PAA Irene B. Taeuber Award for outstanding contributions in the field of demography.

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Corresponding member of the British Academy. He has chaired the population and social science study section for NIH and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Population, and served on the National Advisory Committee on Aging (NIA Council). Professor Lee is also the Director of the Center on the Economics and Demography of Aging at U.C. Berkeley, funded by the National Institute of Aging. His current research includes including modeling and forecasting demographic time series, the evolutionary theory of life histories, population aging, Social Security, and intergenerational transfers.

Topics: intergenerational transfers.

Francesco Billari

The 35-year-old professor at Milan’s Bocconi University spends his days poring over depressing data. Too many old people. Not enough working-age folk. A national birthrate stuck at 1.3 children per woman. There is only a 10-year “window of opportunity,” he says, when the country’s leaders could improve the odds by pursuing forward-looking policies like improved child care and child tax credits. Still, Billari is doing his best to reverse the trend: he and his social worker wife, Chiara, are expecting their fourth child. “We decided one at a time,” he said. “If you’re too focused on the costs, you’ll decide not to each time.” But the number of children is also the sum of both parents’ childhood experiences. Mamma Billari was one of six sisters. And Papà? A lonely only child.

Topics: low fertility in Europe, family friendly policies.

Jay Olshansky

Jay Olshansky is Professor at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, and is a member of the Population Research Center there. The focus of Olshansky's research to date has been addressed to estimating the upper limits to human longevity, exploring the health and social consequences of individual and population aging, examining the demographic and health implications of the rise in death rates from infectious and parasitic diseases, and the development of a new field of longevity research referred to as biodemography. In 1992 Dr. Olshansky was the recipient of a five-year Special Emphasis Research Career Award from the National Institute on Aging. This award permitted Dr. Olshansky the opportunity to obtain training in the fields of evolutionary biology, molecular biology, and epidemiology as each field relates to aging. In 1998 Dr. Olshansky was the recipient of a five-year Independent Scientist Award from the National Institute on Aging to continue with his interdisciplinary research and training.

Life expectancy in the United States is set to drop within the next 50 years due to obesity, according to Olshansky, who is one of the world's top experts on longenity and ageing. It is Olshansky's opinion that within the next 50 years life expectancy at birth will decline, and it will decline as a result of the “obesity epidemic that will creep through all ages like a human tsunami".

While Olshansky thinks it is difficult to say by how much life expectancy may decline, his view is that the dramatic increase in obesity amongst younger generations will be a major factor in reducing life expectancy levels in the US, which are currently 80 years for females and 74.5 years for males.

More than 30 percent of Americans are classified as obese, translating to around 59 million people. Being obese triples the risk of heart disease and produces a tenfold increase in the likelihood of developing diabetes. US life expectancy has increased dramatically since 1900, when the average age of death for men and women combined was 47 and most projections see life expectancy continuing to rise.

Professor Olshansky says the negative impact on life expectancy would likely hit when obese Americans reached middle age, which could further burden the country's state benefit system by reducing the number of people who are able to work. Over time, however, it could reduce the pension burden if people died before reaching retirement.

Topics: life expectancy, obesity.

Francesco Daveri

Francesco Daveri is Professor of Economics at the University of Parma, and a Research Fellow at the Italian reserach institute IGIER. Francesco has done empirical plant level studies on the impact of workforce ageing on productivity in a high-tech context (Nokia, Finland). He has also published extentsively on the causes of Italy's long term productivity decline.

Topics: ageing and productivity, economic performance in Italy.

Hillard Kaplan

Hillard Kaplan is currently Professor of Human Evolutionary Ecology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. His research interests include evolutionary ecology, subsistence behavior, sex roles, and hunters and gatherers in South America and Africa. He is currently conducting research with Michael Gurven (UCSB) among the Tsimane of Bolivia examining health, longevity, social support, and exchange.

Topics: fertility and life expectancy, comparisons between modern and traditional societies.

Thom McDade

Thom McDade is a biological anthropologist specializing in human population biology. His work is primarily concerned with the dynamic interrelationships among biology, culture, and individual psychosocial environments, with an emphasis on stress and the ecology of immune function. The development and application of minimally-invasive methods for integrating physiological measures into population-based research is also a major area of interest. Prior research in Samoa, and ongoing research in Bolivia, investigates how local cultural transitions associated with globalization affect child/adolescent health, while research in the Philippines is exploring the long term developmental consequences of early nutritional and pathogenic environments. He is currently applying conceptual and methodological tools from this work to US-based research on stress and health, with an emphasis on the potential contribution of stress to health disparities.

Topics: life expectancy and the immune system, comparison between modern and pre-modern societies.

Laurent Toulemon

Laurent Toulemon is a research scientist at the French National Institute for Demongraphic studies. Laurent has published extensively over many years in connection with topics which range from the biological constraints on late motherhood to the impact of migrant fertility on national fertility.

Among recent noteable publications are:

Toulemon Laurent, 2005, “Who are the late mothers?”, Revue d’épidémiologie et de santé publique, Vol. 53, n° HS2, numéro spécial Late parenthood, p. 13-24.

Bhrolchain, Máire Ní and Toulemon, Laurent, 2005, “Does Postponement Explain the Trend to Later Childbearing in France?”, Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, p. 83-107.

Topics: biological limits to late childbirth, immigration and fertility.


Opening sequence: young children grappling around searching for valuable objects in a mountain of rubble in Bolivia, or Peru, or some such, or fishing in Lake Titicaka.

Then we move over to a first world context, to old people in Italy and Japan.

Interview with Bo Malmberg: what is the demographic transition?

Birth Postponement and Missing Births.