This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Can Egypt Survive Its Demographic Storm?

It has been over a year since I last blogged about Egypt, and the concern then was that rapid population growth was threatening to undermine the country's fragile stability. A major issue then was that, as I pointed out three years ago, the birth rate in Egypt has been rising, not falling. Fast forward to an article that came out today* from the Brookings Institution written by two economists at the World Bank:
Egypt’s worrying population boom fails to generate the same headline attention as terrorist attacks, the impact of economic reforms on the poor, the country’s hyper-constrained politics, or accusations of human rights violations. Yet, the very real dangers it poses were highlighted when the head of the country’s statistical agency, Abu Bakr el-Gendy, called this seemingly irrepressible tide a “catastrophe.” To Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it is a “challenge as critical as terrorism.”
This growth has grave implications. The number of primary school students grew by 40 percent from 2011 to 2016. One can imagine the impact on a system where 35 percent of students entering middle school cannot read or write. Employment is another challenge, with 700,000 new entrants annually into a labor force where over 25 percent of those 18-29 years old—one-third of whom have university degrees—are unemployed. The International Monetary Fund projects a labor force of 80 million by 2028. Reminiscent of the 2011 revolution, in which youth played a major role, 61 percent of the current population is under 30 years old and 34.2 percent is under 15 years old.
Back in 2015 I noted that "[i]t will be very important for the current or future governments to reinvigorate family planning programs so that married women have greater access to birth control (historically these programs have been much more available to married than to single women), and to invest again in education for women and create employment opportunities for young women, so that they will be encouraged to delay marriage and thus lower their lifetime number of births."

It seems as though the government is finally getting serious about this.
The government has launched a family planning campaign with the slogan “two are enough.” The Ministry of Health’s Operation Lifeline aims to reduce the birth rate to 2.4, targeting rural areas where many view large families as a source of economic strength and resist birth control believing that it is un-Islamic. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s foremost sources of Islamic learning, supports the ministry.
We know that concerted efforts to make family planning available to women work--look at Iran, as I discussed last month.  The world needs to step up to help Egypt succeed in this, because demographic chaos in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.

*And, yes, thanks to Todd Gardner yet again for the link!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Population Bomb's 50th Anniversary

This year marks 50 years since Paul Ehrlich published his seminal book The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race to Oblivion?  Professor Ehrlich is a biologist, not a demographer, but his impact on public discourse and policy about population has been enormous, which is why we are still talking about his book a half century later. And it's not just us talking about it. So is he! My thanks to Population Matters for the link to a nearly one-hour interview with Paul Ehrlich put together by Climate One.

Ehrlich is a classic Neo-Malthusian and you may disagree with a lot of what he says, but his demodystopian view of the world (which I talked about yesterday) is powerful. It also led to death threats and other kinds of abuse hurled at him over the years. As he discusses in his interview, the prevailing criticism is that he was "wrong" in that there weren't the kinds of famines that he predicted. A number of years I ago I invited him to come down here to SDSU from Stanford to give a talk at a colloquium that I had helped organize for our Graduate School of Public Health. He and I discussed the fact that he was delighted to have been wrong! Despite what some of the haters seemed to believe, he was not wishing for the end of the world or the deaths of millions of people. Rather, he was sounding a warning signal. That we are still talking about it today is reminder of how important that warning was--and still is. We are by no means in safe territory with respect to the future. But that doesn't mean we're doomed. We just have to stay focused on what a sustainable future means. 

As Ehrlich discusses in the interview, we cannot assume that incomes for everyone in the world can keep going higher and higher if that means ever more consumption of non-renewable resources. We have to protect our environment, including the land, water, and air. And we have to recognize that intentionally small families are much better than the historical small families that came about as a result of high death rates. Most of human history has been characterized by lives that were short and brutish. No matter how much we may "enjoy" the demodystopian movies, that's not the direction we want to be going.