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.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Polygamy and Violence Often Go Together

Thanks to my son, John Weeks, for the link to a very interesting article in the Economist this week linking the practice of polygamy to violence in various parts of the world. This is essentially an extension of the youth bulge issue, but it pertains to a situation in which polygamy takes a disproportionate share of women out of the marriage market, leaving many young adult men wondering what to do...
Wherever polygamy is widely practised (in South Sudan, perhaps 40% of marriages involve multiple wives) turmoil tends to follow. The 20 most fragile states in the world are all somewhat or very polygamous. Polygamous nations are more likely to invade their neighbours. The polygamous regions of Haiti and Indonesia are the most turbulent. One London School of Economics study found a strong link between plural marriage and civil war. How come?
Polygamy nearly always means rich men taking multiple wives. And if the top 10% of men marry four women each, then the bottom 30% cannot marry at all. This often leaves them not only sexually frustrated but also socially marginalised. In many traditional societies, a man is not considered an adult until he has found a wife and sired children. To get a wife, he must typically pay a “brideprice” to her father. When polygamy creates a shortage of brides, it massively inflates this brideprice. In South Sudan, it can be anything from 30 to 300 cattle, far more wealth than an ill-educated young man can plausibly accumulate by legal means.
In desperation, many single men resort to extreme measures to secure a mate. In South Sudan, they pick up guns and steal cattle from the tribe next door. Many people are killed in such raids; many bloody feuds spring from them. Young bachelors who cannot afford to marry also make easy recruits for rebel armies. If they fight, they can loot, and with loot, they can wed.
Polygamy has been practiced for millennia in various parts of the world and is, of course, legitimized in Islam, where the only proscription is that a man should not have more than four wives at any one time. The Economist refers to an article published last year in the journal International Security, authored by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess. They point out that Saudi Arabia deals with the problem of polygamy potentially producing instability by limiting brideprice and arranging low-cost mass marriages so that young men with lower levels of income are not pressured into "extralegal" means of acquiring enough money to get married.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When It Comes to Income, Race Matters & Place Matters

You may already have seen a widely circulated story from the New York Times summarizing a recent research report on what the NYT writers call a "Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys."
Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children. White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.
The study's authors, who are from Harvard, Stanford, and the U.S. Census Bureau, offer these major takeaways from their analysis:
Finding #1: Hispanic Americans are moving up in the income distribution across generations, while Black Americans and American Indians are not.
Finding #2: The black-white income gap is entirely driven by differences in men’s, not women’s, outcomes.
Finding #3: Differences in family characteristics – parental marriage rates, education, wealth – and differences in ability explain very little of the black-white gap.
Finding #4: In 99% of neighborhoods in the United States, black boys earn less in adulthood than white boys who grow up in families with comparable income.
Finding #5: Both black and white boys have better outcomes in low-poverty areas, but black-white gaps are bigger in such neighborhoods.
Finding #6: Within low-poverty areas, black-white gaps are smallest in places with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks.
Finding #7: The black-white gap is not immutable: black boys who move to better neighborhoods as children have significantly better outcomes.
The last finding is reminiscent of a point made in my blog post yesterday, underscoring that immigrants to happier places are happier than immigrants in less happy places. Place matters, just as race matters. This is not environmental determinism, of course. Both matter because of the nature of human society.