Sunday, January 12, 2014

Demography, Demography....Why is it so fascinating?

Truth is...Any given society and it's social fabric is absolutely fascinating, especially how it changes and under what conditions. Demography, which is the study of death, babies and movement, helps us think about long run aggregate trends in the social sphere and how they map to future outcomes. There are a few questions that I find absolutely fascinating related to demography that I will write about in-depth. I would also love to hear your thoughts on these questions as well.

1) Inter-Generational Conflict in the US: The
young and old both crave state resources and historically resources have been taken from the young and redistributed to the old in the US. Will this continue into the future? Will there be a millennial versus boomer fight over Social Security and Medicare?

2) Race and Ethnicity in the US:  As a millennial is it obvious how diverse our generation is compared to the older generations. How does a society long divided by the socially constructed idea of race deal with rising number of multiracial individuals and growing populations of immigrants from around the world? Will skin color be the marker of status in American in 30 years, instead of race?

3) Childlessness among the millennial generation: I predict around 1 in 3 millennial women will be
childless. Right now among women 40-45, 19% are childless in the US. I think that will rise to around 33% for a whole host of reasons: delayed marriage and childbearing, economic cost of children, high unemployment and unemployment uncertainty, rising rates of infertility, no sense of urgency in our generation to actually have children and much less stigmatism for women who decide not to have children. Demographers assume the recent fall in fertility rates is due to the recession, which a degree of it probably is, but more so it is due to millennial patterns of household formation(Of course, I say this as a millennial myself.).

4) Fertility/Migration changes around the world: As every region moves to replacement rate, the rate at which population does not grow or 2.1 children per women, how does this affect global geo-politics. The only region that will continue to grow by 2050 is Sub-Saharan Africa. Will there by large scale migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa, Europe, North America and Asia to take care of aging populations?

What are your initial thoughts?



  1. I'm also a PhD student in Demography and wrestle with questions of this nature. Race and ethnicity are the most intriguing to me. What will the categories mean once the US becomes "minority-majority"? Mary Waters notes that after WWII, white ethnic groups (which were once considered important distinctions) began widely intermarrying with one another. Should this happen with current minority populations, what will it mean regarding this social construct? And what about the differential manner in which minority-majority will occur? California, Florida, New York and about a dozen other states will have no racial majority, but Iowa, Idaho, Maine, and the bulk of states will, while becoming more diverse, still have large white majorities.

    To the other questions, I think that inter-generational conflict will be a tremendous issue to overcome. William Frey has data on what he calls the "Generation Gap," which is essentially the gap between percent white for over 65 and under 18 populations. Remembering Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone," diversity seems to breed animosity, and this will likely continue between older whites and younger, more diverse segments as budget battles over school funding & social security rage on.

    The class differentials for childlessness is important. While white liberals choose to abstain, many racial minorities and white conservatives have high fertility rates. What this portends for the future---politically, socially, culturally---I have no idea, but I fear it may lead to more polarized (in terms of race) politics.

    Fertility differences around the world will likely shape migration patterns, as low fertility countries compete for high fertility country's excess populations. Interesting to see Latin America's fertility drop, which may increase the competition for labor from Africa and the Middle East.

  2. @ Pablojacoby - Thanks for your comments!

    I very much agree with you with your points. In future posts, I hope to share what I think will happen with regards to 'race', generational divisions, fertility and migration. These trends are all interconnected in many interesting ways. I agree with you race and for me fertility related to race and class are the most interesting of those trends - I hope to explore these issues in depth.

    First, I want to explore what the cleavage lines in American society will become. Every society has it's divisions and the questions is not whether there will there be divisions, but what those divisions are and who are the subsequent winners and losers.

    Second, I also want to explore the dynamics of fertility. Fertility to me is Nature's safety valve. The reason fertility is high among low income women and women of color are the lack of societal opportunities. It's also the reason fertility is low among white, upper class women who have greater opportunities. Burgeoning populations forces the wealthy and privileged to recognize the grievances of the poor and underprivileged as they become a larger and larger proportion of the population. I want to explore this argument in more detail in future posts and hope that you share your thoughts.