Demographic Transition: Denmark and (Have More) Sex Ed

(welcome back to Z!)

Demographics (Geography, really) have been in the news a lot lately, so finding a good starting point is difficult. Readers may remember (though it has been some time) that Z Geography has previously discussed the Stage 5 of the Demographic Transition (wherein a country experiences a declining population as birth rates fall below the death rate and net migration isn’t able to make up the difference).

There are two general ways to beat the falling population reality and both involve having more children (obviously). You either 1) incentive or coerce you’re existing national citizenry to have children or 2) you attract new peoples (say migrants) to shore up the population and hope that they have more children (which they typically do).

Denmark, it seems, is choosing the first course. A recent article in the Atlantic notes that sex education in the country was expanded last year to not only discourage teen pregnancy, but also “warning teens about the risks waiting too long to have children.” Presumably the “risks” referred to involve potential complications arising from so-called geriatric pregnancy.

Unlike its eastern Baltic NATO-ally Estonia (which Denmark had political control over in the 16th-17th century), Denmark’s population is not declining. Yet. According to my favorite U.S. government agency’s forecasts (the Census Bureau) Denmark will probably be in population decline by 2050. Estonia is already there. The Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway are in a similar situation to Denmark. Each had an estimated total fertility rate of between 1.8 and 1.9 live births per woman (aged in her child-bearing years). Estonia’s is 1.6 births per woman.

Denmark has some time to figure out the winning policy formula. The problem is – does a winning policy formula exist? In Singapore (current fertility rate 0.8), a self-styled “sex guru” created a “love boat” getaway package in 2003. Spending $580 (U.S.) couples got a cruise, massages, aphrodisiacs, health classes, and other goods and services to put them in the baby-creating mood. Evidently the fertility rate has dropped since then.

Perhaps a more instructive case is the United States. In this country the total fertility rate (of all census respondents) is 1.9 births per woman, which is obviously below the replacement level of 2.1. Yet Census is not projecting a decline in the U.S. population – because of immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) said it best in the past couple of weeks (via Politico):

  • [former South Carolina Senator] Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.

Whether he intended to or not (giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt here), Sen. Graham hit upon an apparent demographic truth. Given the economic imbalances in the global economic system, immigrants (from economically underdeveloped and often insecure countries) are needed to sustain the population’s of economically advanced and physically secure Western societies (like the U.S. and Denmark).

On this point, Denmark currently does not have a migrant resettlement quota (like the United Kingdom and Ireland) because of an existing exemption in the EU’s asylum policy. However,this may change and Denmark may take some asylees without a quota.

While the immigration “fix” to the demographic problem is easy, the implications are political. Europe was already experiencing a far-right and conservative backlash before the “migrant crisis” came to the fore (though why it wasn’t a crisis during the first 4 years of the Syrian Civil War is beyond the scope of this article). See headline (Jan-2015): Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties Stand to Gain Ground in Wake of Paris Attacks (Wall Street Journal). A key statement in the article is this: “Unlike in the U.S. or Canada, ethnicity and national identity remain closely intertwined in Europe. Melding Europe’s Muslim communities, which often are extremely devout, into Europe’s pluralistic, secular society is particularly tricky.” First and unfortunately for the majority of the world’s states – ethnic identity (to include race, language, religion, and other identifying markers) is the leading determinant for the conception of the imagined community – the nation. The U.S. and Canada, founded by immigrants and consistently reshaped by subsequent waves, are different (though angry nativist rhetoric always crops up during economic downturns).

The real catch is the second sentence – the interaction between immigrant communities and the host communities. But it is necessary to make a distinction, labor immigrants (for jobs) typically seek to immigrate and generally stay in the country, making a new life, often inviting family. Refugees are unwilling migrants. Most would probably wish to stay at home, if the home hadn’t been destroyed by a car bomb, a natural disaster, or some other cause of forcible displacement. Historically, migrants and host communities have integrated each other. Each changes (for the better) with each successive generation of children (migrants and hosts) going to school together and playing together. It was only a mere century ago when the Irish “need not apply” to jobs in and around U.S. metropolitan areas. Now Irish heritage is intertwined with American heritage.

A similar process is already at work within Europe, France and UK have experience accepting immigrants from the former colonies but the rest, including Denmark, must get used to the idea of becoming receivers of immigrants from abroad (whereas they were historically emigrants themselves) if they are to maintain population growth.

The (Old) People’s Republic: Confronting Demographic Decline

The People’s Republic of China isn’t shrinking, yet. But it is certainly getting older, which presents a significant challenge to the country’s continued long-term economic growth. While the Communist Party of China is attempting to ensure growth through a few demographic policy instruments, some (including Z Geography) think that these are too weak and too late. Z Geography believes that the Communist Party is wary of stronger pro-natal policies because of the potential for demographic to outstrip economic growth, a future which could threaten the party’s singular hold over the country.

Z Geography stumbled upon a BBC article reporting that the PRC’s working age population decreased by over 2 million last year (uncited, of course). While statistics are always problematic (numbers have a nasty habit of differing based on source and definition), the statement in BBC appears sound. Unlike the BBC, Z Geography will give you sources. The U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base estimates that the working age population is shrinking.

The working age population is legally defined (in most cases), which provides effective bounding boxes for statistical estimates (of course,child labor isn’t captured in these statistics an important consideration for China). Article 15 of The PRC Labor Law prohibits employers from recruiting minors under the age of 16 (see the U.S. Library of Congress), with a few exceptions. As Bloomberg reports the current compulsory retirement age in China is 60 for males and 50 for females.

Utilizing 1-year age groups for males and females in China, Z Geography discovered that the PRC’s labor pool (16-59 for males, 16-49 for females) shrank for the first time in 2013. In 2012, 830 million (62% of the total population) were in these broad groups and available for (legal) economic employment. In 2013, their number fell to 826 million (61%). This population decline of about 4 million wasn’t due to a natural disaster, pandemic disease, or war – it was simple aging. Between those two years the population considered “elderly dependent” (60+ among males, 50+ among females) rose from 261 million to 274 million (an increase from 19% to 20%).

The Census population estimates over the long term expects a continuation of this trend. By 2025, the labor pool will have decreased by over 75 million persons to 817 million (53% of the population) and 403 million elderly dependents represent 28% of the population. One root of the problem lies in the low fertility rate of China’s women (thanks to the One Child Policy), tallying these ratios only 19% of the population is under the age of 16 (in other words, 19% of the population represents the country’s future workforce). In 2040, Census estimates 648 million workers (47%), 515 million elderly dependents (40%), 194 million youthful dependents (13%).

For comparative purposes, the U.S. in 2040 is expected to have 231 million workers (aged 15-64, 60% of the population) and 147 million elderly and youthful dependents.

More succinctly: by 2040, the number of retirees in China will be nearing the number of potentially active workers. While many of these retirees may have access to retirement benefits (presumably) it remains to be seen whether these benefits are sufficient to maintain quality of life for decades. For those without substantial benefits, or no benefits at all, they will have to rely on children or, more likely considering the one child policy, the government.

Recent news highlights at least two policy measures aimed at averting the potential economic consequences of having an overburdened workforce. The first, and somewhat earlier, concerns the infamous One Child Policy that stipulated below replacement-level family sizes. With few exceptions (minorities, rural inhabitants having a daughter, couples who are both only children) the law prohibited families from having more than one child. While the policy succeeded in slowing population growth it is one of the main causes of the declining labor force (another being emigration). The Times of India (via AFP) reported earlier in January 2014 that one province in China is relaxing the policy somewhat. The loosening of the policy, agreed to by Communist leaders in November 2013 and rubber stamped by the legislature in December, allows couples where at least one parent is an only child to have two children.

The Bloomberg article cited above highlights another policy approach, raising the retirement age.  As one analyst noted, this policy move provides a short term salve to the long term population shift predicted by relaxing the one child policy. The Party hopes that raising the retirement age will keep men and women in the workforce longer, increasing the labor pool in the short term, while more children are born. Of course, the labor pool won’t increase due to higher births for 16 years (when these babies enter the work force).

While Z Geography appreciates the complex approach taken by the Communist Party in stalling a potential economic crisis precipitated by demographics, I feel that the relaxation of the One Child Policy might not go far enough. The Party is presumably worried about relaxing the policy too much, thereby encouraging a baby boom that challenges social and political stability, if the economy can’t provide gainful employment for those youth. However, by taking a far more conservative approach (instead of scrapping the law altogether) the Party risks long term economic security, and its political legitimacy. If firms have to raise wages in order to compete for a smaller number of laborers, they may decide to relocate altogether. In fact, Bloomberg observes that Samsung has already decided to relocate to Vietnam (though Bloomberg doesn’t explicitly attribute that decision to rising labor costs). Steering a middle path is more likely an indication of the Party’s desire to hold on to power, rather than decisively correct the problem.

With enough cash, time may be on the Party’s side. As the BBC points out, another potential solution is increasing productivity of the labor pool. Increasing productivity with not only lower labor costs but make the lower birth rate easier to digest economically. However, the long term demographic question than becomes – as Japan has learned – how do families (and the state) care for an increasingly elderly population especially when the country’s population starts to decline (as China’s is expected to do by the mid-2020s)?

A less expensive and quicker way to increase the labor pool and birth rate is, as you may have guessed, immigration.

Japan’s Womenomics: a Demographic Perspective

Z Geography is out of town this weekend.

A 17 January (2014) USA Today article discusses Prime Minister (of Japan) Shinzo Abe’s proposal to expand child care and pressure on corporations to permit (up to) three years of maternity leave in an effort to increase women’s participation in the economy. Additionally, Abe reportedly instructed government ministries to “boost female workers and managers to 30% by 2020.” According to the article, the government believes these efforts will assist in reversing Japan’s “longtime economic slump” (though it is still the third-largest economy, behind the U.S. and People’s Republic of China).

Prime Minister Abe’s proposal will probably be meet with some indirect and subtle resistance, as the article notes. Women make up 42% of Japan’s workforce (compared to 47% in the U.S.) but only 11% of managers (43% in the U.S.). These statistics highlight whether the solution is rooted in women’s economic participation or, more likely, conservative attitudes preventing the employment of women in corporate leadership roles. As one quote illustrates “the business community is dominated by conservative, older-men who don’t’ want to let go of their privileges.” One observation casts doubt on the government’s motives, it has yet to introduce legislation to “strengthen labor or equal-opportunity” laws.

Taken together, Z Geography ventures that the government’s proposals have less to do with stoking an economic recovery through increased participation of women in the economy (which is the stated objective) and more to do with facilitating increased fertility for Japanese women already employed. True, more women will likely enter the economy thanks to increased child care opportunities and longer maternity leave – but these also benefit already employed women as well. Further as Z Geography and others have discussed, Japan faces a shrinking population (Stage 5 in the Demographic Transition Model) and increasing dependency ratio as proportionally fewer workers are economically available and the population of the elderly expands. These proposals, increasing child care and maternity leave, are likely aimed at increasing the fertility of women in Japan’s labor pool.

A country’s fertility rate is understood as the number of children that a woman will (probably) have over her child-bearing years. Thus, increasing the benefits (or subsidizing in this case) of child birth and rearing will spur employed women to have a child (or second or third). In the long term, these policies could increase the size of Japan’s labor pool, though this is uncertain. One uncertainty is how employed women react, for one women (and couples) may choose to have only one child, which is below replacement level fertility (2.1 children per couple with one child each for the parents and a “.1” child to account for those unable, or unwilling, to have children).

Over the short term, Z Geography questions the economic benefits of these proposals. Based on the statistics reported in the article, it seems that the problem lies not in the participation of women in the economy but a gendered “glass ceiling” that prevents their rise.

Finally, the government’s proposals ignore to other “quick” fixes for the economy and demography – immigration. Given that Prime Minister Abe and his party are considered “conservative” (according to the article), this is not unexpected. Despite this the influx of immigrants into Japan would facilitate an expansion of economic output (and the labor pool) while also increasing the birth rate. As one commenter in Z Geography observed (in no uncertain terms) however, national purity is at stake.

Migration and Demography: Impact on Latvian Sovereignty?

The Baltic Times ran an interesting article recently on a speech given by Latvian President Andris Berzins. He gave the speech on March 25 at the Freedom Monument in honor of the victims that were deported to Siberia during Soviet rule in 1949. This interesting bit is that the speech itself partially (at least) concerned Latvian emigration from the country, with the President arguing that if emigration wasn’t checked the Latvia’s independence would be in doubt in 10 years.

The article reports that over 40,000 Latvians were deported from the country by the Soviet authorities between March 25th and 29th, about 2.3% of the country’s population at the time.

The deportations are distinct to emigration in a number of ways, one being the forcibly nature of the activity. While deportations are, strictly speaking, “emigration” (out-migration) they are coerced and usually distinguished with the qualifier “forced migration”. Similar processes are also attributed to refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylees. Each of these persons are “migrants” but of a forced, rather than willed nature. Of course, that brings us to a philosophical debate on how much “free will” one has in the first place. There are indirect coercions, in terms of gentrification, being priced out of your neighborhood or home. Should we consider this type of migration a “forced migration”?

Another difference is the temporal nature. As the article shows, forced deportations can happen quickly (especially with governments without independent judiciaries). In Latvia, 40,000 people (the size of a town) disappeared within one week. Typically, migration data is presented over the course of a year (since its a fairly rare occurrence when viewed through the lens of an entire country). If this 40,000 in a week held as the average for the year (which thankfully it didn’t), over 2,000,000 Latvians would have been banished to Siberia. Note that would have been more than the country’s population at the time (it was between 1.7 and 1.8 million persons).

With this in mind, let’s try to evaluate the respective outflows. The Census Bureau estimates a NET migration of just over -5,000 people. This net number is the total of immigrants minus emigrants. So there’s likely to be a few more total emigrants, to account for the overall negative migration total. However, 5,000 emigrants represents less than 1% of Latvia’s total population of over 2 million people (2013 estimates). Since I’ve already noted that Latvia’s population is currently declining, its useful to add that the natural increase (in this case decrease) of the population is a larger magnitude than the emigration. To give you numbers, the 5,000 (or more) emigrants is a smaller loss compared to the (about) 8,000 people lost due to the death rate being higher than the birth rate. In other words, the disparity in birth/death rates is having a larger impact on population decline than the emigration rate.

By 2025, since the Latvian President mentioned a timeframe of 10 years, the Census estimates that the net migration rate will remain the same (about 5,000 people leaving Latvia that year). However, the magnitude of the natural decrease will grow to over -12,000 persons. The Census then predicts a worsening disparity between births and deaths, driven by an aging Latvian population (where births will fall even lower as there are less young people, and deaths increase since there are more elderly). Despite the population decreasing to about 1.9 million persons, the loss of 5,000 (or so emigrants) is still less than 1% of the total population.

Though emigration is an obvious “problem” in the sense that it contributes to population decline, the main driver is the very low birth rate. Since I’m not sure what Latvia’s President was referring to in terms of loss of independence, from a demographic standpoint, the low birth rate would be the prime suspect if Latvia lost its independence.

From an economic geography standpoint, however, emigration can cause at least three potential problems. First, there is the loss of labor and revenue from Latvia to another country. Latvian and multinational businesses in Latvia would lose out on increased productivity and not to mention potential sales in Latvia. Moreover, Latvia also loses individual taxes. Of course, the loss of potential sales and income taxes is offset if the individual is able to remit money back home (remittances). Remittances are the sending of money (often through the wire or informal networks) from an emigrants location to the home country to support a family or community. In this way, the home community still receives some economic benefit from the lost labor and productivity. But this brings about the second potential problem, Latvia may grow to become increasingly dependent on remittances for economic well-being. Although figures for remittances are difficult to come by (primarily because it can be under-reported or not reported at all), some countries (like Bangladesh, some Central American, and Sub-Saharan African states) are heavily dependent on remittances. If remittances disappear, whether by financial collapse in the emigrant’s country or loss of work or network, the home country will suffer. Finally, emigrants are often able, through themselves or their families, to maintain property in their home communities. Given that they typically earn higher wages abroad, these properties can earn the resentment of non-migrating neighbors or family members who are often contracted (or asked) to look after a place, work it,

By the same token, however, emigration can offer future opportunities for Latvia. I’m not a globalization booster, but if the returning migrants are able to find jobs or create their own (both necessitate Latvia having the economic space to accommodate this) they can bring skills and perspective that may not be available, making the Latvian economy dynamic in the long run.

Then there’s the political geography standpoint. As a well-functioning democracy, I assume that Latvia provides opportunity for Latvian emigrants to cast their vote during elections. Under the independence argument, perhaps the Latvian President is referring to a situation in which the numbers of Latvians abroad can significantly influence the outcome of an election, even though they don’t live, work, or play in Latvia. In the United States, we don’t have to address or think about this problem since the country attracts many more immigrants than it sends away. However in countries with significant numbers of citizens abroad, perhaps they can influence an election?

And finally, there’s the social aspect of sovereignty. Moving changes a person. Move from one town to another and you’ll be exposed to new people, new ways of doing things. Now move to another province, perhaps another region, maybe you’ll notice cultural differences (I certainly did moving from Texas to Washington, D.C.). Now think about moving abroad for years. You might not know the language (or have only a rudimentary knowledge) and you certainly won’t be acculturated. Chances are, also, that you’ll end up living in a city in the new country which is full of people, some of whom are native urbanites, some of whom are from more rural areas, some from different provinces or regions, and some (like you) from another country. Yes, moving changes you. And then maybe you’ll go back.

With a country like the United States, where a relatively small (I assume) proportion of Americans live abroad for extended (read: over 5 years) periods of time and then come back to the United States, the “political” and “social” shift is negligible. But imagine a country like Latvia where between 25,000 and 34,000 people emigrated to Ireland and the United Kingdom between 2004 and 2007 (based on a blogspot post). The 59,000 Latvians represent 2.8% of the 2013 population of 2.1 million. Of course, that includes children and the elderly (those least likely to emigrate for work). The U.S. Census estimates there 1.5 million Latvians between the ages of 15 and 64, making the 25,000 emigres almost 4% of the population. As the blogspot post observes, during the 2006 Ireland Census only 62% of the Latvians that had arrived remained. The rest may have gone to another country for work or returned home.

This post presented a meandering discussion of whether emigration in Latvia could, in the near future, impact that country’s “sovereignty”, as prophesied by the country’s President. As always, the answer depends on the meaning behind the terms. Will Latvia be at the mercy of a foreign power ( Russia ) because of emigration? Unlikely. Emigrants aren’t going to Russia, they’re going to western Europe. Latvia isn’t likely to lose its political and economic independence with a relatively small outflow of about 5,000 people a year (which might be undercounting). While Latvia isn’t at risk of being dominated by “foreign” interests, a growing proportion of Latvians living abroad, or influenced by their time abroad, can certainly have a noticeable political, economic, and social impact – at least in the medium term. Perhaps this is what President Berzins foresees? Perhaps he believes there’s a coming internal conflict (not necessarily violent) between “native” Latvians and returning or emigrated Latvians. The sovereignty issue, then, isn’t about foreign domination its about a (necessary) political debate on the future of the country and how its people interpret their experiences. If we were to identify a “real” threat to Latvian sovereignty, in the traditional sense, it would be demographic aging and low birth rates. Coupled with Latvia’s poor economic situation (compared with Western Europe) and we find that emigration from Latvia for higher wages is a safety valve for the country. Rather than degrading sovereignty, emigration might actually be protecting it.