A marathon

Today your Geographer is running his first marathon.

By way of honoring this event, Z would like to relate the story (thanks to wikipedia, of course) of why running 26.2 miles is called a “marathon.”

The popular story goes something like this: following the battle of Marathon, the Greeks who had just defeated a Persian army, sent a runner to Athens to report the felicitous news. The battle of Marathon is acknowledged as the turning point in that first conflict between the Persian Empire and Greek city states. Athens is approximately 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) from the plain of Marathon. Upon reaching the city and shouting out the good news, the runner promptly fell over and died.

As wikipedia tells it (with a pair of sources who are second hand sources themselves) this popular story is actually a conflation of two stories surrounding the battle. There was a runner, Pheidippides, carrying a message. However, he left Athens as the Athenian army left for Marathon. Pheidippides covered 140 miles (225 km.) to reach Sparta the day after he left (otherwise known as ultrarunning) and bade the Spartans to make haste for Marathon to assist. As the heavens would have it, the Spartans were observing a religious festival requiring peace and would be unable to march until the following full moon (some days later). Following the battle, the Athenian army marched back the 25 miles back to Athens from the battlefield at Marathon. The Athenians marched quickly, they were carrying gear and were probably exhausted, in an attempt to reach Athens before the Persian fleet could Cape Sounion (to the south). If the Persians rounded the cape, they could have conceivably landed the survivors directly in Athens – since the city was undefended with the army in Marathon. As you may have guessed, the Athenians reached the city first.

Thus, our modern marathons (eventually set at 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.195 km.) commemorate the Athenian army’s march and race against the Persians.

Population Decline: A Map

I’ve written a few times about demographics, most specifically population decline (see here, here, here, here, and here). Some time ago I volunteered to make a map showing those countries currently experiencing (i.e. in 2013) population decline. The results of this effort is below. The map uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base. In addition to current population decline, I also highlighted those countries estimated  to experience population decline in a decade (2023).

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

In one of the earlier posts I discussed the eastern European concentration of declining populations. Currently, this belt of decline stretches from Russia to Germany and the Adriatic Sea (specifically to the former Yugoslavian republics of Croatia, Slovenia, and others). By 2023, Slovakia and Austria are also experiencing population decline. Reviewing the U.S. Census data, Austria is already experiencing a natural population decrease. However, immigration numbers are high enough to ensure a growing population. By 2023, immigration inflow isn’t enough to replace elderly Austrian citizens, who are dying of natural causes. The decline belt also spreads further west (to Belgium, Finland, and Portugal) and south (to Greece).

In addition to Europe, the East Asian region of decline also begins to emerge with South Korea joining Japan in experiencing negative population growth. By 2030, the People’s Republic of China joins South Korea and Japan with a declining population.

Finally, the United States is expected to continue grow about 0.8% per year in both time periods (2013 and 2023) due to a combination of natural increase (i.e. births being more numerous than deaths) and immigration (i.e. more immigrants than emigrants). Likewise, the United Kingdom and Canada also remain in positive growth due to the same factors.

Though nationalists would undoubtedly take issue with immigration as a policy tool to reverse demographic decline, it makes economic and demographic sense. After all, one of the problems associated with demographic decline is the greater burden that the elderly place on working adults. In less developed economies that burden is comprised of an overabundance of youth, where children are often a form of social security. In the advanced economies, there is far less pressure to have children. There is (typically) a social security program for the elderly as well as retirement and pension plans. Similarly, the cost for having children is also greater. Attempting to spur citizens into having more children would (probably) take decades of consistent policy, which is unlikely to happen (at least in a democracy). Such a policy would not only have to take into account the costs of children, but citizens’ (particularly the female citizens’) preferences.

In light of these challenges, why not encourage immigration?