The Emergence and Effectiveness of Global Health Networks

Jeremy Shiffman is a Visiting Scholar at PRB, and professor of public administration and policy at American University in Washington, D.C. A political scientist by training, he researches the politics of health policy and administration in low-income countries, with a particular interest in health agenda-setting: why some issues receive priority while others are neglected. He has investigated maternal survival, newborn survival, family planning, donor funding for health, and health systems reform, among other issues. His research has been funded by the Gates, MacArthur, and Rockefeller foundations. His work has appeared in The Lancet, Population and Development Review, The American Journal of Public Health, Social Science and Medicine, Health Policy and Planning, The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and The Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Heidi Worley, senior writer/editor at PRB, spoke with Shiffman about his current research on global health networks.

WORLEY: How do you define a “global health network?
SHIFFMAN: Global health networks are cross-national webs of individuals and organizations linked by a common concern about a particular global health problem. They now exist for nearly all high-burden health conditions in low-income countries. These networks connect various types of institutions—United Nations agencies, donors and foundations, national governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), medical associations, research institutions, and think tanks. Some network members produce knowledge; others advocate; still others provide funds, develop policy ideas, or implement programs. Among their activities, global health networks exchange information on promising new interventions, debate how best to address conditions at global conferences, organize campaigns, and press governments and donors to provide resources.

WORLEY: Can you give us some examples?
SHIFFMAN: For some health conditions one can identify a specific institution that facilitates collective action, for example, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. For other conditions, multiple institutions bring together individuals and organizations in networks: For instance, for HIV/AIDS there are biennial international conferences, civil society coalitions, a formal UN body (UNAIDS), a financing mechanism (the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria), and a large bilateral program (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). For still other conditions—mental health, for example—institutions are weak, making informal ties crucial for network formation and spurring collective action.

WORLEY: Why is it important to study global health networks?
SHIFFMAN: In the past three decades, the global health landscape has shifted dramatically with the proliferation of global health networks. Thirty years ago, international health looked considerably different—strong networks of individuals and organizations existed for a few conditions: malaria, smallpox, polio, and several other vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. For most conditions, however, if a global effort existed at all, it was largely housed in an international organization, usually the World Health Organization, that worked bilaterally with national governments rather than through a global network. Yet despite their growth, health policy scholars have given global health networks little attention. As a result, we don’t know much about why they have emerged, what effects they produce, and what roles they play in the global governance of health.

WORLEY: Which networks are you examining in your research program?
SHIFFMAN: Our research program considers six global health networks addressing high-burden conditions in low- and middle-income countries to learn more about how networks emerge and what effects they have. Our case studies include networks that address tuberculosis, pneumonia, tobacco use, alcohol control, newborn mortality, and maternal death in childbirth. These studies are part of the Global Health Advocacy and Policy Project, a research initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that groups 14 investigators from North America, South America, and Europe.

WORLEY: What outcomes are you studying?
SHIFFMAN: Two questions ground this project.

  • Effectiveness: Why are some networks better able than others to assert influence in the direction of their preferences?
  • Emergence: Why do networks more easily crystallize around some global health issues than others, and once formed, why do some flourish while others stagnate?

Effectiveness refers to the extent to which networks are able to change the world to meet their members’ perceptions of what reality should look like.1 We examine effectiveness by considering outputs, policy consequences, and impact. Outputs are the immediate products of network activity, such as guidance on intervention strategy, research, and international meetings. Policy consequences pertain to the global policy process, including international resolutions, funding, national policy adoption, and the scale-up of interventions. Impact refers to the ultimate goal of improvement in population health.

By emergence we mean both the formation and the evolution of networks. Global networks materialize around some issues but not others. And among those that form, only some flourish. Understanding whether and how they emerge is crucial if we wish to understand their role, particularly since early decisions on matters such as governance, membership, and focus may have lasting consequences.2

While our focus is explaining the emergence and effectiveness of networks, we also consider their legitimacy, that is, whether they have a right to exert power, and why they differ in the degree to which they are perceived to have this right.

WORLEY: How will you examine the effectiveness and emergence of global health networks?
SHIFFMAN: Emergence and effectiveness of global health networks are best understood by looking at the interaction among three categories of factors.

Features of networks themselves and the actors in them: leadership, governance, composition, and framing strategies.

Features of their policy environments: allies and opponents, funding, and global norms.

And particular characteristics of the issues they address.3 Especially important are:

  • Severity of the problem: Robust networks are more likely to emerge when problems lead, or are perceived to lead, to high mortality and morbidity, economic damage, or social disruption.
  • Tractability of the problem: Networks are more likely to form and be effective on problems perceived to be solvable.4
  • Nature of the affected populations: Populations that inspire sympathy, especially those understood not to be responsible for acquiring the condition—children affected by HIV/AIDS, for instance—are more likely to inspire network mobilization.5 Also, positive network results are more likely if affected populations are able to mobilize on their own behalf. People living with HIV/AIDS, for instance, have been a backbone for a global AIDS movement, facilitating its growth, effectiveness, and perceived legitimacy.

This research program on global health networks will conclude at the end of 2014 and will culminate in a series of articles based on the findings. Collectively, these papers will represent the first comparative research effort on the emergence and effectiveness of global health networks.


  1. Kathryn Sikkink, “The Power of Networks in International Politics,” in Networked Politics: Agency, Power, and Governance, ed. Miles Kahler (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).
  2. Paul Pierson, “Path Dependence, Increasing Returns, and the Study of Politics,” American Political Science Review 94, no. 2 (2000): 251-67.
  3. Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998); and Deborah A. Stone, “Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas,” Political Science Quarterly 104, no. 2 (1989): 281-300.
  4. Stone, “Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas.”
  5. Stone, “Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas”; and Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, “Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy,” American Political Science Review 87, no. 2 (1993): 334-47.

PRB Discuss Online: Remittances, and the Recession's Effects on International Migration

(May 2011) About 3 percent of the world’s people are international migrants, living outside their country of birth for a year or more. Two-thirds of these migrants leave developing countries for developed or other developing countries, and the remittances they send home—around $325 billion in 2010—are larger than total official development aid.

The 2008-2009 recession slowed migrant entries into developed countries but did not lead to large-scale returns. International migration is increasing, making the management of migration an ever greater concern. Martin’s latest PRB web article, “Remittances, and the Recession’s Effects on International Migration,” is an update of his 2008 Population Bulletin“Managing Migration: The Global Challenge.” In a PRB Discuss Online, Philip Martin, professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis, answered questions from participants about remittances; and the recession’s effects on international migration.

May 26, 2011 1 PM (EDT)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Seth Frimpong: How can skills and employment be created to reduce international migration in Africa?
Philip Martin: This is hard to answer. Many African countries spend relatively more on higher education than on K-12 schooling, which leads to “too many” university graduates who cannot find jobs, prompting them to emigrate. This brain drain can slow development at home, but the losses may be somewhat offset by remittances from professionals abroad who send back remittances.

Ehsan: What are the effects of the recession on the educated and uneducated migrants? I have seen many uneducated Pakistani migrants returning back from UAE due to unemployment.
Philip Martin: The overall story is that international labor migration did NOT fall sharply in 2008-09. Only a few countries followed the example of Malaysia, where the government told employers to lay off foreign workers to open jobs for Malaysians, and soon rescinded this order. However, some construction projects in the UAE were halted and workers sent home in the middle of 3-year contracts, just as migrant workers were displaced in North Africa. However, from a global perspective, the main pattern is fewer new deployments rather than large-scale returns.

Trilochan Pokharel: There were debates during the period of recession as some developed countries like UK relaxed immigration policy for allowing large number of education migrants. It was considered as their strategy to cope with recession by collecting education revenue. Some other countries also relaxed immigration policy for attracting skilled labour force from developing world. Do you think that those strategies worked to shape international migration? Recently, many developing countries are much worried about potentially declining remittance and reduction in foreign employment because of political instability in the middle-east than the 2008 recession. What could be the implication of these instances in global international migration?
Philip Martin: Australia, the UK, and the US have a number of private and public language schools and universities that depend on tuition from foreign students. Rapid economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere makes foreign study more affordable, increasing enrollments. There have been recent changes to laws and regulations in Australia and the UK that will make it harder for some foreign students to enter for study, but other changes can make it easier for graduates of local universities to stay and work, esp. in Canada and the US.

Demonstrations led to the downfall of entrenched leaders in Tunisia and Egypt in winter 2011; NATO provided assistance to rebels in Libya. There were two major migration outcomes. First, there were large-scale repatriations of Asian and African migrants, and second, over 25,000 Tunisians traveled by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has fewer than 5,000 permanent residents. The Italian government asked the EU for help to care for the migrants and sent advisors to Tunisia to help Tunisian police to block the departure of boats with migrants headed for Italy. The EU refused to implement a burden-sharing agreement, prompting the Italian government on April 5, 2011 to issue Tunisians in Italy temporary papers that allowed them to travel to France, where many had relatives, prompting France to stop trains from Italy at its border.

Second, many of the estimated 1.5 million African and Asian migrants in Libya were displaced by fighting, and 665,000 migrants left Libya for Egypt or Tunisia by the end of April 2011. Some countries quickly arranged to transport their citizens home, including China and Turkey, while the nationals of other countries were left to fend for themselves, including Bangladeshis and Nepalese and many Africans. Donors provided funds to IOM and other international organizations to fly home migrants from Asian countries who crossed the Libyan-Tunisia border. Many Africans were left to fend for themselves.

Alex Kojo Boahoma: How beneficial or detrimental is brain-drain (migration of principally unemployed and underemployed graduates) to the development of African Countries?
Philip Martin: Remittances to developing countries were $325 billion in 2010, and are expected to be higher in 2011 ( Remittances are almost three times Official Development Assistance but less than Foreign Direct Investment to developing countries, which was about $400 billion in 2010.

About half of the 73 million migrants from developing countries who were in industrial countries in 2010 were in their almost 600-million strong labor force, that is, about six percent of workers in industrial countries were migrants. Most migrants in industrial are low-skilled, as with Mexicans in the US, but many are highly skilled, such as Indian IT workers in the US and Europe. Migrants in industrial countries likely contribute about the same share to industrial country GDP as their share of the work force, 6 percent.

J Kishore: Dear Sir, How many dollars international migrants earned in developed countries and how much they are sending to their birth countries? Can we say most of the productivity of developed nation is because of these migrant professional laborers.
Philip Martin: Remittances to developing countries were $325 billion in 2010, and are expected to be higher in 2011 ( Please refer to my response to Alex.

Donghui Yu: Do you have updated number of Chinese American remittances to China? What’s the characteristics of Chinese remittances?
Philip Martin: China and India are the largest recipients of remittances—see

A.RANJITHKUMAR: migration is a national and international problem, what is major reason for it?
Philip Martin: People move for many reasons. See

A.RANJITHKUMAR: respected sir, do you agree that international migrations affect national development? how it can be give solution as your opinion
Philip Martin: See more at The number of international migrants, defined as people outside their country of birth or citizenship for a year or more, regardless of purpose or legal status, almost doubled between 1980 and 2005 to 191 million.

Half of the world’s migrants are workers in destination countries. The incentive for especially young people to cross national borders for economic opportunity is rising because of increased demographic and economic inequalities. Meanwhile, revolutions in communications and transportation make it easier to cross national borders, and the rights revolution of the past half century has enabled some migrants to stay abroad. With inequalities hard to reduce, and strong economic forces encouraging more communications and transportation links, governments have tried to manage migration by adjusting the rights of individuals.

Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century is a three-part, seven-chapter book that explores the major labor migration flows around the world and how countries are managing them. Particular attention is focused on the extremes of the job ladder, the migration of professionals such as IT specialists as well as unskilled farm workers. All of the programs examined are controversial, suggesting that there is no magic formula for moving workers across borders.

About 40 percent of the world’s migrants move from one developing country to another, and Chapter 6 explores labor migration issues in Thailand, one of the East Asian tiger economies. In less than a decade, the employment of migrants from poorer neighboring countries spread from border areas to the booming Bangkok area, with employers asserting that, without migrants, they would go out of business. Efforts to substitute Thais for migrants after the 1997-98 financial crisis largely failed, and the Thai government continues to periodically re-register migrants that it expects to eventually return.

In an ideal world, there would be few barriers to migration and very little unwanted migration, as within the US or the EU. Achieving fewer and lower migration barriers will require economic development in migrant-sending areas, and the final chapter explores the effects of the 3 R’s of migration; recruitment, remittances, and returns, on economic development. Migration can set in motion virtuous circles, as when sending Indian IT workers abroad leads to new industries and jobs in India, or set in motion vicious circles, as when the exit of professionals from Africa leads to less health care and too few managers to operate factories.

Martin, Philip, Manolo Abella and Christiane Kuptsch. 2006. Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century. Yale University Press.  

Erin Hofmann: Your article mentioned that the recession has affected migrants working in construction and manufacturing more than those working in healthcare and services. Since healthcare and service workers are often women, has the global recession led to an increased share of women among international migrants?
Philip Martin: Probably yes, but we do not have current data on migrant workers by sex—about half of all migrants are women:

Robert Winfield: What countries do you see migrant labour targeting next (e.g. Poland has the potential to become a remittance send market), or do you believe as the recession improves the traditional migrant destinations will continue to be the main destinations? Also do you see technology (e.g. mobile) having a significant impact on the distribution of remittances to developing countries?
Philip Martin: Some migrant-sending countries, such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka, have govt agencies that “market” their workers abroad. Until recently, Libya was a major “new” market. Migrant-sending countries are looking for new destinations including fast-growing countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland as well as Australia and Canada, which are benefitting from the commodities boom.

The single largest remitter is Western Union, with 445,000 locations where people can send money to others. Western Union says there are 16,000 “migration corridors” world wide, meaning significant flows of money from one country to another. Sending money over national borders is growing rapidly because it is cheap and less regulated than banks. In some countries such as Africa, the transfer involves minutes of air time rather than cash.

Seth Frimpong: What is the Significance of migration to Africa’s youth and their descendants?
Philip Martin: Many Africans would like to migrate, and a combination of the world’s fastest population growth—Africa’s population is projected to double to 2 billion in the next 40 years—and lower incomes at a time of globalization is likely to encourage especially African youth to seek to emigrate. It is relatively hard for Africans to migrate long distances; most African immigrants in the US are well educated. However, Europe fears boatloads of migrants leaving from North Africa or from Senegal to Spain’s Canary Islands. The question is whether economic development in Africa will be fast enough to discourage such migration.

Erin Hofmann: At the global level, remittances fell in 2008-09, then recovered in 2009-10. Did remittances fall less, or recover more quickly from some source countries than others? (I’m thinking mostly about the levels of remittances sent from major migrant destination areas like the US, Europe, Russia, Gulf states.)
Philip Martin: See  

The World Bank estimated that migrants sent $325 billion to developing countries in 2010, up from $307 billion in 2009. India received $55 billion in remittances in 2010; China $51 billion; Mexico $23 billion; and the Philippines, $21 billion; Bangladesh was the fifth largest developing country recipient with $11 billion. The World Bank projects rising remittances to developing countries, $346 billion in 2011 and $374 billion in 2012. Remittances did not fall as much as expected in 2008-09 because net migration from developing to industrial countries remained positive. Most migrants in industrial countries remained there. Further, migrants abroad reduced their living costs in order to maintain remittance payments. Migrants employed in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia continued to remit despite the recession.

Sub-Saharan African countries, among those least affected by the 2008-09 global recession, received an estimated $22 billion in remittances in 2010. Data for individual African countries are not fully reliable, and there are often major discrepancies between IMF remittance estimates and central bank reports. For example, the IMF estimated $125 million in remittances to Ghana in 2008, while the Ghana central bank estimated $1.6 billion.

Mobile telephones and the internet are reducing the cost of sending small sums over national borders. The World Bank estimated that the cost of sending $200 internationally fell from $19.60 in 2008 to $17.40 in 2010. The US-Mexican remittance corridor is one of the cheapest, while sending small sums over national borders is much more expensive in Sub-Saharan Africa and between New Zealand and Pacific Islands.

Many poor Africans make remittance transfers within countries by transferring minutes of calling time to the recipient. Some mobile phone operators are trying to develop minute-transfer programs that can be used by migrants in one country to send calling time to recipients in other countries.


PRB Discuss Online: Population and National Security

(April 2011) In her new book, The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security, author Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba argues that the future of warfare will be shaped by demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and migration. She explores both the direct and indirect links between demography and national security through historical examples and contemporary case studies. How do population size, structure, distribution, and composition affect security? How will aging countries and shrinking populations in Europe shape the global future? How will countries in transitional ages (Brazil), and those experiencing “youth bulges” (Middle East and North Africa), provide opportunities for growth? In a PRB Discuss Online, Jennifer Sciubba answered questions from participants about common beliefs and misconceptions about demographic trends and national security, and where opportunities exist for building global partnerships.

April 11, 2011 1 PM (EDT)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Geoff Dabelko: What will be the subject of your next book?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I’ll be returning to the politics of population aging. I’m particularly interested in comparing how different regime types have dealt with these issues, including not just Western European states, but also states like Singapore and Russia.


Dr. Satyajeet Nanda: When we use the word ‘security’ is it only defence related aspects that is internal such as crime, deviations etc. or external such as war, smuggling etc. or beyond. I mean employment, density, resources (land) distribution? While India, china, brazil’s growing population was seen earlier as insecurity, did not turn into insecurity rather a dividend towards economic growth thru human resource. So is it difficult to predict the magnitude and nature of security out of population?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: This is the exact angle from which I started the book. Security is multifaceted and not every policymaker or scholar is interested in all aspects. I use Choucri’s typology: military security, regime, and structural. I also agree that the relationship to security is not static, as you point out with India, et al. Part of the reason is the age structural transition.


Robert Prentiss: We have seen cataclysmic events like Katrina, the BP oil spill and the presently unfolding Japanese nuclear event. If global climate change fulfills our worst expectations, can we also expect gigantic population shifts should more such disasters occur? If so, which nations are the most likely to be affected and how?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think we see the opposite pattern in most cases. People generally return to disaster areas once it is safe to do so, even if that area remains vulnerable. Many disaster prone areas are desirable locations for access to the coast or are big cities with opportunities. People still want to live (or do business) there.


Richard Cincotta: Jennifer, my concern is with the lack of specificity that seems inherent in the youth bulge model in terms of civil and ethnic conflict. In other words, the highest probability of civil conflict (often protracted) is associated with very young populations—the Afghanistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan African situations. But, there is also a situation that arises among populations that are demographically somewhat older that is associated with democratization (i.e., the North African situation). These seem to have been conflated by the press and political scientists, yet they are demographically and politically very different cases. Any thoughts on how to recognize these and separate them?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Rich, I think that until we have a stronger theoretical foundation for understanding the conditions under which a “youthful” population leads to civil conflict (very young pop) or democracy (slightly older pop) it will be hard to relay the difference in these two structures to nonexperts. The democratization connection, in particular, needs to be refined to move firmly away from correlation and into causation. Right now, it seems to me that we give the same theoretical reasoning to both conflict and democratization (motive, cohort crowding). Do you agree?


Juanita Tamayo Lott: If we consider world history, past and current warfare were/are also shaped by demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and migration. Might your research indicate any effect by cohort and geography? For example, low fertility rates followed the WWII cohorts of Japan and Germany whereas the reverse occurred for their U.S. counterparts.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Japan and Germany saw postwar baby booms as well, just smaller than that in the U.S. I haven’t seen any research showing that geography is a determinant of fertility.


Geoff Dabelko: What would be the benefits of demographers and population experts taking more seriously a dialogue with the security community? Your book shows why security sector actors should pay attention to demography. Why should demographers pay attention to security?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Some in the security community don’t necessarily understand the assumptions behind demographic projections or other aspects of the data, which means they sometimes misuse the info or distrust it and discard it all together. I also think that scholars of any discipline have a responsibility to understand how their work is being used.


Sanjay Mishra: Commuting population especially those who have infiltrated may have serious threat to the national security for the any country as their identity is not unauthenticated in the country which are vulnerable from the terrorism point view. Might be the frequency has been reduced so we can say they are in the slept mode so may be operative in any other modes like money laundering and other illicit activities, now the question is to identify them and deporting them if they are staying for quite some months or years in camps or elsewhere, is there any body which could be responsible for them what percentage of total population are around the world which may become problematic for the peaceful nations and what other remedies?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: It is the responsibility of individual, sovereign states to figure out who is living within their borders. Weak or failing states may have an especially hard time with this, which is when international efforts to help these states strengthen governance and promote rule of law can help. I don’t think there is any way to devise an estimate of how many people could fall into this category because the number will always fluctuate and is dependent upon individual motivations to commit terrorist acts. I’m not convinced scholars have the latter nailed.


J Kishore: Area of discussion is interesting and would be providing conceptual framework for liberal policies for migration, world peace and security. Migrated population should not be considered threat rather agents of growth and development.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think the bottom line is that no demographic trend is either inherently good or inherently bad. Often, it is what states do with the resources of their demography that matters. Migration can certainly be a resource for increasing state power, but it can also create challenges for security under some circumstances.


Trilochan Pokharel: Thank you Jennifer. The publication looks important to get into. However, I am unable to access it. In one study in which I analyzed the pre-conflict demography of civil conflict affected countries. The conclusion was certain demographic indicators like youth bulge, dependency ratio on the upper bound indicate possibility of outbreak of civil conflict. However, they are not catalytic. Recent studies show that the global demographic structure is changing and its connection with growing neoliberal economy is the primary factor that will define the relation between population, economy and security. How do you address this issue?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: It sounds like the results you describe show that demography is often the underlying fodder for a conflict, even if it is not the spark that ignites the flame. This is certainly what we saw in the rebellions that broke out across the Middle East. As for the second part of your comment, a transitional age structure does correlate with economic growth. You may be referring to the global shift towards higher median age and relatively more workers that has resulted from global fertility reductions. At the state level, these types of changes have led to greater prosperity in many cases and if they continue to do so then global prosperity indicators may show a similar rise. However, it doesn’t seem useful to me to discuss a “global demographic structure” or “global prosperity” since each state has vastly different experiences.


Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: Dear Jennifer, it is good to discuss with a person like you. And I want to thank PRB because of this. When we talk about population growth, we most of developing countries believe that you have an headache because of our population growth. I think that we think population is our power and you developed countries might have fear because of that. Is that so…?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: If I may be so bold, I don’t think that the U.S. national security community is intimidated by the large populations of less developed countries because these states are not economically or militarily competitive with the U.S. In fact, I would argue that the U.S. sees population growth in poor countries as a hindrance to their development and something that prevents them from gaining power. However, most developed states fear of outbreak of conflict in poor countries with young and growing populations. The U.S. is certainly “afraid” of instability for a number of reasons.


Cecily Westermann: Hi, Ms. Sciubba. I am from the U.S. Your article in the ECSP Report (Volume 13) addresses four sets of circumstances that contribute to the growth of international terrorism. (1) youth bulge, (2) diseases such as HIV/AIDS that affect native military recruitment and contributes to unavailability of employment, (3) international migration, and (4) urbanization (megacities and the growth of urban slums. My question is, why do the U.S. defense and intelligence think they are qualified to address these problems in other countries when we have similar problems here?(1) while we don’t have a “youth bulge”, our births exceed deaths by 1.86 million per year, (2) while our problems with disease are not on the same level as those in some african and middle eastern nations, we have growing criminality among youths, (3) While we (arguably) don’t have have problems due to international migration, we have continuous cultural conflicts, (4)we are masters in developing megacities, urban slums, decaying cities, and urban sprawl.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Cecily, I won’t argue with you about the problems that plague the U.S. Here in Memphis I see a ton of these, plus high infant mortality and a host of other problems. I think that the U.S. defense and intelligence communities seek a greater understanding of the role demography plays in instability, both here and abroad, which directly relates to their mission. Addressing these problems generally falls outside of their responsibility.


Cletus Tindana: Hi Jennifer, Please how have the activities of other nations especially the North, help stabilise (or destabilize, if you like) other countries’ populations and national security? e.g. U.S.’ involvement in Iraq. How many years have they (Iraqis) gained (or lost) in the context of your discussion?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: War is destabilizing in general, since it interrupts education, commerce, governance, and a host of other important functions. I suppose we could argue that if an area becomes more stable as a result of Northern involvement then the area could end up being better off but…


Seyi Olujimi: In a situation where the most affected segment of developing countries’ population (most at risk, the youth) are the worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. What is the implication of this trend for developing countries’ national security?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Let’s define security broadly in terms of both conflict and development. Infection rates of soldiers of many sub-Saharan African countries are three to four times higher than the civilian population. In 1999, HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zimbabwe’s armed forces was estimated to be 55 percent. Disease reduces the ability of these armies to perform their basic functions. AIDS hurts development too. Countries with high infection rates may also have a hard time attracting foreign investment, partly because their labor force is decimated. Skilled laborers who are healthy may emigrate to more developed countries, further reducing the human capital needed to deal with the disease at home.


Hazel Denton: We read much about how the youth bulge is behind the unrest in the Middle East. Are there countries with youth bulges that have not experienced unrest? [Also, please define youth bulge.]
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think the most useful way to define youth bulge is the proportion of young adults (ages 15-29) of all adults (15-59). In Tunisia, that proportion is 41 percent, in Egypt 48 percent. Certainly, there are many countries with youth bulge that have not experienced unrest. Our challenge as political demographers is to figure out why. In many cases, for rebellion to occur there must be both motive and opportunity. Demography can drive both. As an example, crowded labor markets because of a youth bulge can provide motive to rebel (resentment, poverty, etc.); large numbers of unemployed youth can also provide opportunity for a potential rebel leader to staff his forces since youth have no better prospects.


Gerard E. STEIN: Why we are not moving from the “Titanic Syndrome? the word “national” for the security is over, is the “planet” security. No borders can stop pollution, terrorist organizations, financial tsunami, … the Top/down strategy at a global level is over, …In 2047, we will be more than 9 billions with more than 2/3 living in and around large cities in the north (due to the global warming) in alarming living conditions. The only solution is a bottom-up strategy everywhere at a planet level to give more chances to our children to live in a safer and healthier planet than predicted by the best world experts. This is the solution we have adopted at our global NGO since 2002.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: A lot of our problems are transnational, like the ones you mention. Conflict, too, often spills over borders. However, I think we are a long way from thinking in terms of global security. Our proximity to April 15th—the general deadline for filing income taxes in the U.S.—should give some indicator as to why.


Geoff Dabelko: Do you think your book helps bridge the divide between the too many versus too few perspectives on global population? It is falsely but commonly presented as an either/or vision of the world. Does the population and security set of arguments bring these perspectives together?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I certainly hope so. I try to show, not just say, that any population trend can be a challenge or an opportunity. On the global level this debate may be outdated, but at a state or local level sometimes too many really is a problem and so is too few. Too many of whom? Too few of whom? Too many elderly dependents, or too many youth? Both could be a challenge for different reasons. Too few workers, or too few soldiers? Again, both are challenges.


Alexander Sanger: Please discuss the sex ratio and the problem of excess males as it relates to propensity for expansionist/aggressive foreign policies.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I don’t think it is possible to discuss this as a general problem, we have to give some context. Most of the time when people want to address gender imbalance and expansionism they are concerned about China. Is China going to put these young men in the military and start war to keep them busy? No. China has been trying to shave down its ground forces and for a host of reasons—many economic—is not at all likely to put these young men to use plowing over territory outside of the country. What they are more likely to do is put them to work, which could turn them from a liability to an asset. India also has excess males but has had a hard time filling its officer ranks. Bottom line: the countries with excess males generally have positive economic trends and so they are not likely to risk lost profit to start a war just to keep their young men occupied.


Mike Sage: Does the population need thining out in order to reduce some of the many challenges that will be faced in the future?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Countries in the Global North—advanced industrial democracies—are “thinning” themselves out because of low fertility. China is about to join this group as well, in terms of demography. Many countries in the Global South have dramatically reduced their fertility and so are transitioning to older age structures and eventual population stability as well. However, the world’s poorest countries are the ones that will experience the greatest population growth in the next several decades, and they are least equipped to handle that growth. Afghanistan, for example, will experience growth and a very young age structure for the foreseeable future. These problems that will only compound its current economic and political challenges.


Schuyler Null: There’s been a lot of talk about how aging populations in Europe will affect defense sectors there, in terms of shifting budget priorities. But there’s also the aspect of how aging might affect European decisionmaking processes when it comes to foreign intervention (perhaps less willing put boots on the ground, stay for long, etc.). Can you speak to how aging might affect the decision-making process and behavior of European countries when it comes to conflict in the future? How might aging affect the operation of NATO or the UN?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Isn’t France a puzzle right now given your question? France, a low fertility country with an aging population and HUGE challenges ahead in terms of paying for entitlements to seniors, has recently shown a greater willingness to contribute to military missions. There is no doubt that aging states in Europe will be under strain trying to meet their promises to seniors and also maintain defense. But, European states still feel that there are sufficient threats in the world to warrant maintaining a military. They are trying to reduce redundancies among themselves and increase their efficiency—great cost-saving measures. Technology can compensate a bit as well. I think European states are willing to use their militaries when the threat is sufficient. Aging, however, may raise the threshold for what qualifies as “sufficient” and U.S.-European opinions on what qualifies may increasingly diverge.


Derek Washam: Recent numbers show that populations in the North Caucasus Republics in Russia are increasing. Do you think Moscow will embrace this growth in any way? Or, should we expect a less benevolent response from the government—perhaps exploiting the figures to deny rising violence in the region, or attempting to curb the growth of non-ethnic Russians?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Russia has a rapidly shrinking population, low fertility, and high mortality. Yet, the country’s leaders still try to promote the immigration of ethnic Russians only and are trying to raise fertility rather than dealing with the serious problems of alcoholism and disease. Given their skewed strategy, no, I do not think that the leadership would welcome the contribution of population growth in the Caucasus. I’m not sure whether they will go so far as to institute anti-natalist strategies to curb natural population growth in that region.


Sanjay Mishra: National security is inextricably associated with migration trends and patterns while, migration has multi-compounded impact on the national growth and over all development of the economy as we have evidences e.g. USA, UK etc. but the nature of migration remains the complicated question. Literacy/education/ skill and purpose of the migration might be reexplored in modern context especially from the security viewpoint. If to check the indicatives and impact of migration is developing parallel to the migration then might be balanced. I perceive for economy it has no negative impact unless the migrants are unskilled/uneducated. But concurrent trend is indicating a different story—like formation of pressure /peer groups, political intervention/ religious intolerance, and other destructive/disorganizational activities. My question remains in global context it is impossible and inhuman to discourage migration but how to cope up with repercussions and safeguards for the natives along with demographic balances different population types and national security?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I’m not comfortable commenting on the ethics of migration in this forum, but I will say that for as long as states have existed, they have attempted to control migration—today’s efforts and justifications for those efforts are not new. As to the latter part of your question, not all migrants are politicized. Democratic institutions can provide regularized, peaceful mechanisms to redress grievances and so are more likely to provide the “safeguards” you mention.


shree pradhn: Migretion can be more challenge to impact the populetion and national security? how do you manage this problem.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I mention the importance of democracy in my answer to Sanjay and that institution is relevant to issues of identity raised by migration. We have to remember that most multiethnic states are peaceful and most migrants move to improve their position in life. Thus, migration can be a win-win for both the state (in terms of laborers and unique skills) and the migrants themselves (economically also). Not all migration falls into this category, however. A small proportion of refugees worldwide is “militarized,” and spreads conflict over borders.


Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Dr. Sciubba, we have just completed our census in India. We stand second in the world as per the population count and it is practically very difficult to design National Security programmes for such a vast and heterogeneous population. Our current census results show mixed trends with a preference to the male child and swelling young population. We have formally become conscious of National Security for different vulnerable groups recently but still we are progressing gradually. When we grant economic security to the unemployed young people then they become sort of relaxed and start taking it for granted. In few cases they take it as an essential step. My question is that will providing security to them not make them a bit irresponsible? For old age, handicapped group etc. it is fine but for the normal healthy youths we should focus more on providing them career guidance and giving them career oriented counselling/ education.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think you are probably right that giving economic security to youths, rather than equipping them to become employed, is not a long term strategy for improving their lives. Throughout the Middle East, many of the youths who have been rebelling have at one time been the recipients of government aid—money to marry, education, etc. This is very expensive, and when the money runs out the youths perceive themselves as worse off than before. India has an ideal demographic structure to build human capital and encourage its youth to obtain meaningful employment opportunities that will serve them well individually for decades. In the aggregate India, too, will benefit.


Geoff Dabelko: Is the security community, so accustomed to framing issues as threats, internalize your messages about opportunity? Is there a recognition that low cost interventions such as provision of voluntary family planning services could be part of a holistic sustainable security approach? What are the steps that would need to happen to gain more adherents to this perspective?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I’m sorry to say, but no, not really. The positive perspective does not resonate much because most in defense and intelligence are tasked with imagining the worst-case scenario. Opportunities and happy stories just do not fit in this paradigm (or even most of their job descriptions). I’ve tried to figure out what needs to happen to get them to pay attention to prevention, and the only place I see some chance of breaking through is in discussing Afghanistan. Many realize the challenges posed by Afghanistan’s young and growing population and there is some recognition that family planning may be relevant there. I think that for a paradigmatic shift to occur, it would have to be top-down—the vision of the President, Secretary of Defense, etc.


Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Dr. Sciubba, I asked one question but I think it was more directed towards Social Security. Now, as regards National Security, I would like to ask, do not you think that it is important that we inculcate the values of Nationalism, awareness towards social duties and developing civic sense will automatically enhance the spirit of National Security? Sometime we use direct methods and sometimes we use indirect methods to induce an idea.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: In India’s case, developing a civic nationalism—around shared democratic values—would likely be a smart strategy to reduce the importance of ethnic nationalisms that could turn into conflict.


PRB Discuss Online: Promoting Public Demography

(March 2011) A guiding principle of population studies is its expected usefulness to society. An established link exists between population studies and public welfare, so population scientists should prioritize public demography, according to Population Council president Peter Donaldson. He defines “public demography” as an effort to reach a public audience with demographic analysis and summaries of research results, discussions of what the results mean, and what, if any, action the public and its elected and appointed officials ought to take based on what has been learned. In a PRB Discuss Online, Peter Donaldson, author of the PRB Occasional Paper Toward an Engaged Public Demography, answered questions from participants about what he means by public demography, its importance, and ways a public demography agenda can be implemented.

March 2, 2011 1 PM (EST)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Yewande Iwuoha, Producer Good Health: Good day to you, my name is Yewande lwuoha from Lagos, Nigeria. I am particularly interested in this topic as application of demography data is a big issue in my area. The problem with my own part of the world is that our government is yet to grasp the importance of public demography, especially, its application to solve nagging issues crucial to the development of our communities. I am talking about provision of good roads, drinking water, electricity, hospitals, etc. Can you please educate on how best a developing Nation like mine can effectively apply demography data to solve the above mentioned problem areas? Thanks.
Peter Donaldson: The most up-to-date discussion of the population issue with reference to sub-Saharan Africa is a multi-authored paper from a January 2011 Hewlett Foundation conference in Marseille. I don’t know if there is a public-domain version of this. Otherwise, writings by John Cleland probably have important insights. See, for example, a recent Science article by Martha Campbell, John Cleland, et al.

Dharmendra Sharma: Sir, In indian democratic system where we elect our representatives,most of them are not aware about demography even higher policy maker officials do not know much about population studies, in this context how we can use public demography to formulate policies regarding public welfare.
Peter Donaldson: The first challenge is to provide policy makers with summaries of important demographic information and its implications. Summaries can often best be presented in face-to-face meetings with the parliamentarians or their senior assistants. A brief policy memo or briefing paper—no more than two pages—summarizing an important demographic issue, for example continuing high maternal mortality in some sectors in India, and suggestions for policy measures to improve this situation, might be an example for you to consider.

Gouranga Dasvarma: This is a very important discussion about an ever present need to promote demography and demographic research among the public. As Bourgeios-Pichat (1970) said, “..the objectives pursued by demographic research have a bearing on the daily life of individuals..(therefore) the man in the street may be tempted to think that there is no need to be a specialist to discuss these problems. While no one would dream of casting doubt on the assertions of an astrophysicist…, it is not unusual to see the conclusions of demographic research called in question by persons who have no authority in the matter”. It is the last part of the statement which we need to address. On the other hand, there are many who tend to shy away from learning demography because it essentially deals with numbers. Conducting short and simple courses in demography for people of the media, government and the lay public could also help promote public demography. But most international and national organisations are giving very low priority to demography because they perceive the world’s population problem is under control with the decline of fertility worldwide. How to change their priorities?
Peter Donaldson: The global economic crisis has made it difficult to get resources for lots of new programs, including short courses on demography. Maybe you should begin with a larger range of issues than just patterns of population growth. Reminding people of the success we’ve had in lowering infant and maternal mortality but also of the continuing very high rates that demand attention. We know what to do; we have demonstrated success in places; now is not the time to renege on our commitment to women’s health. Demography can point out where investments are likely to pay off.

Lori Hunter: Such an important topic! I agree with Geoff Dabelko’s sentiment that there must be incentives for such engagement and I look forward to your thoughts on this. In addition, how might demographic training programs better educate demographers to, in fact, be “public”?
Peter Donaldson: In terms of public demography I’d emphasize good writing. There’s an appalling amount of bad writing in social sciences. In terms of specifics I’d recommend that every graduate student read John Reed’s essay “On Narrative”, in Social Forces.

Kevin Browning: Is it possible for demographers to work with the United Nations to help bring accurate demographic techniques to developing countries who have no experience in these matters?
Peter Donaldson: The UN population staff, especially those at the regional programs have done an excellent job in improving technical competency of national demographic institutions and their staffs. They have also promoted lots of useful technical exchanges. Given the constraints of working for the United Nations, it’s more difficult for UN demographers to engage in public demography.

William O’Hare: Could you compare and contrast public demography in the domestic-US-context and in the developing world?
Peter Donaldson: Public demography in both the United States and developing countries face many of the same issues, opportunities, and constraints. There is concern, for example, in some Southeast Asian countries about labor migration that has parallels to our immigrant issues. Of course this varies by country and region. There may be less information overload in developing countries so an op-ed piece in the national newspaper might have a greater impact than an equivalent piece in the United States. One difference between the US and developing countries is in the availability and quality of data. The US has much more high quality data available and much more first rate analysis to draw on than the typical developing country.

Matt Acocella: Why do you think there is a bias against academics at universities spending their time of promote their research to the public (as you mentioned in your article on public demography)? How do you think we can start going about changing this culture?
Peter Donaldson: Because the criteria for promotion and grant funding tend to be peer-reviewed articles. Public service typically ranks much lower in most academic environments, certainly in the US.

Roger Junior Colobong: in the field of public demography, aside from giving the data and analysis, will public demographers also be entitled to give their “solutions” to any public issue concerning population?
Peter Donaldson: I think it’s appropriate for public demographers to offer “solutions” to public issues concerning population but the greatest service might be to make sure the public understands the population dimension of various issues.

Bill Butz: Hi Peter. It seems there’s a case demographers can learn from: economists. For better or worse, many scores of economists in many countries speak to the public through columns, interviews, blogs, and Rotary Club speeches. They seek it out and they’re asked. Why the difference between their heavy participation and demographers’ weak participation in the public arena? Can we learn something?
Peter Donaldson: Not sure why this is the case. One important factor may be professional culture. Because economists have been active in the public arena for a long time, there are fewer disincentives. I wonder if the demography of the two groups is also involved. There are a lot more economists than demographers. Another point may be the slow pace of demographic change is of less interest than the price of gas next week. Finally, dare I say, economists are particularly opinionated.

Kofi Awusabo-Asare: One of the groups which is likely to be a major partner in public Demography is journalists. What do you consider to be the approach and training packages for this important group?
Peter Donaldson: I think training journalists to report on population issues would be useful but in the PRB paper I am arguing that demographers should do more writing for the public, not that we should spend more time training journalists to cover population issues.

Chris Hollis: I’m a bit more interested these days in making demographic (and other) data more comprehensible, accessible, and usable for citizens/community members themselves. I’m a Kids Count director and would like to do more community workshops, helping people to better grasp “so what does this mean?” and “what could you do with this?” Especially among Native American groups. Any thoughts/ideas on presenting of information, stimulating community discussion of these questions??
Peter Donaldson: I think simplicity and story telling are two key elements. In terms of specific advice, I’ve been impressed with the interactive graphic data presentations used by the New York Times, for example, to present information on unemployment rates in the United States. As the cursor moves across the chart, rates for specific sub-groups are shown. It’s very effective.

Trilochan Pokharel: This is an interesting discipline. I am interested to relate this discipline with “Demographic Auditing”, a term I would like to promote in policy discourse. Can you suggest how can we promote both these concepts in methods and materials of demography? How can these be made more applicable in countries with different stages of demographic transition?
Peter Donaldson: I am not sure what you mean by demographic auditing, but if you have in mind an annual review of a country’s population situation that would be roughly equivalent to the audited financial statements of a commercial firm, I think it’s a great idea. To make it useful to the largest audience, the numbers would have to be simple and easy to understand. Measures such as total population size, percent of population in different age groups, and a few other key indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, fertility, and school enrollment would be ideal. PRB’s data sheet would be a good model as would PRB’s Kids Count data booklet.

Tere M. Verian: Its a pleasure to have known your great endeavor on educating public about demography. Here in the Philippines, people may not be familiar with some of the effects of growing population. Reproductive health related issues are not amenable with some of the sectors of our community especially the church. Understanding population should unite one nation including them. How can we start promoting this public demography?
Peter Donaldson: One way to begin might be to try to write an article for a local newspaper or website on some aspect of population change in the Philippines. I’m not sure that the necessary data are easily available, but one topic might be the investments in children’s education made by parents with large and small families. Research in other Asian countries has demonstrated that one correlate of smaller family size is greater investments in children’s education, which leads to better employment opportunities, higher earnings, and greater contribution to national development.

Cecily Westermann: Mr. Donaldson—Thank you for making yourself available. I am from the U.S. Despite a Total Fertility Rate of 2.0, the U.S.—with a birthrate of 14 per 1000, a deathrate of 8 per 1000, and nearly 311,000 groups of 1000—is hardly an example of population stabilization. In my situation, I can’t just tell people to open their eyes, and frequently am told “The U.S. will never be overpopulated”. Even a remark that “24 of the 50 U.S. state governors have three or more biological children” can draw a lot of grief. No matter how careful you are in phrasing things—particularly not placing “blame”—some people are offended. What are your suggestions for focusing demographic discussions on the future, rather than on the past and present?
Peter Donaldson: One suggestion for focusing on America’s demographic future might be local area population projections. Because most of my work has been international, I’m not sure about the availability of data, but you might check the Census Bureau website and the American Community Survey. It might be possible to produce state or even city level estimates of growth. Many states have state demographers and state offices that do population projections that are not widely known. Helping to publicize those estimates might be one way to get more attention to the demographic changes underway in the United States.

Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: Dear Peter Donaldson I think most of us consider that the issue of demography is the issue of professionals. That is why the issue stays on the air not in the earth. As a media, sometimes deals with this issue indirectly. But how can we deal this issue in the media regularly? How can simplify it to bring in every persons mind?
Peter Donaldson: It’s sometimes difficult to develop storylines that will appeal to the media. One approach might be to begin with a personal or biographical approach, noting the circumstances say, of the migrant population that has moved to find work in Addis Ababa or another city. Describing the situation of a particular family and then pointing out the demographic information of the level and pattern of migration and its impact on sending and receiving areas might get more attention.

Issa Almasarweh: Why in many developing countries the agency charged with demographic issues and polices is not persistently disseminating barriers to population change based on research to decision takers in a compelling means especially in countries like Jordan with frequent government change?
Peter Donaldson: Communicating with policy makers about important demographic issues is almost always a challenge. Demographic change typically takes place over a long period of time. And policy makers tend to be preoccupied with day-to-day events. Concentrating on the long term is difficult for politicians and policymakers no matter where they are. Moreover, developing compelling presentations that will convey the needed information in an accurate and user-friendly way isn’t easy. As I said in answer to a previous question, I think short briefing documents or newspaper pieces on specific topics that provide limited data in an easy to understand format and spell out likely implications are particularly helpful.

Sean Buchanan: What do you believe is the best way to promote public demography?
Peter Donaldson: I’m not sure there’s a single “best” way to promote public demography. Perhaps if there were a regular column on the most popular websites that might help, say if Carl Haub or another expert at explaining demographic phenomena for the public had a monthly column in Slate that would help.

Geoff Dabelko: Peter, couldn’t agree more with your premise. The challenge from my outsider’s perspective is finding demographers who want to engage wider publics and who want to connect their work with other issue areas. Silos are a problem in all disciplines and the academic-practitioner divide is one that is very hard to bridge. What are the practical steps that must be taken to provide incentives and lower penalties for such engagement?
Peter Donaldson: I think the best incentive would be support from colleagues and one’s institution. It would be wonderful, for example, if the US Census Bureau encouraged its staff to publish more popular pieces. But it’s sometimes difficult for employees of the federal government in the United States and other countries to write popular pieces without being accused of engaging in politics, inappropriate lobbying, interference with other agencies, or excessive simplification. Sometimes the endless review process required by government agencies means the pieces are not lively enough or timely enough when they are finally released. That leaves much public demography to academics whose promotion depends on scientific pieces. So one key incentive would be for university departments and research institutes to encourage public demography by giving it some weight in their promotion process.

Issa Almasarweh: I agree with what Dharmendra Sharma said. In Jordan also, demographic issues were totally absent in all six parliamentarian elections’ campaigns we had in the last two decades.
Peter Donaldson: It’s difficult to know what to do to promote more consideration of demographic issues in the political process. All my suggestions are pretty simpleminded. Contact political leaders, ask questions at public events, write letters to the editor in the local newspaper asking for more information about long term demographic trends in issues such as population growth, perhaps especially increasing urbanization, changes in school enrollment, and controversial issues such as maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy. I think one reason why politicians don’t address these issues is they don’t get asked about them very much because people don’t raise them.

Lyn Davidson: Dear Mr. Donaldson, what are some of the ways you’ve noticed demographic research being misused, poorly explained or not understood by journalists? How can working journalists learn to deal better with this kind of information? Thanks so much!
Peter Donaldson: One misuse of demographic data is to cite low fertility in Japan and Western Europe and conclude that population growth is no longer a problem. This misses the regional variation and the fact that sub-Saharan African countries are still growing rapidly. I recently participated in a meeting on mortality at older ages and the US’s position relative to other countries, which isn’t very good. Much of the discussion of our healthcare system and the health of the elderly omits international comparisons of mortality which would be very informative.

Mohammad Umar: You and many of the leading NGOs are working but problems are not removing from the places where you are placed your people, why? As in India the problem of Illitracy rate is gaining day by day, as well many problems are.
Peter Donaldson: I disagree with your assumption. You sound like a glass- is-half-empty person; I’m a glass-is-half-full person. To be sure there are serious problems in India with illiteracy, among other things. But there have also been remarkable improvements in a range of health and educational indicators. Some countries have experienced remarkable transformations, including, for example, India’s neighbor Bangladesh. Countries of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have also undergone remarkable demographic changes that have contributed to economic development.

Jason Hodge: Which outlet of public demography has been most effective at relaying information to the public?
Peter Donaldson: I think two types of outlets have been particularly important, mass circulation newspapers and websites that reach a lot of people and on the other end important policy pieces that have gotten important conversations underway. One example of this might be John Bongaarts’ 1994 article in Science on “Population Policy Options in the Developing World.”

Regina Mendez: How can public demography better equip the people to be critical of the information given to them and distinguish distorted ones or half-truths that are being used to cater to some agenda of specific groups (e.g. political/religious position on Family Planning & Reproductive Health issues)
Peter Donaldson: Perhaps public demography can show the complications of an issue, but without getting too complicated itself. For example, in the recent debate about the wages of public versus private sector employees I’ve been impressed with the analysis that shows that the differences vary by specific position and education level. That type of analysis is very familiar to demographers, and presenting data that provided more nuance might help the public better understand issues and not be mislead by overly simple presentations.


PRB Discuss Online: The Well-Being of Older Populations

(November 2010) In many countries, the elderly now make up an unprecedented share of the population. This increase in the number of older people has implications for national budgets, labor force growth, and family support systems. How are elderly people faring and are there differences across countries in how well they fare? To help answer this question, the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Population Reference Bureau worked together to develop a comprehensive and robust measure of well-being for older populations using data from 11 European countries and the United States. During a PRB Discuss Online, Marlene Lee and Toshiko Kaneda, senior research associates at the Population Reference Bureau, answered questions from participants about what factors are important to the welfare of the elderly, how to make comparisons across countries, and the lessons learned from cross-national comparisons.

 Nov. 16, 2010 1 PM (EST)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Dr. Uzodinma Adirieje: 1. What are the proven negative effects of Alzheimer’s diseases on the vision performance/sight and their nutrition of older populations? 2. How can one access the “comprehensive and robust measure of well-being for older populations” developed by Marlene Lee and Toshiko Kaneda.
Toshiko Kaneda: While we do not include in our index any indicator that specifically gets at individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, I believe they are likely captured in one of the indicators we include to measure physical well-being. We have five indicators for this domain, including percent of older adults with no disability (measured using ADLs) and percent of older adults with no limitations in physical function. While much has been written about the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on vision, you might be interested in a review article that appeared in Optometry (the journal of the American Optometric Association) earlier this year called, “Alzheimer’s disease: Visual system review” ( I am less familiar with the nature of the link between Alzheimer’s disease and nutrition, but Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article this summer titled, “Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer Disease” ( that you might find interesting. The final report that describes our index is scheduled to come out by the end of the year. It will be posted online when published. You can sign up at to receive email announcements for the publication of our report as well as all other PRB contents updated on our website. Finally, I’d like to point out that the index was not developed exclusively by us, but there is a team consisting of staff from the Global Aging Program at the Stanford Center on Longevity, the Population Reference Bureau, and our advisory committee that consists of experts on substantive areas we examined as well as on index methodology and datasets we used. It was truly a team effort.

Richard Cincotta: While social scientists never got very excited the fact that youthful populations over-taxed government services and fostered inequalities, the promise of a bulge among seniors seems to distress analysts. What evidence is there that turning back some of the support to the private sector and families is fostering greater inequality among seniors (in morbidity and mortality)?
Toshiko Kaneda: Let me be sure that I understand your question by paraphrasing: If government supplies fewer resources for seniors and instead relies on the private sector and families to meet their needs, does this increase inequality in health among older adults? If this is your question, I am unaware of evidence one way or another. We have not done any analyses that can address questions like this with our index yet. We hope to expand our index to sub-groups within countries so as to address this interesting issue that you raised. We may be able to provide some insight with the index as-is, albeit indirectly. Since we constructed the index for twelve countries, comparing the levels of physical well-being across countries with different policies and programs with respect to the provision of various types of old-age support can shed some light on your question. For example, if older adults in countries whose governments provided generous services consistently fared better than their counterparts in other countries (net of GDP and other confounders), there is the possibility that the lack of such governmental provision of support may be associated with larger inequality in the well-being of older populations.

Mary Kritz: Does your database allow you to compare the 12 countries in terms of the ethnic and/or nativity well-being of their older populations? If so, I would be interested in that dimension.
Toshiko Kaneda: Our work unfortunately does not provide ways to compare the well-being of older populations by ethnicity or nativity in the present state, but it is something our colleagues at the Stanford Center on Longevity and we hope to incorporate in the future. The datasets we used to create our index are the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for the United States and the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) for the eleven European countries we examined. For the United States, the HRS allows you to look at fairly complex racial/ethnic categories. Some of the countries in SHARE allow you to look at languages spoken and this might be used to identify certain ethnic groups. These categories can be used to understand ethnic differences in the well-being of older populations within respective countries, but it is difficult to construct categories that can be used to compare racial/ethnic disparities across many countries. One simple designation might be minority vs. majority group, but more work needs to be done to understand the methodological problems in doing this. I believe all the datasets we used allow you to examine nativity/immigration status, which can be compared across countries.

Srinivas Goli: How far do growing economic inequalities effect the well-being of older population in developing countries (such as India)?
Toshiko Kaneda: In fact, we are currently in the midst of conducting a sensitivity analysis to assess how different levels of inequality in income across countries can affect their relative standing according to our index of well-being. The question of the impact of growing economic inequalities on the well-being is a tricky one. Growing economic inequality accompanied by income declines for everyone or for the less fortunate clearly reduces the well-being of older population. But economic inequalities can be growing in a country at the same time that the standard of living is improving for everyone including the less fortunate. So, it depends. Some research suggests that income inequality, or a sense of relative deprivation, does affect one’s well-being. This would be reflected in physical well-being, social engagement, and emotional well-being. However, increases in income for everyone must improve well-being with respect to the material well-being component of our index regardless of inequality.

Usha Natampalli: According to studies in India, the well-being of elderly persons differs when they are with family members vs. in elderly care homes. Do the countries in your study present patterns of wellness among elderly persons across age, gender, and location of stay?
Toshiko Kaneda: We create the index of well-being separately for three age groups—50-64, 65-74, and 75 and older. We find that the level of well-being is lower for older age groups, though there is substantial variation in this across the countries we examined. The association between age and well-being also differed across the four domains of well-being: material well-being; physical well-being; social engagement; and emotional well-being. We have not yet examined differences by gender in the countries used to develop the index. Based on previous literature, however, we might predict some patterns. For example, women tend to have higher disability at any given age, tend to be less well-off financially, are more socially engaged, and generally have worse emotional health outcomes. There are unfortunately no data available on institutionalized elderly that are comparable across countries. As such, our index is based on survey datasets that focus on community-dwellers and not those living in institutional settings (e.g., nursing homes, assisted living facilities), though we do provide sensitivity analyses to show that bias due to exclusion of the institutionalized population likely does not affect the results. Even if data were available, comparing older adults living at home and those living in institutions is very difficult, as there is strong selection into nursing homes and other institutional settings. Health, finances, the availability of informal care providers, preferences of elderly and their families all affect the likelihood of institutionalization. Different cultural norms across countries (or even across groups within a country) also dictate what it means to live in nursing homes and who end up there. In some societies, one must be financially quite well-off to be able to afford living in nursing homes, thus, can be considered a sign of wealth, while it might be perceived as a sign of being deserted by family members in other countries. Despite these difficulties, this is an important issue to study.

Ghazy Mujahid: It is very timely to have this discussion as the world prepares for MIPAA+10, a review of a decade of implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in 2012. As I understand from the introduction, it will focus on developed countries. However, the situation as it is emerging is going to be far more serious than or at least as serious as in the developed countries. Their populations are ageing more rapidly and as Go Harlem Brundtland summarised it at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002: “We must be fully aware that while the developed countries became rich before they became old, the developing countries will become old before they become rich.” How do you think the developing countries can learn from the experience of developed countries with respect to ageing given the fundamental economic, social and cultural differences? Also I would recommend a discussion when possible in the future, preferably sooner than later, on the ageing situation in the developing countries.
Toshiko Kaneda: Thanks for bringing up the situation in developing countries. You are absolutely right that, in many ways, developing countries face more pressing aging-related challenges than developed countries; their populations are aging at much faster rate than in developed countries and they have fewer resources to provide for their growing elderly populations. On the other hand, traditional sources of support in old age, such as children and other kin, may be more readily available, for example, as illustrated by the higher fertility for the current cohorts of elderly and the higher percentages of them residing in multigenerational households compared to their counterparts in developed countries. Rapid urbanization, socioeconomic changes, and changing norms, however, do tend to weigh down the capabilities as well as willingness of adult children to take on these roles. Population aging in developing countries indeed brings about critical issues that require attention and much debate. Despite the differences in contexts, there is a lot that developing countries can learn from the experiences of developed countries since what defines well-being in old age is pretty much universal. In our index, we define well-being along four dimensions: material well-being, physical well-being, social engagement, and emotional well-being. We find substantial differences in the levels of well-being across these domains in the countries we examined. Looking at the policies and programs of countries that score high on the elderly well-being index can suggest ways in which developing countries might improve the well-being of their older populations. While our index currently allows one to examine the well-being of older populations at a single point in time, we eventually want to track changes over time. Comparing the well-being of older adults in countries before and after they introduced some aging-related policies or programs can also provide some insight into effective policies for developing countries. In any case, extending our work to developing countries is among the list of things we hope to accomplish in our future work.

Robert Prentiss: What will be the consequences for the older population in the United States if the retirement age is raised to 69 years old as proposed by the Deficit Commission and benefits are reduced?
Toshiko Kaneda: As we mentioned earlier, we measure well-being in old age using four domains including material well-being and social engagement. The association between an increase in the retirement age, resulting in a reduction in benefits over a typical lifetime, and the well-being of older populations is a complicated one. On the one hand, some individuals may have to retire before age 69 even if they do not have a full pension. Thus, an increase in the retirement age would result in a reduction of their material well-being (and perhaps other dimensions of well-being too). On the other hand, research shows that an increase in retirement age is associated with longer labor force participation among older adults. For individuals that can continue to work, this might actually increase their material well-being. Most individuals have lower income after they retire, and if individuals earn more for longer, they might have greater assets upon retirement. Furthermore, while exact reasons individuals choose to work into old age differ (from intrinsic reward to financial need), employment is one important way for individuals to stay socially engaged in old age. The various benefits of social engagement on the well-being of older adults are well documented. In our index, we capture employment in old age with one of the indicators we use for the social engagement domain. As we continue to refine our index and use it in research, we hope to address some of the important issues that your question raises.

Patrick Mangochi: What impact will a bulging elderly population have on health services for the elderly in developing countries, where the bulk of health services delivery target the birth to midlife populations?
Marlene Lee: In developing countries, functional aging may occur earlier than in developed countries, so some services targeting midlife populations may actually be able to extend assistance to older adults. However, population aging is a good thing because it is the result of improving survival and health of birth and midlife populations, so there may be potential savings as programs targeting these populations are successful. Bloom, Canning, and Jamison discuss the economic virtues of improved health, noting that these diminish as population aging starts to occur—,Wealth,and.pdf.  Such savings might be used in planning changes in health delivery to assist older populations. The challenge then is to adapt the health service delivery to the new population structure and to have a healthy older population. One step might be training of health workers in the diagnosis and care of conditions more common in older adults. The net impact of a bulging elderly population on health services in developing countries is hard to assess without taking into account the specific context of each country. The elderly are also resources, sometimes providing care for ill family members or orphaned children. To some extent having an able older population may actually alleviate some demands on the health service system (see work by John Knodel on HIV/AIDS, some of which is also discussed in PRB publications/webcasts (

Charlie Teller: Hi Marleen and Toshiko, definitions of well-being and welfare differ from culture to culture, and to where the country is on the demographic transition. How do older populations self-identify well-being and how different is it from their middle-age children; and how does this differ from country to country?
Marlene Lee: Hi Charlie—thanks for this question. While I am aware of work using SHARE data to look at cultural differences in self-assessment of health across countries (, I don’t believe anyone has actually done any cross-country comparison of differences in self-assessments made at middle age vs. at older ages. Laura Carstensen has done work showing a “positivity effect” as we age in the United States. Laura’s answer to a question about the mental health of older people ( discusses a “well-being paradox”—subjective well-being or life satisfaction among older adults is as high as among younger adults.The Gallup World Poll data ( and recent journal articles using these data might also be helpful to further explore this question. We use the Gallup World Poll measure of life satisfaction as one indicator of emotional well-being in our study.

Dr. Anima Sharma, INDIA: Older population is a matter concern in every society, world over. They are one of the most vulnerable sections of the society….In the traditional societies where people live in close socio-cultural boundaries, are bound by network ties, which gives protection to each and every individual living within the premises, but in the modern societies, where due to the prevalence of nuclear families, older people either live alone or in the Old People Home, the problems are more and various. As an Anthropologist, I have (am) studied (studying) Urban/ Rural and Tribal population in different parts of India. During my field work I have come to know that most of the sufferings of the elderly people are due to health hazards and economic deprivation. At the Administrative level, Social Security Policies have been chalked out but due to various reasons most of the elderly people are ignorant about those, especially those living in the rural and remote areas. Sometimes the elderlies do not get their due to genuine reasons as they either do not have children, or the children are living separately due to their jobs, but in several cases I have found that children deliberately ignore their elderlies, which adds to latter’s agony. My summation is that along with advocacy, policy making and providing economic, health and social security to the elderly, we should also try to instigate the feeling of socially responsible behaviour and better civic sense among the youths. May I know your views in this regards?
Marlene Lee: Thank you for the overview of your findings. There is no doubt that many factors influence the well-being of older adults. I cannot speak specifically to the situation in India. However, in both countries that rely heavily on well-established government services and those countries where traditional family exchanges play a greater role, engaging family members in the care of older people is not always simple or easy. At every stage of life, adults have multiple responsibilities—they may be saving to help their children, working outside the home, and caring for an elderly relative. As my colleague Toshiko Kaneda noted in an earlier answer, social changes such as urbanization and the demands of modern work pose new challenges. I believe the best path is to raise awareness of options for handling these responsibilities. As you mentioned, advocacy may raise awareness of the programs available to the elderly. Targeting some of this information to young people can also be useful in educating them about the role that families have in the care of older people—even as traditional family assistance may be more difficult to offer as family members migrate for work.

Ghazy Mujahid: “Ageing in place”, that is, for the elderly to stay at home is receiving increasing emphasis. In China, Shanghai (the most “aged” area) has come up with plans for a “90-7-3 initiative,” that is, 90 percent to age at home, 7 percent in community-care and 3 percent in institutions. Beijing is reportedly following with a corresponding “90-6-4 initiative.” This reflects the growing realisation of the importance of “ageing in place.” Like mothers-in law are the best baby-sitters, daughters-in-law and daughters should be the best care-givers in old age. I remember that about 5-6 years ago, Chinese officials dealing with ageing went to Australia for a study tour. When asked why they went to a country so culturally different, the answer was that they wanted to see the working of elderly homes (institutional living). They learnt that, with the benefit of hindsight, the Australians themselves were not enthusiastic about institutional living for the elderly. I would like to know if this issue has drawn attention in North America and Europe? A study to compare the overall welfare (not just material) of the elderly by varying modes of living arrangements should be undertaken. If any such study has been done please provide references and, if possible, in brief the main findings.
Marlene Lee: In 2005, the UN Population Division published a report on the living arrangements of older people around the world. This might be a useful place to start One pertinent finding is “There is a widespread trend towards independent forms of living arrangements among older persons. The trend towards living alone or with spouse only is in accordance with a general preference for independent living in economically developed countries, and there is a growing preference for separate residence in some developing countries as well.” Another is: “the exercise of the preference for independent forms of living arrangements appears to be strongly constrained by factors that affect autonomy, such as having difficulty in performing either activities of daily living (ADL) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADL).” The lack of good quality data on institutionalized individuals is a strong barrier to any study of well-being that compares the institutionalized vs. the non-institutionalized. Also, the more objective measures of well-being—the physical and mental functioning—are generally worse in the institutionalized population and can be barriers to obtaining subjective (self-reported) measures of well-being.

Pushpanjali Swain: Medical intervention no doubt improved the life expectancy of older persons, however, quality of life of older people are at stake. Majority of older especially those living single and widows in especially in India are lonely and keep fighting morbidity. Studies show that functional disability increases with age. Caregivers role is important to take care of disabled elderly. What should be government strategies to take care of elderly for disability free healthy ageing?
Marlene Lee: I am not familiar with studies of aging in India, but in the United States, good health in early childhood and higher education have been found to be associated with having good in midlife and old age. Government efforts to improve early childhood health and higher education pay off at older ages.

Bethany Brown: The conspicuous absence of published national demographic data on older persons is a formidable barrier to advocacy for their well-being from the perspective of their health, quality of life, economic security, and human rights. How might you suggest encouraging or incentivizing disaggregated data collection for populations over retirement age around the world?
Marlene Lee: Some national data might not be available in the detail needed because of small sample size which can create issues of data quality or the risk of violating the confidentiality of the person who gave the information. Other data may not be available because of the additional resources required to collect the data or to publish disaggregated data. One approach to encouraging useful data collection on older populations around the world is to demonstrate how these data may be used. This is one reason for developing the SCL/PRB index of well-being for older populations with a limited number of countries. A methodology that might be usefully applied to other countries and possibilities for using the index in analysis will, we hope, encourage continued efforts to collect data needed to assess the well-being of older adults.

Margaret Gaines: I am concerned about the well-being of women in the older population. They will live longer and most likely have few economic resources to support themselves, than men. What issues would you consider important in a comparative study of older women? Also, do you believe that your comparative study could include developing countries? Why or why not?
Toshiko Kaneda: In addition to living longer with fewer economic resources, women also have higher rates of disability than men. They also tend to fare worse than men in various emotional health outcomes. The four dimensions we examined in our index as mentioned earlier—the material well-being, physical well-being, social engagement, and emotional well-being—thus are all important in a comparative study of older women. In addition, the issue of domestic violence is more pertinent among women than men and should be examined. Ideally, developing countries should be included in comparative work, but there are challenges. One basic challenge is the lack of the comparative datasets. Some developing countries, however, have either started or are starting data collection on older populations. We hope to take advantage of new studies as they become available and extend our work to include developing countries.

Sara: Do you believe the identified indicators and tool for measuring the well-being of older adult populations, developed by PRB and Stanford Center on Longevity, can be used as a template by localities to test the age readiness of their communities?
Marlene Lee: Without similar surveys done at the local level, it would be difficult to replicate the SCL/PRB index for a locality. However, we did not investigate data sources for localities, so I would not completely rule out the existence of viable data sources for larger localities. Where the sample size is large enough some of the data that we used might lend itself to being used for regions within a country.

Mahesh Nath Singh: As the mostly older people face the problems in urban setup, more and more among them are from rich families, so the upcoming National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) will focus on well-being of older population in India.
Toshiko Kaneda: Thanks for sharing this interesting information. It will be good if there was a similar mission available to address the well-being of older population living in rural areas. As you indicated, the rural elderly in developing countries generally have less resources while having worse health conditions.

Amy Ford: What can employers expect with this increase in older populations? Also, how can they support their older workers who may be choosing not to retire, as well as dependents who are caring for their aging parents? Does this differ by country?
Marlene Lee: Amy, we did not look specifically at this question, but the SCL/PRB index looks at different dimensions of well-being, physical functioning, social connections, emotional-well-being. Looking at the results for these European countries and the United States, employers generally have a pool of healthy workers among older adults, but in some countries emotional well-being and social connections varies by country and by age. Income also declines with age. I think that continued integration into the workplace and a supportive environment where workers know that their contribution is valued would help older workers as well as those workers who are caring for aging parents.

Dr. Constance Bowes: How are the sexual rights and desires of older populations (over 50) being researched today?
Marlene Lee: In the United States, some research has been done on this at the University of Chicago. See the link to publications at this site (

Adebayo Oladayo Abayomi: What effects does international migration has on the well-being of older population?
Toshiko Kaneda: Most immigrants are working-age and, therefore, immigration may mediate the financial pressure on public programs for the aged, such as pension system, by increasing those who can contribute to tax base. In other words, “dependency ratios” might be improved slightly by immigration. Migration of health care workers from developing countries to the developed countries have also improved the health care staffing needs of caring for older population in these countries, thus, improving the well-being of older population.

Karin Ringheim: As income inequality has grown more pronounced in the U.S. and other western countries over the last several decades, have you looked at the impact of this growing inequality on older populations? And since the U.S. has the distinction of being the most unequal among these, are you able to compare the impact of growing income inequality on the elderly in the U.S. relative to its impact on the elderly in Europe?
Marlene Lee: An earlier answer to Srinivas Goli outlines how increasing inequality may be accompanied by increased material well-being even for those at the lower end of the income spectrum. We are looking at the possible effect of inequality but have not yet looked at more than one point in time.

Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: Is there any reason that your research focused in European countries and United States only? When you are making your research could you get the old age difference between countries to countries? And what are the reasons for that? In most developing countries older people retired for once and for the last. And they are going be to discourage for doing anything but I think that in some cases o


Interview With Andreas Edel, Executive Secretary, Population Europe

(October 2010) Population Europe is a new collaborative network of Europe’s leading demographic research institutes and centers that works to enhance  research on policy-relevant population issues; and compile, distill, translate, disseminate, and exchange reliable, authoritative facts, data, and findings on population in a readily accessible and unbiased, nonpartisan manner. The goal is to mobilize Europe’s best demographic researchers to coordinate and strengthen collaborative research efforts and to contribute reliable facts and findings to public discussions of population issues. 

PRB president Bill Butz sat down with Population Europe executive secretary Andreas Edel during the European Population Conference in Austria, Vienna in September 2010 to discuss Population Europe’s work, how to communicate to varied audiences, and PRB’s affiliation with the organization.

Where did Population Europe come from and what is it about?

Thank you, Bill, for giving me the opportunity to introduce our new initiative to your audience. Population Europe is a collaborative network of Europe’s leading demographic research institutes. We have been established in the summer of 2009, so we are quite young. What is it about? Well, you know, the European Union with currently 27 member states provides a great richness through its diversity, and it is somehow an ideal laboratory to study demographic change. There are countries with different fertility rates, levels of mortality and aging, and migration patterns. It’s quite exciting to compare those in order to learn more about demographic processes constituting population dynamics. All partner institutes in our network do fascinating research. Population Europe was founded on the one hand to pursue collaborative research projects; on the other hand, to disseminate reliable demographic information to the public. All these centers are very strong in certain fields, and combining this expertise, we aim at creating a significant pool of knowledge.

Can you give us an idea—I know you can’t name all of the centers—but give us an idea of the kind of research centers that are involved?

Currently, 24 institutions take part in the network, a 25th one is very likely to join us soon. Our partners are research institutes, but we collaborate intensively with public institutions and NGOs dealing with population issues. So our partnership is built on very different experiences which we highly value. 

So what will Population Europe add to scentific research? How will you be using that research?

On the one hand, you can cover a much broader range of topics if you bring together the leading European population centers in a network. Of course, all these institutes have already been collaborating in various research projects, but the network can help to strengthen these and establish new ones. An additional advantage of Population Europe is to help disseminating reliable information on population developments throughout Europe, such as organizing scientific events, maintaining a website, publishing policy briefs and newsletters, and the like.

And I must say that this is one of the reasons that PRB is so excited, and me personally about this initiative, and PRB is honored to be an affiliate of Population Europe. As you describe this part of your function, of course, it’s very similar to what we do and we will be able to learn from you and hopefully you from us.

Absolutely! We are extremely happy that PRB joined us as a collaboration partner so that we can exchange information with you and learn from the pioneer work you have been doing in the United States. Indeed, our institutions are both sailing the same waters.

I hope so, yes!

I think we can really learn a lot from PRB, especially how to address policy issues and how to make complicated demographic issues, numbers and calculations accessible and understandable for the policy audience.

But when you think of different audiences, I’m curious if you have priorities among them. There are parliamentarians, there’s the media, there’s perhaps direct communication through your website to civil society. Do you have priorities here or are you going to try to do all of this?

We intend to address various audiences—policymakers, journalists, students, as well as the wider public. We are particularly interested in bringing together scientists with those decisionmakers designing and influencing policies. Here is an example how we try to do that: We are about to establish a public debate series throughout Europe, our so-called Population Europe Events. These start with a closed meeting involving eminent scholars and important politicians. It is a format where they can exchange in a confidential and constructive atmosphere in order to discuss demographic issues and related policies “off the record,” if you like. The closed meeting is followed by a press conference and then a public event. The findings of these events will be published as policy briefs which are distributed through various channels, including our website.

And you have one of those coming up…

Yes, we are right in the hot run-up phase to our first Population Europe Event on the 13th of October in Brussels at the Belgian Royal Academy. There are two events scheduled for each year, one in spring and one in fall, and they will lead us not only to Brussels, but also to cities like Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw.

Are there particular challenges you see? Perhaps working with the different institutes who already have their own modes of working together? Or taking an EU versus an individual country perspective? Maybe the languages? Are there challenges here?

Our partnership is formed by people who have successfully collaborated for years, such as in the consortia of various doctoral schools or of extremely successful projects, such as the Gender and Generation Program. They know each other, they trust in each other, and this is a very good base for our endeavor. I therefore see this not as a challenge but as an opportunity. At the Population Europe Secretariat in Berlin, we see our role as facilitators, who can help the partners to extend existing collaborations and develop new ones. On the other hand, there certainly are challenges. Even though we are a young network, we are already quite big. Our aim is to help as many partners with as many projects as possible, and this needs a lot of coordination. With our Council of Advisors, we are currently developing a framework in which over 100 leading population experts can develop and organize ideas for new projects. This body also helps us to make sure that our outreach products are of the highest standard possible.

Well as I meet and get to know the various people who are at the different institutes it’s very clear that the spirit of cooperation is very high and has been and that you will not have the challenge of creating that. You’ll be able to use it and build on it in this new institution. Well, Andreas, it’s been a pleasure talking with you, my colleagues and I in the states and at PRB in particular we wish to and stand ready to help you and to learn from you.

Thank you, Bill, the pleasure really is on my and my team’s side I am very much looking forward to our collaboration.


PRB Discuss Online: U.S. Economic and Social Trends

(March 2010) During the current U.S. recession, homeownership and mobility rates have dropped; poverty has increased; and commuting patterns have shifted toward greener, more cost-effective options. But job losses and housing market declines have hurt some Americans more than others, and racial and ethnic disparities in education and income become more important as blacks and Hispanics make up a larger proportion of the workforce. Demographic differences are also a factor: For example, Hispanics are younger and have larger families than other major racial/ethnic groups. Families with children have fared well on some indicators, but face special challenges if parents are unemployed or without health insurance. Which population groups are most vulnerable to economic changes? How has the story changed over time or by geographic region?


During a PRB Discuss Online, Linda Jacobsen, vice president of Domestic Programs, and Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB, answered participants’ questions about recent social and economic trends in the United States and the future implications for U.S. population groups. Jacobsen and Mather are co-authors of the new Population Bulletin, “U.S. Social and Economic Trends Since 2000.”

March 18, 2010 12 PM EST


Transcript of Questions and Answers


Juanita Tamayo Lott: Dear Linda and Mark, Thank you for this timely contextual study—really sobering findings on family and household characteristics by race and ethnicity. Were you able to examine socio-economic data specific to the Millennial and Digital Generations which are composed of not only a greater proportion of children of color but also more likely to be more multi ethnic and multiracial? Were you able to review data on worker/dependent ratios with a primarily White aging/consumer White population dependent on an increasingly non White worker/producer population? Thanks, Juanita
Mark Mather: You raise an important issue and one that rarely gets much attention. There is a growing racial/ethnic gap between those ages 65 and older and young adults who are increasingly Latino, Asian, or multiracial. This “new generation gap” came about because of the rise in immigration levels soon after the end of the baby boom, in combination with relatively high fertility among Latino families. It’s unclear whether the mostly white elderly population in the U.S. will support programs and policies to support a racially/culturally diverse youth population (and vice versa). But it’s crucial that minority youth have the supports they need to become productive adults because they are going to make up most of the growth in the U.S. labor force in the coming decades.

Jann Anguish: According to your statistics for years 2007-2009, the number of employed dropped in 29 states and increased in only one, Texas, due to the strong energy and high tech industries. Are the energy and high tech industries projected to remain strong in the future?
Mark Mather: Texas has weathered the recession better than many other states but it’s hard to predict where employment and population growth will take off in the future. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects rapid growth in IT during the next decade but we are increasingly outsourcing IT jobs to other countries. See PRB’s recent article on this topic:

Shelley Irving: You mention that “poverty rates among children are expected to rise further in the next few years.” What factors will lead to this increase in childhood poverty? Do you think that the 1996 welfare reform legislation has had any effect on the poverty experience of children Also, do you anticipate any long-term effects from this increase in childhood poverty?
Mark Mather: The official poverty rate is derived from family income so child poverty is expected to increase in response to recent job losses. Researchers at the Brookings Institution projected that child poverty rates could peak at 24 percent by 2011, based on their analysis of recent and projected trends in unemployment. During the 1990s, child poverty rates dropped, especially among single-parent families who were entering the workforce in greater numbers. So welfare reform has been linked to a decline in child poverty rates (see research by Lichter and Crowley). However, the official poverty rate has also been widely criticized because it doesn’t account for many of the costs incurred by working families with children, including child care and health expenses.

Jason Bedford: How has the changing trend of an increased Latino population affected their political voice in government? Does their representation in government equal the percentage of the population that they represent in the US?
Mark Mather: Political participation among Latinos is limited and lags far behind the growth of the Latino population. There are several reasons for this, including low citizenship rates, low voter registration rates, relatively low levels of education, as well as the young age structure of the Latino population (older Americans are more likely to vote). Latino political power is expected to increase over time but they have a long way to go to close the gap with whites. Still, anyone who is seeking political office needs to pay more attention to Latino voters than they did a generation ago. Latinos currently account for about half of all children under age 18 in California, and most of these children are U.S.-born citizens, so Latinos are going to be an increasingly powerful political force on the West Coast and eventually in other states as well.

Robert Prentiss: Your study indicated foreclosures are up and mortgages are “under water”. Do you have any data to indicate whether and how this will affect the need to house more homeless families?
Linda Jacobsen: There is some evidence that the economic downturn is causing an increase in family homelessness. In its 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that homelessness among persons in families increased by 9 percent between October 2007 and September 2008. This report also finds an increase in the number reporting that they were living with family or friends the night before entering a homeless residential facility, and an increase in the share who had lived in the place they spent the night before becoming homeless for a year or more. Although the number of homeless persons is higher in urban areas, there was an increase in homelessness in suburban and rural areas between 2007 and 2008. The HUD report provides estimates of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons, as well as information about their demographic characteristics and is available online at

Ashley Frost: Your research indicates that nonmarital childbearing has increased in the last 10 years; could you elaborate on what has caused this trend?
Linda Jacobsen: The increase in nonmarital fertility is largely due to delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation. Young adults today are waiting longer than ever to marry for the first time. Among 25- to 29-year-olds in 2008, nearly half of women and three-fifths of men had never been married. But, even though young adults are waiting to marry, they are not waiting to form unions. Instead they are cohabiting. In fact, recent estimates suggest that the majority of young adults today cohabit at some point and that more than half of recent marriages were preceded by cohabitation. In addition, cohabiting households today are also more likely to contain children. There continues to be a large racial and ethnic gap in nonmarital fertility. Seventy percent of black births, and 50 percent of Hispanic births were nonmarital, compared to only 27 percent of non-Hispanic white births. With continued growth in minority populations, the share of nonmarital births seems likely to increase in the future.

Sanjay Mishra: Specially the people who are living out of USA mainly in less developed countries are more or less affected with American state economic policy and other related decisions, fro example the slump and economic depression affected badly to many of the such countries, reason being there is a huge gap between less developed and developed, my concern is that disease, dpression, inflation,global warming and pollution reaches more rapidly than the socio- economic developmement measures why so? Examples can be seen from India, China and majority of the African countries which affected immidiately due to global recession spontaneously.
Mark Mather: This isn’t my area of expertise but in developing countries there is a large number of people living in extremely precarious situations, so when economic conditions deteriorate there are major consequences for those without any acquired wealth or government safety nets. For information about some of the demographic, health, and environmental challenges facing populations in developing countries, see our recent Population Bulletin on World Population Highlights:

Sam Roberts: Dear Linda and Mark: On the basis of trends in the last 10 years, what can we extrapolate and forecast what to expect in the next 10? Also, given the growth of the black middle class, do we see any greater movement toward black children being raised in two-parent households?
Mark Mather: Sam, Here are some quick thoughts about what we can expect to see during the next decade:

•The U.S. population will grow older as baby boomers start to reach age 65 (starting in 2011). Most of these aging boomers are white but we’ll see more diversity in the generations that follow them.

•We will see increasing racial/ethnic diversity but perhaps a slowdown in Latino population growth compared with trends in the 1990s and early 2000s, given the recent decline in international immigration.

•We expect to see relatively low state-to-state and local mobility rates as the population ages (older Americans are less likely to move)

•The U.S. has a high fertility rate compared to most other developed countries, but we could see a drop in fertility as more women enter college and the workforce and further delay marriage and childbearing.

•Unless conditions improve rapidly for minority youth, we expect to see a large number of young adults in the next decade who lack the skills needed to compete for good jobs.

Regarding your other question: The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the share of African American children living in single-parent families has held steady at around 65 percent since 2000. This is more than 40 percentage points higher than the share for non-Hispanic white children and puts black youth at a severe disadvantage in terms of family income, education, and other dimensions of child welfare. The recession has made conditions worse, especially for black men, who have an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent according to the latest BLS figures. Lower levels of education and family income are associated with higher rates of nonmarital births so the prospects for blacks do not look very good in the short term. However, there is also a growing share of black women who are going to college and getting good jobs, so over the long term, we could see more black women delaying childbearing and having fewer births outside of marriage. I’ll also note that there is an increasing share of children being raised by cohabiting parents. So if we focus only on “single-parent” families we do not get a complete picture of children’s living arrangements. Children with cohabiting parents, like kids in single-parent families, have worse outcomes compared with children in married-couple families so this is another trend we need to monitor.

Mary Kent: We hear a lot about the wealth gap among US racial and ethnic groups, which is much larger than the difference in current income. Has the wealth gap narrowed since 2000? What is the likely effect of the recession on this gap?
Linda Jacobsen: The most recent data from the Federal Reserve Board show a slight increase (6%) in average net worth between 2001 and 2004, and a larger increase (13%) between 2004 and 2007 – before the full impact of the recent recession. Even though average net worth increased for nonwhite and Hispanic families, their average net worth was still only about one-third the average of non-Hispanic white families in 2007. As our report notes, homeownership has traditionally been the major source of wealth accumulation in the U.S. But, rates of homeownership remain much lower among minorities, and home values for African Americans are much lower than those for non-Hispanic whites, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. Since blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately impacted in terms of both unemployment and foreclosure by the recession, it seems likely that the wealth gap between minorities and whites will increase.

Michael Thompson: The national trends highlighted in the report are really interesting, but could they obscure trends at regional scales that would give valuable perspective? Two possible examples are the high median home values and educational levels associated with Asian Americans. To what extent do these statistics reflect the distribution of Asian American populations on the two coasts and (in particular) the relatively inexpensive opportunities for higher education in California. Are there other national trends that are heavily skewed by populations that live near the two coasts?
Mark Mather: As you mention, there are important variations in regional and residential concentrations of racial/ethnic populations. Latinos were geographically disadvantaged during the recession because of their high concentrations in states with the steepest declines in home values, including California, Florida, and Nevada. Asians tend to live in higher-priced suburban areas near the East and West Coasts and also experienced a significant loss of wealth associated with the drop in home prices. In the Midwest, the loss of manufacturing jobs, especially in Michigan, has had a major impact on the mostly white and black populations in the region. We could not go into too much detail about regional differences in this report, but it’s clear that the recession has affected different regions and population subgroups in different ways.

Eric Zuehlke: Many economists speculate that even when the recession ends, the unemployment rate will stay the same for years. What kind of social consequences could this have and how does the changing demographic makeup of the U.S. affect these changes?
Linda Jacobsen: We do indeed seem to be in the midst of a “jobless recovery”. A recent report from the Brookings Institution finds that we have recovered a smaller percentage of jobs in the two years since the current recession began than were recovered in the two years following the last three recessions. The current job market has been particulary tough for young adults and recent college graduates. Many have moved back in with their parents. If these employment trends continue, then young adults may have to wait even longer to establish their own households and to marry and start families. Of course, minorities make up a larger share of the child and youth populations, and blacks and Latinos have experienced the biggest increases in unemployment during the current recession. Unfortunately, these two groups continue to have much lower levels of college enrollment and completion than Whites and Asian Americans. If unemployment rates remain at higher levels in the future, and the education gap for blacks and Latinos is not reduced, then they may continue to experience much higher levels of unemployment, negatively impacting their well-being and that of their families.

mohamad saljoughi: Hello i am student in demography, from university of iran, what is the most emportant issue of demographic of middle east?
Mark Mather: Hi Mohamad, I am going to direct you to a recent PRB report on population issues in the Middle East in Africa. The report addresses many challenges and opportunities in the region but the “youth bulge”—and the challenges it creates for the future workforce–is certainly one of the key issues


For further information see:

Linda Jacobsen and Mark Mather, “U.S. Economic and Social Trends Since 2000,” Population Bulletin 65, no. 1 (2010).

PRB has produced a web package of materials to accompany this Population Bulletin, including:

• “10 Years, 10 Findings.”

• Audio commentary from the authors on data on unemployment, housing values, educational attainment, and marriage patterns by race/ethnicity.

• “Hard Times for Latino Men.


PRB Discuss Online: How Are the Children of Single Mothers Faring? Evidence From the Fragile Families Study

(February 2010) The percentage of U.S. children born outside marriage has increased dramatically over several decades, growing from 6 percent of all births in 1960 to nearly 40 percent of births today. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study has been following a cohort of approximately 3,600 children born to unmarried parents at the turn of the 21st century to learn more about these families, investigating, among other issues, the capabilities and circumstances of these parents and the nature of their relationships at birth. What happens to parents’ relationships and capabilities over time? How well do children in fragile families fare? What role do welfare state policies play in the lives of parents and children?

During a PRB Discuss Online, Sara McLanahan, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and principal investigator on the Fragile Families Study, answered participants’ questions about the challenges and realities that confront the children of unmarried parents—and how these children and their parents are faring.

Thank all of you for submitting questions for Professor McLanahan and for following the discussion. Because of the large volume of questions, she was not able to respond to all of them during the session. You can find more information about this research at

Feb. 18, 2010 1 PM EST 

Transcript of Questions and Answers

ABDUL MALIK GHAURI: giving property of husband to wife in case of divorce appears to be a major reason avoiding formal marriages so should not the laws are needed to be amended to make formal marriage a simple and easy affair?
Sara McLanahan: most of the couples who are having children outside marriage do not have any wealth so i doubt that property law is a big factor in their decisions about marriage

Andrew Cummings: homes or are they to a unwed couple or a non-traditional couple? Do the policies and practices of the welfare state just create more welfare families?
Sara McLanahan: about half of non-marital births in the US are to cohabiting parents and about 30 percent are to couples who are in a romantic relationship but living apart. In theory, programs that are highly income-tested should discourage marriage. This is not the case for welfare state programs that are not income-tested (e.g. public education).

Holly Stover: Is there a region where there are more occurrences of single parents? Is there a higher occurrence in any one socio-economic status over another? How likely are these children to obtain higher education?
Sara McLanahan: Non-marital childbearing is strongly associated with socio-economic status and minority status. Between 30% and 40% of unmarried mothers and fathers lack a high school degree and less than 3% have finished college. African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of non-marital childbearing than whites, even after adjusting for SES With respect to region, non-marital childbearing rates are higher in states with high levels of poverty and a high proportion of minorities.

Israrul Haque: What do you think will be the effect on American society when 40% [of] the birth will be comprising of illegal children born out of wedlock [missing] the [care] and affection of their father. Is it not a matter of great concern for any society? What the present administration plan to restrict this irresponsible behavior?
Sara McLanahan: Non-marital childbearing is not equivalent to single motherhood. About 50% of non-marital births in the US are to cohabiting couples. Indeed, in some countries (e.g. sweden and france), where non-marital childbearing rates are even higher than in the US, close to 90 percent of unmarried couples are cohabiting. And these cohabiting unions can be very stable. the problem is that in the US, cohabiting parent unions are not very stable and thus these children are experiencing a great deal of instability. the US government is currently funding programs to promote stable marriage and encourage father involvement, and these programs are being evaluated. for move information, google “Building Strong Families” or “Strengthening Healthy Marriage”

Ralph Yehle: How do children of mixed-race living in households with a single-race parent do compared to children living with a same race parent?
Sara McLanahan: i don’t have any data on this question

Meryl Goodwin: I am intrigued by the name “Fragile Families Study.” It seems like very judgemental language, and the researchers are implying that these families are more fragile right off the bat before the research was even conducted. What was the hypothesis before the study started? I am curious about the methodology because just from the title, it already seems biased against births out of wedlock.
Sara McLanahan: Before we began the study, we knew (from demographic research) that cohabiting and dating couples were much more likely to end their partnerships than married couples. We also knew these parents were less educated and more likely to be poor than married parents. For these two reasons, we used the word “fragile.” At the same time, we used the word “family” to underscore that fact that these couples and their child are connected both biologically and socially, Indeed, prior to our study, many analyists thought most non-marital births were the produce of casual relationships. A major finding from our study is that 80 percent of these parents are in a romantic relationship at the time of their child’s birth.

Ntoimo Favour C.: Dr McLanahan, Please how can I access the full text of this current research on how children of single mothers are faring? I am doing a PhD research on never married women age 30 to 59, some of whom are single mothers.
Sara McLanahan: Everything about the study, including research papers, data description, etc. is available at:  

Raïq, Hicham: Thanks for this interesting topic. For me the question is how to help single mothers to balance work and care activities. In the American context of workfare, what is the impact on single mothers’ poverty ? How [many] single mothers are poor as compared to other families?
Sara McLanahan: poverty rates are high among unmarried mothers. Whereas 14% of married mothers are poor at the time their child is born, the number is 53% for unmarried mothers who are living alone and 32% for unmarried mothers who are cohabiting with child’s father.

Emeka Nwosu, Nigeria: Is it not better to have kids in a marriage
Sara McLanahan: on average, children born to married parents have better outcomes than children born to unmarried parents. But this does not mean that all children born to unmarried parents do worse than all children born to married parents. Parents’ marital status at birth increases a child’s risk of having a bad outcome, but it does not mean that a bad outcome is inevitable.

Dr. Anima Sharma: Hi, This is a very contemporary issue w.r.t. every country and as the question-mark suggests further elaboration, hence I will narrate few of my findings on this board. I am an Indian and as being an Anthropologist, I have studied several rural, urban and tribal communities. I have found that there could [be] several types of single mothers- widowed, separated, divorced, unmarried, single mothers who have adopted the child(ren), women raising children singlehandedly as their hudbands are working elsewhere (military/ business), etc. Single mothers living in rural areas or living within a network (social or professional) face lesser adversities while those living in urban areas face more challenges sometimes addressing the issue of survival. Hence, when we analyse the performance of the children of single mothers then we should take into account all these factors. Sometimes they do well professionally but face several psychological problems. Sometimes their psychological problems ride upon their professional and social life. Sometimes due to persistent struggle on economic frnts makes them aggresive or at the other times they are humbled by it. I have seen several of these types personally. I also would like to make this topic more specific by understanding that what does author mean by faring, that is economically, career-wise, socially…what? There are children who have shown outstanding performance as one of my colleagues. But I am sure that he would have been different if he would not be holding his family treasure. Thus economic insecurity plays a vital role. But on the whole, I have found that it is a good topic for conducting multi-disciplinary research, cross-sectionally.
Sara McLanahan: i agree that there is a good deal of variation within different types of single-mother families. I also agree that there is variation in child outcomes. Finally, i very much agree about the value of interdisciplinary research. We have economists, sociologists, demographers and psychologists on our research team. We also have an ethnographer who has followed about 50 of these families over time and conducted indepth interviews with mothers and fathers.

Elizabeth Bocaletti: What’s the relationship between single mothers and sociocultural, education and age factors?
Sara McLanahan: As compared with married mothers, unmarried mothers are younger, much less educated, and much more likely to be of minority status. With respect to attitudes, unmarried mothers place a high value on marriage and many say they plan to marry. Unmarried mothers report about the same level of relationship quality as married mothers – at the time of child’s birth. Finally, unmarried mothers are somewhat more distrustful of men than married mothers and they are also more likely to believe that “a single mother can raise a child alone.”

Robert Prentiss: I recall seeing a study that indicated that children growing up with single mothers who gave them little care or support who accepted that they were unwanted fared better than similarly treated children who made excuses for their mothers and lived in hope things would change? Do you know of any studies on coping mechanisms of such children?
Sara McLanahan: I’ve never heard about this finding. There is a large literature in psychology about the coping mechanisms of children of divorce. Mavis Hetherington is a good place to start

Joy Francis: Can you state if children of single mothers fare better than children of single fathers? Does the study examine this issue?
Sara McLanahan: The evidence i have seen suggests that children of single mothers and single fathers do about the same. However, it’s not really a fair comparison because children raised by a single father are a pretty select group, especially young children

Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: In our country, even if I couldn’t found what the research saying about this issue I don’t think that children without marriage is … much problem for us. Our culture also couldn’t encourage this kind of things. When I discussed with my friend about this kind issue, most of the time she said that if husband and wife couldn’t live together peacefully, this is going to be more difficult for the children. And she believe that it is better to have children without marriage than children with hard or bad marriage. What do you think? and what research said about this?
Sara McLanahan: you are correct that living in a high conflict home is not good for children, especially if the conflict is about the child. some studies have shown that children in high conflict situtataions are better off after their parents divorce.

Jann Anguish: In the title of the article “single mothers” are referred to. In the article itself “unmarried parents” are referred to. Does this mean that some are single mothers while other children are born to couples that live together (or not) but are not married? Does this take into account that individual children have different coping skills, some, just by their nature, are going to be fine and grow to their full potential, while others are going to be scarred by a fragile, disfunctional family.
Sara McLanahan: you are right about the title being a bit confusing. single mothers would include women who divorced whereas unmarried mothers would include women in stable unions. in our study, we started at the hospitals and interviewed mothers who were married and unmarried at birth. and we followed these families over time. So in our study unmarried is not the same as single I agree that children respond differently to family disruption and disfunction, in part because of differences in biology.

Cecily Westermann: Hi, Dr. McLanahan: [Don’t] at least some of the plusses for married parents boil down to logistics of raising children? For example, with two parents in the home, one or the other would be available to take a child to the dentist or attend school functions?
Sara McLanahan: ABSOLUTELY – four hands are better than two, all else being equal.

Deborah: Thanks for this important discussion. I am hoping that your distinguished speaker will say a bit about the extent to which socioeconomic status (SES) of single mothers might be a key factor in their children’s well-being. In other words, is this particular research about the welfare of children of single mothers, or rather more specifically, about the welfare of children of low-income/less educated single mothers? I think the distinction is important. These days in the US, it seems increasingly common (although still not the norm) for highly educated and relatively wealthy women to choose single motherhood. Do we know anything about the welfare of these children? Basically I am wondering if it is “singleness” per se that is a problematic factor, or is socioeconomic status perhaps a more fundamental factor in a child’s well-being? Generally speaking, it is the latter, would it be more logical or “scientific” for relevant studies to ask “How are the Children of Low-Income Mothers Faring?” and include singlehood as an important individual characteristic or risk factor (instead of asking “How are the Children of Single Mothers Faring?” and treating education/income/occupation as an individual characteristics). Unless research to-date gives evidence for singlehood as being a primary causal factor in child’s welfare *regardless of mother’s education and income*, I worry that highlighting mothers’ marital status in such studies does as much (or more) to support moral judgments about the inappropriateness of raising children out-of-wedlock, than to direct accurately concern about the possibly more fundamental factors important to child welfare. Thank you and I look forward to hearing comments from Professor McLanahan.
Sara McLanahan: You are right that non-marital childbearing has increased among college educated mothers. However, the number of women in this situation is still very small. In our sample of unmarried mothers (which is nationally representative of births in large cities), only 3% of mothers have a college degree, whereas 40 percent have no high school degree. Of the remaining mothers (57 percent) about half have a high school degree and about half have some college but no degree. All of the analyses we conduct control for differences in mothers’ education, age, race, income, etc. However, because the number of college educated mothers is so small, it’s very difficult to assess how the children of these mothers are doing.

Maria-Paula Garcia: Does your study look into the motivations these mothers have to have children? Are there any common themes in the way they perceive themselves as mothers?
Sara McLanahan: we didn’t really look at this question, in part because we were interviewing mothers right after the birth and we weren’t sure we would get very accurate answers.

Miguel A. Izquierdo S: Are there evidences of some kind of “resilence” from these children, that let them recover in some grade from its condition?
Sara McLanahan: we haven’t really study the predictors of resilence. we know it’s there because many children born to unmarried parents do just as well as children born to married parents. focusing on the ones that overcome the odds is a good idea. by the way, the data are publically available – see our website at  

Sanjay Mishra: Is there a raedymade solution to resolve this issue, specially in the developed countries where state is not in position to bear the economic burden of such mothers and children, and mothers may be compelled to go on in illicit trade or the child may go in unhealthy profession like ragpicking or any other else, so to mainstream such children after a certain age and the mother may become a larger problem.
Sara McLanahan: as yet, no one has identified a great solution. there are many proposed strategies, including improving relationship skills, improving employment opportunities and earnings and just preventing unintended pregnancies.

Rahat Bari Tooheen: Single mothers and their children are a special group of individuals with distinct needs and futures. Perhaps existing regulations are insufficient for them. Regulation wise, what should be done to make their lives easier?
Sara McLanahan: there are several proposals for how to overcome the problems associated with non-marital childbearing. First, prevent unintended pregnancies, since many non-marital births results from unintended pregnancies; second, increase marriage and marital stability by (a) increasing parents’ human capital and economic resources or (b) increasing relationship skills.

Gregory Kington: What is the percentage of foreclosed properties that belonged to single parents wiht children living in them? Any trends regarding them?
Sara McLanahan: i don’t know the answer to this question. we do know, however, that high rates of unemployment during the recent recession are associated with ‘material hardship’ which includes not being able to pay rent and being evicted.

Joy Francis: Does the study makes any comparisons between chidren with both parents and chidren with single mothers? For example, is more money spent with single parents? How do children in single parent households perform in school academically?
Sara McLanahan: we make lots of comparisons between children with two parents and children with one parent. we also compare children living with two cohabiting parents and children living with two married parents. Children living with married parents have much higher family incomes so we assume that more is spent on these children. Children living with cohabiting parents have less income than children living with married parents because cohabiting parents have less education and lower earnings. Cohabiting parents are also less likely to pool their incomes.

These various family structures are associated with children’s cognitive test scores and behavior problems including attention, agression and anxiety/depression. Children living with married parents do best and those living with single mothers do worst. Instability in family structure is also associated with poor outcomes in children. see our working papers at

Hazel Denton: I recently read a study (the author’s name escapes me) which tracked women who gave birth as teenagers against a control group of their peers. Turns out the ‘mothers’ did as well as the ‘non-mothers’ with the hint that perhaps the responsibility and pressures of parenthood had a positive effect. Do you find this outcome surprising?
Sara McLanahan: Yes, i find this surprising – i know that there are lots of studies using statistical techniques to determine the ‘effect’ of teen births. my understanding is that some of these studies find no adverse effects on mothers but they still find adverse effects on children

Andrew Barnes: Would be interested to know more about the educational attainment and employment history of the parents themselves. Is there a growing trend of unwed and single parents that are college educated and or have high paying jobs?
Sara McLanahan: non-marital childbearing is strongly associated with low SES in the US. Although this phenomenon has increased among college educated mothers (as it has among all mothers), it is still quite rare among high SES women.

Becky S: Hi Dr. McLanahan. I’m involved in research concerning youth. I wondered if you had any information on social and/or health outcomes of children born into single parent homes versus other family structures?
Sara McLanahan: yes, we have lots of findings on the association between family structure and child health. Go to the fragile families website and click under publications. then look for papers on child health  

Carmen Solomon-Fears: Has there been any research on the outcomes of children with the same mother and different fathers in which the mother marries one of the childrens’ father–how do the children living with a nonbioligical father fare? (Are the findings the same as the research that indicate that children living with non-biological parents fare worse than children with both biological parents?)
Sara McLanahan: Both children do worse in such families.

Kim Holdsworth: In my region, 14% of children live in single father households. Can you speak to the outcomes of this group specifically? Are the outcomes seemingly (or measurably) different than for children raised in single-mother households?
Sara McLanahan: As far as I know, studies that compare the children of single mothers and single fathers find no difference in child outcomes. However, single father families are such a special group, I’m not sure what to make of this finding. on the one hand, we might expect those in single father families to have worse outcomes because something unusal has happened to them to get them into this status. on the other hand, we might expect them to have better outcomes because single fathers are a special group of very committed parents.

Lisa: In Colorado, we have below the national average rates of single-parent families. Our rate of increase is also comparable to the U.S. However, our rate of singe-parents falling into poverty is increasing. This makes sense, as single-parent families have fewer resources to adjust to changing economic circumstances. I’m having a hard time communicating that single-parent families are not the CAUSE of the rise in childhood poverty. Any suggestions?
Sara McLanahan: my take on this issue is that single motherhood and non-marital motherhood are both a cause and a consequence of poverty. it’s very clear that poverty is a strong predictor of single motherhood. At the same time, i think there is good evidence that single motherhood itself further reduces children’s life chances, thus reproducing the cycle of poverty

Ellen Fineberg: Is there data in the study that shows why women often are the single parents rather than men?
Sara McLanahan: i don’t believe so

Nadwa: Do we know anything about the impact of the recent recession on children of single mothers?
Sara McLanahan: we are just beginning to investigate this question. we have been in the field since 2007 collecting data on children at age 9 and we will be able to say a lot about how these families are affected by the recession. but it’s a little eary to draw conclusions.

Rachel Naiukow: Have you looked into the possible positive effects of “kinship” or strong family/mentor presence and therefore lessening the negative effects of children born to un-wed parents? Or how much of an effect would you wager this has? At least then an intervention could work towards building more readily available support system for single parents.
Sara McLanahan: in theory, i totally agree that access to extended family support should reduce the negative consequences associated with single parenthood. however, the studies i’ve seen thus far have not been able to show that living with a grandmother or having family support makes much difference.

Traci Hisatake: I’m not sure if I can articulate my thoughts but here’s my attempt: Maybe the question is not marriage vs. non-marriage/single parents, demographics, family variables, etc. but the reasons why women are having children. What does it mean to have children, the expectations and responsibilities of parents and families in raising children. With economic and environmental changes, cultural and society system changes, individuals and family units have not been able to internalize and make conscious decisions about their goals. Many are just trying to survive the changes. I think the focus should be on the meaning of and responsibilities of what marriage, partnership, parents, children, social, etc.
Sara McLanahan: i agree that we need to know much more about the meanings people attach to marriage and parenthood and how these have changed over time.

Joy Francis: Sociologists who have examined single mothers have found that those mothers are rarely raising their children single-handedly. Instead, they have networks of friends and relatives and neighbors who care about them and their children, especially grandparents and have been part of their lives for years. Is this true statement?
Sara McLanahan: yes, it’s true that many single mothers have help from extended family. it’s also the case (in our study) that these mothers have many partnerships with ‘social fathers.’ as i mentioned in a previous answer, however, I’ve not seen good evidence that extended family involvement compensates for the absence of a biological father. moreover, there is good evidence that multiple partnerships are negatively associated with parenting quality and child wellbeing.

Laurie Maldonado: How are the children of single parents faring in other countries?
Sara McLanahan: the pattern of non-marital childbearing is the same in all western industrialized countries, that is, women with low education are more likely than women with high education to have children outside marriage. Although some studies (e.g. sweden) find no difference between children born to married and unmarried parents, a majority of studies find negative consequences for children raised by single mothers.


PRB Discuss Online: Marriage Is Good for Your Health

(November 2009) Mounting research shows that married people are healthier and live longer than unmarried people. The marriage advantage works differently for men and women, but both benefit, especially as they enter older ages. Professor Linda Waite at the University of Chicago has studied the ways that marriage, widowhood, divorce, and remarriage affect physical and mental health. Some of the findings are surprising, and they are important for the well-being of the growing number of older people.


During a PRB Discuss Online, Linda Waite, sociology professor and the director of the University of Chicago’s Center on Aging, answered participants’ questions about how and why marriage affects health, and policies that might enhance the benefits of marriage and social networks for older people.


Nov. 17, 2009 1 PM EST


Transcript of Questions and Answers


Rebecca Birungi: Prof Linda what is the relationship between health and marriage? Secondly from the research carried out what is the percentage of married people who lived longer than unmarried people? How does marriage influence happiness despite the pressures?
Linda Waite: Married men and married women tend to live longer lives than people who are not married. Getting married reduces risks of dying and becoming divorced or widowed increases them. Married men and women in the US tend to have better emotional and mental health than the unmarried. And married men and women have, on average, higher levels of happiness than the unmarried.

Jay Gribble: Do the health benefits result from marriage per se, or do couples that live together in a committed relationship reap the same health benefits?
Linda Waite: We know less about the health of cohabitors than of married people BUT recent research on Sweden and Norway suggests that there (and I would guess in the US) cohabitors are LESS committed than married people, on average and are more likely to break up. Marriage both signal commitment and undergirds it with legal and social supports. But a couple committed to staying together for the very long term, with social and legal support, might do quite well. What matters is how much they invest in each other and in their relationship.

Ron Walker: Have you considered the reverse causality, i.e. that people who are “unsettled” (e.g. in their eating and sleeping habits, their sexual activity, their giving and receving of mutual assitance and care ,and other social interactions etc which affect health) are less likely to be and stay married?
Linda Waite: Ron—You betcha! this is certainly the case. people who have any of poor habits or attributes you mention are less likely to get and stay married. But IF they get married, they are likely to be healthier than if they did not. There have been fascinating studies of young men with histories of serious delinquency that follow these men into adulthood. those who stumble (the authors’ words) into a pretty good marriage show much more pro-social lives than those who don’t (Sampson & Laub). Men tend to reduce drinking, drinking and driving and other risky behaviors when they marry, to work more, to earn more, to spend less time in bars and more in church. So there is both some selection of the better catches into marriage and some change for the better in habits and behaviors.

Chandra Mani Acharya: Marriage is good for health but in western countries why they divorce in short time. Our country like nepal marriage is holy relation and our culture also support for longlife. why we cannot see longlife in western country.
Linda Waite: Chandra, Western societies have moved toward more freedom for individuals over the last 100 years and one of those freedoms is the freedom to end a marriage that one no longer wants. That comes with advantages and disadvantages. children often suffer and adults probably invest less in their marriage and more in themselves when divorce is common and easy to obtain. Most adults who divorce remarry and most stay remarried, although the chances of divorce are slightly higher than for first marriages. So people in most western societies are not willing to give up the freedom to leave a marriage for lifelong marriage.

Prof.Biran Affandi MD,PhD: 1.Is there any relationship between the age of marriage and health? 2.How about the relationship of the length of marriage and health ?
Linda Waite: Dr. Affandi, We know that at least in the US and similar countries those who marry quite young are more likely to divorce. But no one has asked your first question quite that way, so we don’t know if those who marry young get more benefits from marriage than those who wait. On the relationship between the length of marriage and health, some studies suggest that men and women get benefits from each year they are married, which we would expect if they lead healthier lives. But I don’t think that this has been settled.

Melody Schiaffino: How does the “health” of the marriage affect this relationship? For example, we know many people remain married regardless of emotional satisfaction, is this accounted for and is it still better to stay in an unhappy marriage rather than risk divorce/being single? Thank you.
Linda Waite: Melody, Yes, the health of the marriage affects the health benefits it produces. Conflict-riven marriages create stress and stress can damage health. Distant marriages may provide few emotional or instrumental supports. But good enough marriages seem to be better than being single. It appears that only the poor quality marriages damage health and are worse than being unmarried. And people get benefits besides emotional satisfaction from marriage and these must be weighed in deciding whether a marriage is worth it.

Epokor Michael Kudjoe: Marriage is a Holy sacrament which when kept will bring more than joy and health to all involved. Marriage will by no means on its own lead to good health or longevity. A research i did in one of the rural communities in Ghana come out that without the social or entertainment amenities men tend to use their wives as pleasure instruments anytime the wake up in the middle of the night. What i am trying to say here is that if the woman refuses she gets the beating of her life and give in to it to be sexually abused just in the name of marriage. This of course is no fault of hers.

1. So how can there be good health when one has to go through this abuse for the sake of marriage?

2. How can marriage lead to improvement in health when there is no existent of love?

3. Can marriage be bring the wellbeing of partners who are authoritaive?
Linda Waite: Marriage brings many things to spouses, one of which is sexual access. In most societies spouses share a sex life and in the US, married men and women have sex more frequently and are more satisfied with their sex lives than are the unmarried. However, abuse of one’s spouse creates stress, which harms health, may cause physical injury, which harms health in the long run, and certainly lowers the benefits of marriage. But even an abusive spouse may be a good provider and protector. Recent research on the US suggests that those leaving an abusive marriage do not, on average, see an improvement in their emotional well-being.

Kalmijn, M. and C. W. S. Monden (2006). “Are the Negative Effects of Divorce on Psychological Well-Being dependent on Marital quality?” Journal of Marriage and Family 68(6): 1197-1213.

Janet Nunziata: Dear Dr. Waite, Do the benefits of marriage vis-a-vis health function the same way in a second marriage as a first time union?
Linda Waite: Janet, Yes, as far as we can tell. Although some of my recent work suggests that the process of divorce or widowhood is so stressful that it leaves a sort of scar on physical health and functioning even years later.

Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: Dear Linda, It is a wonderful chance to me to discuss with you. You know what? This issue is the package of any other issue for me. Me and my husband believe that family is the source of all goods for this planet and the base of the family is marriage. So in spite of this, this kind of research motivates us. But is this research includes all marriages or a happy marriage only?
Linda Waite: Meskerem, Happy marriages seem to deliver more health benefits than those that are pretty good but not great. But those that are poor quality—full of conflict or very distant—seem to be worse for health than being single.

stan becker: What is the best way to address the question of whether the differential could be due to selectivity into marriage of persons who are more physically and mentally healthy to start with?
Linda Waite: Hi Stan, Scholars have tried a bunch of tricks, most of which involve following men and women over a long period during which some of them get married, some get divorced or widowed and some get remarried. Then we look for discrete changes in the likelihood of dying when there is a change in marital status. If we see a decline in the likelihood of dying for all men who become married, regardless of their characteristics and the age at which they changed status, then we feel pretty good about the social processes going on. See some of these efforts to address the issue:

Lillard, L. A. and C. Panis (1996). “Marital Status and Mortality: The Role of Health.” Demography 33(3, August): 313-327.

Lillard, L. A. and L. J. Waite (1995). “Til Death Do Us Part: Marital Disruption and Mortality.” American Journal of Sociology 100: 1131-1156.

Ramesh: How strong predictor do you think marriage that affect health? what is the definition of marriage? Is it include cohabitation? How does it affect health?
Linda Waite: Ramesh, We think that marriage affects health differently for men and for women. For men, getting married is associated with changes in their behaviors away from risky and unhealthy behaviors like drinking and poor diet toward healthier behaviors. Men’s wives also tend to manage their health and their interactions with the health care system and to act as a confidant. Women tend to get financial support for themselves and their children from marriage, including, in the US, access to health insurance. Marriage usually means legal marriage. Cohabitation tends to be less committed and to bring some but not all of the benefits of marriage.

kennedy: how kids from divorced family are affected.

(2)how can u differentiate kids brought up by a father alone and mother alone(divorced )

(3)can u look at a kid and say this kid is from a broken family.

(4)given that these kids are grown ups what advice u can give them
Linda Waite: Kennedy, Kids whose parents divorce face higher risks of poor outcomes (although many do quite well). they are less likely to finish high school, less likely to finish college, less likely to marry, more likely to divorce. They are more likely to have poor emotional health. I don’t know so much about single mothers vs single fathers. I think both can do well. And no, you can’t look at a child and tell he or she is from a broken family. There are lots of advice books for divorced parents raising children. Most say to forget your grievances against each other and cooperate in raising the children.

Sizarina Hamisi: I would like to have an explanation of how a dysfunctional marriage can improve one’s life.
Linda Waite: It probably can’t improve one’s health, although it may still bring financial and instrumental support.

Rahat Bari Tooheen: Marriage has social and mental benefits, of which there is no doubt. But are the benefits same in the developing countries as developed countries? And what of the differences between socioeconomic strata?
Linda Waite: Rahat, I don’t think we know much about differences in health benefits for those in different socioeconomic strata. And I haven’t seen any research on developing countries on this topic. It seems like an important set of studies to do.

J Kishore: Marriage is universally accepted as essential activity to establish an social institution. You will find very few who has courage to remain alone and face stigma through their lives. So in unmarried group very few left who are normal according to social definition. epidemiologically one can prove health difference between the two groups-married and unmarried. How one can make the two groups comparable?
Linda Waite: there have been some comparisons of the mortality advantage of marriage and it is greatest where the most people get married, like Japan or Korea, because those who do not get married are so unusual and probably unhealthy or otherwise quite disadvantaged. Researchers try to compare the same people before and after they get married to see if marriage has an effect on health and mortality

Ron Walker: Research shows that compassion of carers is a factor in recovery. Pharmaceutical studies show the immense power of the giving of placebos, i.e. people reacting physically to their being given attention and something (howerver chemically inactive)apparently with good intentions. And there is [m]ore on these lines, all of which suggests to me that the mutual emotional support, companionship and even love present in typical marriages might have powerful health effects. Have you observed and explored this possibility?
Linda Waite: A scholar named Janet Kiecolt-Glaser has looked at physical changes that happen to married men and women when they discuss something unsettling or something neutral. And Richard Davidson has looked at pain sensitivity when married women hold their husband’s hand; they feel less pain when they do than when they don’t, especially if they rate their marriage as very good or excellent. So yes, emotional support, companionship and love are key mechanisms through which marriage improves health.

Samuel K. M. Agblorti: I agree that marriage might affect the wellbeing of spouses positively. Has your study consider[ed] the spatial and socio-economic dimensions of spouses studied. I strongly believe that these variables may influence the findings of your study.
Linda Waite: No one has looked at the spatial or socioeconomic dimensions of spouses. We take them into account but have no looked separately at those with high education or low income.

Moctar: Thank you for this very important subject …. the relationship between marriage and health. The fact that the married live longer than unmarried depends of the type of society. In… a context where marriage is almost universal, like African society, this relationship is still valid? I think that we should take into account other parameters to explain the longevity of married people.
Linda Waite: Even where marriage is universal some people lose their spouse to death and may face higher mortality themselves. Those whose spouses live in the city while they live in the village may get different benefits from being married than spouses who live together. One could also consider polygamous marriage to see if that brings the same benefits.

Dr. Anima Sharma: Hi, its me again, My last question was based on sociocultural issues but this one also includes the demographic factors along with health and nutrition. I think the derivations of your study are more relevant for the developed countries and higher socioeconomic group of people. In several southeast Asian countries especially among the backward communities, women are treated as economic entity. Also, due to several sociocultural and economic reasons they are married at an early age to the groom who may either belong to his age group or may be an old or middle aged person. Not only that in the male chauvenistic societies women are over-used reproductively (sexual exploitation), because of two reasons, one to generate more progenies especially the male child and for the sexual gratification. This accompanied with the lower nutritional level has multiple impact on her health, which may vary from contracting STDs/RTIs, HIV/AIDs, and even maternal/ foetal mortality. Even the surviving children may not be all that healthy. In such societies the biases against women result in creating the factors like illiteracy among women, ignorance, lack of decision making etc., which aggravate the situation further. Hence, my humble summation is that unless you gather facts on ground realities, do not make generalized statements, which are more misleading and sound hollow and superficial.

My intention is not to disregard your findings but only to highlight the gap areas , which you may mend if you are trying to expand your research or want to go for the next phase of it. Thanks and Best,
Linda Waite: It is certainly the case that virtually all the research on the health benefits of marriage has been done in developed countries. We know much less about less developed countries. And female disadvantage may occur in some societies regardless of whether the woman is married, so the problem is treatment of women not marriage. Poor nutrition is a terrible problem for all, with especially troubling effects on infants and children that may last all their lives. The question is, given all this, does a child do better if raised by two married parents and do women and men do better if married than if single? I don’t know the answer for developing countries.

Raphael: Again, i want to know the health benefits of marriage.
Linda Waite: Longer life, better physical health, better functional health at older ages, and better emotional health. On average. Of course there are plenty of very health singles; it’s just that the chances of good health are lower for singles than for the married.

Subhas Yadawad: No doubt marriage gives some benefits both husband and wife. Will you please elaborate these benefits? Marriage will pose some problems as well. What they are?
Linda Waite: Married men tend to have better health behaviors, work more and have higher earnings. Married women have more money and, in the US, better access to health insurance. Both have better emotional health, on average. Marriage requires some sacrifice of one’s own goals for the goals of the marriage or the spouse. It constrains people’s behavior (which is generally good for men). If things go badly for the other person, like he gets a chronic illness, you are tied to his fortunes.

Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Waite, There is umpteen of literature and studies depicting the advantages of marriage on longevity. Most of which comes from the Western Universities conducted by the Western people. What these studies speak may be true for the Western Societies or the people leading the ways life as per the standards of Western culture but when it come to the Oriental world then I have certain apprehensions. I neither agree with your statement nor disagree with it because I have witnessed ample of examples from my personal experiences of both the lives. It is not marriage per say but several other factors too, which contribute to longevity. Marriage is one of the important part of one’s life cycle but it is not the whole. In our culture, marriage is for procreation as well as to carry out the socio-cultural responsibilities associated with it. I am an Indian and am proud of its rich cultural heritage. You know, traditionally our society is closely knit in which sense of belongingness within the family and society is very strong. We have sages and hermits who outlive most of their contemporaries. We have the culture of monogamy/ serial monogamy (circumstantial), living alone as widow, celibacy etc. and I am sorry to disagree with you by saying that none of the people belonging to these categories have shorter lives than their contemporaries, the credit of which may be attributed to our traditional joint/ extended family system, community/ village system etc. We are knitted together through the real kinship ties or may be fictitious kinship ties, which are as good as the real one. As regards the physical demands and if you think that having more partners or having high frequency of physical gratification keeps one healthy then I would say that according to my thinking it is as much hypothetical as imagining that absence of it would reduce the life span. I am not an orthodox, I have earned doctorate in (Socio-cultural) Anthropology and have first hand experience from the empirical studies carried out by me in Slums, Urban, Rural and Tribal areas in different parts of India. I am aware of the social abuses and cultural stigmas attached with several socio-cultural issues, viz. a viz. illiteracy, poverty etc. issues, which have diametrically opposite impact on the demographic trends, but in that conglomeration marriage occupies a place along with other issues. With no offences meant because I understand the cultural differences etc. I only want to put forth my observations for your kind consideration. You may agree or disagree with as well, even more emphatically; I would not take it personally as I consider it a platform to express the personal objective views in scientific manner. Thanks and Best,
Linda Waite: Anima, Marriage is certainly only one factor that contributes to health and longevity. the question has been “does marriage contribute at all?” and the research on the US and similar countries suggests it does. But we know much less about less developed countries.

Moses Adegbola: Dear Professor Waite,1. How would you describe the health index and life expectancy among couples in gay unions, polygynous unions vis a vis marriages between one man and one woman?
Linda Waite: Moses, Researchers have defined health in many different ways, including longevity, physical health, emotional health, incidence of diseases or a particular disease, or recovery from disease. No one has looked at the differences between heterosexual and gay unions or polygamous unions in health benefits.

Andrine Davidson: Dear Prof Waite, What does the research say about unhappy marriages?
Linda Waite: They probably don’t deliver the same health benefits as better marriages and if they are unhappy and conflictual enough, they may be worse than being single.

saradiya Mukherjee: is child marriage good for health??????????
Linda Waite: I guess it depends on the alternatives. Certainly childbearing at very young ages is not good for the health of the young woman or the child.

Emeka Nwosu, Nigeria: How can you enlighten a friend as to the bebefits of marriage.
Linda Waite: THAT is a good question! I guess you have a conversation with him or her. And remember that marriage is good on average; that doesn’t mean it is better for any particular person.

Kehinde: Linda,wow,what a great topic on marriage,i love it but i hope you are not only focusing on heterosexual marriages alone,its good to recognize minorities like homosexual and lesbian marriages as well because a lot of people enjoy gay marriages as much as heterosexual marriages.
Linda Waite: No one has done a study of health benefits of gay or lesbian marriage. It would be interesting to see. If health benefits of gay and lesbian marriage work like the other attributes of marriage that have been studies, like sexual activity and earnings, then gay marriages will tend to have characteristics more common among men and lesbian marriages will have characteristics more common among women. So gay marriages would have higher incomes but less attention to health habits and lesbian marriages would have more support and emotional sharing but less money.

Andrine Davidson: Follow-up question: Has there been any study done on co-habiting couples who have not married, and what are the findings regarding health?
Linda Waite: Andrine- No, very little on cohabiting couples and health. On one of the other benefits of marriage for men—higher earnings—cohabiting men fall somewhere between single men and married men, so they get some of the benefits of marriage but not all. I would guess it works the same way for health.

Gloria Billups: How can you resolve a disagreement if neither partner is willing to be flexible during conflict?
Linda Waite: THAT’S a question for a psychologist or marital therapist. There are some really terrific programs to teach couples how to disagree constructively. One is called PREP and the other is called PAIRS. Take a look.

Olivia opoku-Adomah: What are some the courses of married people living longer? What can unmarried people do to live longer?
Linda Waite: Married men have better health habits than the unmarried and take fewer risks. Their wives often check their health and get them to the doctor. Wives often provide emotional support and in the US provide the link between men and their families. Husbands provide income and other support for the household, companionship, and some emotional support. Unmarried people need to work hard on their support networks, helping others and accepting help in return. Find people to talk to, join groups of others with similar interests.

Veris Lee: What resources are avilable to share with our participants in our sessions? What topics should we emhasize to help them understand the marriage health relationship?
Linda Waite: Look for materials from the Institute for American Values. They have published a number of very accessible pieces on marriage. Also try the National Marriage Project.

Karin Ringheim: I understand that women fare better after death of a spouse or divorce than men do. To what extent has the care-giving role that women tend to provide to their husbands, (including greater responsibility for cooking and cleaning) been studied in terms of the disadvantage that men experience after loss of a spouse? Would more equitable responsibilities within marriage lead men and women to have more similar outcomes in its aftermath?
Linda Waite: Karin, Women seem to do better with widowhood than men do, at least on some dimensions. Widowed men often have trouble with running the household, since in this generation their wives often did most of that, and widowed women have trouble with managing money, fixing stuff, and tend to be poorer than widowed men, since their husbands were likely to do THAT stuff. No matter how couples specialize, if you depend on your spouse for anything, if he or she dies you don’t have much experience doing it. That’s part of why widowed people are more likely to die (and have poorer health) than married people.

For more information on this topic, see:

Marlene Lee, “Aging, Family Structure, and Health” (2009).

Mary Mederios Kent, “Health Effects of Marriage and Other Social Relationships: Interview With Linda Waite” (2009).


PRB Discuss Online: How Will Global Aging Affect Economic Development?

(June 2009) The number of people over age 60 is expected to reach 1 billion by 2020 and almost 2 billion by 2050, representing 22 percent of the world’s population. This growth in the size and share of the elderly population will affect many aspects of economic development, including national labor forces: The ratio of people in older dependent age groups will increase relative to those in working-age groups. However, declining fertility rates may counterbalance this shift by reducing the number of people in younger dependent age groups. In addition, the new generation of older people will be healthier than previous generations and may remain active in the labor force for longer. Along with continued increases in the female labor force, these circumstances may alleviate the economic burden of global aging. 

During a PRB Discuss Online, David Bloom, economist and demographer at the Harvard School of Public Health, answered participants’ questions about how these trends will affect labor forces and economic development.

June 24, 2009, 1 PM EST 

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Epokor Michael Kudjoe: Does Economic development wholly depend on the age bracket of an economy to warrant the effect of a dwindling economy?
David Bloom: Economic development is a complicated process that depends on many factors. Among these is the age structure of the population. This has been a neglected determinant of economic growth and development. But by no means are we suggesting that demography or age structure is destiny.

Richard Cincotta: In Europe, laborforce size is currently declining, yet unemployment rates remain stubbornly high. Some blame Europe’s high unemployment rates on overly-protective labor laws and and other investment disincentives put in place when labor was in greater supply. Is there any theoretical reason or empirical evidence suggesting that labor scarcity could stimulate reforms that might improve the performance of European labor markets?
David Bloom: Institutions respond to real economic conditions. Insofar as labor becomes increasingly scarce, we should expect labor market institutions to respond. The responses won’t be instantaneous; there is a great deal of inertia when it comes to institutional change and innovation. In addition, high unemployment in Europe represents a supply overhang on the market, so it will take a while until employers experience the need for more labor. One such example concerns retirement policy. A striking fact about the normal/legal age at retirement is that it has barely increased in most countries over the past 50 years, even in the face of a roughly two-decade increase in global life expectancy. The post-War baby boom has alleviated much pressure for the age of retirement to increase, but this will likely change as labor markets tighten with the entry of smaller cohorts. We can also expect to see the elimination in public and private pension systems of incentives for “early” retirement. This question also rests on a premise about the unemployment rate in Europe relative to the US. Based on this premise may not be entirely well founded. In particular, unemployment in the US is now higher than in most European countries. For a number of years, it was higher than in Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.

Epokor Michael Kudjoe: If the aged shall exceed the young or the productive age group does that mean that birth rate will reduce?
David Bloom: The birth rate depends on the age structure of the population and age-specific fertility rates. The larger the population share at the very young and old ages, the lower the fertility rate, holding age-specific fertility constant. The higher the age-specific fertility schedule, the higher the birth rate, holding age structure constant. Insofar as fertility rates increase in the face of labor shortages, it could be expected that a high elder share will lead, over the long run, to an increase in the age-specific fertility schedule. On the other hand, labor shortages might reduce the demand for children, because work alternatives are so favorable. The bottom line is that this is a complicated question to answer.

Marlene Lee: The introduction to this discussion speaks of global aging as an economic burden, but your work on the demographic dividend and recent findings by Gruber and Wise that ” greater labor forceparticipation of older persons is associated with greater youth employment andwith reduced youth unemployment”suggest otherwise. Among potential responses to population aging—reducing incentives to retire, promoting life long health, etc.— which have the potential for greatest benefit to economic development?
David Bloom: This question makes an important point. Gruber and Wise do indeed cast doubt on the hypothesis that young and old individuals compete for jobs. Put another way, the young and old seem to be more complements in the labor market than substitutes. With respect to policy responses to population aging, the promotion of healthy aging will have no discernible effect on economic growth unless people also work longer. Reducing incentives to retire will have a first-order and relatively immediate impact on the macro economy, assuming older workers don’t crowd out, say, middle-age workers from the labor market.

Akanni Akinyemi: This is a very interesting topic. What are your views on automation of some work schedules as well as the use of technology rather than human in labour force? Also, with changing migration policies in the North to attract prime productive ages, what is the prospect for the developing countries in the aging-development issues?
David Bloom: Labor shortages can naturally be expected to encourage higher capital/labor ratios, e.g., automation. Migration is not likely to affect large enough numbers in the North or the South to substantially alter the age structure or the economic trajectory of either set of countries.

Ghazy Mujahid: The issue is will impact differently in developed and less developed countries at least during the medium term. While in the developed countries where the traditionally defined working age population already is or will be declining, in most less developed countries this potential workforce (still defined as 15-64 years) will be continuing to increase. While older persons (beyond 60) are becoming healthier and more able to work, letting them continue in work or be re-employed will impact adversely on job prospects for the younger workforce, particularly the new entrants. The question of inter-generational justice will then arise with respect to jobs. Should the preference not be to give jobs to the new entrants as those 60 have already enjoyed that privilege for decades? How do we resolve this?
David Bloom: The observation that the demographic cycles are out of phase is fundamentally correct. With respect to intergenerational justice, the evidence points in the direction of there being no effect of population aging on youth employment. This is one of the main findings brought out by Jonathan Gruber and David Wise.

Rahat Bari Tooheen: Global aging will call for new social security systems to cater to special needs of the elderly. Against the backdrop of the current economic crisis, will countries be able to respond adequately to these special needs?
David Bloom: Many social security systems are indeed very generous to the elderly. In fact, they are so generous that the real issue here has to do with their sustainability in the face of aging populations. If the economic crisis were substantially protracted, it could serve to exacerbate this challenge. But most economists think the crisis will abate in the next two to three years, which means that it won’t have any fundamental implications for the long-term solvency of social security systems. Of course, a bit of humility is in order here, since the bulk of the economics profession failed to anticipate the current crisis.

Clarence Pearson: Dr. Bloom, 80% of the worlds population are not covered under a pension plan. Most not covered are in devloping countries. What can we do to get insurers and policy makers involved in solving this problem?
David Bloom: It’s certainly true that most of the world’s population is not covered by a pension plan. But that doesn’t mean that all of those people will suffer substantial hardship in old age, since the elderly can still rely on family networks, private savings, and continued work. The democratic process can be expected to exert pressure on public policymakers to initiate programs in the area of pensions. In addition, insofar as policymakers can strengthen market institutions, private insurers are more likely to perceive profit potential and offer pension services. Renewed, long-term economic growth will abet all of these processes. Economic development that is inequality-reducing would also likely play a positive role in addressing this challenge.

K. Fidel: Is continued immigration to the U.S., and illegal immigration in particular, essentially a “ponzi scheme” with respect to the ability of the U.S. and other countries of immigration to provide support for an aging population?
David Bloom: This is a complicated question. I would start by noting that there is no evidence or reason to believe that US immigration (documented and undocumented) will have an appreciable effect on the age structure of the US population. I would also point out that immigrants pay taxes, but they also receive social services. Finally, I question the basis for assuming that non-immigrant fertility will be low for several decades into the future. Insofar as non-immigrant fertility rises, we could see non-immigrant workers funding the pension receipts of retired immigrants.

John Rohe: Would you agree that U.S. immigration will not substanially affect U.S. dependency ratios for the elderly or the age of expected retirement? Here are two references, first, an article in the CIS Backgrounder:  and second, this YouTube video on age structures: Thank you, John
David Bloom: Yes. See previous answers, which call into question the force that immigration will exert on population age structure in the US.

Tom Te-Hsiung Sun: In Taiwan, TFR has been down to 1.15, and 10.5% of the population is over 65. The ratio of working age(15-64) to 65+ is 7 : 1 in 2008. It is projected that elderly will be about 25% by 2050, and the ratio of working age to elderly will be 1.5 : 1. How do you think this change will affect Taiwan’s economic development? And, what should we do?
David Bloom: Demographic changes in Taiwan will tend to lower per capita economic growth. But the effect is not likely to come even close to overwhelming other forces that favor growth. Changes in policy that affect, for example, retirement, human capital accumulation (via education and health), and the labor force participation rate of women could further ameliorate the impact of aging on economic growth.

NANA YAW OSEI THOMPSON: How will global aging affect economic development in Africa (with emphasis on sub-saharan Africa )?
David Bloom: The main effect of global aging on sub-Saharan Africa will operate via increasing opportunities for emigration. Emigration will tend to reduce Africa’s surplus labor. It will also promote economic development insofar as emigrants send home remittances. At the moment, though, there is little basis for thinking these will be large effects for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. They may, however, be significant for some particular countries, especially smaller ones.

Noelia Paez: How [is] aging of population … going to affect pensions and social security programs (50 years from now if fertility trends remain as predicted)? Do you think consequences of aging are different by pension scheme? (Pay-as-you-go versus Fully-funded)?
David Bloom: As we’ve noted in the response to an earlier question, population aging poses challenges to the capacity of pension systems to maintain benefits at current levels of generosity. The conventional wisdom is that fully funded systems are the best from the standpoint of sustainability. However, Adair Turner, former chair of the U.K. Pensions Commission, has offered some compelling arguments against the superiority of funded systems as compared with PAYGO. See  

Ghazy Mujahid: I think that Prof Bloom should throw some light on Brundtland’s remark that the developed countries became rich before becoming aged, while the developing countries are ageing before becoming rich. Does that not call for very different approaches to addressing ageing-related issues in the two differenty types of countries?
David Bloom: With respect to the options they have for providing for the economic security of the elderly, the distinction between developed and developing countries is important. For example, the rich countries have relatively more effective institutional structures for transferring resources between income groups and between generations. This means that pension systems are much easier to design and implement in those countries. By contrast, poor countries are forced to rely more heavily on traditional family networks and continued employment by the elderly. The bottom line is that developed and developing countries will indeed have to adopt different approaches to providing population-wide old age economic security. We should also not lose sight of the fact that the challenge faced (in terms of the elderly proportion of the population) is more formidable in the wealthy industrial countries – at least for the moment. But those countries can also bring to bear much greater resources to address this issue.

Ghazy Mujahid: The points mentioned in response to Clarence Pearson are family networks, private savings, and continued work. These in fact can be seen to be falling increasingly short of the needs of the growing numbers of older persons in the developing countries. Family networks are under strain because of smaller size family, out-migration and increasing tendency of female employment. Private savings are virtually not there for a majority of the older persons in the poor countries. Continued work -which older persons are increasingly relying on – is leading to lower wages for the older workers and will also adversely affect employment available for younger persons. Sorry for this pessimistic scenario but in many developing countries these are ground realities. The question is where will resources for social pensions and welfare payments come?
David Bloom: I agree that family networks are being subjected to increasing strain. The severity of this strain is likely to increase as a result of continued fertility decline and increased mobility within countries. Under these and related circumstances, people typically look to the state to safeguard the well-being of the elderly. The substantial vacuum that exists with respect to pension and healthcare systems in many developing countries means that such institutions will need to be designed and implemented. It would be folly to design such institutions in the absence of an appropriate evidence base. The Health and Retirement Studies that are under way in more than two dozen countries (including India and China) offer a promising step in this direction. These studies will contribute to increased public consciousness about the situations and the needs of the elderly. In this way, they may be expected to help inform and catalyze a process of institutional development that has the potential to improve the well-being of the elderly. More generally, a set of policies and institutions that promote equitable economic growth will facilitate greater savings and will increase the government’s ability to effect transfers of resources. These are the most likely sources for pension funding and, I believe, the most likely scenario under which they will be forthcoming.

Ghazy Mujahid: As it approaches 2 pm and I have to rush to another meeting, I would like to use this space to express my thanks to Prof Bloom. This one hour has been very useful and interesting for me. I hope we all will have more opportunities of such interaction. Thanks and have a nice day.
David Bloom: Many thanks to you. Your questions and comments (and those of the others as well) were terrific! I, too, would welcome further opportunities like this and, even better, meeting you in person.