Demographic change: more minority birth than whites

A number of news outlets reported last week on another marker of demographic change in America: there are now more minority babies born than white babies.

“This is an important landmark,” said Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau who is now a sociologist at Howard University. “This generation is growing up much more accustomed to diversity than its elders.”…

As a whole, the nation’s minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years…

Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990…

Births actually have been declining for both whites and minorities as many women postponed having children during the economic slump. But the drop since 2008 has been larger for whites, who have a median age of 42. The number of white births fell by 11.4 percent, compared with 3.2 percent for minorities, according to Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire.

I think the last paragraph above is particularly interesting. The story isn’t just that there is a large minority and immigrant population that is having lots of children. Rather, whites and minorities are having fewer children but whites particularly have chosen to have fewer children. How much is this tied to more American living alone?

Of course, it will take some time for all of this to move through the generations. For example, it will be roughly two decades before you have more minorities than whites turning 18 and exercising this at the polls.

Verdict: very limited baby boom in Chicago due to Feb 2011 snowstorm

It is a common story that natural disasters lead to baby booms as residents have little else to do except spend “quality time together” (a perhaps unintentional euphemism from the story cited in the next sentence). But the academic research on the topic isn’t so clear – here is a quick review from Friday’s front page story in the Chicago Tribune:

Udry’s [negative] finding [regarding a lengthy 1970 New York City blackout] is frequently viewed as the final word in “disaster babies” — the popular debunking website Snopes.com cites it in declaring the phenomenon a myth — but more contemporary research suggests there might be something to the idea.

A 2005 study of birth rates following the Oklahoma City bombing looked at 10 years of data and found that the counties closest to the site had indeed experienced higher than expected numbers of births after the attack…

But perhaps the most intriguing evidence supporting the idea of disaster babies was published last year by Brigham Young University economist Richard Evans. He and his colleagues looked at hurricane-prone counties on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and compared birth rates that came nine months after the announcement of impending storms.

They found that while the rates went up after the mildest expected disruption (a tropical storm watch) they went down after the most serious (a hurricane warning)…

If Evans is right that the blizzard would only produce a 2% increase in the birth rate, this is not a huge jump. In fact, Evans is cited later in the story saying that this would only be a difference of a “few dozen births” throughout the Chicago region of 8.3 million people. So if there is an effect, it is minimal. But urban legends have lives of their own – another example is the recurring issue of tainted Halloween candy that sociologist Joel Best gamely tries to stamp out.

What about other data regarding the February blizzard like a rise in heart attacks or back injuries or other medical traumas? I can think we can be pretty sure that there was a lot of shoveling that took place.

Even with a small drive, it took quite a while to clear all that snow.

Proposal in Hungary: give extra votes to families with children

A new right-wing government in Hungary is considering an “unprecedented” proposal: give extra votes to mothers with children.

The conservative Fidesz party has made several controversial decisions since coming to power on a populist rightwing agenda, including a crackdown on the media, but the latest proposal could be prove to be its most contentious.

“Some 20% of society are children,” said József Szájer, a senior Fidesz official and MEP. “This is quite a considerable group that is left out of representation. The interests of these future generations are not represented in decision-making.” He added: “We know at first it seems an unusual idea, but in the 50s it was unusual to give votes to black people; 100 years ago, it was unusual to give votes to women.”…

Szájer said he was inspired by the work of the American demographer Paul Demeny, who developed the concept in 1986. Under Demeny Voting, each parent is given half a vote for each child, permitting a split vote in the event that the parents have differing political loyalties.

However, to counter concerns about the Roma winning more votes, Szájer said in the Hungarian case, the move would have “permitted the passage of a law giving mothers the vote on behalf of a maximum of one child”…

The discourse on Demeny Voting first emerged in Germany and Japan in the 2000s as a solution to concerns that policy development is biased in favour of the elderly rather than young families.

Four things seem noteworthy in this story:

1. One of the reasons for giving out these extra votes is to help give more of a voice to younger generations. Considering differences in opinion in some nations between older and younger generations, this may be a problem to address. But would mothers necessarily be looking out for their children as opposed to themselves when voting?

2. This is also an issue of ethnicity: moving this proposal forward has been influenced by feelings regarding the Roma population. Since this proposal might give too much voting power to the Roma (we can assume they have higher birth rates than the rest of Hungary?), it might be limited to one extra vote per family with children.

3. Although the article doesn’t mention this as a reason, I wonder if some of this is driven by demographics, specifically a low birth rate. Like other industrialized nations, whether Japan or other European nations, Hungary has a low birth rate of 9.60 per 1,000 population (according to the CIA Factbook, #200 out of 222 nations). Perhaps this measure is also an incentive for more families to have children?

4. While an idea like this seem to go against typical democratic procedures of one vote per adult, it reminds me of another voting scheme that was set up to deal with an existing social issue. Could more countries and governments seek different voting structures in order to reach certain ends?