The formula to resettle refugees in European countries

How will refugees be dispersed among European countries? This formula:

On Wednesday, shortly after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a new plan to distribute 120,000 asylum-seekers currently in Greece, Hungary, and Italy among the EU’s 28 member states, Duncan Robinson of the Financial Times tweeted a series of grainy equations from the annex of a proposed European regulation, which establishes a mechanism for relocating asylum-seekers during emergency situations beyond today’s acute crisis. Robinson’s message: “So, how do they decide how many refugees each country should receive? ‘Well, it’s very simple…’”

In an FAQ posted on Wednesday, the European Commission expanded on the thinking behind the elaborate math. Under the proposed plan, if the Commission determines at some point in the future that there is a refugee crisis in a given country (as there is today in Greece, Hungary, and Italy, the countries migrants reach first upon arriving in Europe), it will set a number for how many refugees in that country should be relocated throughout the EU. That number will be “not higher than 40% of the number of [asylum] applications made [in that country] in the past six months.”…

What’s most striking to me is the contrast between the sigmas and subscripts in the refugee formula—the inhumanity of technocratic compromise by mathematical equation—and the raw, tragic, heroic humanity on display in recent coverage of the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and elsewhere who are pouring into Europe.

The writer hints at the end here that the bureaucratic formula and stories of human lives at stake are incompatible. How could we translate people who need help into cold, impersonal numbers? This is a common claim: statistics take away human stories and dignity. They are unfeeling. They can’t sum the experiences of individuals. One online quote sums this up: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.

Yet, we need both the stories and the numbers to truly address the situation. Individual stories are important and interesting. Tragic cases tend to draw people’s attention, particularly if presented in attractive ways. But, it is difficult to convey all the stories of the refugees and migrants. Where would they be told and who would sit through them all? The statistics and formulas help give us the big picture. Just how many refugees are there? (Imagine a situation where there are only 10 refugees but with very compelling stories. Would this compel nations to act.) How can they be slotted into existing countries and systems?

On top of that, you can’t really have the nations of today without bureaucracies. We might not like that they are slow moving or inefficient at times or can be overwhelming. How can you run a major social system without a bureaucratic structure? Would we like to go to a hospital that was not a bureaucracy? How do you keep millions of citizens in a country moving in a similar direction? Decentralization or non-hierarchical systems can only go so far in addressing major tasks.

With that said, the formula looks complicated but the explanation in the text is fairly easy to understand: there are a set of weighted factors that dictate how many refugees will be assigned to each country.

Detailed map of population changes in Europe, 2001-2011

A new map shows the population trends at work in Europe between 2001 and 2011:

Look at the Eastern section of the map and you’ll see that many cities, including Prague, Bucharest, and the Polish cities of Pozna? and Wroc?aw, are ringed with a deep red circle that shows a particularly high rise in average annual population of 2 percent or more. As this paper from Krakow’s Jagiellonian University’s Institute of Geography notes, Eastern cities began to spread out in the new millennium because it was their first chance to do so in decades…

We already know from other available data that Europe is experiencing a migration to the northwest, but the BBSR map adds complexity to this picture and reveals some interesting micro-trends. The dark blue coloring of the map’s Eastern section shows that the lean years for Eastern states are by no means over. Residents have continued to leave Albania, Bulgaria and Latvia in particular in search of jobs, while even relatively wealthy eastern Germany has been hollowed out almost everywhere except the Berlin region.

Population growth in the Northwest, meanwhile, is far from even. While large sections of Northern Scandinavia’s inland are losing people, there’s still modest growth on the Arctic coasts. And while the Scottish Highlands contain some the least peopled lands in all of Europe, Scotland’s Northeast shows remarkable population gains, a likely result of the North Sea oil industry concentrated in Aberdeen…

Spain’s trends look a little different from those of Europe as a whole. It’s actually in the country’s Northwest where the population has dropped most sharply, notably in the provinces of Galicia and León, which have long been known to produce many of Spain’s migrants.

But other previously impoverished regions, such as Southwestern Murcia, have grown, a trend continuing along the Mediterranean coast where population levels have risen sharply.

All of this may help explain reactions to migrants – population pressure is high in some places, particularly wealthier regions, while population loss is occurring in more economically depressed areas. It is also a helpful reminder of how relatively free people are to move between places. I don’t know how exactly this lines up with historic migration rates – particularly before the rise of nation-states which presumably allowed more of an ability to control population flows – but the industrialized world (and much of the rest of the world as well) is quite a mobile one.

Comparing the size of new American homes to those in France, Spain, and Britain

As the size of the average new American home dropped in recent years and then increased again in 2011, it is helpful to keep in mind how American homes compare to those in Europe:

By the way, even if American homes do shrink slightly, they’ll still be much bigger than homes abroad. A 2009 survey from Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment found that the average new home built in the United States has twice the floor space of those built in France and Spain and is three times as large as the average new British home.Am

To put this in perspective, this means that the average new home in Britain is roughly 800 square feet and new homes in France and Spain are about 1,200 square feet. Is this what American exceptionalism looks like these days?

This reminds me of watching House Hunters International on HGTV. When you have an American looking to purchase a home in Europe, they often say they need space though the square footage or acreage is rarely quantified. In contrast, Europeans on the show seem to expect that European homes will be smaller and are willing to deal with it. You can often see quite a difference in expectations: Americans expect more personal space and distance between them and neighbors. This is not necessarily because Americans are unfriendly; one recent survey put the United States at the fifth most friendly country. Perhaps it could be tied to how much stuff Americans expect to have. Regardless, more Americans appear to relish the idea of having private space within the home in ways that is not possible or not wanted in other cultures.


Is America caught between democratic inclusion and economic stratification?

Here is an interesting discussion topic: America’s ability to weave/meld new people groups into the democratic process seems inversely related to America’s ability to have more economic equality.

It’s a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another — blacks, women, Hispanics and gays — has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world…

European countries have done a better job of protecting workers’ salaries and rights but have been reluctant to extend the benefits of their generous welfare state to new immigrants who look and act differently from them. Could America’s lost enthusiasm for income redistribution and progressive taxation be in part a reaction to sharing resources with traditionally excluded groups?

“I do think there is a trade-off between inclusion and equality,” said Gary Becker, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel laureate. “I think if you are a German worker you are better off than your American equivalent, but if you are an immigrant, you are better off in the U.S.”

I often bring this up in my introduction to sociology course: while the United States has a less than pretty racial and discriminatory history (and there is still much to do), the scale of inclusion in the United States (in a country of roughly 310 million people) is remarkable, particularly compared to some of the issues European countries face.

In the end, does this have to be a zero sum game? Is there a country in the world that has successfully done both of these things? Is there a system that can accomplish both?

And getting into the territory of values and morality, which of these outcomes is more worthwhile if you could only have one?

Projecting the Muslim population in 2030 around the world

Pew has a new report on projecting the Muslim population around the world for 2030. You can look at separate reports by region and there is a lot of interesting information. If you look at the data for the United States, the prediction is that there will be 6.2 million Muslims by 2030. This is still a relatively small percentage compared to the total population though this would be a 140% increase. The numbers for Europe are quite different: the projection is France, Belgium, and Russia will be more than 10% Muslim.

Lots of good data here on everything from fertility rates to migration to age breakdowns.

Considering how dangerous the Internet might be for children

While the Internet has made available a wealth of information for the average person, it has always been dogged by some perceived downsides. One persistent argument is that the Internet is dangerous for children. A recent sociological study from Europe suggests that while adults might consider the Internet dangerous for children, children themselves don’t have the same perception (and here is a second article on the same study):

A sociological study on a large scale conducted in 25 countries among 25,140 European Internet users aged nine to sixteen, suggests that the dangers of the Internet for Young people are often overestimated. Funded by the European Commission and led by the London School of Economics the study also shows that parents often have an incorrect assessment of what their children see as a traumatic or unpleasant [experience]…

One of the main findings of the survey is that what would be objectionable content or a traumatic experience for adults is not necessarily for children. Thus, 14% of young Europeans say they have seen pornographic images or sexual activity on the Web, but only a third of them felt this was a painful experience.

The survey also reveals a surprising paradox: if parents tend to overestimate the trauma that objectionable content can generate, they also underestimate the kind of experience that their children may have had. Thus, 40% of parents whose children have seen images of sex think that this does not happen to them, and this figure rises to 56% for recipients of aggressive messages.

There seem to be several findings here and I’m not sure I would draw the same conclusion about the first one as the first story did (though I haven’t look at the complete study or the data):

1. Kids don’t think these are painful experiences online. Does this matter what the kids think? Just because they don’t think it is dangerous or harms doesn’t mean that it is good. Or the parents could still think that looking at pornography or experiencing aggressive behavior is a negative even if the kid shows few signs of being affected.

I think the headline here could be phrased differently to better reflect this finding: perhaps something like “Parents, children have different perceptions about Internet dangers.”

It will also be interesting to see how the children of today react to things on the Internet (or the broader media) when they themselves are adults.

[The second story adds to this: “According to an EU survey, European teenagers are barely aware of the privacy issues raised by such websites. The survey found that 50% of them do not hesitate to give out personal information on the Web, which can remain online forever and can be seen by anybody.”]

2. A decent number of parents are not aware of the experiences that their children have online. Not too surprising. It would be more helpful to know why this is the case: is there a significant percentage of parents who don’t care what their kids do online? Or are there are large percentage of kids deliberately hiding certain online activities?

[Indeed, the second story focuses more on the lack of parental knowledge. One possible explanation for the knowledge gap: “A UK-based body for protecting children online says that children find it hard to confide in their parents about their experiences online.”]

New study on American church attendance: a 10-18 percent gap between what people say versus what they actually do

The United States is consistently cited as a religious nation. The contrast is often drawn with a number of European nations where church attendance is usually said to be significantly lower than the American rate of about 40-45% of Americans attending on a regular basis. These figures have driven several generations of sociologists to debate the secularization thesis and why the American religious landscape is different.

But what if Americans overstate their church attendance on surveys and in reality, do attend church on a rate similar to European nations? A new study based on time diary data suggests this is the case:

While conventional survey data show high and stable American church attendance rates of about 35 to 45 percent, the time diary data over the past decade reveal attendance rates of just 24 to 25 percent — a figure in line with a number of European countries.

America maintains a gap of 10 to 18 percentage points between what people say they do on survey questions, and what time diary data says they actually do, Brenner reports. The gaps in Canada resemble those in America, and in both countries, gaps are both statistically and substantively significant…

“The consistency and magnitude of the American gap in light of the multiple sources of conventional survey data suggests a substantive difference between North America and Europe in overreporting.”

Given these findings, Brenner notes, any discussion of exceptional American religious practice should be cautious in using terms like outlier and in characterizing American self-reported attendance rates from conventional surveys as accurate reports of behavior. Rather, while still relatively high, American attendance looks more similar to a number of countries in Europe, after accounting for over-reporting.

A couple of thoughts about this:

1. This is another example where the research method used to collect data matters. Ask people about something on a survey and then compare that data to what people report in a time diary and it is not unusual to get differing responses. What exactly is going on here? Surveys ask people to consult their memory, a notoriously faulty source of information. Diaries have their own issues but supposedly are better at getting better information about daily or regular practices.

2. Even if church attendance data is skewed in the US, it doesn’t necessarily mean that America might still not be exceptional in terms of religion. Religiosity is made up of a number of factors including doctrinal beliefs, importance of religion in everyday life, membership in a religious congregation, the prevalence of other religious practices, and more. Church attendance is a common measure of religiosity but not the only one.

3. This is interesting data but it leads to another interesting question: why exactly would Americans overestimate their church attendance by this much? Since the time diary data from Europe showed a smaller gap, it suggests that Americans think they have something to gain by overestimating their church attendance. Perhaps Americans think they should say they attend church more – there is still social value and status attached to the idea that one attends church.