by Kate Belohlav, research associate, International Programs
PRB is gearing up for engaging presentations and sub-zero weather at this year’s Seventh Annual Research Conference on population, reproductive health, and economic development, held Jan. 23 – 26, 2013, in Oslo, Norway. Bringing together academic researchers and funders from around the globe who are interested in how population dynamics impact economic outcomes is central to the work of the Population and Poverty (PopPov) Network, founded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The network is focused on how population policies can be used for poverty reduction at the household level and economic growth at the country and state levels.
Retirement Postponed: Following the Great Recession, 40 percent of older Americans decided to postpone retirement, reported Brooke Helppie McFall of the University of Michigan. The greater the loss, the more likely people were to delay their retirement, she found.
Her study is the first to link actual data on household wealth just before and after the downturn to the retirement plans of a nationally representative sample of Americans age 50 and older, using the Health and Retirement Study along with the Cognitive Economics Study.
The typical older household lost about 5 percent of its total wealth between the summers of 2008 and 2009, she found. The average older person would need to work between 3.7 and 5 years longer than they planned in order to make up the money they lost, according to her analysis.
But very few people told interviewers that they intended to work long enough to recoup their entire loss, instead trading financial security for leisure, McFall reported. The typical person surveyed who planned to work longer because of the recession only planned to work about 1.6 years longer than they had originally planned. Not included in the survey were people who were already laid off or those who had already retired.
More Depression Among Older Americans: Lauren Hersch Nicholas of the University of Michigan and Melissa McInerny and Jennifer Mellor of the College of William and Mary used the Health and Retirement Survey to explore the health consequences of the Great Recession on older Americans. Although many studies link higher incomes to better health, no other studies have examined the impact of sudden financial loss on health, they noted.
“Respondents with stock market wealth interviewed right after the crash reported significantly worse self-rated health than respondents interviewed pre-crash,” they write. They also found that post-crash, stock owners had more symptoms of depression and were 4 percentage points less likely to report feeling happy in the previous two weeks.
Loss of wealth is different from job loss, Hersch noted. An event such as becoming unemployed can have both positive and negative impacts on health. While the financial stress may bring physical symptoms, the additional free time may contribute to improved health. Job loss allowed more adults to be available to provide care for aging parents, she said.
An attention-getting headline in the major Indian daily newspaper, The Hindu recentlyobserved: “Half of India’s homes have mobile phones, but not toilets.” Such contradictions portray a country with some of the trappings of modernity combined with living conditions in India’s 247 million households that look more medieval. The Registrar General of India has released statistics on the level of living in India from the 2011 Census and the results are quite revealing. Even more revealing are the changes since the 2001 Census.
Regarding the first two issues in the headline, the percentage of houses with an indoor toilet is still less than half but there was an improvement (see table below). But, if one sees the glass as half empty, should the percentage increase in toilets remain steady, the 2071 Census would be the first to show this figure to reach 100 percent! Conditions in rural areas are much worse than urban areas given that 7 out of 10 households must resort to open places like fields, bush, river, stream, railway tracks, and so forth.
And how about those mobile phones? More than half of households do have at least one, nearly half in rural areas and 76 percent in urban areas. Many households, of course, possess more than one mobile. Perhaps that is not so surprising since a very basic mobile phone costs as little as US$40 and can be relatively quickly purchased; not so for a sewer hookup. That US$40 cost is, nonetheless, quite substantial for many households. Reports indicate that there are now over 700 million mobile phones in India.
Percentage of Households With Amenities in India, 2001 and 2011
Sources: 2001 and 2011 India Censuses.
While about 92 million (37 percent of all households) and 78 million (32 percent) households live in one- and two-room houses, respectively, there are also about 10 million households that do not have any exclusive room for living as the room in which they live is also used as a shop or office. Using only the number of rooms as an indicator of “middle class,” how many households might be considered to be in that group? If we set that at four rooms, then 13 percent of households would be in that category. The construction of many of the houses in which those households live may be a bit startling. The walls of one-third of houses consist of grass, thatch, bamboo, plastic sheet, mud, or wood. Most of the remaining two-thirds have walls of brick, stone, or concrete with brick accounting for nearly half of all houses. Mud is used for the floor in 47 percent of houses; concrete accounts for 31 percent.
While India is widely touted as an emerging economic power, nearly half of the country still cooks with firewood, two-thirds among the vast rural population and those proportions have barely changed during the last decade. It is quite heartening to note that use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas/Piped Natural Gas (LPG/PNG) comes next and the percentage of households using LPG/PNG has increased from 17.5 percent in 2001 to 28.5 percent in 2011.
Pop quiz: Where are the fewest mobile phone subscribers per capita in the world? If you answered sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South and Southeast Asia, congratulations. Judging from available data, despite a lot of media coverage on the growth of mobile technology in developing countries, the lowest-income countries have some catching up to do. The global disparity in who owns and uses mobile phones is enormous, ranging with a rate of just one mobile phone subscriber per 100 people in Myanmar to 209 per 100 in the United Arab Emirates. The map below from PRB’s DataFinder conveys this variation. The darker the shading, the higher the ratio of mobile phone subscribers. Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that the United States, at 87 subscribers per 100 people, is tied with Japan but lags far behind countries such as El Salvador (113), Italy (152), and Estonia (188).
by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
It’s especially interesting to have a reproductive health advocate and activist offer keynote comments at a meeting of researchers, mainly economists who have a high standard of evidence. Yet Professor Fred Sai, an extraordinary man whose international experience spans decades, offered his insights into the movement of reproductive health transitions on a global scale and within sub-Saharan Africa. And drawing on a combination of his observations and experiences, Professor Sai made the case to the audience of economic demographers that an understanding of the policy environment is critical to the development of evidence-based policies. Given that one of the key reasons for the creation of the PopPov network is to support an evidence base to better understand the relationship between reproductive health, population growth, and economic development, Professor Sai’s message helped set the tone for the 6th annual PopPov network conference and reinforced the importance of strong evidence that can be explained to policymakers.
One of Sai’s observations was related to the use of family planning in the continent. In Eastern and Southern Africa, about 40 percent of married women use modern family planning; in contrast, use in West Africa is much lower—in Ghana, one of the regional leaders in family planning, fewer than 20 percent of women use modern family planning; in other countries, such as Mali, only about 4 percent of married women use family planning.
Fred Sai speaking at the 6th Annual PopPov Network Conference in Accra, Ghana. Photo: PRB.
In spite of low prevalence, many leaders and advocates argue that family planning is a woman’s right—a point that most people take for granted and about which few would argue. Although the language of human rights is used, Professor Sai made a point that is vital to understanding what having a right really means. “A right is not a right if the citizenry is unaware nor can they be fulfilled without government provision to the people.” Professor Sai makes a keen distinction that separates the language that many policymakers use and the reality of millions of women and couples around the world. If people don’t know about family planning, then how can they be expected to exercise their right to decide on the timing and spacing of having children? Similarly, if governments do not work to make family planning information and services available to the public, than it is complicit in not holding up the rights of their citizen. Without both knowledge of and access to family planning, the rights of millions of women and men cannot be achieved.
This week, a bunch of us from PRB are in Accra, Ghana for the 6th Annual Research Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development as part of the PopPov Research Network. The Population and Poverty Research Network (PopPov) was created in 2005, when the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation formed partnerships with funding agencies and program implementers, bringing together researchers from leading higher education institutions worldwide. PopPov’s goal is to provide clear evidence that investing in reproductive health can provide economic benefits at both the household and country level, and how to reach policymakers and donors with these messages. This week, conference participants will present their ongoing and completed research on population, reproductive health, and economic development; identify gaps in evidence and methods that inhibit the development of sound policies on population and economic development; and discuss examples of the influence of research on policies and how to communicate research findings to policymakers.
We’re honored to be co-hosting the conference with the University of Ghana. Fred Sai, Former Presidential Advisor on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, will give the keynote address tomorrow. I’m excited to hear his perspective on the progress and challenges since the International Conference on Population and Development (the “Cairo conference”) in 1994. (Dr. Sai was the chair of the conference’s Main Committee.) Since then, the focus of global family planning efforts has shifted to women’s rights and empowerment, for women to be able to decide the family size they desire and have control over their fertility. Donor funding and programming for family planning is increasing, but the links to economic development is not as clear. And with many other public health and development issues competing for donor and policy attention, strong evidence is needed. I expect Dr. Sai, and the conference in general, to discuss many of these issues.
Throughout the week, I’ll be blogging from Accra and interviewing researchers on various population and economic issues and their implications for public policy. Stay tuned for more posts from Accra and quite a few videos on the PRB site over the coming weeks. Want to learn more about the conference? Visit the PopPov website for the agenda, conference paper abstracts, and more.
by Deborah Mesce, program director, International Media Training
The Kenya government took a bold step toward transparency a few weeks ago when it fired up its Open Data website (www.opendata.go.ke) and posted loads of data in a format that makes the information easily understood by the average person. The data sets include national census statistics as well as government spending, and the government promises more data to come. This is a boon for journalists willing to wade into the numbers to examine what’s going on in their country and hold their government accountable. I’m waiting now to see how they will use this new tool.
We always hear that information is power, but that works only if the information is used. Lots of information begins as numbers, statistics, and data sets, with lots of good stories tucked away in there to be found by the journalist willing to go the extra mile, examine the numbers, and do the math. In many developing countries, the information – numbers, statistics, data sets – isn’t easily accessible, if it is available at all. Governments keep a tight hold on it, or if it’s made available, the average person would be hard pressed to make heads or tails out of it.
Image From Kenya Open Data
That’s where Kenya’s new website is different. I found it fascinating and relatively easy to poke around in the data. For example, I downloaded a couple of data sets into Excel and compared, county by county, the poverty rates and percentages of people with primary school education. Usually more education correlates with less poverty, and that was evident in some of the counties. But I found it interesting that Nairobi, with the lowest poverty rate (22%), has a relatively low level of primary school education (50%), while Turkana, with the highest poverty rate (93%), has a relatively high level of primary school education (71%). What’s going on? It may be easily explained. I have no idea. But it certainly makes me curious.
As more data becomes accessible in this digital age, it’s getting more difficult for journalists to avoid the numbers. PRB has been helping journalists shed their math anxiety and dig into the data, the building block of policy. This fall, we’ll be helping journalists in Kenya learn to use the Open Data website to see what’s going on in their country and keep tabs on where government money is being spent. We’re doing the same kind of work with journalists in Uganda and Malawi, helping them to improve newsroom numeracy. Sure would be nice if they had the same kind of tool available to them as the Kenyan journalists now have.
“Hunger”: What does that word mean to you? I would guess that most would define it as not having enough to eat. It probably brings to mind images of starving children living in poverty in a rural African village. An oft-cited statistic in international development is that 1 billion people in the world are hungry. The first Millennium Development Goal calls for an end to “extreme poverty and hunger.” But a new article in Foreign Policy takes a closer look at global hunger and asks if we’re looking at the issue in the wrong way, with misguided assumptions. If 1 billion people are “hungry,” then you would think that it means that 1 billion people don’t have enough to eat and a rise in income would lead to purchasing more food. But according the article’s authors, the co-directors of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, this isn’t the case. They point to the example of India, where those living in extreme poverty are actually eating less (measured by calorie consumption) now compared with a few years ago despite rising incomes and lowering food prices (at least until recently).
TV cables and phone lines above a slum in Mumbai. Photo: Eric Zuehlke.
After spending almost a month in Mali, I am thoroughly convinced that Malian women can and will transform and market just about anything that is potentially edible, drinkable, or wearable. In this story, I am introducing three old friends. Two attended the ad hoc training program that Mariam and I implemented in 1974- 75. The third one was a leader in the Functional Literacy Office in Bamako when I worked in Mali. These three remarkable women were all part of the group I looked up during my recent visit to see what they had done since the early 1970s. It turns out that all three have built up very successful small businesses. But the most remarkable thing is that all three have combined their economic pursuits with social outreach activities, in support of women’s and youth groups. It is noteworthy that in many of these groups men participate as well, because they want to learn new skills that will allow them to be productive and earn money. However, so far the men have remained a small minority.
The Women’s Banks, featured in my previous blog post, emerged largely thanks to Mariam Ndiaye, my counterpart while I was working in Mali, and my friend for life. Mariam was born in 1942, when French colonization was still firmly established throughout Africa. When she went to primary school, at age seven, Malian children were sitting in the back of the classroom, while the children of the French butcher, baker, and hairdresser occupied the front rows. Students of both groups considered that this was the “normal” societal order. However, the Malian children that made it to school, especially the girls, were usually descendants of forward-looking and highly motivated families who encouraged their children to learn as much as they could to help their society change for the better. As a consequence, they were the children who were consistently on the honor roll. Already at a young age, Mariam liked the “hard sciences” such as physics and biology. After completing secondary school, during the period that Mali became independent in 1960, Mariam enrolled at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENSUP) in Bamako. After obtaining her first degree, she was admitted to graduate school at ENSUP, section biology, as the first Malian woman in science.