Syllabus: Economics 247

Economics of Population

Prof. M. Weinrobe

Spring 2003

Office Telephone: X7248 (508 793-7248)                                                         Office: JC 126

Office Hours: M & W, 3 - 4 P.M.

Please send e-mail to me at:

This syllabus is divided into three parts.

Introduction and Mechanics

About this Course

This course is an introduction to the economics of population or economic demography. It is intended to survey the field as an area in economics, but also to provide a basic understanding of the more focused area of demography. Because the course draws on two disciplines it is likely that students will come to it with different backgrounds and levels of knowledge. This means that some of the sections and assignments will require rather different levels of effort.  This is a benefit to the class, although it may mean that at times you feel over or under whelmed.

The course will be divided into two major parts.  Part one will cover the essentials of economic demography.  Naturally, this means coverage will be of topics in demography and in economics.  The major topics to be covered include the following.




Fertility, Mortality and Migration

Economics of the household

The structure of a population

Human capital theory

Dynamics of population structure (including the demographic transition)

Economic theories of population or the relationship between the economic system and population

Population policy

Population and the labor force

Part two will be a more focused treatment of special topics.   We will be investigating topics of mutual interest.  Each topic will occupy one week of class time.  Topics to be covered will be drawn from the following (and any other that might arise that would be of interest to you).

·         Demography and the market place.  Who advertises on "All Sports, All the Time" radio?  People in there 40s and 50s are infrequent consumers of skateboards, and people in there 20s have little need for assisted living.   Young adults drink more milk, juice, fruit, sports, and frozen beverages than their parents, but when it comes to hot coffee or tea, those aged 50 and older drink more than twice as much as 18- to 24-year-olds.  This topic will look at age related patterns of consumption, marketing demographics, and related matters. 

·         Aging and industrial society.  What are the implications of aging for modern societies and economies?  [Also see the question on social security, below.]

·         Population change and the environment.  It has been argued that population growth has negative consequences for the environment.  To some degree this is a truism -- more people, more goods, more use of resources.  But to what extent must this be true?  Is it possible to have a world population of, say 20 billion, without environmental disaster?

·         AIDS and the world's population.  AIDS kills, of that there is no doubt.  But just how many people have been killed by HIV - AIDS?  What are the implications of the disease for the future population, and how does this differ around the world?  How much does the disease affect the economies of different countries and regions?

·         Fertility in Eastern Europe.  Fertility rates are supposed to be predictable.  When demographers project the population of a region an important component of the projection is what is expected to occur with fertility.  Recent experience in some of the Eastern European countries has, however, been off the charts.   The big question now is, how long will these low rates continue?

·         Fertility policy.  One of the most contentious issues in the area of population policy is, what should be done about fertility?  In the U.S. we often debate the right of women and their families "to choose," but what about the right to be allowed to have children, or what of the right of a government to influence the decisions of its people to have children?  China, India, and many other countries have tried to influence fertility?  How is it done and how effective is it?

·         Social security and the structure of populations.  We commonly hear about the graying of the U.S. population.  It is interesting to note that the U.S. has a modest social security problem when compared to that of Japan, France or Italy.   What causes the social security problem, how can it be addressed or answered?

·         Immigration and immigration policy.  Immigration has so many controversies associated with it that it is impossible to reduce the subject to a good vs. bad debate.  A few of the controversies include:  effects on consumers; effects on producers or employers; effects on earnings of natives; effects on public spending and tax revenue; effects on social issues such as crime, political stability, and quality of life.  Immigration affects much more than the population pyramid (although that is also an interesting issue).

A single text is the source of the core reading.

    Weeks, John R. Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues. Eighth edition, 2002

    Additional readings will be drawn from web sites or placed on reserve at Goddard Library.

Computers and the Internet will play a few roles in Econ 247. First, the hub for class communication will be Blackboard.  Assignments will be posted there, announcements posted, this syllabus is there, and old exams will be posted.  If you do not yet have a Blackboard “Student Home Page” I would like you to create one immediately.  Second, there are a large and increasing number of data and other demographic information sources on the World Wide Web. A number of important sites are shown below.  Lastly, we will also use a simple program called Demo Tools. It is a program that allows for easy retrieval, graphical display and animation of demographic data. It is fun and instructive.

The Mechanics

Successful completion of the course entails a midterm, a final exam, and a term paper of modest length. The subject of the paper will be described in class. Papers will be done in small groups (3 or so) with each member of the group writing on a related topic.  The paper will also be the basis of an in-class presentation during the last week of the course. The significant dates for major events are:

There will be a few assignments requiring out of class work. These will be based on gathering data on one or more countries. Each person will have a different country as the basis for his or her assignment. The only qualification is that you cannot use either your own home country or the United States for the assignments.

Fridays!  Fridays will differ from Mondays and Wednesdays.  Each Friday two students will be responsible for the class.  You will be given a topic a week ahead of time, and a suggested reading.  These are not to be presentations, but rather class discussions led by students.  Everyone is expected to participate in the discussions.  The material to be discussed on Fridays is more applied than for other days.  For example, the first Friday will be a discussion of the U. S. Census, and some of the hotter topics associated with it.  I will provide you with a list of Friday topics for the first five sessions (or so), during the first week of class.  You will select a session you would like to lead.

Finally, a word about attendance.  I am not indifferent to your attendance.   This class will be as good as you (as a group) make it.   You cannot participate in class if you are not there, and you cannot take advantage of the opportunity to address issues or questions of concern.  I expect you to attend class.


Population Web Sites

The following is a fairly up-to-date list of web sites that should be useful. These will be discussed in class.

The Census Bureau Home Page            This is the site for the "official statistics" for the U.S. population. The vast amount of data is indexed by subject, including aging, fertility, Census 1990, college enrollment, income, households, immigration, labor force, population topics, poverty, and race. Selected tables from the latest Statistical Abstract of the United States and The County and City Data Book are included. It has international links.

AARP Research Center            AARP is a member organization that represents and lobbies for the elderly.  It sponsors and conducts research on a variety of subjects relating to the elderly.

Popline             This site houses abstracts of over 25,000 journal articles, monographs, technical reports, and unpublished works covering family planning, worldwide population law and policy, and related health issues.

Population Index           This database features annotated bibliographies of books, journal articles, working papers, and other materials published on population topics from 1986 onward.

Natl. Center for Health Statistics           Most of the reports generated by NCHS are available in full text, including Monthly Vital Statistics Report for data on births, deaths, marriages, and divorces in the U.S. by state, race, or age, as well as total fertility rates and life expectancy, etc.

Natl. Institute on Aging (NIA)   This home page gives information on aging, news releases, and links to the NIH home page and related sites.

American Demographics, Inc.   U.S. demographics and marketing information contained in American Demographics, Marketing Tools, The Numbers News, Marketing Power and other publications.

UN Population Information Network (POPIN)             World, regional, and country-level demographic trends as monitored by the UN are available at this site. Serves as a good resource for data on historical world population growth, urbanization prospects, child mortality estimates, impact of AIDS in Africa, and world abortion policies. There are links to many other home pages.

UN World Population Trends  An excellent site for data and information on world, region and country population trends.  It includes information on the UN's own World Population Estimates and Projections.

Population Reference Bureau    For demographic statistics on more than 190 countries, query the 2002 World Population Data Sheet. Also see the full-text publications of PRB, have access to information on a variety of topics in demography as well as data.  This may be the best place to begin for any research in demography.

PopNet            PopNet is a resource for population information. Here you can browse the most comprehensive directory of population-related websites available — by organization, by region and country, or by topic within countries.

AEGIS             AEGIS is the AIDS Education Global Information System.  This site allows access to a wide variety of AIDS related data and news sources. 


The following is a very brief version of the class outline.  It describes coverage of topics through the midterm exam.  A more complete version with readings will be distributed.

  1.     Introduction [1 meeting, Weeks Chapter 1]                                                                                                                                            
  2.     Elements of Economic Demography

        Brief History of World Population [2 meetings, Weeks Chapter 1]

        Population Theory [3 meetings, Weeks Chapter 3]

        Age and Sex Structure/ Tools and Terms [2 meetings, Weeks Chapter 8]

        Fertility, Mortality and the Transition [5 meetings, Chapters 4, 5, 6]

  1.     Economic Aspects of Demography

        The Household and Demographic Decisions [2 meetings, Weeks Chapter 10]

        Population and the Labor Force [1 meeting, Weeks Chapter 10]