China’s gender gap: Man-made problems?


CHINET“In recent decades, the world has witnessed the enormous economic, social, cultural and political development of China. As the most populous country in the world, China’s transition process influences directly one fifth of the world’s population and indirectly almost all the rest of the world. Chinese economic activities cover the whole globe, Chinese living overseas constitute the largest diaspora, and China’s political and economic influence is significant. On the other hand, China and its government face many challenges, as Chinese society as well as the environment are affected by these massive processes.” These challenges were the theme of a Conference on the Socio-Economic Transition of China at Palacký University in Olomouc (Czech Republic) where the opportunities and potential threats for China are discussed from an interdisciplinary perspective organized by the CHINET (Forging a scientific team and international networking in the field of Chinese Studies) project.
Part of that was an invited contribution which I prepared in collaboration with Adam Horálek of Palacký University. Our talk titled ‘Mapping Perspectives of Changing China’ presented a global as well as national context to the topic, framing China’s socio-economic place in the globalised world and highlighting some of the trends that started transforming the Chinese society considerably over the past three decades. While the most recent Census is not yet available in larger detail, we focussed on an analysis of some key aspects of the previous Census in more detail (and also discussed the quality and reliability of data from official statistics there).
The following map showing the gender gap was part of our slides (see below) and stands for one of the demographic challenges and existing tensions in the contemporary society. These are not only characterized by the changing age structures (with very distinct geographic patterns of ageing populations), but also by the considerable imbalance between the male and female population in most parts of the country. According to the most recent 2010 Census, this was at 1.18 males per female, and thus increased to the already high ratio that was stated 10 years before. In some regions, there are now over 130 men for 100 woman, with the fear (and sometimes reality), “that the excess will lead to increased sexual violence, general crime and social instability” (quoted from the Guardian). It is very much a man-made problem as in the early 1980s the ratio was at 108:100 and therefore only slightly above the natural rate, after which the 1979 introduced one child policy started having an effect that we see in its full extent today. This map, showing the sex ratio on an equal population projection (a gridded cartogram transformation where each grid cell is resized according to the total number of people in an area). It reveals, that the surplus of men is common throughout the country, while the opposite (a considerable surplus of women) is true for very few of the populated spaces in China (such as in the Shenzhen area of the Pearl River Delta where female migrants are the majority of workers under precarious employment conditions).
The authorities appear to become aware of the emerging problems, and according to the Guardian article, China’s “new Five Year Plan sets an ambitious target of cutting the ratio to 112 or 113 by 2016″. For the time being, the pattern in this map remains prevalent and puts pressure on a society that is feeling the full impact of China’s transformation to a new global player over the past decades.

Male to Female Sex Ratio in China
(click for larger version)

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7 Billion and beyond

Predicting future population chances remains a difficult issue. But while popular (and populist) media tends to dramatise every new release of population predictions, it is less often discussed that these figures are one possible scenario for what is an extremely complex issue. Small political and cultural changes in societies can lead to drastic long terms effects that change the future numbers of people within a country. The current estimates are therefore never figures that are engraved in stone, but estimates that look at the current trends that we can observe. The different scenarios therefore have an extreme variability, ranging from a decline down to just above 6 billion to an increase up to almost 16 billion. These are of course the very extreme scenarios in the latest revision of the Unites Nations’ World Population Prospects that has just been released. While it is almost certain that any scenario is likely to not happen in that way, the trends outlined in the report are in important political guideline that tells, what humanity should be prepared for and which economic, ecological and other implications the different scenarios have for the future. The following map shows a population cartogram of the most recent population estimates where each country is resized to its total population in 2013 (approximately 7.1 billion):

World Population Cartogram 2013
(click for larger version)

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Cartograma cuadriculada de la población de Ecuador

The people of Ecuador are going to the polls today, voting at the first general election after the constitutional court resolved the Democracy Code in 2012. This comes at an interesting time from a British perspective, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still calls London’s Ecuadorian embassy his home. Ecuadorians may care little about this international diplomacy row, and some may be more interested in issues regarding press freedom in their home country. But after many years of economic uncertainty and political instability following the collapse of the banking system in 1999, many other questions will rate far more important at these elections in a country that is extremely diverse for its size, not only in its nature, but also its population.
Ecuador is a patchwork of indigenous communities, including people of colonial Spanish origins and the descendants of African slaves” (quoted from the BBC Country Profile Ecuador). For a country of only 283,561 sq km size (slightly smaller than Nevada, as the CIA World Factbook puts it), Ecuador has a remarkably diverse natural environment: The continental area stretches from the tropical rainforests in the east over the Andean highlands to the low lying coastal zone. And 1,000 km westwards off the coast the Galapagos Islands form the volcanic outpost of the country.
The population of over 15 million people is concentrated in two of these four major regions: ‘La Costa’ – the coastal region – is home to Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil (2.3 million people), while the capital Quito (1.6 million people) is located in ‘La Sierra’ – the highlands at an elevation of over 2,800 m above sea level). Despite their high altitude, the Ecuadorian part of the Andes is home to a considerable population almost equal to the coastal areas. The less accessible rainforest region as well as the the Galapagos Islands in contrast are home to only small numbers of people.
The distribution of Ecuadors population is visualised in the following gridded population cartogram (a ‘cartograma cuadriculada de la población ‘ in Spanish), which is a much improved display compared to the original version of this map that I created in 2009 for the World Population Atlas. The improved resolution is made possible by using the LandScan population data which in this case provides a better estimate for the real distribution of people than the SEDAC GPWv3 data. The map shows an equal-sized grid over the land area of Ecuador resized according to the total number of people living in each of the grid cells, so that larger grid cells reflect higher numbers of people, while depopulated areas almost disappear from the map.
The green to brown colours in the map reflect the altitude of the areas, so that the coastal and mountainous regions are clearly distinguishable. The transitional zones of intermediate shadings (and elevations) almost disappear from this map, which shows the relatively small numbers of people living where relief gradients are steepest. The rainforest region (La Amazonía, or also El Oriente as it is situated in the east) which makes almost half of the land area, is equally underrepresented in this map, as it is home to less than 5% of the population. This is the human shape of Ecuador:

Gridded Cartogram / Map of the Population of Ecuador
(click for larger version)

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Megacity London: ever growing, ever more unequal?

What is it about London? Population growth is slowing across most of Europe – people are having fewer children and, it could be argued, steps are being taken to try to reduce social inequalities. But London is unusual. London continues growing, and London is becoming more youthful. The middle aged and those who are poor, but not desperately poor, are being squeezed out. Graduates from the rest of Britain and the rest of the world flow in ever greater numbers and require ever higher degrees of optimism. Many fail to achieve their aspirations. Above them a few are becoming ever richer. Below them, as private rents and social housing becomes too expensive for huge numbers of lowly paid families and many leave, a new poor may be growing, less well documented, less well protected, with even less to lose.
With a population of currently 8.2 million (according to the 2011 Census), London is not only unique for one of the old world’s megacities by being projected to continue rising significantly in population size over the forthcoming decades, but also by its specific demographic structure. Like many large cities, London has a large share of people in the younger age groups – over 20% in the cohorts from 25-34 – but also a significant share of the youngest with around 7% of its population being 0 to 4 years old. Here is a population pyramid of London compiled from the 2011 Census data that has been released recently:Population Pyramid of London 2011 Continue reading

Changing demographies of Germany


22 years after re-unification Germany has become an ‘accidental empire’ (Guardian) in Europe through its economic might. It is the largest economy in Europe and also happens to be the largest country by population. Germany has gotten into a political role that it seemed to be reluctant to take over ever since – in many regards the country is still seen as a reluctant power as Meier described it in a paper published in 1995 (today going much further than the role of the nation’s army). Post-unification Germany has been marked with many changes and the emergence of a reborn nation which stands in the centre of the future challenges of Europe. While the country struggles with a redefined role in Europe, its domestic challenges are appear equally tough: They are those of building a sustainable future for a rapidly changing demographic structure of society that is able to sustain a strong economic base. With a declining population, Germany may be smaller than France or the United Kingdom by 2060 if current trends were to continue (predicting future populations must always be seen with great caution – as some predictions from almost 50 years ago demonstrate quite well). Putting uncertainties about future trends aside, the question may also be whether a decline in population is a negative thing (and on the opposite, whether growing populations are bad either)? The pure numbers are less the problem, rather than the spatial and social implications that come with them.
Panic is never helpful for finding solutions, but look at what demographic changes are actually happening to find ways of dealing with it. The decrease of the fertility rate down to 1.36 children per woman in 2011 (according to the Federal Statistical Office) is already tackled with political measures (which may even already have first influences on the predicted trends as suggested by the MPG) and could lead to a changing trend – though probably not a reversal in the general trend of an ageing population (as reflected in the changing population pyramid of Germany). But most of the negative impact of demographic change in a spatial context have started with reunification in 1990 and lead to specific geographic problems that are the much more imminent for the country, as they led to a considerably changed population landscape:

Gridded Population Cartogram / Map of Population Changes in Germany between 1990 and 2015
(click for larger and more detailed version)

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In Focus: Global Population Shifts

Political InsightAccording to recent estimates by the UN, the world’s population will reach 7 billion some time this year, and rise to over 10 billion by 2100. In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (September 2011, Volume 2, Issue 2) Danny Dorling and I show where the population is growing and where it is declining.
The map we created for this feature shows not only the growth and decline in relation to the global population distribution, but also highlights the places that are in growth an decline in two separate maps. This is a preview of the maps that we created for the article:
Global Population Shifts 1990-2015 Preview map Continue reading