Friday, October 9, 2009

Lots of Surprising Results

By Marian Starkey

The XXVI International Population Conference (IUSSP) ended last Friday in Marrakech and I am finally settling back into my normal office routine. I didn't have the greatest Internet connection while I was overseas so I neglected to post a final blog entry about the conference sessions. Here it is, a week late.

Climate change was a bigger topic of discussion at this conference than at other demography conferences I've attended in recent years. Brian O'Neil, who does population/climate research at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria was supposed to present his research but was not able to make it to Marrakech at the last minute. His colleague, Leiwen Jiang, presented in his place. Basically what they've found is that aging has a negative effect on carbon emissions while urbanization and smaller households have a positive effect (in this instance, negative means "good" i.e. fewer emissions, and positive means "bad" i.e. more emisisons). They stress that although the number of people on earth does have an effect on emissions, more potent factors are the age structure and lifestyle choices of those people.

The Guttmacher Institute led a training session early on Thursday morning for demographers who wanted to learn to translate their research results into policy recommendations. Session panelists encouraged researchers to communicate their results by starting with the study conclusions and not getting bogged down in methodology, which lawmakers and program managers trust them to execute responsibly. I have to admit that sometimes at these conferences I wish demographers would spend more time presenting their results than their methods for the same reason. Their papers are usually available for download for those who wish to delve deeper into the study methods they used.

A few sessions focused on the demographic consequences of HIV/AIDS. Lori Hunter, who edits the journal Population and Environment, found that families in South Africa who have experienced the death of a family member due to AIDS were negatively affected in terms of food security. One person she talked to actually said, "Locusts are our new beef." Losing an adult in a family of dependents has severe destabilizing effects, both socially and economically.

Another researcher found that female infidelity in Africa might be more widespread than previously believed, based on the high number of couples in which only the woman was infected with HIV. The somewhat counterintuitive results also suggest that girls who attend school are at higher risk of contracting HIV because they are away from their families and experience more independence than girls who stay home.

Joseph Potter from the University of Texas-Austin presented a very interesting study of women in El Paso, TX who use the contraceptive pill. Those who traveled across the border to Mexico to buy pills over the counter for about $5 per pack had much lower discontinuation rates than women who got one pack at a time at the El Paso clinic for free. Only when women were given six packs or more at the clinic did their discontinuation rates drop to the level of the women who bought them at Mexican pharmacies. These results imply that increasing ease of accessibility (no clinic appointment) and providing multiple months of protection at a time increase the continuation rates of pill users.

A researcher from the American University in Cairo studied the fertility differences between Morocco and Egypt. She asked the question "Why is fertility decline faster in Morocco when Egypt has a higher Human Development Index?" She found that although desired fertility is higher in Morocco, later marriage and longer birth intervals make actual fertility lower. The fertility rate of educated women in Morocco is lower than equally educated women in Egypt.

As usual, the most valuable parts of being at this huge conference were the side conversations I had with people at lunch and during coffee breaks. I made a lot of new professional alliances and reinforced existing ones for Population Connection. I know that our info table also helped spread the word about our unique and important work. By the end of the week, only a few copies of The Reporter remained in my booth--everything else had been taken.

The next IUSSP conference will be in four years, location as yet undecided. I am already looking forward to it and will make sure to stock my table more heavily with the fun supplies that conference-goers like to take home: pens, tote bags, stickers, etc. For a serious bunch of researchers, they sure do like their freebies.

1 comment:

  1. I am thrilled to hear of the Guttmacher Institutes efforts, they are helping to bridge an important gap between research and policy. It's good that global warming was a popular topic, the more coverage on the population to CO2 relation the better. When advocating for Family Planning and Reproductive Health I help policy advisors make the connection of population to global warming, (for conservatives I offer the for our defense argument which is reinforced by former CIA Director Gen Hayden speech in 2008 at Kansas State University Campus).
    Some of the researchers results are quite unexpected thank you for sharing them with us, they provide much needed clarity.
    I look forward to hearing more from the future conferences! Thank you for writing.