Thursday, February 22, 2018

When Demographers Make Me Angry

Today was the first day of two days of the Ottawa Security and Defence Conference.  It is an annual event put on by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, which is a think tank associated with a heap of veterans groups (the aforementioned defence associations).  They bring in a heap of interesting people including US generals and admirals (only one thus far this year and she canceled), experts from a variety of countries and a few random academics (not me).  It is great for networking, which is handy since I am building a network of Canadian Defence and Security folks (the CDSN!).  I also learn a lot, and, yes, sometimes, I get highly annoyed.

Today, I was highly annoyed by Darrell Bricker who was presenting a bunch of interesting information about both demographic statistics and surveys.  The funnest result: bloggers are far less respected than damn near everybody else, even lawyers and airport baggage handlers (sorry, messed up the photo, as bloggers were at the very bottom. Really!)

No, that didn't annoy me. What did was that the way he presented the core info: that women around the world are getting more education, which means delaying childbirth and having fewer children.  This then means two major punchlines for this audience: the ratio of workers to retired people is going to get quite bad, making it hard to pay for the retirement benefits of the old folks AND it will make recruiting hard because there will be fewer young people.  While I don't dispute the consequences, I had a real hard time with the whole "women getting more education is going to cause a lot of trouble" tone of the presentation for a few reasons.  First, keeping women down would be good?  No, no, no.  Second, there is a heap of social science that correlates women doing better with interstate peace, intrastate piece, and economic development (I can't seem to find any handy articles right now--a day of conferencing has undermined my google skills). Third, perhaps producing fewer people might be good when climate change bites real hard?  Fourth, the assertion that immigration is not a big deal since only 3% of the world's population lives somewhere else other than where they are born (yes, he said that) elides the reality that 3% of 7 billion or so is actually a pretty big number and the movement tends to in particular directions.

So, yeah, I should have asked a super-pesky question, like, should we stop educating women so they can birth some more babies.  But I didn't.  My bad.

On the bright side the rest of the panels were very informative and did not contain super-questionable assumptions about the place of women.  Indeed, one of the highlights was when a young woman, part of a student group, got up and asked a question that was more of a comment--that the presenters over the two days are hardly diverse--something like 21 out of 24 spots going to men.  She got a heap of applause after her statement. 

Overall, an interesting day, followed by a jaunt over to the War Museum for a reception for the Carleton Model NATO folks.  They are a bunch of undergrads from across Canada (seemed like many of them were from Western University--at least the ones I chatted with) simulating a NATO crisis this weekend.  Another smart group and much more diverse/representative--the future is mighty bright despite what one demographer suggested.

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