Steering urban sprawl

Gabriella Elanbeck and Rory Clarke, OECD Observer

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© Keith Meyers/The New York Times/REA

New York City has one of the highest average population densities in the world, and few other US cities share its concentrated hustle and bustle. In fact, most of them face an entirely different challenge: urban sprawl.

The average number of inhabitants per km2 of populated urban space is actually very low in the US, as our chart shows. So while New Yorkers must grapple with the difficulties that accompany larger numbers of people in limited urban space, such as congestion and high rents, people in low density cities face long commutes and costly public service provision.

The US is not alone. While average population density in the urban areas of OECD countries is high in Korea and Japan, it is low in countries such as Austria and Canada.  But even in those countries and cities with high average densities, urban sprawl must be confronted.

People’s lives may suffer, as this scattered and decentralised city growth can lead to environmental damage, social exclusion, and pressures on transportation and public services, as well as high public and private costs. What can policymakers do?

Finding sustainable solutions to reduce sprawl demands rethinking urban space and weighing the private benefits of low density living–my house and garden–against social, environmental and infrastructure costs. Compact cities, which balance dense development patterns, strong public transport linkages, accessibility to local services and jobs, affordable houses and healthy open spaces, can provide an answer.

Links and references

OECD (2018), Rethinking Urban Sprawl: Moving Towards Sustainable Cities, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://oe.cd/urban-sprawl.

OECD (2018), Average population density in urban areas of 29 OECD countries, 2014, https://oe.cd/pop.

©OECD Insights July 2018

Of kissing, the less the better

1 in 7 billion. Now click to see how population growth affects you

Today’s post to mark the birth of the 7 billionth baby was written in collaboration with Lynn Robertson of the OECD’s  Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs, and follows on discussions that led to this post we did in September on children’s happiness

The world’s 7 billionth baby was born today, or a couple of years ago, or maybe will be born in a couple of years from now. Demographers can’t say exactly when we reach the magic number, but Halloween 2011 is as good a guess as any. Many experts agree though that there’s never been a worse time to be a child. Extensive research in a number of bars has proved that when we were kids, life was much better, and so were children. And this result is robust over time: whatever period you look at, it turns out that you missed the golden age by a generation.

One change over the millennia is that now we talk about children being more selfish, lazy, etc rather than just people. That in itself is an improvement the golden agers probably haven’t thought about. Until the late 19th century, children enjoyed no special status or protection. They worked long hours often in dangerous conditions, could suffer barbaric punishments, and be abused with impunity by practically any adult. In fact, we’re only now learning of many cases of abuse that took place when today’s adults were children.

When things did start to change, progress was slow, with great faith in harsh treatment. L. Emmett Holt’s 1894 bestseller  Care and Feeding of Children explained that: “Babies under six months old should never be played with, and of kissing the less the better”.  In 1928, the most influential child psychologist in America, John B. Watson, echoed this advice in Psychological Care of Infant and Child when he warned against the dangers of “too much mother love”, telling women “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap.” Otherwise, the result would be spoilt, self-centred, unproductive brats.

This drivel is sometimes called a “no-nonsense” approach to child rearing, and obviously influences people who want to return to a time when they had no responsibility and someone else always told them what to do. It’s impossible to argue against nostalgia, fond memories, and the feeling that things were better before despite the world wars, genocides, diseases and squalor of times past, but the fact that this view can be retraced back over the centuries suggests that it’s nothing more than a myth. The objective facts paint a different picture.

Take health for example. A child born fifty years ago when the OECD was created could expect to live to over 73 on average in only two countries of the world compared with 87 countries today. In OECD countries, average life expectancy reached 79.1 in 2007, more than ten years better than in 1960, and exceeded 80 years in almost half the OECD countries.

Elsewhere, improvement has been dramatic too even over short time spans.  According to UN figures on the Millennium Development Goals, the global mortality rate for children under five has declined by a third, from 89 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 60 in 2009. Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009, or nearly 12,000 fewer children dying each day. Access to education is also improving, and there is progress on the other MDG targets too.

Much of the evidence on more subjective aspects comes from small-scale studies with only a few participants, but last year Brent Donnellan of Michigan State University and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario published an analysis of nearly half a million high-school seniors spread over three decades. They argue that “more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s” regarding a whole range of topics, including individualism, happiness and antisocial behaviour. Their data also suggest that compared with previous generations, today’s youth are more cynical and less trusting of institutions;  less fearful of social problems such as race relations, hunger, poverty and energy shortages; and have higher educational expectations.

Still, the basic problem remains: they’re not us. The good news is that in a decade or two they will be, and they’ll be boring their own kids with stories about how they were happy with a simple iPad for their birthday. So, whoever you are little 7 billion, good luck. With parents like us, you’ll need it.

Useful links

The OECD is partnering 7 Billion Actions, established by the UN Population Fund to “inspire change that will make a difference by highlighting positive action by individuals and organisations around the world”. You can find out more about the OECD Better Life Initiative and make and share your own Better Life Index here

Doing Better for Children provides data, analysis and policy advice on child well-being in OECD countries

UNICEF IRC, the OECD, the Learning for Well-being Consortium and the European Commission are co-organising an expert consultation on cross-national research on child indicators and well-being on 2-3 November 2011 at the OECD. You can download the papers here.

Wikichild is part of the OECD’s Wikiprogress platform for sharing information on global societal progress

The Beautiful Game and the Dismal Science

Today’s post is from Eva Marikova Leeds of the Department of Economics and Business, Moravian College and Michael A. Leeds of the Department of Economics, Temple University.

But is it level?

Every four years, economists around the world turn their attention to something of true interest to the world’s population – predicting who will win the World Cup.

Studies of what it takes to succeed in international football have confirmed that it pays to be big and it pays to be rich.

Countries with large populations and high GDP per capita have higher FIFA rankings and have more success in World Cup competition. 

By that standard, the United States should be an odds-on favorite for this year’s World Cup.  Of the 32 countries currently competing in South Africa, the United States is the most populous and has the highest GDP per capita (after adjusting for purchasing power). 

Obviously, population and income are not the sole determinants of success, as only the most wildly optimistic fans of Team USA expect it to get anywhere near the final round.  In a paper that was published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Sports Economics, we confirmed the finding that large, rich nations have greater success in international soccer competitions than small, poor nations. 

But we find that the importance of income and population – and hence the United States’ advantage – fall as they become larger.  More importantly, we also found that a variety of other economic, political, and institutional factors play an important role in a nation’s soccer prowess: 

  • It pays to be a well-to-do democracy.  Even when one controls for GDP per capita, countries that are members of OECD do better than other nations.  More than half of the teams in this year’s World Cup Finals belong to OECD. 
  • Currently communist countries have more success in soccer.  Thus soccer is one of the few venues in which North Korea’s regime has helped its country.
  • The old colonial order continues to hold when it comes to soccer, as the former colonial powers – England, France, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain (all of which are in this year’s World Cup Finals) – do better than other nations.  
  • Oil-exporting countries do better in international soccer competition.  In this year’s final, that would give an advantage to Mexico and Nigeria.  
  • Perhaps the most important indicator of international success is a nation’s commitment to soccer.  We measured this commitment in two ways.  First, we found that nations that had hosted the World Cup (which 13 finalists have done) did better in international soccer.  Our second measure used the number of teams to reach the quarterfinals of Confederation competitions, such as the UEFA Champions League or the Copa Libertadores.  We found that a country’s national team did better as more of its club teams (which might or might not feature home-grown talent) reached the confederation’s quarterfinals.  This gives a big edge to England and an even bigger edge to Brazil.

What does all this mean for the upcoming World Cup Competition?  We applied our econometric results to data for 31 of the 32 nations competing in the finals (missing data led us to exclude North Korea) and found that the favorite is – surprise of surprises – Brazil. 

It just goes to show that economic analysis sometimes predicts the obvious.

Useful links

The OECD looks at Competition Issues Related to Sports (Yes, that really is the title).

China: back to the future

Napoleon Bonaparte never visited China, but his reflections on its future role on the global stage have stood the test of time. “Let China sleep,” he wrote about 200 years ago, “for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” Ironically, back in Napoleon’s day China’s share of the global economy was far larger than it is today, according to the economic historian Angus Maddison. The chart is based on data from his monumental economic study of the second millennium, The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, which was published by the OECD in 2001. In the early 19th century, China’s share of the economy stood at just under 33%, according to Maddison, but fell to 4-5% in the 1960s and 1970s before recovering to reach about 12% in 2000, the latest year this study provides. China’s global share has continued to rise since then, as more recent, albeit differently based, World Bank estimates indicate. But why the earlier long decline? Maddison splits the millennium into two parts – before 1820 and after… (more…)