Any economist, sociologist, or other person who quantifies human behavior is familiar with the mantra: “It’s easy to lie with statistics.” True. But it is even easier to lie without them! Quantified observations are a good place to start a conversation about social forces at work in the culture.
Over the past three weeks I have written twelve posts on nine categories of social indicators for quality of life in America. My intention has been to find indicators that tell us what is happening at the aggregate level in our culture and for that reason I have purposely avoided much segmenting of the information by age, sex, ethnicity, and region. I have also tried to focus on indicators for which data is readily accessible so you can verify (or not) my observations here.
Below are 35 indicators grouped by links to my twelve posts. You can click on the heading and read the post about that collection of indicators. Under each heading are specific indicators followed by a “CHART” link that will pop-up a graph or chart about that indicator (if there is a chart.) In front of each indicator is one of three signs indicating my estimation about which way the trend is headed:
+ = Quality of life is improving.
- = Quality of life is diminishing.
* = Unclear or mixed message.
As you look down through the list it is striking how many of the negative trends have to do with weak family formation and sexual behavior. Most everything else is improving to one degree or another. Assuming you buy my assessment of these indicators, and you believe I have not utterly neglected some catastrophic phenomenon in our society (and I covet your input on this), an interesting question emerges: If things are so good, why do we feel so bad? There seems to be a general consensus that our culture is disintegrating. (Do you agree?)
I have some thoughts to share about this disconnect in future posts, but for now, here is a recap.
+ Infant deaths per 1,000 births dropped from 29.2 to 6.9 between 1950 to 2003. CHART
+ Life expectancy at birth rose from 68.2 to 77.6 between 1950 to 2003. CHART
+ Age-adjusted suicide rate per 100,000 population dropped from a high in 1977 of 13.3 to 10.5 in 2003. The lowest rate since before 1959 was 10.4 in 2000. CHART
+ Property crime victimization is down from a high of 553.6 incidents per 1,000 households in 1975 to 161.1 in 2004, a 70.9% drop. The lowest year was 2002 at 159. CHART
+ Violent crime victimization is down from a high of 52.4 cases per 1,000 people in 1981 to 21.2 in 2004, a 59.5% drop. CHART
+ Theft victimization at school dropped 58% between 1992-2002. CHART
+ Violent crime victimization at school dropped 50% between 1992-2002. CHART
+ Substance abuse (measured as a person over 12 who had used in the previous month) declined from about 14% in 1979 to about 6.3% in 2001.
+ Any illicit drug use by youths (measured as a high school senior who had used in the previous month) dropped from a high of 38.9% in 1978 and 1979 to 23.4% in 2004. CHART
+ Any illicit drug use excluding marijuana by youths (measured as a high school senior who had used in the previous month) dropped from a high of 15.3% in 1977 to 10.8% in 2004. CHART
+ Alcohol use by youths (measured as a high school senior who had used in the previous month) dropped from a high of 71.5% in 1979 to 48.8% in 2004. CHART
+ Cigarette use by youths (measured as a high school senior who had used in the previous month) dropped from a high of 37% in 1977 to 27.4% in 2004. CHART
- Percentage of children living in families with two parents present dropped from 85.4% in 1968 to 68.4% in 2003. The rate has hovered in the 68% to 69% range since 1995. CHART
* Divorce rate has remained constant at 50% since 1975. CHART
- Percentage of births to unmarried women has risen from 10.7% in 1970 to 34.6% in 2003. CHART
+ Abortion, after reaching a high of 30.1 per 100 births in 1981, declined to 24.2 in 2002. CHART
+ Percentage of 19 year old males who had ever had sexual intercourse dropped 78% in 1988 to 65.2% in 2002. The rate for females dropped from 76.5% to 70.1%. CHART
- The rate of sexually transmitted diseases, after declining from 1975-1997, rose 20% by 2003. CHART
* The rate of new AIDS cases rose steadily from 1980 until 1992 when it reached a rate of 31.2 cases per 100,000 population. The rate dropped to 14.9 cases in 1997 but has stayed constant at that level through 2003. CHART
+ The Percentage of adults over 24 years old who have completed high school rose from 48% in 1964 to 83.9% in 2004. CHART
+ The Percentage of adults over 24 years old who have completed college rose from 9.1% in 1964 to 27% in 2004. CHART
+ Composite SAT Scores rose from a low of 497 in 1980 and 1981 to 513 in 2004. CHART
* Performance of 17 year olds on the National Education Assessment Progress tests showed no overall improvement from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. CHART
+ The unemployment rate was 5.5% in 2004 which is below the rate of all but a couple of years in the 1970s-1990s. CHART
+ The inflation rate was 2.7% in 2004 which continues a trend of staying in the 2-3% range since the early 1990s. CHART
+ Median household real (adjusted for inflation) income rose 29.7% from $34,234 in 1967 to $44,389 in 2004. CHART
+ The percentage of people living in poverty declined from 22.4% in 1959 to 12.7% in 2004 (Although the rate had been as low as 11.3 in 2000.) CHART
* The Gini Index of economic inequality rose from an all time low in 1968 of .399 to .466 in 2004. The rate has remained flat for the past five years. (The Gini formula changed in 1993 and earlier data should probably be made a point higher for similar comparison.) It is also unclear what level of inequality is optimal. CHART
+ Life expectancy of African-Americans as a percentage of the expectancy for White Americans increased from 89.4% in 1970 to 92.9% in 2001. CHART
- Infant mortality rate of African-Americans as a percentage of the rate for White Americans increased from 183% in 1970 to 246% in 2001, although the growth has been minimal since 1992. CHART
+ The household poverty rate of African-Americans as a percentage of the rate for White Americans decreased from 323% in 1975 to 236% in 2002. CHART
+ The percentage of African-Americans (over age 24) completing high school as percentage of White Americans completing high school increased from 53.3% in 1966 to 94% in 2003. CHART
+ The percentage of African-Americans (over age 24) completing college as percentage of White Americans completing college increased from 36.5% in 1966 to 62.7% in 2003. CHART
* Global average temperatures have increased a little less than 2°C over the last century but little if any of it has to do with human behavior. (Thus, global warming is not an indicator of human activity.) CHART
+ Air polluting emissions have been reduced by 25% since 1970, although reductions have been minimal in the last decade. CHART