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This invaluable reference reveals surprising trends that define twentieth-century America.
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This invaluable reference reveals surprising trends that define twentieth-century America.
The American population nearly quadrupled during the twentieth century. The annual rate of population growth fluctuated until about 1960, when a distinctly lower growth rate ensued.
Rapidly falling death rates, massive immigration, and a "baby boom" in mid-century caused the American population to expand at an extraordinary rate, doubling in the first half of the century and almost doubling again in the second half (see upper chart). At the same time, the world population grew by almost the same factor of four. Thus, the American population constituted about the same fraction of the world population—4.5 percent—in 2000 as it did in 1900.
Most of the decline in death rates occurred in the early part of the century, primarily among children. Immigration rates were also highest in the early part of the century. The baby boom, which lasted from 1946 to 1964, added 76 million babies to the U.S. population.
While the population increased steadily throughout the century, the annual rate of growth varied (see lower chart). The smallest increase occurred from 1918 to 1919, when more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers died during World War I (see page 206) and more than half a million Americans died from a virulent strain of influenza that swept the nation (see page 136). The growth rate slowed again after Congress enacted restrictions on immigration in 1921 and 1924. A sharp drop in birth rates during the Depression caused a significant decline in the population growth rate. Despite these variations in the growth rate, however, the U.S. population continued toincrease every year—even during World War II, despite battle deaths, diminished fertility due to the deployment of millions of soldiers, and a sharp drop in immigration. Fertility rates also fell dramatically after the baby boom, but immigration helped sustain a population growth rate of about 1 percent a year through the end of the century (see pages 84 and 14).
If these trends in fertility and immigration persist, the American population will continue to grow in the early twenty-first century, although at a diminishing rate. The U.S. Census Bureau's "middle series" projection indicates a population of 300 million in 2011.
The life expectancy of Americans increased dramatically
first for infants and children, then for adults.
Life expectancy at birth increased by twenty-six years for males and twenty-nine years for females during the century (see upper chart). Driven principally by a decrease in infant (up to age one) mortality, most of this improvement occurred by 1950 (see page 134).
At midcentury, many experts believed that any gains in extending the lives of mature adults would come very slowly. This did not turn out to be the case. Life expectancy increased at age sixty, age seventy, and all intermediate ages (see page 136). In 1950, a sixty-year-old white female could expect to live to be seventy-nine years old. Her counterpart in 1996 could expect to live to be eighty-three years old—a four-year increase in expected life length (see lower chart).
The female advantage in life expectancy at birth increased throughout the century. The difference ranged from about three years in 1900 to nearly six years in 1996. The relative increase was even greater at later ages. This widening margin was often attributed to safer and less frequent childbearing, but that does not explain the existence of this gender gap to begin with. No one fully understands why women are more durable than men, but the fact is unmistakable.
These trends in life expectancy are based on data for white Americans. The life expectancy at birth for nonwhite Americans was thirty-three years in 1900—fifteen years lower than the life expectancy of forty-eight years for whites. This gap declined throughout the century, narrowing to seven years by 1996.
The proportion of children and adolescents in the population
declined, while the proportion of older people increased
throughout the century
These two phenomena follow mechanically from the falling birth rate and rising average length of life. As the birth rate falls, the ratio of children to adults necessarily diminishes and the average age of the population rises. As people live longer on average, the proportion of the population at older ages necessarily becomes larger.
Because the decline in the birth rate was almost continuous (with the exception of the baby boom) and the lengthening of lifetimes fully continuous, the proportion of children and adolescents in the population decreased steadily from 44 percent in 1900 to 29 percent in 1998. If the birth rate declines further or remains stable and average lifetimes continue to lengthen, the youthful component of the population will continue to decrease. The Census Bureau's middle series projection indicates that children and adolescents will constitute barely a fifth of the population by 2020.
These changes at both ends of the age spectrum did not have much impact on the relative size of the intermediate group between the ages of twenty and fifty-nine. This segment represented roughly 50 percent of the population throughout the twentieth century, and this is not expected to change much in the twenty-first. That percentage is important because it represents a ratio of 1:1 between people of working age, the great majority of whom are economically active, and their individual or collective dependents.
During the first half of the century, the proportion of centenarians in the population declined, but in the last two decades of the century that age group increased more than any other.
This is one of the most puzzling trends in this book. From 1900 to 1950, the proportion of the population that had attained or surpassed the age of one hundred years declined with each census. While life expectancy was increasing dramatically at younger ages, the number of centenarians per million Americans dropped from forty-six in 1900 to fifteen in 1950. One possible explanation is that the centenarians of 1900, who were born in 1800 or earlier and had much less schooling than the centenarians of 1950, were more likely to be misinformed about their own birth dates or to overestimate their ages. A second possibility is that more members of the 1900 cohort had experienced a healthy rural upbringing whose benefits lasted a lifetime. A third possible explanation is that the huge influx of young migrants and the large number of births during those years caused the total population to grow much faster than the population of centenarians, thereby effecting a decline in the number of centenarians per million population.
The number of centenarians per million population was roughly the same in 1975 as in 1900. By 2000, however, the number had escalated to 262 per million. According to Census Bureau estimates, 72,000 centenarians were alive in 2000—enough to fill a fair-sized city.
Unlike life expectancy, which changes from year to year, the human life span (maximum longevity) seems to have been fixed throughout history. Despite the claims made for the exceptional longevity of Russian Georgians or Bolivian mountaineers, there is no reliable record of any human surviving past the age of 122.
As the nation grew, the share of the population living in the Northeast and Midwest declined, while the share residing in the West grew rapidly and the South remained the most populous region
In 1900, the majority of Americans lived in the colder sections of the country, the Northeast and Midwest (see upper charts). By 1990, the majority lived in the West and South, areas of relatively mild winters and hot summers (see lower charts). The spread of household air conditioning after World War II played a key role in this transformation.
A significant portion of this population shift can be traced to the exceptional growth of California. In 1900, 1.5 million people resided in the state, making it the twenty-first largest in the nation. By 2000, California's population had grown to 33 million, making it almost as large as the next two most populous states (Texas and New York) combined.
Although the Census Bureau considers Texas a southern state, Texans often argue that it is a western state. If Texas were included with the western states, the West would have been the most populous region of the country at the end of the century.
At the beginning of the century, the American people were mostly rural. At the end, they were largely urban. Most of these urban dwellers lived in the suburbs.
The migration from rural areas to the cities and from cities to the suburbs changed the face of the nation at least as much as the movement between regions. At the beginning of the century, 60 percent of the population lived in or around places with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants, and most were involved in farming. In 1990, only 25 percent lived within or in the vicinity of such small communities, and very few had any connection with farming (see page 26).
The cities grew rapidly during the first half of the century, as rural people left the land and the immigrants of the early 1900s flowed into the cities (see upper chart). The combined population of the ten largest American cities in 1900 was slightly more than 9 million. The ten largest cities of 1950 had about 22 million residents. Because so many people left the cities for the suburbs during the second half of the century, most cities experienced little growth and many actually lost population. The ten largest cities of 1998 had about the same combined population as those of 1950.
The growth of the nation's suburbs, in contrast, continued throughout the century. The share of the U.S. population that lived in the suburbs doubled from 1900 to 1950 and doubled again from 1950 to 2000 (see lower chart). Frequently, the suburbs of one city expanded until they encountered the suburbs of another, creating urban corridors such as those that connect Chicago and Milwaukee or San Jose and San Francisco. Some of these corridors combined to create even larger configurations. At the end of the century, an urban corridor extended more than 700 miles from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Maine.
Two great waves of immigration swelled the American population and changed its composition
From the founding of the Republic in 1789 until 1880, the great majority of immigrants were from Northern and Western Europe (especially Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia). Most of the Irish and some of the Germans were Catholic, but the great majority of new Americans were Protestant. In the great wave of immigration that began around 1880, the newcomers came predominantly from Southern and Eastern Europe (especially Poland, Russia, and Italy). They were Catholic, Jewish, or Eastern Orthodox, and concern that they were changing the national character ultimately led to stricter controls on immigration, which prevailed from 1924 to 1965.
The Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated ethnic and racial restrictions on immigrants, engendered major change in the U.S. population. "The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants," said one of its sponsors. "It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society." But the new law produced very different, largely unanticipated consequences.
The ensuing surge of immigration was dominated by new arrivals from the Western Hemisphere, especially Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and from Asia, particularly Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and China. A substantial number of Muslims immigrated to the United States. For the first time since the end of the illegal slave trade in the 1850s, a sizable contingent of immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998, barely 3 percent of immigrants came from Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia.
The bar representing 1965-1998 on the graph includes about 3 million illegal foreign residents who took advantage of an amnesty offered by Congress to obtain legal residence between 1988 and 1991. It does not include 5 million others who, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, entered the country illegally or overstayed temporary visas between 1965 and 1998 and were not legalized. The largest number of them came from Mexico, but many other countries were represented.
The size of the foreign-born population in the United States
fluctuated in response to changing immigration policies
During the twentieth century, the nation recorded its highest percentage of foreign-born residents—14.7 percent of the U.S. population—in 1910. Although the foreign born constituted less than 10 percent of the population in 1999, they represented the largest number of foreign-born residents—nearly 26 million—in U.S. history.
These foreign-born residents differed significantly from the nation's native population. Compared with natives, the foreign-born population included fewer children and adolescents and more young adults. Hispanics and Asians constituted 68 percent of the foreign born but only 9 percent of natives.
The educational level of the foreign born was distinctly lower: 35 percent of foreign-born adults did not have a high school education compared with only 16 percent of natives. The employment rate of the foreign born was similar to that of natives, but their earnings were much lower. More than a fifth of the foreign-born population was classified as poor compared with an eighth of the native population. As a group, the foreign born used more than a proportionate share of social services.
These circumstances were not permanent, however. As individual immigrants remained in America, their social and economic well-being tended to improve rapidly. At the close of the century, for example, immigrants who came to the United States in the 1990s had very low rates of home ownership, but foreign-born residents who arrived before 1970 had a higher rate of home ownership than natives.
During the second half of the century, the proportion of
minorities in the population increased dramatically.
The federal government officially recognizes four population groups that are entitled to the benefits of minority preference programs: (1) American Indian or Alaska Native; (2) Asian or Pacific Islander; (3) Black; and (4) Hispanic.
There is nothing rational or scientific about this classification. By mixing genealogy, geography, culture, and personal history, it produces many anomalies. Based on an arbitrary rule developed to meet the property requirements of slavery, blacks are defined as people with even a small fraction of African ancestry. Through a series of compromises worked out under the reservation system, American Indians are people with some minimum percentage of tribal ancestry (the percentages vary from tribe to tribe and change from time to time). Asians and Pacific Islanders are people who were born anywhere in Asia or the unrelated Pacific Islands (such as Guam) or who have an unspecified percentage of Asian ancestry. Hispanics are people who have Spanish surnames or who grew up speaking Spanish, regardless of ancestry or skin color. Each of the four groups includes many individuals who are indistinguishable from non-Hispanic whites, but for administrative purposes, they all belong to official, legally protected minorities.
From 1800 to 1900, the proportion of such minorities in the population fell from about 20 percent to 13 percent. In 1900, minorities were predominantly black, with a thin scattering of reservation Indians, Chinese and Japanese in California, and people of Mexican descent in the Southwest. From 1900 to 1950, the relative size of the minority population remained about the same.
Thereafter, immigration created an entirely new situation. From 1950 to 2000, the Asian proportion of the American population rose about twentyfold and the Hispanic proportion about tenfold. The American Indian proportion tripled, not because of immigration or increased fertility, but rather because of increased self-identification. As a result of political activism and fuller recognition of Indian treaty rights by the federal courts, American Indian ethnicity acquired much greater prestige. After 1970, more people of full or mixed tribal descent described themselves as American Indian. In 2000, an estimated 28 percent of Americans belonged to an official, legally protected minority group.
|Chapter 1. Population|
|The American population nearly quadrupled during the|
|twentieth century. The annual rate of population growth||2|
|The life expectancy of Americans increased dramatically,|
|first for infants and children, then for adults||4|
|The proportion of children and adolescents in the|
|population declined, while the proportion of older people||6|
|During the first half of the century, the proportion of|
|centenarians in the population declined, but in the last||8|
|As the nation grew, the share of the population living in|
|the Northeast and Midwest declined, while the share||10|
|At the beginning of the century, the American people were|
|mostly rural. At the end, they were largely urban. Most||12|
|Two great waves of immigration swelled the American|
|population and changed its composition||14|
|The size of the foreign-born population in the United|
|States fluctuated in response to changing immigration||16|
|During the second half of the century, the proportion of|
|minorities in the population increased dramatically||18|
|Minority migrants from the rural South and minority|
|immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean settled||20|
|Chapter 2. Work|
|The majority of the male labor force shifted from|
|material extraction to material processing to working||24|
|The decline of the farm population reflects a long|
|process of attrition drivenby huge technical advances in||26|
|Even in blue-collar occupations, men's work became|
|cleaner, less strenuous, and much safer||28|
|Propelled by advances in technology, the ratio of|
|engineers to population increased steadily. The||30|
|The proportion of American men who were in the labor|
|Daily and weekly work hours declined until World War II,|
|but annual work hours continued to decline moderately||34|
|The time that women devoted to housekeeping declined|
|Married women entered the paid labor force in large|
|Attitudes toward the employment of married women shifted|
|from strong disapproval to equally strong approval||40|
|The concentration of working women in a few occupations|
|diminished as they found employment throughout the||42|
|Women and blacks were represented only marginally in law,|
|medicine, and engineering until 1970, when they began to||44|
|The unemployment rate fluctuated with the business cycle|
|and military manpower needs||46|
|The unionized share of the labor force peaked in|
|mid-century. The union base moved from the private to the||48|
|Chapter 3. Education|
|High school and college graduates were rarities in 1900.|
|Their numbers rose impressively during the hundred years||52|
|Women's share of bachelor's and advanced degrees trended|
|upward throughout much of the century||54|
|The pupil-teacher ratio in the nation's public elementary|
|and secondary schools declined by nearly half during the||56|
|Preschool enrollment remained very low throughout the|
|first half of the century but increased rapidly during||58|
|Enrollment in private elementary and secondary schools|
|peaked in 1960 and then declined through 1990, when||60|
|Undergraduate tuition at Harvard—and virtually all|
|other colleges—rose sharply after 1980||62|
|The number of graduate degrees awarded more than|
|quadrupled after 1960, and graduate credentials became||64|
|Chapter 4. Family|
|The marriage rate was lower at the end of the century|
|than ever before. The average age at first marriage,||68|
|At the beginning of the century, very few women were|
|sexually active before marriage. By the end of the||70|
|The cohabitation of unmarried couples became common in|
|the last decades of the century||72|
|Extramarital sexual activity followed a downward trend||74|
|Tolerance of premarital sexual activity increased|
|steadily, but tolerance of extramarital sex remained||76|
|The divorce rate rose unevenly but substantially from|
|1900 to about 1967, when the introduction of no-fault||78|
|The decline in the share of U.S. households maintained by|
|a married couple proceeded slowly until 1970 and||80|
|The proportion of the population that is married varied|
|considerably, with the lowest points occurring at the||82|
|Women's fertility declined during the early decades of|
|the century, increased during the baby boom, and declined||84|
|Births to unmarried women increased sharply after 1960||86|
|The time and attention that American parents devote to|
|their children increased significantly||88|
|Chapter 5. Living Arrangements|
|U.S. households became smaller||92|
|Construction of new housing surged after World War II,|
|and Americans' preference for single-family detached||94|
|Home ownership and the use of purchase mortgages|
|increased, as did the quality of owned housing||96|
|American homes were extensively mechanized||98|
|The automobile and television, introduced fifty years|
|apart, diffused with extraordinary speed and affected||100|
|Residential mobility declined, while migration between|
|states increased moderately||102|
|Chapter 6. Religion|
|Membership in churches and other religious organizations|
|increased slowly but steadily||106|
|Conservative Protestant denominations grew, while|
|mainstream Protestant denominations declined||108|
|The Roman Catholic share of the national population|
|Organized religion became much more diverse as a result|
|of the rapid expansion of Christian denominations that||112|
|Church attendance remained fairly level in the latter|
|decades of the century||114|
|While levels of religious belief and practice remained|
|relatively stable, the character of religion in the||116|
|Chapter 7. Active Leisure|
|The major professional sports of baseball, football,|
|basketball, and ice hockey achieved extraordinary growth||120|
|Track and field performance improved significantly||122|
|The growth of leisure activities that followed World War|
|II included significantly increased usage of the National||124|
|The steady increase in membership in the Boy Scouts of|
|America peaked in the early 1970s and then fluctuated||126|
|The world record for land speed, not subject to any|
|particular human limitation, increased throughout the||128|
|Overseas travel by Americans greatly increased during the|
|latter part of the century, but the number of foreign||130|
|Chapter 8. Health|
|The health of children showed spectacular improvement||134|
|The infectious diseases that killed great numbers of|
|adults in the early part of the century were largely||136|
|The incidence of sexually transmitted infections did not|
|decline as much as that of other infectious diseases. In||138|
|The suicide rate fluctuated with economic conditions|
|during the first half of the century and then leveled off||140|
|The per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages|
|Cigarette consumption increased enormously during the|
|first half of the century but declined when the health||144|
|The popularity of psychotropic substances fluctuated||146|
|Life in America became much safer||148|
|The use of general hospitals increased steadily from the|
|beginning of the century to about 1980, when usage began||150|
|Health care expenditures increased sharply toward the end|
|of the century||152|
|The population institutionalized for mental disorders|
|increased from early in the century to the 1950s and then||154|
|Fewer blind people received public assistance at the end|
|of the century than in 1950. At the same time, the number||156|
|Chapter 9. Money|
|The real earnings of American workers improved steadily|
|during the first three quarters of the century, but||160|
|Although the equalization of women's and men's earnings|
|proceeded slowly, the process accelerated after 1980. The||162|
|The real incomes of middle-income families at the end of|
|the century were five times greater than those of||164|
|As real incomes increased during the century, Americans|
|spent smaller shares of their incomes on food and||166|
|Private philanthropy increased more than fivefold in the|
|last half of the century||168|
|The ratio of personal debt to personal income reached a|
|peak in the 1990s. The bankruptcy rate climbed slowly||170|
|Income inequality decreased throughout much of the|
|century, increased from 1980 to 1995, and then leveled||172|
|Poverty decreased significantly from 1959, when official|
|measurements began, until 1973, when it increased||174|
|Inflation alternated with deflation and periods of price|
|stability from 1900 to 1955. Every year thereafter||176|
|Chapter 10. Politics|
|Democrats and Republicans shared presidential election|
|victories almost equally, Voter participation declined||180|
|Control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S.|
|Senate oscillated between the two major parties||182|
|After women first entered Congress early in the century,|
|their numbers increased slowly and then rose rapidly||184|
|The number of black elected officials increased greatly|
|The attitudes of Middletown adolescents toward social|
|issues did not vary dramatically between 1924 and 1999||188|
|Chapter 11. Government|
|Federal, state, and local governments expanded their|
|Federal government employees were a smaller component of|
|the labor force at the end of the century than at any||194|
|Government payments to, or on behalf of, individual|
|citizens increased during the second half of the century||196|
|In the last three decades of the century, the judicial|
|branch of the federal government grew at a much faster||198|
|U.S. armed forces expanded rapidly for each major|
|conflict during the century. During the cold war, the||200|
|The armed services, rigidly segregated by race during the|
|first part of the century, became a model of successful||202|
|The proportion of women in the armed forces rose rapidly|
|in the last third of the century||204|
|In the five major conflicts in which the United States|
|engaged during the century, American losses were highest||206|
|Veterans made up a large part of the civilian male|
|population during the second half of the century||208|
|Patriotic attitudes of Middletown adolescents declined|
|between 1924 and 1999, especially among females||210|
|Chapter 12. Crime|
|Homicides increased sharply during the first third of the|
|century and then declined to a lower level during the||214|
|Robberies increased rapidly from the early 1960s to the|
|mid-1970s and remained at a high level until the last||216|
|Capital punishment increased during the first four|
|decades of the century and then declined sharply in the||218|
|The cost and complexity of maintaining order increased|
|sharply in the second half of the century||220|
|The inmate population of state and federal prisons|
|increased significantly after 1980||222|
|Toward the end of the century, the proportion of new|
|state and federal prisoners committed for property crimes||224|
|Juveniles became more heavily involved in serious crime|
|during the second half of the century||226|
|Chapter 13. Transportation|
|Travel within the United States increased enormously,|
|while the modes of travel changed||230|
|The tonnage of domestic freight carried by raft increased|
|throughout the century, while the tonnage carried by||232|
|The number of motor vehicles exceeded road capacity||234|
|The annual traffic death rate fluctuated until about|
|1970, when it began to decline markedly. Deaths per||236|
|Bicycles, like horses and sailboats, did not disappear|
|when they were superseded by motorized transportation||238|
|Chapter 14. Business|
|The Gross Domestic Product per capita, in constant|
|dollars, grew eight-fold during the century||242|
|The economy became more stable||244|
|After 1939, business activity expanded enormously. The|
|corporate share of business activity increased at the||246|
|The volume of stock transactions expanded greatly after|
|In the first five decades of the century, the Dow Jones|
|Industrial Average rose almost 250 percent. In the||250|
|For much of the century, only a small fraction of the|
|population owned stock, but from 1980 to 1998, the||252|
|Domestic petroleum production grew until 1970, when a|
|steady decline ensued. Per capita consumption of||254|
|Material progress required large inputs of mechanical|
|energy and greater efficiency in the use of that energy||256|
|As the number of U.S. patents grew, fewer patents were|
|issued to individuals and more were issued to||258|
|In the last three decades of the century, U.S. imports|
|and exports increased nearly fivefold, while the trade||260|
|Toward the end of the century, U.S. ownership of foreign|
|assets increased sharply, while foreign ownership of||262|
|Chapter 15. Communications|
|The number of new books published in the United States|
|remained fairly level during the first half of the||266|
|Per capita newspaper circulation increased during the|
|first half of the century and declined during the second||268|
|The importance of advertising in the national economy|
|increased slowly during the first half of the century and||270|
|As communities grew, the number of post offices|
|decreased, while the volume of mail increased||272|
|Telephone calls became ubiquitous in American life||274|
|The number of personal computers in American homes|
|escalated when the World Wide Web was developed||276|
|About the Authors||307|
Posted September 11, 2001
I know not what course others may take, but as for me I will not put any confidence in any work that purports to be a 'panorama of the American twentieth century' and dates the time period 1900-2000. This lack of concern for accuracy calls into question the integrity of the entire project.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.