- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

They celebrated America's 20th century "by the numbers" at the American Enterprise Institute this week, just in time for the century's true end on Dec. 31.

More than a cavalcade of heroes, wars and inventions, the U.S. experience between the years 1900 and 2000 is a portrait of statistics, trends and behaviors, according to the institute forum.

Consider that:

• Fifty-two percent of Americans now live in the suburbs compared with 12 percent in 1910.

• Legally protected minorities rose from 13 percent of Americans in 1900 to 28 percent today.

• Extramarital sex is down by half from 1940, but premarital sex is up from 6 percent of young women in 1900 to 74 percent now.

• Life expectancy rose 26 years for white males and 29 yeas for white females in a century.

• Six percent of married women worked outside the home in 1900. Sixty-one percent do today.

The occasion for such number crunching was the conclusion of a 10-year AEI project, led by senior fellow Ben Wattenberg, to tell the American story in a statistical book and a PBS documentary.

Mr. Wattenberg, host of the PBS weekly forum "Think Tank," is on-camera narrator of the three-hour documentary, which airs nationwide Dec. 20.

"In this century, Americans became the most ambitious measurers of humans ever," Mr. Wattenberg said Wednesday at the preview of the book and film, both titled "The First Measured Century."

The 100 years of data, in his estimation, measured a nation bent on the "extension of personal, political and cultural liberty."

It all has been packaged just in time. Despite the Jan. 1, 2000, millennial hoopla, the nation's master clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory puts the end of the 20th century at midnight, Dec. 31.

There are celebrities and human disasters in history, Mr. Wattenberg said, but there also are data. "We get a very, very different picture [with data]," he said. "I think it's a picture students generally don't see."

Mr. Wattenberg, dubbed the "nation's most popular demographer" since his 1970 best seller, "The Real Majority," teamed up on the project with sociologists Louis Hicks and Theodore Caplow.

Mr. Caplow, now 80 and teaching at the University of Virginia, is called "the dean of the social indicators movement."

The collaboration produced a book that Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had pioneered data research on the black family in 1965, calls "arguably the first statistical profile of the American nation that is a joy to read."

Although the film broke cinematic taboos about not using statistics for fear of putting viewers to sleep, the final product does the opposite, AEI scholar Karlyn H. Bowman said at the forum.

"It's often said that you can't do numbers on television, but this proves that wrong," she said.

The documentary includes nearly 90 statistical graphs.

"This [project] had some of the fun of a treasure hunt," Mr. Caplow told the AEI forum. "What are equally interesting are the things we don't measure."

Though considered the acknowledged pro on finding national data, Mr. Caplow said no one has kept data on the changing height and weight of Americans between 1900 and 2000.

Data from early in the century at least suggest that the tall and short, wide and thin features of European immigrants eventually, by intermarriage and health, produced an average American shape.

"The longer they are in America, the more they [physically] are like Americans," Mr. Hicks said.

Mr. Caplow cited two other areas nearly impossible to quantify over the century and even today. These are trends in U.S. court cases and in types of crimes and punishments.

"We don't have statistics on what has happened in the courts or on appeals," Mr. Caplow said. "The same goes for crime statistics."

While it can be measured that 2 million people now are in state and federal prisons, he said, perhaps 3 million others go in and out of jail in a year. How imprisonment affects employment, education and crime issues remains undocumented.

One major difference between the "Measured Century" book and documentary is that the text gives 125 data snapshots with no interpretation, while the film is a survey of how social scientists tried to use data to solve problems in America.

"If there're no data, you can't identify something as a social problem," Mr. Caplow said.

The AEI project's total cache of information is on a Web site (www.pbs.org/fms), and Mr. Wattenberg urged the nation to look at some of the numbers and draw its own conclusion.

"Connect the dots and see what you come up with," he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide