tells America's history by the numbers
popular misconceptions, American parents today spend more time
with their children than they did years ago, and Americans are
not more mobile or moving far from home more often than they used
to. These are two of the results documented in a new book, The
First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America,
the 20th century, Americans became the most energetic measurers
of social life that ever lived, say authors Theodore Caplow, Commonwealth
Professor of Sociology
at U.Va., Louis Hicks of St. Mary's College in Maryland, and Ben
J. Wattenberg, syndicated columnist, senior fellow at the American
Enterprise Institute and host of a weekly PBS series.
measured the size of their population and their territory, and
pioneered the measurement of facets of American life that had
never been systematically counted before, including crime, sex,
food, fun, religion and work. This tradition of counting and measuring
spread to virtually every nook and cranny of national life, they
say. Numbers, such as the Consumer Price Index, the Gross National
Product, the unemployment rate and the poverty rate, among others,
shaped public discourse and defined 20th-century America, according
to the authors.
book, the first of its kind (as there was never a measured century
before this one), examines 15 areas of American life: population,
work, education, family, living arrangements, religion, leisure,
health, money, politics, government, crime, transportation, business
and communications. It tells what happened to ordinary citizens
and reveals the following trends.
Americans are healthier, are more highly educated, and
More Americans claim membership in a religious organization
(70 percent in 1998 compared to 41 percent in 1906). However weekly
attendance at religious services remained level: 43 percent of
adults in 1939 and 40 percent in 1998.
Americans are now more approving of premarital sex and
less approving of extramarital sex.
America's population nearly quadrupled during the century
and its highways became safer to travel.
First Measured Century was published by AEI Press in December
in conjunction with a three-hour PBS television special of the
same name, hosted by Wattenberg and aired nationally Dec. 20.
Data for the illustrated volume and TV project were drawn extensively
from the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Park Service and other
governmental sources, Gallop polls, private sector sources, and
the findings of a new "Middletown IV" survey, commissioned for
in 1999, the survey built on Robert and Helen Lynd's landmark
sociological study of a typical American community in the 1920s.
The Lynd study was the first to employ modern survey methods to
examine an entire city. In 1978, Caplow led a team of social scientists
that replicated and extended the Lynd's work. In 1999, The First
Measured Century project commissioned a partial replication of
the "Middletown" study to gather long-term data on certain topics
not covered by official statistics. The research team, also directed
by Caplow, used the same survey instruments in the same place
with the same wording as the Lynd's used 75 years earlier. These
surveys provide the longest series of public opinion in the world,
according to Caplow. A feature of The First Measured Century is
the inclusion of the first published results from the new "Middletown
When asked if one major theme stood out in the book, the authors
said, "The story of America in the 20th century includes gigantic
successes and remarkable failures. Central to that success has
been a measurable expansion of economic, social and cultural liberty.
The failures include the persistence of poverty in the midst of
abundance; traffic gridlock; a malfunctioning criminal justice
system; and conspicuous deficiencies in education, health care
and public services. We did well in the old century. We can do
better in the new."