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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “U.S. data, then & now”

In my column for the January 26th, 2011, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I reported some interesting data from American history. You can read my column beneath the fold

U.S. data, then & now

What I’m about to confess will pretty much kill my chances of getting dates with fun-loving women, but here goes: I often entertain myself by poring over “Historical Statistics of the United States.”

A compilation of data from Colonial times to the mid-20th century on everything from agricultural output to working conditions, this U.S. Census Bureau publication has much to teach anyone who studies it. For example, did you know that:

• In 1790 — the year of the first U.S. census — America’s population was 3,929,214? Today’s population is just shy of 312,000,000.

• In 1790, there were 700,000 slaves and 60,000 free blacks?

• In 1790, 3,727,559 Americans lived on farms? That was 95 percent of the population. So back then, it took 19 Americans to feed themselves plus one other American. Today, every 19 Americans working on farms feed themselves plus 931 other people.

• The decade in which the number of Americans working at nonagricultural jobs first exceeded the number of Americans working at agricultural jobs was the 1870s?

• As recently as 1940, nearly one in every six Americans worked on farms?

• In 1870, there were all of 55 residents of the United States classified as Japanese?

• In 1820, Americans’ median age was 16.7? By 1940, it had risen to 29.0. Today, Americans’ median age is 36.8. This figure has more than doubled in less than 200 years because we’re living longer and longer.

• For most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the median age for American women was lower than for American men? Today, in contrast, women’s median age is 38.1 while men’s is 35.5. Giving birth is now a lot less deadly than it was just a few generations ago.

• In 1920 (the earliest year for which such data are reported), 15.2 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born? Today, it’s about the same, at 15.5 percent.

• In 1915, 99.9 of every 1,000 live-born children died before reaching their first birthday? By 1945, this figure had fallen to 38.3. Today, it is 6.8 — a decline of 93.2 percent in less than a century.

• In 1915 in America, 6.1 women died for every 1,000 live births? By 1945, that figure was down to 2.1. Today, it is 0.08 — a decline of 99 percent in the maternal mortality rate in less than 100 years.

• In 1900, tuberculosis was responsible for 194.4 of every 100,000 deaths in America? By 1945, this figure had fallen to 40.1. Today, tuberculosis is responsible for 37.7 of every 100,000 deaths in America.

• In 1890, there were 100,180 practicing physicians in the U.S.? That was one M.D. for every 628 Americans. Today, there are 788,000, which is one practicing physician for every 396 Americans.

• In 1909, each American annually ate, on average, 137.9 pounds of fresh fruit? By 1945, Americans were each annually eating, on average, 143.8 pounds of fresh fruit. Today, Americans each annually eat, on average, 102 pounds of fresh fruit — or 29 percent less fresh fruit than we ate at the end of World War II.

• In 1860, the average American worked at his job 11 hours a day?

• In a mere 36 years — from 1909 to 1945 — U.S. farm productivity rose by 45 percent?

• In 1890, the typical American household housed 4.93 persons? By 1945, this figure was down to 3.73 persons. Today, the typical American household houses 2.57 persons.

• In 1830, America had a total of 23 miles of railroad tracks? By 1835 — one year before the death of James Madison — it had 1,098 miles of tracks. The year the Civil War began, there were 31,286 miles of tracks — a number that expanded, by 1890, to 208,152 miles of tracks. In 1945, America had 398,054 miles of railroad tracks. Today, this number is down to approximately 233,000 miles.

• In every year from 1891 through 1926, at least 143 passengers were killed annually in railroad accidents? The average number of railroad-passenger deaths for these 36 years is 281 persons. Compare these fatality figures from railroads of a century ago to commercial airline travel today: In 2007 and 2008, not a single person was killed in a U.S. commercial airline accident. Since 1970, an average of only 52 persons — passengers and crew members — have died annually in the U.S. as a result of commercial airline accidents.

If, after having read the above thrilling digest of data, any single women would like me to elaborate further in person, my cell phone number is…


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