Must-know current demographic facts

Here’s an update of a post I wrote two years ago, with some additions.

One reason you, and your students, need to know these things is because they are the building blocks of first-line debunking. We use these facts, plus arithmetic, to ballpark the empirical claims we are exposed to all the time.

This followed my aggressive campaign to teach the undergraduate students in my class the size of the US population (I told you sociology isn’t an easy A). If you don’t know that — and some large portion of them didn’t — how can you interpret statements such as, “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States.” In this case the source followed up with, “Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men.” But, is that a lot? It’s a lot more in the United States than it would be in China. (Unless you go with, “any rape is too many,” in which case why use a number at all?)

I even updated the cartoon!

Anyway, just the US population isn’t enough. I decided to start a list of current demographic facts you need to know just to get through the day without being grossly misled or misinformed — or, in the case of journalists or teachers or social scientists, not to allow your audience to be grossly misled or misinformed. Not trivia that makes a point or statistics that are shocking, but the non-sensational information you need to know to make sense of those things when other people use them. And it’s really a ballpark requirement (when I tested the undergraduates, I gave them credit if they were within 20% of the US population — that’s anywhere between 258 million and 387 million!).

I only got as far as 25 facts, but they should probably be somewhere in any top-100. And the silent reporters the other day made me realize I can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. I’m open to suggestions for others (or other lists if they’re out there).

They are rounded to reasonable units for easy memorization. All refer to the US unless otherwise noted. Most of the links will take you to the latest data:

Fact Number Source
World Population 7.3 billion 1
US Population 323 million 1
Children under 18 as share of pop. 23% 2
Adults 65+ as share of pop. 15% 2
Unemployment rate 5.0% 3
Unemployment rate range, 1970-2015 4% – 11% 4
Labor force participation rate, age 16+ 63% 4
Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2015 60% – 67% 4
Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop. 62% 2
Blacks as share of pop. 13% 2
Hispanics as share of pop. 17% 2
Asians as share of pop. 5% 2
American Indians as share of pop. 1% 2
Immigrants as share of pop 13% 2
Adults with BA or higher 29% 2
Median household income $53,000 2
Total poverty rate 15% 8
Child poverty rate 21% 8
Poverty rate age 65+ 10% 8
Most populous country, China 1.4 billion 5
2nd most populous country, India 1.3 billion 5
3rd most populous country, USA 323 million 5
4th most populous country, Indonesia 256 million 5
5th most populous country, Brazil 204 million 5
Male life expectancy at birth 76 6
Female life expectancy at birth 81 6
National life expectancy range 50 – 85 7




4. Google public data:





Now with handy PDF: Family Inequality Must-Know Demographic Facts

16 thoughts on “Must-know current demographic facts

  1. Perhaps something about the proportion of adults in work? “Unemployment rate” can be misleading because people can erroneously assume it represents the percentage of adults who are not in work, rather than (at least closer to the truth) the number of adults who can’t find a job as a proportion of all those who either have one or want one.

    And perhaps the PPP-adjusted world median household income and average life expectancy? I suspect many Americans would be shocked at a) how little money the rest of the world makes do with and b) in spite of that, how American life expectancy isn’t *that* much ahead of the rest of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The bigger problem with the 24 victimizations per minute statistic you refer to is that it uses a fixed denominator. A growing population and a constant victimization rate creates the impression that victimization risk is increasing when it’s not. The FBI has used this unhelpful “crime clock” method of communicating information for years to (I hope unintentionally) create fear in the public.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Two numbrs that have always confounded me:

    Unemploymenr tate of 5%: what is the denominator? How is the number of people willing, and looking for employment calculated?

    Povrty rate 15%: Are all forms of governmnt transfers included? For peopl over 65, SS paymnts appear to b included, but for peopl under 62, SSi, disability, SNAP, and other payments do not appear to be included. Is this understanding correct?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Denominator in unemployment rate is the labor force: employed or looking for work (this is supposed to be the supply of labor that employers have to choose from).

      Income for the official poverty rate includes cash cash income (including Social Security) but not Medicare or food stamps or housing assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks; however, my question is:

    Between the two categories, “labor forceemployed” or “looking for work”

    It is easy to determine labor force employed. I am trying to figure out how the BLS determines who is looking for work versus who gave up looking for work. Skepticism is due to the fact that the total number of employed people has not changed significantly in the last ten years when the population increased by 7-8% but unemployment went down!

    Year Toatl employed (in thousans)
    2005 133996
    2006 136403
    2007 137935
    2008 137169
    2009 131220
    2010 130269
    2011 131843
    2012 134098
    2013 136394
    2014 139023
    2015 141837


      1. Thanks for your help; it appears that the results are best framed as:

        16 and older population = 250 million (~80% of the population)
        Participating or trying to particpate in labor force = 157 million (62.3% of the 16+ population)
        Employed = 143 million
        Unemployed = remaining, 6% of the population
        Not participating due to age, or choosing not to particpate, either, as a stay-at-home parent, unable to work, or otherwise= 38% of the 16+ or 30% of the nation.

        This raises the issue of what happens over the next ten years as the rest of the baby boomers retire; would unemployed stay at 5-6% while percentage not particpating increase to >50%? What will be the impact of each employed person supporting two people+children?


  5. Other suggestions that maybe interesting: public spending as % GDP in health, education, military (ok that maybe provocative but seriously, you have to know how much your own country spend on things). HDI ranking (, global poverty rates (the absolute line, even with all the discussion about it, 13% ), global population projection ( Just to put things in perspective.


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