Here’s an update of a series I started in 2013.
Is it true that “facts are useless in an emergency“? Depends how you define emergency I guess. Facts plus arithmetic let us ballpark the claims we are exposed to all the time. The idea is to get our radar tuned to identify falsehoods as efficiently as possible, to prevent them spreading and contaminating reality. Although I grew up on “facts are lazy and facts are late,” I actually still believe in this mission, I just shake my head slowly while I ramble on about it.
It started a few years ago with the idea that the undergraduate students in my class should know the size of the US population. Not to exaggerate the problem, but too many of them don’t, at least when they reach my sophomore level family sociology class. If you don’t know that fact, how can you interpret statements such as Trump’s, “I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president,” referring to a period when the U.S. population grew by 1.3 million?
What’s a number for? Lots of people disparage the nitpickers when they find something wrong with the numbers going around. But everyone likes a number that appears to support their argument. The trick is to know the facts before you know the argument, and for that you need some foundational demographic knowledge. This list of facts you should know is just a prompt to get started in that direction.
Here’s the list of current demographic facts you need 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 make sense of those things when other people use them. And it’s really a ballpark requirement (when I test the undergraduates, I give them credit if they are within 20% of the US population — that’s anywhere between 262 million and 394 million!).
This is only 30 facts, not exhaustive but they belong on any top-100 list. Feel free to add your facts in the comments (as per policy, first-time commenters are moderated). 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:
|World Population||7.5 billion||1|
|U.S. Population||328 million||1|
|Children under 18 as share of pop.||23%||2|
|Adults 65+ as share of pop.||16%||2|
|Official unemployment rate||3.9%||3|
|Unemployment rate range, 1970-2018||3.9% – 11%||3|
|Labor force participation rate, age 16+||63%||9|
|Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2017||60% – 67%||9|
|Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop.||61%||2|
|Blacks as share of pop.||13%||2|
|Hispanics as share of pop.||18%||2|
|Asians as share of pop.||6%||2|
|American Indians as share of pop.||1%||2|
|Immigrants as share of pop||13%||2|
|Adults age 25+ with BA or higher||30%||2|
|Median household income||$55,300||2|
|Total poverty rate||13%||8|
|Child poverty rate||18%||8|
|Poverty rate age 65+||9%||8|
|Most populous country, China||1.4 billion||5|
|2nd most populous country, India||1.3 billion||5|
|3rd most populous country, USA||327 million||5|
|4th most populous country, Indonesia||261 million||5|
|5th most populous country, Brazil||207 million||5|
|U.S. male life expectancy at birth||76||6|
|U.S. female life expectancy at birth||81||6|
|Life expectancy range across countries||51 – 85||7|
|World total fertility rate||2.4||10|
|U.S. total fertility rate||1.8||10|
|Total fertility rate range across countries||1.2 – 7.2||10|
1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock
10. World Bank
Handy one-page PDF: Demographic Facts You Need to Know in 2018