Demographic facts for students: 2022

Updating a series I started in 2013.

Despite what people in my generation were told, it’s not true that, “facts are useless in an emergency.” Knowing basic facts is the key to detecting bullshit, which thrives in conditions of basic ignorance. In this post I suggest you and your students memorize a small number of numbers. Even without completely memorizing them, however, the process of trying to commit them to memory will help establish the orders of magnitude — the sense of scale that is even more important than the specific numbers.

If you like this kind of thing, you might follow my Demographic Fact A Day Twitter account, or visit the Now You Know page on my website, where you get one-shot infographics like this:


Anyway, if you’re in the teaching and/or learning business, you need to get beyond the impulse to judge numbers by whether they support your opinions. To evaluate arguments, and to make your own, you need real knowledge. And that includes demographic knowledge.

Here are some demographic facts to get you through the day without being grossly misled — or misleading others. This isn’t trivia that makes a point, or clicky statistics to shock and surprise you, but just the kind of information you need to make sense of our world. In keeping with the goal of incorporating orders of magnitude, I give credit to students if they are within 20% of the correct number. In the case of the US population — that means a number between anywhere between 266 million and 399 million!).

Feel free to add additional facts in the comments (as per policy, first-time commenters are moderated).

The numbers are rounded to reasonable units for easy memorization. All refer to the US unless otherwise noted. Links to the sources below.

NumberSource
World Population7.9 billion1
U.S. Population333 million1
Children under 18 as share of pop.22%2
Adults 65+ as share of pop.17%2
Official unemployment rate (July 2022)3.5%3
Unemployment rate range, 1970-20183.5% – 15%3
Labor force participation rate, age 16+62%9
Labor force participation rate range, 1970-201760% – 67%9
Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop.59%2
Blacks as share of pop.14%2
Hispanics as share of pop.19%2
Asians / Pacific Islanders as share of pop.6%2
American Indians as share of pop.1%2
Immigrants as share of pop14%2
Adults age 25+ with BA or higher33%2
Median household income$65,0002
Total poverty rate11%8
Child poverty rate16%8
Poverty rate age 65+9%8
Most populous country, China1.4 billion5
2nd most populous country, India1.4 billion5
3rd most populous country, USA (CIA estimate)337 million5
4th most populous country, Indonesia277 million5
5th most populous country, Pakistan243 million5
U.S. male life expectancy at birth736
U.S. female life expectancy at birth796
Life expectancy range across countries54 – 857
World total fertility rate2.410
U.S. total fertility rate1.610
Total fertility rate range across countries0.8 – 6.710

* These are pre-pandemic poverty rates.

Sources

1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock

2. U.S. Census Bureau quick facts

3. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. CIA World Factbook

6. National Center for Health Statistics

7. CIA World Factbook

8. U.S. Census Bureau poverty tables

9. Bureau of Labor Statistics

10. World Bank

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