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.
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.
|World Population||7.9 billion||1|
|U.S. Population||333 million||1|
|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, 1970-2018||3.5% – 15%||3|
|Labor force participation rate, age 16+||62%||9|
|Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2017||60% – 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 pop||14%||2|
|Adults age 25+ with BA or higher||33%||2|
|Median household income||$65,000||2|
|Total poverty rate||11%||8|
|Child poverty rate||16%||8|
|Poverty rate age 65+||9%||8|
|Most populous country, China||1.4 billion||5|
|2nd most populous country, India||1.4 billion||5|
|3rd most populous country, USA (CIA estimate)||337 million||5|
|4th most populous country, Indonesia||277 million||5|
|5th most populous country, Pakistan||243 million||5|
|U.S. male life expectancy at birth||73||6|
|U.S. female life expectancy at birth||79||6|
|Life expectancy range across countries||54 – 85||7|
|World total fertility rate||2.4||10|
|U.S. total fertility rate||1.6||10|
|Total fertility rate range across countries||0.8 – 6.7||10|
* These are pre-pandemic poverty rates.