Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percent moving between 2004 and 2005...
All ages: 14 percent
Aged 20 to 24: 30 percent
Aged 62 to 64: 6 percent

Percent moving out of state...
All ages: 19 percent
Aged 20 to 24: 16 percent
Aged 62 to 64: 34 percent

Source: Census Bureau, Geographic Mobility: 2004 to 2005

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If Cell Phones Could Talk

Eighty-two percent of Americans say they have been annoyed by the cell phone use of others in public places, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But for demographers and others who love to track the trends, cell phones are more than an annoyance. They are an astonishing technological marvel that has revealed one of our deepest needs.

Before the cell phone, who knew Homo sapiens wanted to talk so much? Our prehistoric ancestors might have known, since they were the last to be within shouting distance of everyone they knew almost all the time. The African savannahs might have been humming with conversation as ancient humans discussed the latest hunt and gather. Then, as our species populated and migrated to distant lands without any means of communication with those left behind, we were forced to repress our need to stay in touch. Perhaps out of this melancholy longing art was born. We told stories, wrote ballads and poems, and drew pictures to mourn our loss of communication with loved ones far away. Finally, we invented the snail mail system to maintain some vestige of contact, however inadequate.

It has been thousands of years since we could strike up a conversation at will with any friend or family member. Only in the past ten years, as cell phones proliferated and the cost of using them dropped to pennies in our pocket, have we rediscovered our addiction to continuous communication with those we care about.

The cell phone's evolution over the past decade, from clunky and expensive accessory to sleek and cheap necessity, has revealed talk to be one of our most powerful urges. What we say is far less interesting than the act of saying it, all the time: "Where are you?" "What are you doing?" "Where should we meet?" "How about this for a plan?"

The cell phone's overarching importance is revealed not just by anecdotes, but in the spending statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the past decade, the cell phone's significance has grown more than any other household item. In 1997, only 10 percent of households spent on cell phone service. In that year, in a ranking of items on which the average household spends the most, cell phone service was lost in the crowd at 112th place. In 2004 (the latest data available), 46 percent of households spent on cell phone service, boosting it to a lofty 28th place. Cell phone service now ranks higher in our spending priorities than prescription drugs and is not far below cable TV and alcoholic beverages.

Interestingly, while 82 percent of the public has gotten annoyed with someone else's cell phone use, only 8 percent of cell phone users say they have annoyed others with their cell phone calls. They must have been too busy talking to notice.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Does Religion Influence Sexual Behavior?

Does religious belief influence sexual attitudes and behavior? Most would call the question a no brainer--of course it does! But human nature being what it is, religious belief has less influence on behavior than on attitudes.

This becomes clear in an examination of the National Survey of Family Growth, a survey taken every few years by the National Center for Health Statistics. The NSFG probes the attitudes and behavior of a representative sample of Americans aged 15 to 44 toward sexuality and reproduction. An examination of the results suggests that religious belief affects the talk much more than the walk.

Religious belief shapes attitudes toward premarital sex:
The percentage of women who think it is all right for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sexual relations if they have strong affection for one another ranges from a high of 74 percent among women with no religion to a low of 29 percent for fundamentalist Protestant women. Among Catholic women, the 54 percent majority thinks premarital sex is OK.

But it delays first sexual intercourse by only a few months:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with no religion, average age at first sexual intercourse was 16.4 years. Fundamentalist Protestants held off for several more months, with an average age of 16.9 years at first sexual intercourse. Catholics just said no for nearly one year longer, with an average age at first sexual intercourse of 17.7 years.

And it has little impact on "saving oneself" for marriage:
Among women with no religion, only 12 percent waited until marriage before having sex. The proportion was a slightly higher 15 percent among Catholics and 17 percent among fundamentalist Protestants.

Religious belief drives attitudes toward out-of-wedlock childbearing:
Among women with no religion, fully 86 percent think it is OK for an unmarried woman to have a child. A 49 percent minority of fundamentalist Protestants agree. (Among fundamentalist Protestant men, the figure is an even smaller 37 percent.). A surprisingly large 72 percent of Catholic women think out-of-wedlock childbearing is OK.

But it has almost no effect on out-of-wedlock childbearing itself:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with children, the percentage who have ever had a child out-of-wedlock is similar regardless of religion. Among women with no religion, 49 percent have had a child out of wedlock. The proportion is 47 percent among fundamentalist Protestants and a slightly smaller 40 percent among Catholics.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Households with two or more earners, by household income quintile:

lowest quintile (with incomes below $19,178): 5 percent
highest quintile (with incomes above $91,705): 76 percent

Source: Census Bureau, 2005 Annual Social and Economic Supplement

Monday, September 11, 2006

Comparing Crime

Recently, the FBI released preliminary numbers from its 2005 Uniform Crime Reporting Program. According to the findings, violent crime in the U.S. rose 2.5 percent between 2004 and 2005. The complete report will be released later this year, entitled Crime in the United States, with tables of data on crimes reported to nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation. But don't plan on using the report to determine how your local area ranks in the crime statistics. Those who want to compare one area with another are on their own.

The FBI makes no secret of the fact that they do not want users to compare crime rates. They even write extensively about the difficulty of doing so on their web site:

"Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents"

But you have to wonder whether this high-mindedness is more political than methodological. After all, if the FBI provided rankings of states and local areas by crime rate, then those 17,000 law enforcement agencies might not be so cooperative about sending their data to the FBI. And more than 400 congressional representatives, 100 senators, and countless local politicians would be very unhappy if their area appeared at the top of a high-crime list.

Unless an intrepid reporter burrows into the numbers by downloading, multiplying, dividing, and sorting, the average American is left pretty much in the dark about relative crime rates in the U.S. Everyone knows the central cities of metropolitan areas have high crime rates, but what about college towns, vacation spots, and retirement areas? The federal government makes it hard to find out.

Recently, crime seems to have surged in my town, Beaufort, South Carolina—a military base and resort area on the coast. Letters in the local newspaper have expressed shock at the crime, wondering what is happening to our once safe community. But how safe is Beaufort, relatively speaking? I wanted to find out. Because the 2005 data are not yet available, I went to the FBI's 2004 report, finding a table listing crime rates by region and state. I was not surprised to see the South having the highest rate of violent crime—this is a well documented fact. By region, the violent crime rate per 100,000 population looks like this:

U.S. average 465.5
South 540.6
West 480.7
Midwest 391.1
Northeast 390.7

Next, I spent about 15 minutes sorting the 50 states by their violent crime rate. To my surprise, supposedly sleepy South Carolina came out on top, with 784.2 violent crimes per 100,000 population in 2004. The violent crime rate in South Carolina exceeds the rate in every other state, including those with high-crime reputations such as Florida (711.3), Nevada (615.9), Texas (540.5), and New York (441.6).

But what about Beaufort? Another table has the data, listing each city's population and the number of violent crimes reported in 2004. The rate has to be calculated, then the list sorted. Lo and behold, Beaufort's violent crime rate of 1,660.3 places it 7th out of 33 cities in the state with populations of 10,000 or more. Beaufort, in fact, has a higher crime rate than the central cities of the state's largest metropolitan areas—Columbia and Charleston. Beaufort has a lower crime rate, however, than the state's other resort area, Myrtle Beach.

While it is understandable that local businesses and politicians may not want these facts to be released, keeping residents in the dark about their chances of experiencing violent crime is a disservice to the community. That kind of naiveté not only increases risk taking, but also adds more victims to the crime rolls.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Problems and Who Has Them

Every now and then someone does a study that tells it like it is. This is the case with "Troubles in America: A Study of Negative Life Events Across Time and Sub-groups," by Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. The study, prepared for the Russell Sage Foundation, is also mentioned in the post below and could be the subject of dozens of posts examining its many findings.

In both the 1991 and 2004 GSS surveys, a representative sample of Americans was asked whether they had experienced any of 66 problems during the past year. The incidence of problems alone is worth pondering. Here is a look at the some of the troubles and the percentage of Americans experiencing them in the past 12 months, based on the 2004 survey:

Sick enough to go to a doctor: 56.2
Death of a close friend: 22.0
Lacking health insurance coverage: 17.9
Major home repairs: 15.4
Being unemployed for as long as a month: 14.5
A major worsening of one's financial condition: 13.1
Not having a car for at least one month: 8.3
Undergoing counseling for emotional problems: 7.4
A cut in pay: 6.8
Having serious trouble with a child: 6.3
Being discriminated against: 4.7
Death of a parent: 3.1
Getting divorced: 2.7
Home destroyed or damaged by fire, flood, etc.: 2.0