New Book by UMass Amherst Professor Examines Facts and Myths of the U.S. Population

AMHERST, Mass. - A University of Massachusetts researcher and co-author of a new book on trends in the U.S. population said data he has gathered reveals some surprises about how Americans live. These include how many Americans attend church; the number of older Americans in the workforce; how diverse we are becoming, and at what rate; and long-term progress in attaining at least a high school education.

Douglas L. Anderton, director of the Social and Demographic Research Institute (SADRI) at UMass, said the book, "The Population of the United States," shows that the proportion of church-going Americans has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years. He also said the U.S. population is becoming more racially diverse, but the process is much slower than many people believe. Anderton said older Americans are working in the service sector in larger numbers than previously thought, and income inequality has been growing steadily since the Post-World War II era, not just since the 1980s. The income gap did accelerate in the 1980s, however, Anderton said.

Anderton said he and co-authors Richard Barrett of the University of Illinois and Donald Bogue of the University of Chicago, have been working on the volume for the past six years. It is modeled on two previous volumes of the same name printed in 1959 and 1985, but Anderton said this is an entirely new book with new data which has been organized and presented in a new format. "This book is being used as a text book, but it’s really more of a reference book. It is dense, containing an amazing amount of material," Anderton said. "One aspect I feel best about is that the book shows a lot of notions people have aren’t borne out by the data."

He said the authors used current population, income, and social data, but also included some information that dates back to colonial times. Overall, the focus is on the past century with an emphasis on the last 50 years, Anderton said. "In writing the book we had an orientation toward the end of this century," he said.

Another interesting finding, Anderton said, is that the amount of federally owned land in the U.S. is decreasing, not expanding as many people believe. And in terms of educational advancement, in 1940, nearly 60 percent of Americans had attended school for less than eight years, compared to 1990, when almost 90 percent of Americans had at least some high school education. By 1990, just under 80 percent have graduated from high school, according to Anderton.