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Things Were Better Then, Except When They Weren't - Irrationally Exuberant [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Danny Adams

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Things Were Better Then, Except When They Weren't [Apr. 16th, 2012|08:19 pm]
Danny Adams
[Current Location |More Here Than There]
[Current Mood |curiouscurious]

Lately I've been hearing a lot of variations of the "Things were better in the 1950s" theme. So aside from the arguments about "Better for who?", I thought I would stroll around my library's reference section and see if I could grab some statistics and compare them to today. I grabbed the 1959 editions of the World Almanac and Information Please Almanac and compared percentages by population between then and now.

Offered without comment:

Church, etc. Membership (including Orthodox, Jewish, and Buddhist):
1957: 59.7%
2012: 43%

Total Crime Rate (as provided online by the FBI):

1959: .019%
2010: .033%

Violent Crime Rate (ditto):
1959: .0016%
2010: .004%

Divorce Rate:
1958: 25%
2011: ~50% (The sources disagree. For first marriages the percentages vary from 41-50%.)

The highest percentage of divorces, by the way, occurs in my native South: 10.2 men per 1000, and 11.1 women per 1000.

Poverty Rate:

1959: 20%
2012: 15.5%

Individual Tax Rates:

1959: 20-91% (The 91% tax rate was for those making over $200,000 per year.)
2012: 10-35%

Top Corporate Tax Rates:

1959: 52%
2012: 35%

Union Membership:

1959: 39%
2011: 11.8%

So there you go. Run the numbers as you will.


[User Picture]From: handworn
2012-04-17 07:28 pm (UTC)
Have you read King's 11-22-63? Though it's about '63, it's a time-travel thing in which the hero finds a portal that always goes back to the same moment in time in the fall of 1958, so there's a good deal of talk about the 1950s. Sounds to me like King thinks many things were better back then. Though he includes the obligatory things about racism and so on, they seem kind of like they're artificially inserted (like that painfully obviously editorial scene in the movie A League of Their Own in which a black woman throws them back an errant ball).

I'm not sure I'd recommend the book overall. It's fine for most of it, but then ends with a hideous character violation that ruins it for me.
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[User Picture]From: madwriter
2012-04-17 07:51 pm (UTC)
I haven't read it, though it was on my Eventually list. Unlike a lot of SF folks, I have a weakness for time travel stories. :)

On the flip side of reviews, by the way, I loved the tax link you posted.
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[User Picture]From: handworn
2012-04-18 06:00 pm (UTC)
I always enjoy time travel stories, too, though it takes a pretty good grasp of historical cause and effect to do them well. S.M. Sterling has talent as a writer, for example, but quite a few of the things that happen in his alternate histories appears a good deal more driven by "wouldn't that be neat" than by canny predictions of the consequences of changes in deep underlying causes. In the case of King's book, too, one question I kept asking is why either King or his protagonist would think preventing Kennedy's assassination would have made much real difference to the present day.

A couple people pointed out places where the list of tax facts was incorrect. Still, interesting stuff.
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