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How America Has Changed Over Last 100 Years
Census analysis shows great changes in US demographics 
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Dateline: 12/21/02

The 11 national censuses conducted between 1900 and 2000 show our nation has undergone a century of tremendous changes in both the makeup of the population and in how Americans live their lives.

  • 100 years ago, most people living in the U.S. were male, under 23 years old, lived in the country and rented their homes. Almost half of all the people in the U.S. lived in households with five or more other people.

  • Today, most people in the U.S. are female, 35 years old or older and live in metropolitan areas where they own their home. Most people in the U.S. now either live alone or in a households with no more than one or two other people.

These are just the top-level changes reported by the Census Bureau in their 240-page report titled Demographic Trends in the 20th Century (35 Megabyte pdf file). Released during the bureau's 100th anniversary year, the report tracks trends in population, housing and household data for the nation, regions and states.

"Our goal was to produce a publication that appeals to people interested in the demographic changes that shaped our nation in the 20th century and to those interested in the numbers underlying those trends," said Frank Hobbs, who co-authored the report with Nicole Stoops. "We hope it will serve as a valuable reference work for years to come."

Some highlights of the report include:

Population size and geographic distribution
Age and Sex
Race and Hispanic origin
Housing and household size 

Population size and geographic distribution

The U.S. population grew by more than 205 million people during the century, more than tripling from 76 million in 1900 to 281 million in 2000.

As the population grew, the geographical population center shifted 324 miles west and 101 miles south, from Bartholomew County, Ind., in 1900 to its current location in Phelps County, Mo.

In every decade of the century, the West's population grew faster than the populations of the other three regions.

Florida's population rank rose more than that of any other state, catapulting it from 33rd to 4th place in state rankings. Iowa's population ranking plummeted the furthest, from 10th in the nation in 1900 to 30th in 2000.

Age and sex

Children under 5 years old represented the largest five-year age group in 1900 and again in 1950; but in 2000 the largest groups were 35 to 39 and 40 to 44.

The percentage of the U.S. population age 65 and over increased in every census from 1900 (4.1 percent) to 1990 (12.6 percent), then declined for the first time in Census 2000 to 12.4 percent.

From 1900 to 1960, the South had the highest proportion of children under 15 and the lowest proportion of people 65 and over, making it the country's "youngest" region. The West grabbed that title in the latter part of the century.

Race and Hispanic origin

At the beginning of the century, 1-in-8 U.S. residents was of a race other than white; at the end of the century, the ratio was 1-in-4.

The black population remained concentrated in the South and the Asian and Pacific Islander population in the West through the century, but these regional concentrations declined sharply by 2000.

Among the races, the American Indian and Alaska Native population had the highest percentage under age 15 for most of the 20th century.

From 1980 to 2000, the Hispanic-origin population, which may be of any race, more than doubled.

The total minority population people of Hispanic origin or of races other than white increased by 88 percent between 1980 and 2000 while the non-Hispanic white population grew by only 7.9 percent.

Housing and household size

In 1950, for the first time, more than half of all occupied housing units were owned instead of rented. The homeownership rate increased until 1980, decreased slightly in the 1980s and then rose again to its highest level of the century in 2000 66 percent.

The 1930s was the only decade when the proportion of owner-occupied housing units declined in every region. The largest increase in homeownership rates for each region then occurred in the next decade when the economy recovered from the Depression and experienced post-World War II prosperity.

Between 1950 and 2000, married-couple households declined from more than three-fourths of all households to just over one-half.

The proportional share of one-person households increased more than households of any other size. In 1950, one-person households represented 1-in-10 households; by 2000, they comprised 1-in-4.

The full report includes graphs, maps and tables, and can be viewed or downloaded free of charge from the Census Bureau's Website at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/censr-4.pdf [Requires the Free Adobe Acrobat .pdf reader.] 

 

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