Fun With Government Documents: Statistics!

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by Matthew Flyntz

While you may think that our Government Documents collection is simply filled with Congressional hearings, budgets, and other dense, borderline-unreadable texts, there is actually some really interesting stuff down there.  For example, our government has compiled some amazing statistics throughout history.  Here, I will look at two great publications: The Statistical Abstract of the United States and Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970.

2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States

2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States

These books contain pretty much any statistic you could ever want (and many that you never would).  Want to know which groups of Americans struggle to get a good night’s sleep? Table 191 in the Statistical Abstract has the answer – women struggle more than men, college graduates struggle more than non-grads, and the young struggle more than the elderly.  Want to know which state smokes the most pot?  Table 204 will tell you it’s Rhode Island.  Want to know the percentage of American households with dogs?  Table 1240 says 37.2 percent.  Cats?  32.4 percent.

Want to know how Americans spend their leisure time?  Table 1239 is for you.  4.8 percent play bingo, 6.2 percent bird watch, 8.1 percent scrapbook, 11.6 percent play Sudoku, 14.5 percent do crossword puzzles, 20.2 percent go drinking at bars, 26.1 percent bake, and 36.1 percent barbeque. Want to assess trends in footwear sales?  Table 1249 is perfect.  Jogging and running shoe sales have doubled since 1990, while tennis shoe sales have dropped off by over one third.

Historical Statistics of the United States

Historical Statistics of the United States

Of course, it’s not all fun and games.  There is plenty of information on crime rates.  In case you were wondering, among major U.S. cities, St. Louis has the highest rate of aggravated assault, New Orleans has the highest murder rate, Cleveland has the highest rape and robbery rates, Oakland has the highest rate of motor vehicle theft, and Memphis has the highest burglary rate.  Table 305 has the full details.

If you’re more of a history buff, then check out Historical Statistics.  Want to see how life expectancy rates have changed?  Consult Table B 107-115 to find that life expectancy was only 47.3 years in 1900, and 70.9 in 1970.

Want to see when various causes of death stopped causing death?  Table B 149-166 shows that Typhoid Fever fell below 1 death per 100,000 in 1941, Scarlet Fever fell below that rate in 1938, and Measles fell below that rate in 1944.  In the opposite direction, the rates of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease have all increased from 1900 to 1970.

Somewhat morosely, you can even track major historical events just by looking at death rates.  For example, you can see the effect of the temperance movement and national Prohibition in the rate of Cirrhosis of the liver.  In 1900, the rate was 12.5 deaths per 100,000, while the rate hovered around 7 deaths per 100,000 during prohibition.  By 1960, the rate climbed back up to 11.3, and by 1970 had shot up to 15.5.

As another example, the effects of the Great Depression are reflected in the suicide rate.  The Depression hit America in late 1929, and the suicide rate jumped from 13.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1929 to 15.6 deaths per 100,000 in 1930.  The suicide rate peaked in 1932 at 17.4, but fell back to 12.8 by 1941.


Suicide Chart

This is just a tiny sampling of the fascinating data that is available in these books.  If you’re bored and a statistics nerd like I am, head down to our Government Documents collection and take a look at these resources!

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