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Money Makers
Forthcoming in September, from Basic Books

As readers of this blog know, Franklin Roosevelt declared he had taken the US off the gold standard on March 6, 1933, as the first substantial act of his presidency. But scholars have not been so quick to accept this date or, with firmness, any other.

When Roosevelt first said he had taken the US off the gold standard, he didn’t want to make too great a fuss about it because he was trying to quiet a panic that had nearly broken the Federal Reserve System. He hoped Americans would bring their gold back for deposit in the nation’s vaults. And they did. Even though the papers were reporting that the president might issue scrip for temporary currency; even though the Emergency Banking Act provided that Federal Reserve notes could be backed by commercial bank assets, people generally preferred paper money to gold, so long as they trusted the paper money – which, with Roosevelt’s assurances, they did, as you can see from the chart. Read the rest of this entry »


Average annual tuition and fees for California resident undergraduates at the UC.


Dsquared posits,

I think we can all agree that things will go better if all currently working monetary economists stop teaching their models to undergraduates and instead adopt my modelling approach:
Read the rest of this entry »

While Iraq has been cooling down, Afghanistan has been heating up:

The conflict there has usually been divided between summers and winters, with summers seeing most of the combat. The above chart shows the divide pretty clearly, and it also shows that coalition fatalities in-country are increasing in both seasons.

The worst month for coalition forces in Afghanistan was July 2009, when 77 fatalities occurred. That month still does not rival the worst months of Iraq (141 in November 2004 and 131 in May 2007), but each summer and each winter has seen a higher number of fatalities, and January 2010 is, only 12 days into the new year, already the second-worst January of the war.

(source for fatalities)

I was looking for something entirely else on my computer and I found this old data, which I’ve put in a shiny new graph for you. It shows average annual GDP growth 1913-1950 for selected countries as a function of the death rate per thousand of prewar population in World War I.

BEL=Belgium, FRN=France, GMY=Germany, ITA=Italy, JPN=Japan, UKG=Britain, USA=United States, USR=Soviet Union / Russia.

Since Ahistoricality asked, some comparisons on late c19 / early c20 levels and growth of per capita GDP.

That’s Germany (DE), United States (US), Britain (UK), Japan (JP), Brazil (BR). Data from Angus Maddison.

Speaking of cowboy culture, here’s a chart of the murder rate in the US for most of the twentieth century.1

Douglas Eckberg presents the revised series because the early Census data under-reported homicides and didn’t cover the whole US; Eckberg’s estimates probably provide a more accurate picture of the murderous early c20.

The numbers indicate something long remarked on but little explained. Here’s Richard Hofstadter in his introduction to American Violence:

For the long span from about 1938 to the mid-1960’s, despite the external violence of World War II and the Korean War, the internal life of the country was unusually free of violent episodes. Industrial violence and lynching had almost disappeared. Rioting in the cities—despite the Harlem riot of 1935, the Detroit riot of 1943, and the Los Angeles zoot-suit riot of the same year—occurred less often than in many past periods. Americans who came of age during and after the 1930’s found it easy to forget how violent a people their forebears had been.

Later in the chapter, Hofstadter speculates as to why the US has a history of violence but little memory of it:

… one is impressed that most American violence—and this also illuminates its relationship to state power—has been initiated with a “conservative” bias. It has been unleashed against abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labor organizers, Negroes, Orientals, and other ethnic or racial or ideological minorities, and has been used ostensibly to protect the American, the Southern, the white Protestant, or simply the established middle-class way of life and morals. A high proportion of our violent actions has thus come from the top dogs or the middle dogs. Such has been the character of most mob and vigilante movements. This may help to explain why so little of it has been used against state authority, and why in turn it has been so easily and indulgently forgotten. Our new concern about violence today is, among other things, a response to a sharp increase in its volume, but it is also a response to its shifting role. Violence has now become, to a degree unprecedented in the United States, the outgrowth of forcible acts by dissidents and radicals who are expressing hostility to middle-class ways and to established power.

Hofstadter was writing in 1970, when he observed and worried about increased enthusiasm for violence on the left. I do not think this lasted much longer than 1970, yet the murder rate stayed pretty high afterward.

1From Historical Statistics of the US, series Ec190-191.

A number of people asked in comments to “Schooling” if the pattern shown for migrants out of the South wouldn’t be about the same for the rest of the country. I said “no”, but I couldn’t leave it alone. And since AWC didn’t take the bait when I offered to send him data, I did some figuring myself.

Does the pattern of education for all migrants look like the pattern for migrants out of the South? For this we use the same definition of migrants—recent (within the last five years) migrants across state lines, age 26 or older; nonmigrants defined as people over the age of 26 who live in the same house as they did five years ago.

So the pattern is different. Completion of 8th grade is more common among nonmigrants than among migrants.

What about migrants to the South? Here we look at people born in the non-South, resident in the South, over the age of 26, who moved across state lines within the last five years versus people born in the non-South, resident in the same house as five years ago, over the age of 26.

Here again, the pattern is different from migration out of the South and more like the overall pattern of interstate migration.

I guess I’d go so far as to say, for black people leaving the South, any further level of education completed was a spur to leave the South, the reasons for which are probably too obvious to state. Whereas for other interstate migrants, you’re looking at a premium on higher levels of education completed.

Oh, one more point: racial composition. Southern-born persons 26 or older resident in the non-South who moved across state lines within the previous five years are around 76 percent white, 24 percent black. Persons 26 or older who moved across state lines within the previous five years are around 94 percent white, 6 percent black. Persons 26 or older who moved across state lines within the previous five years, born in the non-South, resident in the South, are around 98 percent white and 2 percent black. And in the 1940 Census there were about 394,000 southern-born recent migrants 26 or older recorded as living in the non-South and about 314,000 non-southern-born recent migrants 26 or older recorded as living in the South.

Did education lead to a brain drain in the Jim Crow South? There’s considerable anecdotal evidence that it did, often focusing on college education.1 Can’t keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve been to an ag. school.

I wondered if it would be possible to have a slightly more systematic go at this question, looking at all levels of education, using IPUMS.

The 1940 census asked people if they’d moved across state lines within the last five years. Suppose you look at people born in the South, resident outside the South, who’d moved across state lines in the past five years, over the age of 26—you’d mainly be looking at people who had moved out of the South after completing their education, wouldn’t you? I think so. Anyway, that’s what the graphs show, with migrants defined as “moved across state lines to a state in the non-South within the last five years”, divided into white and black.

And, what you see is consistent with the idea that education provided a greater impetus to move than to stay put, particularly completion of 8th grade or 12th grade. What you see is also consistent with education providing a much greater impetus for black people to move than for white people.

Which is perhaps not surprising, but nice to see it laid out.

1See e.g. James N. Gregory, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 36-37.

Thanks to Kieran for helping me make the graphs non-ugly.

UPDATE: Follow-up here.

This sounds like a survey whose broader implications I might wish were true, but probably aren’t:

A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. The survey consisted of 211 students at a university in England and was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire.

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. “The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions,” said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.

My confession: I use Keynote (the Mactastic replacement for PowerPoint) for big lecture courses, particularly the survey of US history 1865-present. But pretty reliably once a year the system flakes out and I end up teaching the class without it. Which bothers me not at all. But I believe I can see the students getting restless. For US intellectual history I don’t use Keynote, as the concepts generally don’t benefit from visual representation. Increasingly I use it for my research talks, though. I believe it’s becoming a norm.

If there’s any truth to the survey, I believe it’s that most people use these tools badly. You see an awful lot of computer presentations with way too much tiny text per slide, or slides that are basically the lecturer’s notes, or the PowerPoint version of Ken Burns: show somebody’s face while you’re talking about them.

Whereas there are of course perfectly good uses of visual media in lectures. Such uses can even engage the students: “What does the graph tell us?” Or, “What do you think this map shows?”


Answer below the fold.

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Ben Domenech frets about, among other things, the rising age of first marriage, attributing it to (or taking it as a symptom of) American decline.  Too much porn, too little valuing family and children, you know the routine as well as I ’cause you caught the matinee.

Julian Sanchez counters with a pair of (sort of weird) graphs showing that the age of marriage and fertility rate tracks educational attainment reasonably well.  One of Sullivan’s readers points out that it’s damned expensive these days to live up to what one’s parents took for granted.

I come bearing both information in the form of pictures of numbers and some questions.  Here is a chart that Eric provided when I wished for it, which  shows the median age at first marriage by gender and race from 1850 to 1990.


Four things strike me.

First, that by and large we are talking about a three to five year swing.   This is not that big, and mostly within historical norms.  The story sounds a lot less scary if described as “recent age at first marriage for American males is very nearly that of the age at first marriage of  white American males in 1900.”  (Hey, maybe those guys were into porn, too…)

Second, our recent cultural memories about What Is Done have got to be shaped by the fact that there’s an dip in the age at first marriage in the decades after WWII.  Probably best not to generalize from the baby boomer-makers or from the massive post-war economic expansion. (Possible book title:  The Fifties Were Anomalous We Need To Get Over It.)

Third, the clear trend seems not to be  in the white guys’ ages, but in the ages of women and black men.

Fourth, whatever the story the averages tell, the more interesting jumpy lines are the dashed lines which represent the median age at first marriage for black men and black women, because the changes appear to be sudden and the line is very steep.  As I am neither a historian nor a sociologist, I do not know what to make of the dashed lines beyond guesses and speculation (readers?  scholars?  your thoughts?) , but it’s worth pointing out that Domenech’s specific worrying reflects only a particular conception of the American family and its history and picket fences.

Logging Haida Gwaii

I’ve been reading John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce, about the strange eco-vandalism incident in 1997 on Haida Gwaii (aka the Queen Charlotte Islands), northern British Columbia. (If you’re interested, the New Yorker article he distilled from it is a better read.) Mostly I’m indulging a mild obsession with a remote corner of the map — now even more tantalizingly quasi-accessible, of course, via Google Earth and such. But in browsing around, I encountered what might be the most beautiful map I’ve ever seen on the Internet, and certainly one of the most effective in conveying its message.

The map shows the extent of logging, both historical and geographical, on the islands since 1900.  It was produced by the Gowgaia Institute, of Queen Charlotte on the islands. Definitely click through for larger versions (without the superposed town names).

Updated to restrain some overheated language.

One of the big stories in US history is the creation of a nation out of a diverse group of sections—particularly by the convergence of the South on the rest of the country. We know this, at some rough level; the South was rich in the era of slavery1 then poor after the Civil War and then in the middle twentieth century began to look more like the rest of the country.

It would be nice to show it, wouldn’t it?
Read the rest of this entry »

[Following up on this post.]

The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery. The military denies that this is an official requirement, though there is skepticism:

The U.S. military appears to have toughened its standards for bestowing the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in battle, to exclude troops who survive their heroic acts, a California lawmaker charged Thursday.
Either troops are “not as brave as they used to be, which I don’t believe is true,” or the criteria for the award have been amended “so that you have to die” to receive it, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., told the Army’s top civilian and uniformed leaders.
Hunter’s assertion during a House Armed Services Committee hearing drew a rebuke from Gen. George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq who now serves as Army chief of staff. “There has been absolutely no effort” to limit the award to troops who’ve perished, Casey said.
Five Americans, all killed in action, have been awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The total is far lower than that of past wars; 244 troops received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Vietnam War, for example.

The last seven Medals of Honor have been given posthumously. Read the rest of this entry »

Just because someone asked. Current expenditure per pupil in average daily attendance in public elementary and secondary schools, by state, for 2004-05 (most recent year), from the Digest of Education Statistics for 2007.

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