"Unconventional Wisdom" provides new facts and hot
stats from the social sciences. America is a big country,
and it hides a lot of problems in its sheer size and diversity.
This gives rise to the suspicion that many of the statistics
Americans receive come from sources less interested in
precisely measuring a given problem than in showing that
it's even worse than anyone thought. Richard Morin is
out to set the records straight - he culls fact from fiction
and shows the truth often hidden in the shadow of stats
and "expert" opinions.
NEW FACTS AND HOT STATS FROM THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
MYTH OF MEDIA MALAISE
decades, it's been hugely fashionable in academe to finger
the cynical and superficial news media as the cause of
rising levels of civic disengagement.
democracy may or may not be in eclipse, and people certainly
don't trust politicians or vote nearly as often as they
did a few decades ago. But don't blame the media, argues
political scientist Pippa Norris in her new book "A Virtuous
Circle: Political Communications in Postindustrial Societies."
a professor at Harvard, examined five decades of polling
data from several major surveys conducted in the United
States, as well as surveys conducted in Europe. Wherever
she looked, Norris found that people who read newspapers
or watch TV network news more frequently are generally
more trusting, less cynical and more knowledgeable about
politics and government -- even after she controlled for
their education, income, gender, age and other variables
that shape political attitudes.
than driving down political involvement and ratcheting
up mistrust, Norris says that attention to the news "acts
as a virtuous circle: The most politically knowledgeable,
trusting and participatory are most likely to tune to
public affairs coverage. And those most attentive to coverage
of public affairs become more engaged in civic life."
who's responsible for creating the tattered image of the
malaise-making news media? Blame it, at least in part,
on the media themselves, which Norris says have become
increasingly preoccupied with "self-flagellation."
resulting false picture, she cautions, does real harm
-- but not to civic life. Rather, it erodes public confidence
in the news media. Plus, it's so predictable. "American
journalism seems increasingly transfixed by American journalism,
looking at itself obsessively in an endless hall of mirrors,"
she writes. "As night follows day, the first wave of stories
concerns the 'real' event, and the second bemoans how
poorly the news media covered the event."
a sobering statistic: By the year 2030, a majority of
adult Americans will be over age 50 -- and eligible to
join AARP, according to census data.
it's not just the United States that's rapidly going gray.
Demographers say two-thirds of all elderly people -- those
65 and older -- who have ever lived are alive right now.
In Japan and the developed countries in Europe, the population
is growing disproportionately older, which puts increased
strains on health and social services and threatens to
bust budgets around the developed world.
contributing to the looming crisis? The aging of the baby
boom generation here and abroad, as well as increased
longevity and declining birth rates in the developed world.
The projected consequences include higher taxes to pay
for elder care, delayed retirement to keep people working
and paying taxes longer, reduced old-age benefits, as
well as diminished government spending on education, transportation
and defense as more tax dollars go to help the older generation.
group of national and international experts gathered in
Washington last week for a conference on global aging
sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International
Studies and the Committee for Economic Development, two
are some of the numbers behind the news, taken from data
collected by CSIS and Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a research
and consulting firm:
1960, about 9 percent of the population in developed countries
was 65 years old or older.
2030, nearly one in four will be elderly. And by 2050,
there may be more Italians, Germans and Japanese over
age 80 than under age 20.
the past 30 years, the fertility rate worldwide has dropped
from 5.0 to 2.7 births per woman. And in developed countries,
the fertility rate currently stands below the replacement
rate of 2.1, which is the birth rate needed to maintain
current population numbers. In Italy, the fertility rate
is 1.2; in Germany, 1.3; in the United States, 2.0. If
the trends continue, Japan's population will decline by
two-thirds by the end of this century.
World War II, the average global life expectancy has risen
from around 45 to 65, a larger increase in the past 50
years than over the previous 5,000. Throughout the developed
world, life expectancy now stands at 75 years; in Japan,
it's 80, making the Japanese the world's longest-lived
ratio of taxpaying workers to retirees is falling. Today
in the United States, there are three workers for every
pensioner; by 2030, there will be three workers for every
two pensioners, and in Italy and perhaps some other European
countries, retirees will outnumber workers by 2050.
existing retirement systems by reducing benefits or pushing
back the retirement age may be particularly difficult.
"The growing political power of older voters could make
reform even more difficult," analysts wrote. By 2030,
nearly half of all adults in developed countries and perhaps
two-thirds of all voters will be at or beyond today's
OUT THE VOTE
an unexpected way to increase voter turnout: Make ballots
more cluttered. Seems turnout was about 10 percent higher
for presidential and midterm elections during the 1990s
in states that allow initiatives on the ballot, claim
Caroline Tolbert of Kent State University and her research
colleagues. It's the first clear evidence that initiatives
may increase turnout by stimulating interest in the election,
Tolbert writes in a paper presented recently at the annual
convention of the American Political Science Association.
AND WHITE AND BLUE
public-policy experts believe that African-Americans prefer
to have black officers patrol predominantly black neighborhoods.
But that's wrong, says sociologist Ronald Weitzer of George
Washington University. His survey of 169 residents of
predominantly black neighborhoods in Washington found
"considerable support for a policy of deploying racially
integrated teams of officers in black neighborhoods,"
he wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Criminal