Century of Difference

Century of Difference: Diversity and Unity Among Americans, 1900-2000

Claude S. Fischer
Michael Hout
Copyright Date: November 2006
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 424
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    Century of Difference
    Book Description:

    In every generation, Americans have worried about the solidarity of the nation. Since the days of the Mayflower, those already settled here have wondered how newcomers with different cultures, values, and (frequently) skin color would influence America. Would the new groups create polarization and disharmony? Thus far, the United States has a remarkable track record of incorporating new people into American society, but acceptance and assimilation have never meant equality. In Century of Difference, Claude Fischer and Michael Hout provide a compelling—and often surprising—new take on the divisions and commonalities among the American public over the tumultuous course of the twentieth century. Using a hundred years worth of census and opinion poll data, Century of Difference shows how the social, cultural, and economic fault lines in American life shifted in the last century. It demonstrates how distinctions that once loomed large later dissipated, only to be replaced by new ones. Fischer and Hout find that differences among groups by education, age, and income expanded, while those by gender, region, national origin, and, even in some ways, race narrowed. As the twentieth century opened, a person’s national origin was of paramount importance, with hostilities running high against Africans, Chinese, and southern and eastern Europeans. Today, diverse ancestries are celebrated with parades. More important than ancestry for today’s Americans is their level of schooling. Americans with advanced degrees are increasingly putting distance between themselves and the rest of society—in both a literal and a figurative sense. Differences in educational attainment are tied to expanding inequalities in earnings, job quality, and neighborhoods. Still, there is much that ties all Americans together. Century of Difference knocks down myths about a growing culture war. Using seventy years of survey data, Fischer and Hout show that Americans did not become more fragmented over values in the late-twentieth century, but rather were united over shared ideals of self-reliance, family, and even religion. As public debate has flared up over such matters as immigration restrictions, the role of government in redistributing resources to the poor, and the role of religion in public life, it is important to take stock of the divisions and linkages that have typified the U.S. population over time. Century of Difference lucidly profiles the evolution of American social and cultural differences over the last century, examining the shifting importance of education, marital status, race, ancestry, gender, and other factors on the lives of Americans past and present.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-206-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Claude S. Fischer and Michael Hout
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The American Variations, 1900 to 2000
    (pp. 1-8)

    On October 12, 1900, as many as thirty thousand Italians paraded from Washington Square through lower Manhattan to celebrate Columbus’s landing in America. They marched under a cloud of bad news: a state assembly resolution to prohibit the hiring of “alien Italian workers” for tunnel construction; a socialite’s proud announcement to the press that she would ban Italian laborers from working on her estate, though it would cost her thousands of dollars; a brick-throwing brawl between Italian and Irish workmen (“Get out me way, yez Guineas,” shouted teamster Thomas Conley at the hod carriers); an unannounced invasion on a Tuesday...

  6. CHAPTER TWO How America Expanded Education and Why It Mattered
    (pp. 9-22)

    Education Is Good Business, a 1947 film short sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, exhorted its audience to support investing more tax money into local schools. “Education is the basis of the genuine production of wealth … and the foundation of good business,” the narrator insisted, and “tax investments return to the taxpayer.” Clips displayed boys learning farm science, electrical work, and mechanics and showed girls typing and developing art appreciation. Better education would make young Americans better workers (and housewives); they would also earn more money and become better consumers. Ironically, during this era, the midtwentieth century, extra...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Where Americans Came From: Race, Immigration, and Ancestry
    (pp. 23-56)
    Aliya Saperstein

    In September 2000, Newsweek magazine set out to document “The New Face of Race” in the United States. “In every corner of America, we are redefining race as we know it,” the magazine declared. “The old labels of black and white can’t begin to capture the subtleties of blood and identity” (3). Looking only at the end of the twentieth century, it would be hard to disagree. In the spring of 2000, the U.S. census invited Americans for the first time to “check all that apply” when reporting race on the census questionnaires. With six major categories to choose from—...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR How Americans Lived: Families and Life Courses in Flux
    (pp. 57-95)
    Jon Stiles

    When the Census Bureau released its findings from the 2000 census, newspapers and magazines featured articles on how “the American family” was disappearing. A dwindling proportion of households contained married couples with children, and a growing proportion of households contained only single individuals, unmarried partners, or one-parent families. “‘Married with Children’ Still Fading as a Model,” read a Los Angeles Times headline on May 5, 2001. This familiar plaint about the family in decline lacks both analytical and historical perspective. Analytically, the statistics count homes rather than people; historically, it contrasts the contemporary family with that of the 1950s, an...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE How Americans Worked: New Workers, New Jobs, and New Differences
    (pp. 96-136)

    Even the most visionary American living in 1900 could not have foreseen how Americans worked in 2000. Everything that is too familiar for us to notice—where we work, how we get there, what the workplace looks like, how long we work, what and who we work with, how much we are paid—changed. In 1900 most people worked at home, on their farms; most of the rest worked near home, walking to manual jobs at a mill or factory. They put in ten-hour days, often six or seven days a week. These men—and they were overwhelmingly men—typically...

  10. CHAPTER SIX What Americans Had: Differences in Living Standards
    (pp. 137-161)
    Jon Stiles

    Americans are loath to describe themselves in terms of social class. Compared to the British, for example, Americans are far less likely to say that their society is composed of “haves” and “have-nots.”¹ In many respects, American culture is exceptionally egalitarian; foreign visitors have long remarked on the political equality among Americans—at least, among free, white, male Americans—and noted, occasionally in horror, how little deference “common” people give to their “betters.”² But American egalitarianism has coexisted with great economic inequality. America in 2000 was the most economically unequal nation in the developed world: it had the greatest division...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Where Americans Lived: The Redrawing of America’s Social Geography
    (pp. 162-185)
    Jon Stiles

    Many postmortems of both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections explained the results by contrasting “red states” and “blue states,” or even more simply, the coasts to the heartland of America.¹ One northern journalist wrote in late 2004, “There’s no need to hide from this fact: The battle for the American soul that was this election is over, and the red states won.” The Massachusetts legislature called for a regional convention to consider secession.² The elections seemed to be evidence of important and emerging social and cultural divisions by region. This conceit, however, misconstrued America’s social geography and how it...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT How Americans Prayed: Religious Diversity and Change
    (pp. 186-211)

    From the beginning of the nation, foreign observers noted how much more devout Americans were than the European peoples from whom they had sprung. That devotion increased over the nineteenth century as higher proportions of Americans became “churched.” A century ago, British ambassador to America Lord Bryce wrote that “Christianity influences conduct [in America] … probably more than it does in any other modern country, and far more than it did in the so-called ages of faith.” Surveys in the latter part of the twentieth century repeatedly found that among Western people Americans most commonly believed in God, practiced religion,...

  13. CHAPTER NINE When Americans Disagreed: Cultural Fragmentation and Conflict
    (pp. 212-239)

    As the twentieth century drew to a close, learned observers worried that Americans were splintering apart on cultural issues. Books with titles such as CultureWars, The Disuniting of America, Postethnic America, and We’re All Multiculturalists Now described a people divided by ancestry, lifestyles, and moral values. Many election postmortems of 2000 and 2004 claimed that voters cast their ballots more in accord with moral stances than with their economic interests. Although these claims were overblown—in 2004 the issue of terrorism certainly mattered most—they reflected a long-term concern about cultural disintegration. Other learned observers responded to these warnings by...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion: The Direction of Americans’ Differences
    (pp. 240-252)

    On September 1, 2005, deep in the American South, only about five hundred miles from where Italians were lynched in 1900, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team featured “Italian Heritage Night”—to be followed by Polish and Irish Heritage Nights. (That same summer the San Francisco Giants presented “Asian-American Heritage Night” in their ballpark at China Basin, only a brief walk from the place where Chinese immigrants were murdered in the nineteenth century.) The Italians who over a century before had marched out of Washington Square in Manhattan to honor Columbus (see chapter 1) could hardly have imagined how...

  15. APPENDIX A Combining Parametric and Nonparametric Regressions to Study How Trends Differ Among Subpopulations
    (pp. 253-259)
  16. APPENDIX B Income Differences or Income Ratios?
    (pp. 260-261)
  17. APPENDIX C Procedures and Data for the Fragmentation Analysis in Chapter 9
    (pp. 262-272)
    Jane Zavisca
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 273-362)
    (pp. 363-402)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 403-414)