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A Portrait of America

A Portrait of America: The Demographic Perspective

John Iceland
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    A Portrait of America
    Book Description:

    Portrait of Americadescribes our nation's changing population and examines through a demographic lens some of our most pressing contemporary challenges, ranging from poverty and economic inequality to racial tensions and health disparities. Celebrated authorJohn Iceland covers various topics, including America's historical demographic growth; the American family today; gender inequality; economic well-being; immigration and diversity; racial and ethnic inequality; internal migration and residential segregation; and health and mortality.The discussion of these topics is informed by several sources, including an examination of household survey data, and by syntheses of existing published material, both quantitative and qualitative. Iceland discusses the current issues and controversies around these themes, highlighting their role in everyday debates taking place in Congress, the media, and in American living rooms. Each chapter includes historical background, as well as a discussion of how patterns and trends in the United States compare to those in peer countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95910-1
    Subjects: Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The lives of Americans have changed spectacularly from the colonial times to the present. The late eighteenth-century American woman, for example, would most likely have been of English extraction and lived in a rural community somewhere on the East Coast, such as in Massachusetts or Virginia. If she were in her mid-20s she would already be married and would eventually give birth to about seven children, though some would die in childhood. She would consider herself lucky if she lived to see her 70th birthday. She would work with her husband on a family farm, focusing mostly on tasks in...

  6. 1 American Demographic Growth
    (pp. 15-37)

    The American colonies, while still sparsely populated through much of the 1700s, were nevertheless recognized as having tremendous potential for demographic growth, wealth, and power. In his 1776 book,An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith noted:

    But though North America is not yet so rich as England, it is much more thriving, and advancing with much greater rapidity to the greater acquisition of riches. The most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country is the increase in the number of its inhabitants…. Nor in the present times...

  7. 2 The American Family
    (pp. 38-60)

    Changes in the American family over the last half century have been astonishing. The idealized view of the American family consisting of a married mom and dad with two children has nearly gone by the wayside, and we have instead seen a large increase in the number of single-parent families and people living alone or with housemates. Jason DeParle, a journalist who has written extensively about household living arrangements and poverty, described one woman’s path to single parenthood: Jessica Schairer, a mother of three, grew up in a traditional small town outside Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Her father drove a beer...

  8. 3 Gender Inequality
    (pp. 61-82)

    The last fifty years have been marked by profound changes in people’s views on gender norms and patterns of gender inequality. The women’s rights movement and accompanying social changes have significantly reduced women’s disadvantage in the labor force and other arenas. The changes have been so deep that some commentators have questioned whether current trends portend a reversal in patterns of gender inequality, leaving men at a distinct disadvantage. Hanna Rosin argues: “For much of history, the mark of an enviable woman has been her ability to secure a superior match, through her beauty, cleverness, or artful deception. After civil...

  9. 4 Economic Well-Being
    (pp. 83-106)

    The growth of the U.S. economy over the long haul has been exceptional. This growth has been accompanied by rising living standards—meaning that children could generally expect to earn more, in real terms, than their parents. Increasing standards of living have also been accompanied by the widespread dissemination of wondrous household appliances and consumer products, including—over just the last hundred years or so—automobiles, radios, televisions, dishwashers, microwave ovens, personal computers, smart phones, and tablets. The health of the population has also improved, and life expectancies have grown longer. Far fewer people in the United States die of...

  10. 5 Immigration and Growing Diversity
    (pp. 107-137)

    The United States is often said to be a land of immigrants—and with good reason. Immigration from a wide variety of other countries has continuously changed the character of this country. The initial wave of colonial settlement from England and around it—along with the large number of involuntary immigrants from Africa sold into slavery—eventually gave way to immigration from the rest of northern and western Europe in the early to mid-1800s. The stream of immigration then shifted to eastern and southern Europe by the end of the nineteenth century. Immigration slowed to a trickle after the passage...

  11. 6 Racial and Ethnic Inequality
    (pp. 138-163)

    Racism has a long history in the United States. The country’s Founding Fathers were deeply ambivalent about the institution of slavery. On the one hand, slavery stood in opposition to the ideals famously expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” On the other hand, the founders did not advocate for immediate emancipation of slaves for at least three reasons: their need to compromise with pro-slavery advocates...

  12. 7 Migration and Residential Segregation
    (pp. 164-187)

    In the first decades of the twentieth century cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cleveland—all in the Northeast and Midwest—were magnets for jobs and people. The population of New York, for example, doubled from 3.4 million to 6.9 million between 1900 and 1930; Chicago did the same, from to 1.7 million to 3.4 million. The past thirty years or so have produced a decidedly different pattern. While New York still managed to grow from 1980 to 2010, the populations of Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cleveland all declined. These are just some of the cities of...

  13. 8 Health and Mortality
    (pp. 188-206)

    Few issues have been more contentious than the state of our nation’s health and health care system. People differ in their views on how to best deliver quality care while containing health care costs that threaten to overwhelm federal and state budgets. As a way of providing a firm factual footing for these discussions, the National Academies convened an expert panel of researchers to report on the health of Americans in comparison with people in a number of peer countries. The report, released in 2013, was ominously titledU.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Indeed, the panel...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-212)

    My goal in this book has been to provide a detailed account of the changing population of the United States. Gaining a deeper insight into who we are as a country is facilitated by recognizing where we’ve been and comparing our situation to that of our peer countries. Understanding our history helps us gauge where we are going, and looking at our peers gives us a sense of the alternative paths we could have taken and the forces that have made us different.

    A demographic lens helps provide a connection between various social and economic phenomena in American society. Sometimes...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 213-230)
  16. References
    (pp. 231-266)
  17. Index
    (pp. 267-276)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)