Every new generation is the least religious generation

There are pretty regularly occurring stories about the decline in U.S. religiosity. Usually the data come from either downward trends in church attendance or upward trends in religious “nones”—that is, people who say “none” or “atheist/agnostic” or “nothing in particular” when asked about their main religious identity or affiliation.

I got curious about what this really involves and decided to check the long-term trends in the U.S. General Social Survey (GSS). I combined information on religious attendance and “nones” into a single overall religiosity measure.

The main empirical issue is the age-period-cohort one. We know that the U.S. adult population is made up of less religious folks now than it was, say, 10 or 20 years ago. But how has this occurred? Is it mostly about religiosity declining for everyone over time, as, say, many folks who used to go to church have now stopped? Or is it mainly cohort/generation replacement, where older and more religious generations have been dying off, replaced by younger and less religious generations? Or what?

Looking at the numbers, I find that it’s mainly cohort/generation replacement. Across the 43 years of GSS data, the linear changes within cohorts over time are really weak. That is, looking at, say, people born in the 1950s across the full range of years from 1972 to 2014, there’s little overall change in their religiosity as they age through the years—so, e.g., they have been about as religious in their 50s as they were in their 30s. But the cohort differences are pretty big—e.g., people born in the 1970s have been substantially less religious in their 30s than were people born in the 1950s. (Having said that, an important wrinkle is that most cohorts show a temporary drop in religiosity when people are in their mid-20s. These are ages where most have left their parents’ higher-attendance households but haven’t adopted their own married-with-children pattern that’s typical of mid-adult churchgoers.)

So, if you want to see the long-term trends in religiosity, mostly you want to see how cohorts differ from each other (while smoothing over the temporary mid-20s drop so as not to overestimate the difference between younger and older folks). That’s the chart below. It shows half-decade cohorts starting with people born in the late 1900s (so, born from 1905 to 1909) and ending with people born in the late 1980s (born 1985 to 1989). The different bar segments show religiosity percentages within the cohorts. Most simply: the blues are the true “nones”; the blues plus oranges are people who rarely attend services; the greys are moderately religious; and the yellows are highly religious. The long version is that the bar segments show percentages of the cohorts that: are “nones” who rarely attend religious services (the blue segments, labeled 0); have a religious identity but rarely attend services, along with a few “nones” who attend services with some frequency but not weekly (the orange segments, labeled 1); have a religious identity and attend services with some frequency but not weekly, along with a handful of “nones” who attend services weekly (the grey segments, labeled 2); and have a religious identity and attend services weekly (the yellow segments, labeled 3).


From those born in the late 1900s to those born in the early 1930s, overall there was a trend of decreasing religiosity, but not a very strong one. These cohorts were actually central players in the mid-20th century rise in religiosity. The 1950s were weird in lots of ways, and two of them involved unusually high fertility along with unusually high church attendance relative to prior and later decades.

The modern generational drop really kicked off with those born in the late 1930s. For them and every generation since, each new generation has been unambiguously less religious than the generation that came before it. There were particularly notable declines for those born in the early 1940s and those born in the late 1970s. This is a good reminder of the imprecision of generational labels. When it comes to declining religiosity, a lot of it has been laid at the feet of Baby Boomers and Millennials. Yet the faster changes actually kicked off with the folks in the second half of the Silent Generation and then again for those in the second half of Generation X.

The accumulated generational shifts are a really big deal. For those born in the early 1930s, for example, just under 5% were non-attending “nones” and around 44% were weekly churchgoers. For those born in the early 1980s, in contrast, these two extremes are essentially tied at around 22% each—“nones” increased more than fourfold while weekly churchgoers dropped by half.

An important shift over time has been in the fact that non-churchgoers are a lot more likely to identify as “nones” than they used to. For those born in the early 20th century, only around 10% or 15% of non-churchgoers were “nones”; for the late-1980s generation, in contrast, about half of non-churchgoers are “nones”. You can see this in the chart, where the blue segments (the non-attending “nones”) have been getting bigger, but the orange segments (mostly non-attending folks who nonetheless maintain a religious identity) have only shrunk a bit.

And so, when you see stories about how religiosity is declining or about how young people are less religious than older people, remind yourself that very similar stories could have been (and surely were) written 10 years ago, or 20, or 30, or 40. Of course this doesn’t mean that religiosity will necessarily keep declining across generations, particularly at the rate it has been. The thing is, you never know when something like this might start leveling out, or even if we could have another period like the 1950s where we see sudden reversals in secular trends. So even though religious decline has been happening for a while, it’s always actually interesting news to find out that it’s still happening.

Vaguely interesting (Sept 28)

(1)  “[T]he paper analyzes data on the relationship between study subjects’ beliefs in evolution, their religiosity, and their scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), a measure of critical-reasoning proficiencies …. Far from uniformly inclining individuals to believe in evolution, higher CRT scores magnified the division between relatively religious and relatively nonreligious study subjects.”

(2)  “Between 1980 and 2008–2012, educational assortative mating reversed from a tendency for women to marry up to a tendency for women to marry down in education, whereas the tendency for women to marry men with higher incomes than themselves persisted.”

(3)  “The Reproductive Ecology of Industrial Societies” (part 1 and part 2)

(4)  Is it morally wrong? Abortion: 44%. Homosexuality: 35%. Using birth control: 4%.

(5)  “The sudden, incredible decline in teen births

Vaguely interesting (Sept 23)

(1)  “But Fiske expresses these views in an unvetted attack in an unmoderated forum with no peer review or opportunity for comments or rebuttals, meanwhile referring to her unnamed adversaries as ‘methodological terrorists.’ Sounds like unfiltered trash talk to me. But, then again, I haven’t seen Fiske on the basketball court so I really have no idea what she sounds like when she’s really trash talkin’.”

(2)  “Roughly speaking, a white voter will lean left if she is ‘more college than church’ and will lean right if she is ‘more church than college.’”

(3)  Two-thirds of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. have lived here for 10 years or more.

(4)  “As the economic elite have become more diverse and highly educated, they have also grown more liberal, particularly on social issues. The GOP’s reliance on religious conservatives and racially resentful whites has cost the party an increasingly large share of the ascendant professional class.”

(5)  “The self-promoting academic has emerged hand-in-hand with the marketization of universities …. If you haven’t yet met the Trump Academic, you should probably get out more. Increasingly they will be hard to miss as the motivations coalesce around work which pleases governments, university managers and students.”

Vaguely interesting (Sept 19)

(1)  “Contrary to allocators’ predictions, the average receiver was happier when allocated more money by an unfair procedure than when allocated less money by a fair procedure.”

(2)  “So trade with China hit the U.S. working class hard in terms of jobs and wages. But its consumption benefits flowed far more to the middle and upper-middle classes. This shows how difficult it is to wave away the distributional effects of international trade.”

(3)  “Populist campaigns have prefigured, provoked, and sometimes precipitated political realignments. … In the left-wing strain, epitomized by Long, Perot, Occupy Wall Street, and Sanders, populists champion the people against the elites. In the right-wing strain, it’s also the people versus the elitesbut the elites are attacked for coddling and subsidizing a third ‘out group,’ such as African Americans (Wallace) or immigrants who have entered the country illegally (Buchanan, the Tea Party, and Trump).”

(4)  “[J]ust 3% of American adults own nearly half of guns in the US.”

(5)  “Ten Famous Psychology Findings That It’s Been Difficult To Replicate”

Idle men living with parents: Is it a real, new thing?

Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith recently discussed employment. Cowen mentioned “structural factors” responsible for the recent decline in young men’s labor force participation. When Smith asked what these were, here was Cowen’s answer: “[T]he internet may be the biggest. It is easier to have fun while unemployed. … Maybe employers just aren’t that keen to hire those males who prefer to live at home, watch porn and not get married.”

Cowen is getting this in large part from economist Erik Hurst. Hurst recently summarized some of his points in a speech posted online. The basic argument is that young men (particularly young men without college degrees) are increasingly avoiding work and marriage and living in their parents’ homes in large part because of the lure of the internet and video games. (Derek Thompson has also discussed Hurst’s claims at The Atlantic here and here.)

This struck me as roughly plausible when I first heard it. But then I started focusing in on some of the details. For example, Hurst talks about work and marriage trends of men in their early 20s without really addressing college trends. For example, in discussing the decline in the employment of young men, Hurst notes: “You might think it’s matched by a rise in school attendance for this age group. That is not the case.” Yeah, OK, not “matched,” but how much is offset by school attendance? If, say, 75% of the employment decline is offset by college attendance, then it’s a very different picture than if only 25% is. Another example of a problematic detail is that Hurst makes his points by comparing 2000 with 2014/2015. This compares a strong overall labor market to a weak one. I mean, look, the employment rate for women in their 20s in 2000 was around 71% but in 2014/2015 was only around 66%. The male drop may be bigger, but, again, it matters how much bigger. We need to see some pretty impressive numbers here to believe that we’ve entered a new normal where the draw of online entertainment is keeping lots of young men in their parents’ basements and away from reality-based pursuits.

Basically, these moves tend to artificially inflate the importance of the phenomenon Hurst is discussing. And there are others he uses as well—e.g., making comparisons within the non-degreed when the percentage of non-degreed men is dropping over time (i.e., a bigger problem within a smaller group may not ultimately imply a much bigger problem overall); e.g., talking about marriage drops without simultaneously discussing rising non-marital cohabitation; e.g., talking about living with “parents or close relatives” as though living in an apartment with a similar-aged sibling or cousin is equivalent to living in one’s parents’ basement.

There may be something there, but before we get too excited we need a deck that is less stacked. So I decided to go check some numbers myself. I ended up running two analyses. In the first, I take a long view of male employment and school enrollment using BLS and Census data. In the second, I use the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth to get a very detailed look at men in their mid/late-20s. The overall picture tells me that the idle-men-living-with-parents thing isn’t (yet) a big enough deal to justify talk of a new normal, much less to justify expansive views on its motivating causes.

Long-term trends in young men’s school and work

Here I took BLS data on employment-population ratios from 1948 to 2015 and combined it with Census data on school enrollment from 1948 to 2014 (and used 2014 numbers to fill in 2015, which isn’t available yet). From these sources, we can get the percentage in school and the percentage working, but the wrinkle is that there’s some overlap (i.e., men both working and in school). I used the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth to come up with age-specific estimates of the typical relative work rates of those in school and not in school and used the same relative rate to allocate the overlap in each year—this could throw the numbers off if this relative rate has been changing over time, so take this with that grain of salt.

The chart below shows the trends. Start with the chart for ages 16 and 17 (in the upper-left corner). The blue bars on the bottom are young men working but not in school and the black bars are young men both working and in school—combine these and that’s the BLS employment-population ratio from that year. The green bars are those in school but not working—combine green with black and that’s the Census school enrollment figure from that year. The red bars up top are the idle young men, not in school and not working. For those ages 16 and 17, there has obviously been a big drop in employment, with the combined black and blue sections totaling over 40% in the 1950s but less than 20% following the Great Recession. But was the decline generally offset by the rise in school attendance? Yes, clearly. In fact, there were more idle 16/17-year olds in the 1950s than there are now. There has been a slight rise in the past few years due to declining school attendance, but it doesn’t look to me like it’s enough to panic over. In general, the 16/17 guys are working less than they used to and in school more, but there’s no indication of an important new trend in idleness here.


Let’s move to ages 18 and 19 (upper-right corner). Again, there’s a big drop in labor force participation, from over 60% in the 1950s to less than 40% following the Great Recession. But, again, it’s been mostly offset by increases in school enrollment. The red bars—representing idle young men—have fluctuated between lows around 10% and highs in the 15%-20% range, but without a strong linear trend. The idleness rate is at the high end now, but is about where it was at the height of the major recession in the early 1980s. That’s a real problem, but (1) it’s not some new historically unprecedented level and (2) it’s probably too early to talk about whether the new high level will persist, particularly given the slow-but-steady upward trend in employment since 2009.

The story for men ages 20 to 24 (lower-left corner) is similar to the story for 18/19-year olds. Employment has been dropping, but rising school enrollment has mostly offset the employment drop. We’re now at a high-but-not-unprecedented level of idleness among the 20 to 24 guys, with slowly rising employment numbers since 2009. Again, I don’t see how these numbers can reasonably be sold as a new normal caused by internet/porn/video games.

And now we get to the men ages 25 to 34 (lower-right corner). Here we see a similar story, but with a somewhat more worrisome ending. Employment has dropped since the 1960s, with a huge drop in 2009 that has slowly but only partially recovered since. Education has picked up some of that slack but not all of it, leading to increased idleness rates. The percentage of men ages 25 to 34 not working and not in school increased from an average of around 5% or 6% in the 1950s to 1970s, to around 10% from the 1980s to 2008, to over 16% at the height of the Great Recession, and back down to around 14% in the past couple of years. Is there a troubling trend? Yes. Is it a new normal? Maybe, or maybe not.

Overall, I’d say that (1) we’ve clearly seen long-term trends away from work and towards school for young men, (2) for young men ages 18 to 34 the Great Recession resulted in an abrupt decrease in work that was not meaningfully offset by increased school enrollment, which led to higher idleness rates, (3) for younger young men these idleness rates are basically in line with past serious recessions, (4) but for older young men the idleness rates have been unusually elevated, though declining steadily since the height of the Great Recession. I’m just not sure how compelling a they-love-video-games-too-much-to-want-to-be-productive story is here.

A closer look at mid/late-20s men

Next I turned to the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, both the 1979 panel and the 1997 panel, which give a fuller view but of more limited samples. They have most of the variables we’re interested in—work, school, marriage, cohabitation, and living with parents. They also present a happy accident. As we just saw, we’re mostly interested in men 25 to 34. Not only have the NLSY samples surveyed men in this range, but the 1997 panel ended up catching men ages 25 to 28 both right before and in the early years of the Great Recession. This allows for a three-way comparison—we can look at the 25 to 28 men (1) from the 1979 panel surveyed mostly from 1984 to 1991 (which overall were relatively strong economic years), (2) from the 1997 panel surveyed from 2006 to 2008 (another relatively strong economic period), and (3) from the 1997 panel surveyed from 2009 to 2011 (a very weak economic period). This allows a comparison of a pre-internet strong period and a post-internet strong period, and then a second comparison of immediately pre- and post-Great Recession.

The chart below looks at work and school for these NLSY men ages 25 to 28. We do see an increase in those neither working nor in school (the red wedges) from the 1984-1991 period to the 2006-2008 period—from 10.3% to 13.5%. And then the Great Recession abruptly increased this to 18%. As was generally the case in the earlier chart for men ages 25 to 34, we see a substantial decrease in work coupled with a smaller increase in school enrollment.


The next chart shows living situations—whether they were married, cohabiting, and/or living with parents. The orange, red, and purple wedges are men living with parents (the red wedges are the real point of interest, namely, men living with parents but not with a spouse or cohabiting partner). From the late-1980s to the pre-Great-Recession years, the total living with parents did increase from 21.4% to 24.8%, though most of this increase came not from single men but from married/cohabiting men. In fact, single men living with parents (the red wedges alone) showed only a small increase from 19.5% to 21% over this 20-year period. The big change over this period was away from marriage. But it was not from marriage to living with parents, rather it was primarily from marriage to cohabitation, and secondarily from marriage to living without parents or a partner. The increase in single men living with parents from the late-1980s to the mid-2000s was trivial.


When we compare living arrangement from the 2006-2008 period to the 2009-2011 period, we do see a bump in single men living with parents, from 21% to 24.1%. It looks like this bump is mostly coming from further declines in marriage. Again, I don’t see how we construct a technology-made-them-do-it story here, or how centrally important that story would be even if marginally true.

Getting really detailed

The real payoff of the NLSY data is that we can look directly at very detailed combinations of features. It’s too much to put in a chart, but I’ll describe some central points.

Most important, what are the numbers on the stars of the Hurst/Cowen narrative—namely, men who are not working, not in school, not married, not cohabiting, and living with their parent(s)? Prepare to be underwhelmed. For men ages 25 to 28 in the 1984 to 1991 period, the idle/uncoupled/basement-dwelling were 3.9% of the sample. In 2006 to 2008, they were 4.8% of the sample. Let’s pause here. The story is that we’ve got idle men living in their parents’ basements because of internet porn and video games. The direct look from NLSY data at pre- and post-internet (but pre-Great Recession) men shows an increase in idle basement-dwellers from 3.9% to 4.8%. Now, for the 2009 to 2011 period, the number jumps to 6.7%. Again, is there a troubling trend? Yes. Is it a new normal? Maybe, or maybe not. Is it something that deserves broad conclusions or breathless headlines? Almost surely not.

Further, the bigger gains in living with parents have come not from idle men but from men who work or are in school. Among those not working or not in school, 41% were living with parents in the 1984 to 1991 period, 39% in 2006 to 2008, and 42% in 2009 to 2011. For working men the numbers go from 19% to 22% to 24%. For men in school it’s 21% to 23% to 29%. One can cite statistics on increased living-with-parents next to statistics on idleness, but that doesn’t mean that the increase in male idleness is the main driver of increases in young men living with parents.

The NLSY data among men ages 25 to 28 indeed show a big decrease of 17 points from the late-1980s to the mid-2000s in men who were working, married, and not living with parents—from 38.7% down to 21.7%. The main offsetting increases came from men who were: working, cohabiting, and not living with parents (+7.8); idle and not with a partner or parents (+2); working and not with a partner or parents (+1.7); working, cohabiting, and living with parents (+1.3); and idle, cohabiting, and not living with parents (+1.1).

The transition from pre- to post-Great Recession resulted in a further 3-point decline in men who were working, married, and not living with parents, as well as declines among those working and not with a partner or parents (-1.5), and those working, cohabiting, and not living with parents (-1.3). The main offsets in the height of the Great Recession were from men who were idle, not partnered, and living with parents (+1.9), as well as idle, cohabiting, and not living with a parent (+1.3).

It’s a nice story, but…

There are, I think, three big things going on with these data. (1) Young people have been marrying less and later. (2) Young men have been working less and going to school more. (These two major trends interact, and result generally in a slower transition to adult patterns.) And (3) recessions suck, and great ones suck greatly.

Most of the other trends here are either small or incidental to these Big 3. Yes, a few more men are living with parents. It’s partly a small thing of its own, and also about extended educations and avoided marriages, and also about the Great Recession. Yes, a few more men are idle. It’s partly a small thing of its own, and also about declining marriage rates, and also about the Great Recession. Yes, new technology is great. It probably has an effect on reducing incentives for work and school, but not a very big one.

Like I said, I was initially inclined to be persuaded that Hurst’s thesis of idle young men was importantly true. Why is that? Mainly, I had an overblown impression of the extent of the current problem of youth idleness in comparison with prior recession periods. But it’s probably also because it’s easier for those of us in comfortable positions to look at the current struggles of many young adults and think that it’s mostly because it’s what they really want, because they like it that way, because they deserve it. The story about new technology enhancing leisure quality is fantastic for those purposes (with the added bonus of enhancing the storyteller’s feelings of moral superiority). Such stories are really easy to believe. But, you know, that’s why we check the numbers.

Vaguely interesting (Sept 15)

(1) “We can continue doing things the old way which means we will continue to produce noisy, unreplicable research, or we can change for the better. The simplest and most productive thing we can do so is to increase the power of our research. In most cases, this can be achieved simply by increasing the average sample size of our studies.”

(2) “As many as 1 in 5 Americans would be in poverty without Social Security and tax credits for the working poor.”

(3)  “But as with many branches of psychology, wise interventions are taking a battering. A new wave of studies that attempted to replicate the promising experiments have found discouraging results.”

(4)  “The Democratic Party is becoming less white, less religious and better-educated at a faster rate than the country as a whole, while aging at a slower rate.”

(5) “Peer reviewers themselves may view the monument as a place of worship.”

Vaguely interesting (Sept 9)

(1)  “The more attractive our leisure time, the less we’ll want to work …. Certain technologies—such as video games and social media and the internet—have increased the value of leisure time.”

(2)  “The more likely outcome is that American party politics will experience a recalibration, with new issues gaining prominence, but little change in the two parties’ major constituencies.”

(3)  “[The right] wants its own opinions to set the national tone. It wants them to prevail, to wield cultural and social power in a way they believe they once did and no longer do. Which is another way of saying that the anti-PC crowd is primarily animated and provoked by a sense of defeat, failure, and cultural grievance.”

(4)  “Clinton has commissioned numerous experiments to score the effectiveness and cost efficiency of different methods of voter outreach — TV, radio, directmail, online display ads, Web videos, phone calls, etc.”

(5)  “Few blue-collar workers have college degrees, but a lot of people without college degrees are NOT blue-collar workers.”

Vaguely interesting (Sept 2)

(1)  “That’s the crux of the replication crisis. No one knows precisely how to calibrate their level of disquiet.”

(2)  Tips on being an intelligent consumer of general election polls.

(3)  “Services like Netflix save our kids from over 150 hours of ads for sugary cereal, rot-your-teeth soda, over-hyped toys, and more every year.”

(4)  “In 2014 four incumbents lost their primary contests. This year five have lost. Behold the fury of the American electorate.”

(5)  The U.S. has been in an officially designated “national emergency” for 15 years.

Vaguely interesting (Aug 26)

(1)  “The chimpanzees used a combination of partner choice and punishment of competitive individuals to reduce competition. In the end, cooperation won.”

(2)  “False report probability is likely to exceed 50% for the whole literature. In light of our findings the recently reported low replication success in psychology is realistic and worse performance may be expected for cognitive neuroscience.”

(3)  The self-interested roots of nationalist socialism: Turns out that white people who rely on government benefits like the idea of prioritizing government benefits for white people.

(4)  If you ask people raised-religious-but-no-longer-religious why they’re no longer religious, they tell you super-illuminating things like it’s because they no longer believe it, or it’s because they disapprove of organized religion. (Dear Researchers: Humans don’t generally have conscious insight into why they do complicated things. Ask them hard questions about personal motives and you’ll get banal self-presentation.)

(5)  “At the moment, … every state is predicted to vote for the same party as in 2012 except for North Carolina, which flips from red to blue. (Because only two states, North Carolina and Indiana, voted differently in 2008 and 2012, FiveThirtyEight also forecasts a duplication of the 2008 outcome in every state but one.)”

Trends in personal income

It’s really hard to make meaningful comparisons of income over time. There’s the obvious issue of inflation and deflation—people have more dollars now but each dollar buys less of lots of things (e.g., housing and food) though more of others (e.g., technology). The usual fix is to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or something similar to adjust incomes for purchasing power across a basket of goods and services.

But other important factors keep changing as well. We often hear about long-term trends in median household income, yet we don’t have the same households as we did a few decades ago. According to U.S. General Social Survey (GSS) data, for example, the typical household had 3.3 people in the 1970s compared with only 2.5 in the early 2010s. Flat household incomes would actually imply rising living standards given shrinking households. And household incomes are particularly tricky to measure consistently given changes in the tax code, spousal support, governmental cash benefits, governmental non-cash benefits, and so on.

Even just trying to compare individuals’ earnings from work over time is remarkably challenging. Some patterns imply higher personal incomes. For instance, folks with 4-year college degrees tend to make a lot more than folks without them, and the percentage of full-time workers with 4-year degrees basically doubled from around 18% in the 1970s to around 36% in the early 2010s. Older workers tend to make more money than younger ones, and the average age of full-time workers has increased by a few years over the past decades. People working longer hours make more, and full-time workers have been working a couple/few more hours on average (though this trend was interrupted by the Great Recession).

On the other hand, some worker trends imply lower personal incomes. Whites tend to make more than non-whites, and the percentage of the full-time workforce that is non-Hispanic white has declined from around 85% in the 1970s to around 66% in the early 2010s. Men tend to make more than women, and the percentage of the full-time workforce that is male has declined from around two-thirds in the 1970s to just over half in the early 2010s.

So what’s really going on with income trends? Here, I look at the basic question of how pre-tax, CPI-adjusted, personal cash incomes from full-time workers have changed over time, taking into account education, gender, race, hours worked, and age. What groups of full-time workers have seen incomes decline or rise over the past 40 years?

I used GSS data from 1972 to 2014. I took their CPI-adjusted personal income item, adjusted it further into 2016 dollars, and capped it at $250k (otherwise it has some big outliers). I then examined the role of education, gender, race, hours worked, and age, including looking for ways in which the links between these factors and income have changed over time.

Here’s the big picture. The full-time income gap based on race hasn’t moved much. The gap between men and women has shrunk. The gap between the college-degreed and the less-educated has grown. The gap between those working longer and shorter full-time hours has grown. The gap between older and younger workers has grown. Add all these together and some groups on average have had substantially declining incomes over the past 40 years (e.g., less-educated men who don’t work long hours), while others have had substantially rising incomes (e.g., older degreed women who work long hours).

The charts below show regression-based income estimates for various groups of full-time workers, broken down by whether they have 4-year degrees or not, whether they’re male or female, whether they work longer hours or not, and whether they’re younger or older. Using regression-based procedures allows estimates that assume constant values for race (so, all the reported group numbers assume the same racial composition), education (so, all the numbers for degreed folks assume the same rates of graduate education and for non-degreed folks assume the same rates of high-school graduation and college attendance), hours worked (so, all 45+ hour groups assume the same number of hours worked and all <45 hour groups assume the same number of hours worked), and age (so, all 35+ groups assume the same age composition and all <35 groups assume the same age composition). This is as close as I can come to making this an apples-to-apples comparison—looking at how similarly situated workers have had changing real incomes over time. I put the various groups into two charts, the first for degreed workers and the second for non-degreed workers.

IncDeg(Technical notes: The sample size is 7,405. Results are weighted.)

The big stand-out in the chart above is degreed women who work 45+ hours and are 35 or older. For this group, plugging in various constant values as I described above, those in the mid-1970s were making around $55k (in 2016 dollars), while those in the early 2010s were making around $93k. That’s just a really big deal. Other groups of degreed women have also seen rising incomes, though more modestly, increasing around $10k from the mid-1970s to the early 2010s. Degreed men, though, have generally had relatively flat incomes on this apples-to-apples comparison, with the exception of those who both work longer hours and are older, whose incomes increased by around $14k. Overall, the news has been good for degreed full-time workers.

The next chart is non-degreed workers. Here, overall, it’s not good news. Most groups have had declining incomes on an apples-to-apples comparison. It’s been particularly bad for non-degreed men, especially for those who don’t work long hours—at ages 35 and older, incomes declined from around $65k in the mid-1970s to around $47k in the early 2010s, and for those younger than 35 the decline was from around $43k to $29k. Longer-hour-working younger men also declined from around $48k to $37k. In other words, these are all groups that lost around a quarter of their former incomes. There was only one non-degreed group that showed a meaningful gain in income—older women who work longer hours, who went from around $40k to $47k from the mid-1970s to the early 2010s.

IncNoDeg(Technical notes: The sample size is 18,381. Results are weighted.)

So many pieces to these puzzles

Several important social trends interact with these changes in income. More women and fewer men, and more older people and fewer younger people, are working in the first place—both trends that are probably related to changes in incentives from available incomes. More young people (especially non-degreed young people) are living with their parents—something probably related to higher work rates and incomes for older women combined with declining work rates and incomes among younger folks.

Marriage has been declining, particularly among the less educated—male income levels probably are in part a cause and in part an effect here. And fertility has been declining—something probably related simultaneously to declining marriage rates, reduced male work and incomes, and, most obviously, higher female education and work rates and incomes.

This says something about how hard these issues—incomes, work rates, education, living arrangements, marriage, fertility, etc.—are to analyze. It’s just a ridiculously complicated array of interconnected and constantly changing social patterns. Any analysis too simple will be laughably incomplete; anything too in depth won’t be understandable to non-cyborgs. Pity the social scientist.

Clinton’s high-education women vs. Trump’s low-education men

You can’t look at the income charts above without thinking of the current presidential election. The big story this year appears to be that Clinton is drawing particularly increased support from college-educated white women while Trump is disproportionately holding non-degreed white men. The former are among the biggest winners from income changes in the last few decades while the latter are among the biggest losers.

It’s a reminder that Trump’s message of making America “great” “again” isn’t just about race, religion, and gender, but education as well. In a time that has not yet passed from living memory, older non-degreed men were able to work a 40 hour week and make pretty good money. Their non-degreed sons and grandsons face a very different world. Those of us who are generally on the winning side of recent trends might rightly oppose Trump and his positions, yet this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the genuinely disorienting decline in the relative social position of his supporters. Trump will probably lose this election, but the social realities propelling his candidacy will remain.

Social science for the pleeps