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The Old America

Release of 1940 Census provides a “then-and-now” comparison of the U.S.
  • April 09 2012

Historians consider 1940 to be a pivotal year for the U.S. The Great Depression was waning, and many Americans were finding their way out to prosperity. The country was on the brink of war, with entry into World War II a year away. And technology—in the form of the radio and the flush toilet—made its way into most households.

Now, 72 years later, the National Archives and Records Administration has made this information accessible to all Americans with the release of the 1940 census. This project—highly anticipated by historians, archivists and genealogists—was a sizable undertaking. In all, some 3.8 million digital images of census records have been released. Demand for this data has been so strong that in the first three hours the information was available, 22.5 million people tried to get to the website, paralyzing the system.

The 1940 results provide an interesting a “then-and-now” comparison to another pivotal year: 2010. Clearly, the country has changed in many ways. This information is taken from a series of infographics created by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Population: The 1940 census counted 132.2 million people, compared to 308.7 million in 2010. Interestingly, nearly one in six people who were counted in 1940 were also counted in 2010.

State population: The five most populated states in 1940 were New York (13.4 million), Pennsylvania (9.9 million), Illinois (7.9 million), Ohio (6.9 million) and California (6.9 million). Since then, the U.S. population has shifted west and south. In 2010, the five most populated states were California (37.2 million), Texas (25.1 million), New York (19.3 million), Florida (18.8 million) and Illinois (12.8 million).

Education: In 1940, just 5 percent of the population had a bachelor’s degree. In 2010, 28 percent of the population did, and that figure has already jumped to more than 30 percent. The biggest change has been in terms of women’s access to higher education. In 1940, 3.8 percent of females 25 or older had a college degree; today it is 28 percent.

Earnings: Women still make less in the workplace, but the wage gap is shrinking. In 1940, women earned 62 cents for every dollar a man earned. Today it is 74 cents.

Diversity: Almost 90 percent of the U.S. population identified as White in the 1940 census. In 2010, just 72 percent was White.

Industries: There has been much dramatic upheaval in the country’s top industries. In 1940, manufacturing employed nearly a quarter of the population (23.4 percent). Today, just 10.4 percent are in that sector.

 

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