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Century of Difference

Diversity and Unity Among Americans, 1900-2000

Claude S. Fischer, Michael Hout

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

THE CONCERNS of the present, historians warn, often direct our views of the past. A couple of generations ago, in the middle of the twentieth century, learned observers worried that America had become a bland, uniform, conformist mass society; the specter of the Nuremberg...

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1. Introduction: The American Variations, 1900 to 2000

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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...

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2. How America Expanded Education and Why It Mattered

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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...

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3. Where Americans Came From: Race, Immigration, and Ancestry

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pp. 23-56

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...

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4. How Americans Lived: Families and Life Courses in Flux

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pp. 57-95

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...

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5. How Americans Worked: New Workers, New Jobs, and New Differences

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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...

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6. What Americans Had: Differences in Living Standards

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pp. 137-161

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...

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7. Where Americans Lived: The Redrawing of America's Social Geography

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pp. 162-185

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...

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8. How Americans Prayed: Religious Diversity and Change

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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...

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9. When Americans Disagreed: Cultural Fragmentation and Conflict

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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 Culture Wars, The Disuniting of America, Postethnic America, and We’re All Multiculturalists Now described a people divided by ancestry...

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10. Conclusion: The Direction of American's Differences

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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...

Appendix A: Combining Parametric and Nonparametric Regressions to Study How Trends Differ Among Subpopulations

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pp. 253-259

Appendix B: Income Differences or Income Ratios?

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pp. 260-261

Appendix C: Procedures and Data for the Fragmentation Analysis in Chapter 9

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pp. 262-272


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pp. 273-361


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pp. 363-401


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pp. 403-411

E-ISBN-13: 9781610442060
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871543523
Print-ISBN-10: 0871543524

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 821725574
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Century of Difference

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Subject Headings

  • Social stratification -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social conflict -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • Social change -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cultural pluralism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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