Thursday, September 23, 2010

More boredom, more excitement

Since the 1940s, surveys have been asking questions about overall happiness--"In general, how happy would you say you are--very happy, fairly happy, or not very happy?" Of course, there are are all sorts of things that could make people happy or unhappy, so I've kept an eye out data on more specific feelings. There isn't much, but a few surveys have included a series of questions: "During the past few weeks did you ever feel....
1. Particularly excited or interested in something
2. So restless that you couldn't sit long in a chair
3. Proud because someone complimented you on something you had done
4. Very lonely or remote from other people
5. Pleased about having accomplished something
6. Bored
7. On top of the world
8. Depressed or very unhappy
9. That things were going your way
10. Upset because someone criticized you?"

Notice that the odd numbered ones are generally regarded as good feelings, and the even numbered ones as bad. You can make a total score by adding the percents for the five good feelings and subtracting the percents for the five bad ones. For example, in 1963 it's:
The numbers mean 52% said they'd been particularly excited or interested, 45% said they'd been restless, and so on. Here's how the total scores have changed over the years:

Nov 1963   +98
July 1965 +152
April 1981 +203
June 1990 +222
Sept 2001 +180
Jan 2002   +211

So it looks like people have been feeling better according to these questions. That's interesting, because happiness as measured by the general question hasn't really changed since the 1950s.

I also looked at trends for the individual question. Excited, proud, pleased, going my way, and bored have become more common. Restless and unhappy have become less common. There's no clear change in lonely, on top of the world, and upset. So four out of the five positive feelings have become more common, but so did boredom. Why? I don't know. That's the advantage of a blog over a research paper--you can just say "I don't know" and leave it at that.

Technical PS: Notice the dates--the first survey was taken just after the assassination of JFK, and the one in September 2001 just after the 9/11 attacks. It seems reasonable that both of those events produced some negative feelings. If you adjust for that, the upward trend in the total scores gets even more clear. In a linear regression including a time trend just a time trend, the t-ratio is 2.26; add a dummy for the Nov 1963 and Sept 2001 surveys, and the t-ratio for the trend rises to 4.41.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The progress of humankind

In 1995, a Harris Poll asked: "Would you say you are a better than average driver, an average driver or worse than average?"
54% said better, 40% average, and only 1% worse (most of the remaining 5% didn't drive)

People have a pretty high estimate of their abilities in most areas, so the general pattern isn't surprising. But a 1965 Gallup Poll makes an interesting comparison:

"In general, how do you rate yourself as a driver--better than average, average, or not up to average?"
36% said better, 62% average, and 2% not up to average (non-drivers were not asked)

The question wordings weren't identical, but I don't see any reason that they should produce different responses, so it looks like Americans' estimate of their own driving ability became substantially more favorable over the thirty years.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What about a Blue Dog?

A CBS News Poll in 2008 asked the following question:

"Which would you prefer to be stranded on a deserted island with—another human being or a dog?"

74% chose a human, 22% a dog, 1% said neither, and 3% didn't know. It was only 1%, but the people who said "neither" worry me.

Back in 1958, the Gallup Poll had a different desert island question:

"Of course it would depend on the person, but other things being equal, would you rather be cast up on an island alone with a Democrat or a Republican?"

27% chose a Democrat, 14% a Republican, 34% neither, and 34% no opinion.

I assume that "neither" here means they'd prefer someone who wasn't a member of either party, not that they'd rather be alone.

The obvious explanation for the Democratic edge is that some people would rather have someone who shared their political views, and that there were more Democrats than Republicans at the time.  That's certainly part of it, but it doesn't seem to explain the magnitude of the Democratic edge. In the same survey, 50% said that they were Democrats and 31% said Republicans. That's a considerable lead for the Democrats, but less than the almost 2:1 edge in preference for a companion on the island.

By the way, I found these questions in the iPOLL database maintained by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. It's an essential resource for research on public opinion, and unless otherwise indicated, is the source of all survey data mentioned in this blog.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to school

In 1950, the Gallup Poll asked the following question:
WANT HIM TO GO?" (no, it didn't have a question about daughters).  About 8% said they didn't know, 4 percent gave the reasonable answer that it would be up to the hypothetical son, and a handful (less than 1%) said they wouldn't send him to college, leaving about 1300 who named a college.  The top choice was Harvard, but then things get more interesting.  Second place wasn't Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or one of the service academies, but Notre Dame.  Presumably a lot of Catholic parents wanted their son to go to a Catholic college, and Notre Dame was the best. 

The list of colleges picked by more than 10 people:

1.  Harvard       122
2.  Notre Dame    104
3.  Yale           78
4.  MIT            41
5.  West Point     40

6.  Michigan       34
7.  Columbia       31
8.  Berkeley       28
9.  Illinois       27
10. Chicago        25

11. Princeton      22
12. Cornell        22 
13. Minnesota      21 
14. Ohio State     21
15. Wisconsin      19

16. Stanford       17
17. Penn           16
18. Texas A & M    16
19. Purdue         14
20. Naval Academy  14

21. Northwestern   13
22. Dartmouth      13
23. NYU            13
24. USC            13
25. Penn State     12

26. UCLA           11
27. Kansas         11
28. Johns Hopkins  11
29. Michigan State 10

Some other patterns:  Midwesterners were loyal to their regional schools--the top 15 includes five Big Ten schools, plus the University of Chicago (and Notre Dame, although its appeal was probably to Catholics across the country).  Californians also were pretty loyal:  Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, and USC appear on the list.  Southerners were not:  the only college in the South on the list is Texas A & M.  Distinguished schools like North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Texas, Vanderbilt don't appear on the list, and most of them weren't even close. Finally, the choices were scattered among a lot of schools--about 40 percent of parents chose one other than those listed (including 2 for UConn, which unforunately was not enough to make us #1 among public universities in New England).

Unfortunately, no one seems to have asked this question since 1950.  I'd guess that the concentration on the Ivy League and similar places would have increased.

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In the course of my work as a sociologist, I often run across bits of information that I think are worth preserving.  That's the purpose of this blog.  As the blog title suggests, the goal is to just report the facts, although probably some interpretation and opinion will wander in from time to time.   Most of the facts will be from surveys, since that's what I use for my research.