Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Those were the days

In March 1939, a Gallup Poll asked "Do you think you would rather lived [sic] during the horse-and-buggy days instead of now?"  25% said yes and 70% said no, with 5% undecided.  Then it asked "Do you think Americans were happier and more contented at that time than they are now?"  63% said yes, 27% said no, and 10% were undecided.  Why didn't people want to live when they could have been happier and more contented?

The poll also included a measure of economic status--there's not much detail on how it was constructed, but I think it was based on a combination of occupation, interviewer's judgment, and answers to questions about whether you owned a car and a telephone.  Here is a comparison of answers by economic status.  (I think "OAA" stands for "Old Age Assistance," but I'm not sure.)

             Rather    People happier      N
           lived then     then

Wealthy        11%        67%             36        
Average +      15%        56%            182
Average        18%        59%            510
Poor +         27%        65%            238
Poor           25%        64%            297
Relief--WPA    37%        68%            163
Relief         53%        80%             59
OAA            61%        81%             38

The percent thinking that people were happier back in the day is pretty similar in all groups, although maybe somewhat higher among the poorer ones (also OAA, although that could be the effect of age).  The differences in the percent saying they would rather have lived then are considerably larger.  So either people with high incomes were more likely to be illogical, or people were implicitly thinking of "happier and more contented" as referring to the non-material side of life.

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