Firstly, I am a church-going Millennial. What I am about to say is in no way a critique of the church, nor is it intended to be philosophical in any way. I just think that we currently have a skewed vision of the world we’re living in as a result of the media, and the stories it runs away with. We get our view of the world from the news because nobody takes the time to research long-term trends that have been happening nation and world-wide. Don’t worry though; you don’t have to. I did it for you. I also cited every source, so you can go check them all out yourself if you’d like.
The view that the majority of the Church holds is that things cannot possibly get much worse before the end of the world happens. The fact that things are messed up is not a view unique to the Church. The majority of people think we’re living in historically unsafe times. How do I know this to be true on a nationwide basis? Gallup polls. According to these polls, more than half of Americans believe crime is currently up compared to the year before. In fact, the majority have believed this since 2002. With everyone talking about how “perilous” the times we’re living in are now, this shouldn’t be surprising. What may be surprising are the actual facts. Let’s take a look at crime first.
Violent crimes are those that consist of murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. According to FBI statistics, the nation as a whole has seen a downward trend since 1991. It hasn’t been a small downward trend either. Every year except for one since 1991 saw a decrease in violent crimes, from 758.2 per 100,000 people in 1991 down to 386.9 per 100,000 people in 2012. That’s almost a 50% decrease, total, nationwide. The most recent report shows violent crime decreased 5.1% from 2012 to 2013. The last time homicide rates were as low as they are now (4.5 per 100,000 in 2013) was in the 1950s. The last time robbery rates were this low was in 1967. Okay, so what about property crimes: burglary, larceny, and car theft? As a matter of fact, they follow the exact same trend as violent crimes have, except they started their decrease in 1989. From 5,107.1 per 100,000 in 1989, they fell to 2,730.7 per 100,000 in 2013.
Okay, so maybe we’re living among a safer generation than our parents were. One thing is for sure though. We’re definitely getting less smart, right? Look at the TV shows teens watch. And who reads books more than twitter posts these days? Well, it turns out that education is not tied to pop culture. Looking at our population as a whole, we are the smartest our country has ever been. Let’s look at high school graduation rates first. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013 just over 85 percent of adults 25 years of age and older held a high school diploma or its equivalent. This is three times as many adults than in 1940 when the bureau started keeping track. The amount of college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree has increased from 5 percent in 1940 to right about 30 percent in 2014. People like to bring up how students in countries like China, Finland, and Canada perform better than students in the United States, as though our students (or educational system) are slacking these days. The thing is, this has always been the case. Furthermore, we’ve only seen improvement in our test scores since we started keeping track. What if an increase in schooling isn’t enough to imply an overall increase in intelligence? Let’s look at the average IQ. On both the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, Americans have gained three IQ points per decade from the early 1900s to today. (I keep giving statistics related to America, but these are also trends seen worldwide.)
Okay, so we’re smarter. That doesn’t seem to help us make very wise decisions though. Just look around at how often young people are having sex and getting pregnant these days. It must have something to do with the “hookup culture” our society has created and popularized. It would make sense with how blatantly immoral our music and media in general has become, right? Well, a recent study shows that Millennials are actually LESS promiscuous than their parents. That’s right. The research shows that the average number of partners for a Baby Boomer born in the 1950s was 11.68. The comparable figure for Millennials is 8.26. Not only that, but a separate study found that almost half (49%) of people in their twenties have not had sex at all in the past year, and one in three twenty-somethings have never had sex ever. A drop in sexual activity among teens has been part of a long term trend starting in the late 80s. What about all of the teen pregnancies, you might ask? Thinking there has been an increase in those is a misconception too. In 1991, the U.S. teen birth rate was 61.8 births for every 1,000 adolescent females, compared with 26.5 births for every 1,000 adolescent females in 2013. The teen birth rate has been cut in half. In fact, it’s less than half of what it was over 20 years ago (and it was only higher before the nineties).
Millennials are not only having fewer sex partners. We also drink less and smoke less than the generation before us ever did. Less Americans smoke now than ever before, at least since we began keeping track in 1965. That’s with the fact that we’ve only had a constantly growing population. Alcohol consumption on the whole is down, with middle-aged people drinking almost one-third less than they did fifty years ago. Also those who do drink are less prone to heavy drinking. Drug use among teenagers is even down, with 27 percent of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders reporting illicit drug use, down from its peak of 34 percent in 1997.
Before looking at stats that demonstrate an upward trend, there is one last statistic that I believe will take everybody by surprise: divorce rates. That’s right. We’ve all heard the depressing “50% and rising” claim concerning divorces. The fact is, it’s simply not true, and social scientists have been trying to tell us that for a long time now. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, and has been declining ever since. Marriages are stronger now than they have been for a long time. It’s looking like that increase was more of an anomaly than an actual trend. And as far as the 50% thing goes, it turns out that the divorce rate has never been that high. The peak was actually around 41%. The reasons marriages are stronger now may be fairly obvious. People are waiting longer to marry, they are marrying for the right reasons, and expectations and roles in marriages are more reasonable, to name a few.
With all of the statistics about decreasing trends, let’s take a look at what’s going up (besides education). First is charitable giving. 2014 saw an all time high in the amount of money given to America’s million-plus charities. This isn’t thanks to one specific source of giving though. All four sources that make up total giving (individuals, corporations, foundations, and bequests) upped their 2014 donations. This is the fifth consecutive year in growth, making for the longest-running and most comprehensive increase in giving that America has ever seen. Another increase is life-expectancy. According to Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist who works on global health issues, “There is not a single country in the world where infant or child mortality today is not lower than it was in 1950.” The next increase may be hard to believe with today’s headlines, but with a look at the past it becomes very clear. That increase is world peace. As the amount of people who die at the hand of war is at its lowest, world peace is at its highest. And despite the fact that the news gives constant highlights of war violence (which is the reason for our perception of violent times), the reason for world peace sits right in front of our faces. Democracy. The fact that democratic nations do not go to war with each other is largely undisputed, and we are looking at the highest number of democratic countries in world history.
The trends that I’ve listed in this article are not restricted to the United States solely. The whole world is seeing similar trends. Why are we so pessimistic then? As I’ve said before, we let what we see on the news become our worldview. Stats and trends don’t make headlines; violent crime does. Even if we were down to one violent crime per week around the entire world, that would still be the focus of our news outlets for that entire week, and the majority of people would probably still not realize that the only bad thing to happen in the world for that entire week was that one news story. In fact, because of the incredible amounts of peace in that hypothetical world, that one bad story every week probably sounds a thousand times worse than our hundreds of bad stories we read or hear about every month in our real world. Similarly, our hundreds of bad stories a month probably sounds like heaven to the peasants of the Middle Ages. Maybe the more we’re shocked by the inhumanity of humans, the more of a conscience our society actually has. Nobody gave a hoot about Jim Crow inspired violence or lynching one hundred years ago, but now if one hate crime is committed, it’s a national story (and rightfully so). This isn’t to say that we’re finished, and it’s as good as it’s getting. It’s not to say we should relax now. What I am saying is that maybe we’re not on such a wrong path after all, and the sooner we realize it, the better. Pessimism may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.