Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972

Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972

Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972

Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972


Social Trends in American Life assembles a team of leading researchers to provide unparalleled insight into how American social attitudes and behaviors have changed since the 1970s. Drawing on the General Social Survey--a social science project that has tracked demographic and attitudinal trends in the United States since 1972--it offers a window into diverse facets of American life, from intergroup relations to political views and orientations, social affiliations, and perceived well-being.

Among the book's many important findings are the greater willingness of ordinary Americans to accord rights of free expression to unpopular groups, to endorse formal racial equality, and to accept nontraditional roles for women in the workplace, politics, and the family. Some, but not all, signs indicate that political conservatism has grown, while a few suggest that Republicans and Democrats are more polarized. Some forms of social connectedness such as neighboring have declined, as has confidence in government, while participation in organized religion has softened. Despite rising standards of living, American happiness levels have changed little, though financial and employment insecurity has risen over three decades.

Social Trends in American Life provides an invaluable perspective on how Americans view their lives and their society, and on how these views have changed over the last two generations.


Peter V. Marsden

This book reports on social trends among U.S. adults between the early 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century. Its chapters cover social and political phenomena arrayed across a wide spectrum. Some investigate and interpret changes in salient sociopolitical attitudes—regarding tolerance for free speech, black/white relationships, women’s roles, politics and government, and crime and its punishment. Others ask whether confidence in major American institutions fell, or if connections to religious groups or other persons waned. Still others study shifts in how adults assessed their wellbeing as economic, political, and social conditions in U.S. society underwent sometimes-dramatic change.

The 12 studies that follow rest on survey data assembled by the General Social Survey (GSS) project since 1972. The GSS regularly questions representative samples of U.S. adults about their social, political, and economic attitudes, values, self-assessments, and behaviors. As well, it collects extensive background information about demographic and social characteristics that predict differences among Americans. This now-substantial data archive facilitates studies of social trends by ensuring that both measurements and samples are comparable over time. It supports studies of aggregate change, subgroup differences at particular points in time, and variation in trends across important subsets of U.S. adults.

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