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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2001 / 16 Elul, 5761

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Consumer Reports

Change or continuity -- THERE is an ongoing argument among pollsters about whether social science research tends to show "continuity" or "change" in American life. I'm generally a "continuity" man, but I surely don't deny many major changes. Labor Day is as good time as any to look at polls and surveys about work. Polls can be designed to tell most anything you'd like someone else to believe. But there is truth in some social science. Some of it is so obvious -- it's obvious. And some of it is not so obvious at all.

So, in the spirit of the season, some things you might like to know about America have been researched and assembled from leading research firms by my colleague Karlyn Bowman of The American Enterprise Institute. If the report highlights presented here don't match the headlines and the TV news, I suggest you blame the headlines and the TV news. Karlyn knows her stuff as few others do. The TV heads prefer hour-by-hour polls on Gary. By the way, what's your opinion of Congressman Condit?


  • Women spend more time than men on household chores. (Stop the presses!) But they are spending less time on them than in the past. (Probably due to those neat household devices that are all so easy to program.)

  • About half of American women regard cooking as a chore. The other half regards it "as a leisure activity they want to do." I think that's "continuity." My Mother loved to cook and was the best -- at a lot of things.

  • Wives say husbands are more likely than in the past to help with chores. (As Casey Stengel used to say, that is a true fact.)

  • Husbands say they do more work than their wives say they do. (Continuity.)

  • Despite the "time crunch," a large plurality of Americans say they have more leisure time than did their parents at the same point in their lives. We may run from place to place today, but for most folks things were even more frenetic.

  • Seniors often say they have too much leisure time. Parents of young children say they have too little. If there is a truism in life, that's it.

  • About a quarter of workers say they would be interested in their immediate boss's job. (I wonder what the other three-quarters are after? Not Condit's job, by 99 percent to 1 percent.)

  • Knowing what they know now, more than two-thirds of Americans would take the same job they now have.

  • Two-thirds of Americans have not considered changing their job in the past year. (Survey taken in on May 2001, well after the start of the economic slowdown.)

  • A large majority says they are personally loyal to their company and that their companies are loyal to them. But far fewer workers -- far, far fewer -- think that the situation is quite different with other workers and other companies. (I'm OK, I'm not so sure about you ... ) I wonder what the numbers are since the layoffs began? Will they get better or worse? Why not ask all the people who are sure which the way the economy is headed?

  • Which leads to another truism about public opinion polling: Respondents don't always tell all the truth all of the time.

  • It takes about three minutes longer to get from your home to your place of work than it did in the early 1970s. Of course, your mode of transportation is more likely to be an SUV than it used to be. Depending on where you sit, and what you buy, that is either good news or bad news.

  • There are many, many ways to measure discrimination at work. The most recent cited surveys show that 7 percent feel discriminated by age, 10 percent by sex and 7 percent by race or national origin. Attention! Use this data with caution. It is very complex.

  • Since 1960, the number of hours worked per week, at all jobs, has remained about constant.

  • The amount of on-the-job stress on your job has stayed about the same since the early 1990s.

  • Since 1973, by far the largest numbers of Americans say a "feeling of accomplishment" is the one thing that counts most on the job (about 50 percent). What counts least (steadily at 5 percent or below) is "short hours/lots of free time."

  • Women say their husbands or partners spend more time working for pay and commuting than they do. Among young men -- here's change! -- more than two-thirds expect their partner to work for pay. Among young women the rate is 97%. (That's continuity.)

So what's the answer? You know as well as I do. Lots of continuity, with plenty of change. That's why there's an argument. And it's not going to end. That's continuity.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and moderator of PBS's "Think Tank" is the author, most recently, of The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America 1900-2000 (paperback) and (hardcover). You may comment by clicking here.

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