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Big Changes In Last 100 Years

The nation had one-fourth the people and none of them had ever flown the last time the calendar rolled over to double zeros. Highway accidents were rare. Married women stayed home. Television and computers were the stuff of fiction.

With the 20th century nearing an end, the Census Bureau has chronicled just how much America has changed during these 100 years.

To begin, there are a lot more of us: more than 270 million Americans today compared with 76 million in 1900.

But divorces have skyrocketed more dramatically than the population, up almost hundredfold, from 200,000 to 19.4 million. And the women who stay married aren't staying home. In 1900 there were 800,000 wives in the work force. Now it's around 34 million.

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These and hundreds of other changes are detailed in the Census Bureau's 1999 Statistical Abstract of the United States, being released Monday.

"Some of the numbers are truly amazing," Census Director Kenneth Prewitt said.

Thanks to improvements in medical care, life expectancy of Americans has shot up. In 1900, a typical man could expect to die at age 46; a typical women, 48. By 1997, life expectancy had reached 74 years for men and 79 for women in 1997. The number of Americans aged 65 and up grew from 3 million to 34 million.

Death rates were cut in half, from 17.2 deaths per 1,000 people in 1900 to 8.6 in 1997. Influenza and pneumonia, for example, killed 202 out of every 100,000 people in 1900. By 1997, the rate had fallen to 33.

Transportation took off, too.

In was Dec. 17, 1903, when the first sustained powered airplane took to the sky at Kitty Hawk, N.C., traveling 120 feet in 12 seconds with a single passenger. In 1998, commercial airlines carried 614 million passengers over thousands of miles.

On the downside, there were just 36 highway traffic fatalities in 1900 compared with 41,967 in 1997.

Talking about communications, the 1920 census was the first to count telephones, and found them in 55 percent of households. This reached 94 percent in 1997.

It was not until 1930 that the census asked about radios, and 4 in 10 households had a one. The government stopped asking in 1970 because nearly all households had at least one radio.

Television did not become widespread until the 1950s and computers only in the past few decades.

Just 9 percent of households had a TV in 1950; today it tops 98 percent.

In 1900, high-speed mass communications meant daily newspapers, of which there were 2,042 in the United States. By 1998 that had fallen to 1,489.

Americans remained a restless lot this century as in the one before. In 1900, 60 percent of the people lived in rural areas and 40 percent lived in urban areas. By 1990, 25 percent lived in rural areas and 75 percent were in urban areas.

Other ups and downs:

Immigration up: Between 1901 and 1910, 2 million immigrants came from Italy and 50,000 from Mexico. Btween 1991 and 1997, 1.8 million came from Mexico and 54,000 from Italy.

Household size down: The average American household in 1900 included 4.8 people; in 1998 it was 2.6 people.

Education up: In 1900, 11 percent of all 14-to-17-year-olds were enrolled in high school; in 1997, more than 93 percent were in grades 9-12.

Government collections up: The U.S. government had $567 million in receipts in 1900. In 1999, the government took in $1.7 trillion.

The largest budget deficit of the century was $290.4 billion in fiscal 1992; the $9.5 billion surplus of 1999 was second only to the $11.8 billion surplus in 1948.

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