Education in America


Nancy Davis
DePauw University

Focusing on education, we will examine the changes from 1950 to 1990 in the numbers, race, gender, and occupations of high school and college graduates. Turning our attention to cohorts and population structure, we will trace birth trends over the past four decades, namely the Baby Boom, and discuss possible causes and effects. Next, we will look at changes in labor force participation rates among men and women and the earning gap that exists between them. Living arrangements, the next area of interest, will be examined in terms of changes over time in marital status, poverty in relation to household type, and cohabitation. Finally, we will take a look into the politics of immigration by considering such factors as the educational attainment, poverty status, standard of living, and occupation of immigrants and comparing them to those of native-born Americans.

Learning Goals


  • Learning about survey methodology and sampling methods
  • Using software to access and analyze census data
  • Identifying independent and dependent variables
  • Forming testable hypotheses using quantitative data
  • Quantitative writing
  • Learning how to construct, read, and interpret bivariate tables displaying frequencies and percentages
  • Creating visual tools representing quantitative data in the form of charts or graphs
  • Identifying population trends over time
  • Translating data findings to inform decision making
  • Using real world data to enhance and support key course concepts


  • Use Census data to understand how the labor force, earnings, race/ethnicity, age and gender interact to discover different trends in the educational attainment over time.

Context for Use

This activity is used in an Introduction to Sociology class for undergraduate students. This activity looks at education, earnings/income, race/ethnicity and gender over time in the United States.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity uses ten customized datasets on the DataCounts! website; 13 made from the 1990 Census and three made from combining census information from 1950-1990. It guides students through data manipulation using WebCHIP software found at DataCounts!. To open WebCHIP with the dataset for the activity, please see instructions and links in the exercise documents under teaching materials. For more information on how to use WebCHIP, see the How To section on DataCounts!


Visit DataCounts! for assessment tools:

References and Resources