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Literacy Among American Indians: Levels and Trends from 1900 to 1930 and Across Birth Cohorts from 1830 to 1920

A PSC Brown Bag Seminar

Arland Thornton
Linda Young-Demarco

Monday, 10/19/2020, 12:00pm

Location: Zoom

We investigate levels and trends in literacy among American Indians in the United States. Using 1900-1930 decennial census data, we document literacy for the 1900 through 1930 period and for birth cohorts from 1830 through 1920. We thus provide for American Indians a large-scale picture of the history of literacy. We document the pace and extent of Indian literacy from very low for the birth cohorts of the early 1800s to fairly universal for the cohorts of the early 1900s. We also demonstrate that the increases in Indian literacy were closely related to birth cohort, with successive new birth cohorts having higher levels of literacy. We found little evidence that increases in literacy from 1900 to 1930 happened because adults increased their literacy after the school years and as they matured across the adult life course. We also document important gender differences in Native American literacy, with the proportion literate being lower for women than for men, but with the gender gap decreasing in later birth cohorts. There were also substantial literacy inequalities across geographical regions of the country-ranging from 19 to 74 percent literate across regions in 1900. The trajectories of literacy attainment also varied across regions in interesting ways. We also document that Indian literacy was higher among those living in urban areas, those more integrated into the Euro-American community, and those with Euro-American ancestry.

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Arland Thornton is Professor of Sociology, Population Studies, Survey Research, and Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, where he is also associated with the Centers for Chinese Studies, Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, and South Asian Studies. He is a social demographer who has served as president of the Population Association of America and previously held a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health. He has received four awards for his books as well as distinguished career awards from the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America. For much of his career, Thornton has focused on the study of family and demographic issues, with emphasis on marriage, cohabitation, divorce, childbearing, intergenerational relations, and gender roles. More recently, Thornton has pioneered the study of developmental idealism, including its conceptualization, measurement, and influence in many places. He has collaborated in the collection and analysis of data from several countries, including Albania, Argentina, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malawi, Nepal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.S., and Vietnam. Thornton is currently conducting research on migration in Nepal and is initiating a study of social change among Native Americans.

Linda Young-Demarco is a Lead Research Area Specialist in the Survey Research Center's Family and Demography Program and is responsible for the overall coordination and implementation of research staff activities associated with program data collections, data analysis projects, and archival activities. She is a key collaborator with Arland Thornton and other researchers on projects dealing with development and people's ideas of development around the world.

PSC Brown Bag seminars highlight recent research in population studies and serve as a focal point for building our research community.

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