This just in: Consumption of apples and grapefruit moved up in 1987, while tomatoes fell. Do you think this is tied in with the fact that commercially produced tomatoes have grown increasingly to resemble red squash balls, and taste about the same?
And how about this? Contrary to myth, teenagers between 15 and 19 are nowhere near the most suicidal. Those 65 or older have the highest rate, 21.5 per 100,000; the next highest is the 55-64 group, and then 45-54.
Teens -- and even the subgroup of white male teens -- are actually below the national average. But perhaps teen suicide is more dramatic than among the middle-aged, and greater media attention makes it seem like there are more in absolute numbers. For black males, meanwhile, the highest suicide rate is somewhere else entirely: the 25- to 34-year-old age group -- surely an under-discussed phenomenon.
These figures and millions of others can be found in the newly released 1990 edition of the "Statistical Abstract of the United States," the government's popular portrait of what is going on right here right now.
The series has been around a long time, since 1878. "It's looked upon as a reputable reference work for people who need to find out any kind of statistic you can dream up," explains Lars Johanson, the chief of the Census Bureau department that produces the "Abstract." "Our primary purchasers are libraries, educators and people in business who are doing consulting work."
Plus statistics junkies, who roam its pages seizing upon things like:
The District had by far the highest percentage of low birth weights. None of the states, in fact, even had a percentage in double digits, while D.C.'s was 13.5. More bad news for citizens of this city: All the states had an average lifetime of at least 71 years ... except for D.C., which was 69.20. Another record: There is one lawyer for every 22 people here, while even in New York state -- the next closest -- it's only one in 244.
The occupation with the longest tenure is not clergy or farmers or dentists, although they all rank in the top five. The winner is barbers, with a median tenure of 24.8 years. Skipping the obvious jokes about managing the Yankees, the shortest tenure is "food counter, fountain and related occupations," at 1.5 years.
Some job fields you may not want to go into: stenographer, precision electrical and electronic equipment assemblers and garment sewing machine operators, all of which are expected to decline in absolute numbers by the end of the decade. Some of the booming areas: jobs in the health field, travel agents and jailers.
Based on somewhat skimpy evidence -- a poll by the Book Industry Study Group -- it appears that book-reading habits may soon decline, dragged down by the aging baby-boom generation. Currently, the boomers are fueling an increase in book buying; but the 65-and-older respondents to the survey are only half as likely to have read at least one book in the last six months as those in their twenties and thirties.
It's not a good idea to use these statistics to make assumptions about the future. For instance, there was a generally improving trend with regard to oil-polluting incidents. In 1975, 21.5 million gallons were spilled. By '88, that was down to 5.5 million. Maybe companies were getting more responsible; maybe someone somewhere was making an effort. Maybe not. Off the chart, in '89, was the Exxon Valdez incident, which at a stroke doubled the previous year's dumping.
There's one statistic you can't find here. With 1,487 figure-packed tables spread over 863 pages, is there any way to tell how many statistics are included in the "Abstract"? "We've never really tried to do that," says Johanson. "That'd be pretty hard to say."