What if all the people in America were represented by a village of 100 people?

By Richard Ploch | Sep 09, 2013

We are a fascinating nation of people in all colors and from all parts of the world. Some of us are newcomers and others come from families who were already here when the first immigrants arrived from Europe.

To get a better picture of who we are, let’s imagine that a village of 100 represents all the American people. I found this idea in a fascinating book called “If America Were A Village: A Book About the People of the United States” by David J. Smith and published by Kids Can Press in 2009. I noticed the book while volunteering in a local third grade classroom in May and it provided much of what follows.

It is beautifully illustrated, and the author seeks to answer fascinating questions: Who are the people who live in this vast and varied nation? Where did we come from? What are we like today?

At about the same time as I ran across this book, a song came on the radio written in 1943 and made famous by Frank Sinatra — “The House I Live In.” The house in the title is a symbol of our country.

The patriotic lyrics begin this way: “What is America to me? A name, a map, or a flag I see; a certain word, democracy. What is America to me? The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street, the grocer and the butcher, or the people that I meet; the children in the playground, the faces that I see, all races and religions, that's America to me.”

Today there are over 300 million people in our country, but let’s think about us as this village of 100 — each of these people representing 3 million Americans.

Of the 100 in our village today, 87 were born here while 13 were born in other countries, including those born overseas to our military families. Of the 13 born elsewhere, six are now citizens and seven are not yet. Seven of the 13 were born in Latin America; two are from Europe and three from Asia. One person out of our 100 person village was born in Canada, Australia, Africa or elsewhere.

For 82 in our village, English is the language they first learned, but 10 first learned Spanish, one each of Chinese, French, and German — and then lesser numbers of other languages

From what nations did we come as immigrants? Except for our Native American families, all other Americans can trace their roots to other places. In our village of 100, 15 have German ancestry, 11 of Irish descent, nine African, nine English, seven Mexican, six Italian and on.

As you may know, the last century brought changes in who immigrated here. In 1900, 96 percent came from Europe, one from Latin America and three from other places. By 2000, 15 percent came from Europe, 49 percent from Latin America, 31 from Asia, and five from all other places.

In 1900, 40 people in our village of 100 lived in towns and cities with a greater number in the countryside. A century later, that had flipped. Now, 80 live in cities and towns and 20 live in less populated areas.

When we think of the typical American family, we say mom, dad and two kids. In reality, more than half of our couples have no children at home. Of those who do, 20 families in our imaginary village have two parents, seven are single parent families and 10 are people who live alone.

When it comes to religious faith, there are lots of religions and a growing number who call themselves non-religious. Eighty-two of our 100 call themselves Christian and of these 54 are Protestant, 24 Roman Catholic, two Mormon and two “other.”

Two people are Buddhist, one is Jewish, one is Muslim, four are other world religions and 10 non-religious. Of the 90 who identify with a religion, fewer than half attend a worship service weekly.

Twenty-seven in our village are younger than 20 years old, 17 are 60 years and older and the rest fall between those two age groups. This contrasts with a world village of 100 where 37 are younger than 20 and only 10 people would represent those 60 and older.

In every nation, there are wealthy people, poor people and those in between. If America were a village of 100, five people would have more than half of all the wealth and that percentage of wealth is increasing. The other 95 people in our village share less than half of all wealth. One person alone would have more than 30 percent of all the nation’s wealth with the other 99 sharing the remaining.

Sixty of the 100 in our American village together possess only about four percent of the wealth. An increasing number of Americans do not have enough income for food, shelter and clothing needs today.

Some areas of America are richer than others. The state of Delaware has the highest average income per person of about $70,000. People in Mississippi earn less than half that. There are also differences in the incomes of men and women. For every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 77 cents.

Eighty-seven of our 100 people have a high school diploma, 57 have attended some college and 30 have earned a Bachelor’s degree. All are record highs for the American people. Women now surpass men as college graduates.

How healthy are we? On average, a child born in the United States today will live to be 78 years old. One hundred years ago, that number was 48 years old. That’s a huge increase, but today we are number 40 in the world for life expectancy. Food availability has a relation to healthiness. Eighty-seven have sufficient food for their needs while 13 Americans out of 100 do not. We are healthier than people in many parts of the world and spend the highest amount for health care, but we rank low among industrialized countries for the quality of health care.

We own lots of stuff. Our village of 100 has 81 cars, tops in the world. We are buying so many cell phones and electronic devices that it’s hard to get an accurate number for today, but we do own 74 televisions per 100, 200 radios, and 39 bicycles. We use the most energy and water per person in the world, and every day we use four million plastic cups, 576 plastic beverage bottles, of which 60 million are recycled, more than one billion plastic bags, and four billion sheets of paper. That’s each day.

The question of what we do is an interesting one. We are a busy people with children in school and adults hard at work. More than one quarter of our village, 27 percent are in school. Eighteen of every 100 adults work in professions like management, education, health care, finance, and computer technology. Twelve of our 100 are in sales, seven are in service occupations including food preparation, cleaning, health care support, fire fighters and law enforcement. Five are in construction and repair, and five work in manufacturing, farming, and the transportation of goods.

The book concludes with an interesting review of the past and look to the future. Before Europeans came to this continent, there were an estimated 10 million Native peoples in what became Canada, Mexico and the United States. Over time, that number dropped dramatically through wars, disease and as more people came from other nations of the world.

In 1800, the U.S. had about three million people. In 1900, the population was 76 million and today it has grown to more than 316 million. By 2050 (when a baby born this year turns 37), there will be an estimated U.S. population of 419 million, an increase of one third.

So that’s one way of looking at who we are as a nation, and as the author reminds us, “As it has in the past, the face of America will continue to grow and change.”