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Pundits, media types, and curmudgeons like to claim that things were so much better in the "good old days". They bemoan how kids are all sexed up and ruining everything now. They especially like to make these kinds of claims around the new year. They're wrong. Things are pretty much better than they've ever been, and we've got data to prove it. The sky isn't falling.

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Here are some sources:
Teen "sex" rates: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db136_tables.pdf#3
Crime stats: http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/TrendsInOneVar.cfm
Divorce: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1989124,00.html
Mortality: http://205.207.175.93/hdi/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx

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Happy New Year! As we- as we ush-...

As we usher in 2014 I look forward to hearing from pundits, politicians and cranky old people in general that the 'good old days' were just so much better than now. That's especially because the kids these days just suck. What with their twerking and texting and internet sexting they're all just a bunch of lazy, sexed-up good-for-nothings. And everything is terrible; chemicals in food and water, vaccines giving us diseases and people wasting their lives away on technology. 

Except none of that's right. The sky isn't falling. 2014 is awesome, and not just because of Healthcare Triage. It's easy to look around and complain. Some people in the media seem to have made a career out of it. But longing for the past is not only somewhat misguided, it's just plain silly.

Let's start with kids. It's true that there's unprecedented access to all kinds of information. It's true that some of this stuff is, well, porn. But every story that labels today's youth as oversexed and promiscuous misses the most obvious evidence. The teen birth rate in 2012 was a record low - it's less than half of what it was in 1991. The teen abortion rate is at an all time low - it's at less than half of what it was in the 70s. And it's now 38% of its peak in 1988. Even the teen pregnancy rate is at an all time low it's only 56% of its peak in 1990. African American teens - all time low. Hispanic teens - all time low. Non-Hispanic white teens - all time low.

They're even having less sex! In 1988 about 50% of boys aged 15-17 had had sex, in 2010 it was about half that. The rates in girls dropped from 37% to 27%. Will that stop us from going on and on and on about the good old days, how sex is ruining everything and how today's kids are just the worst? I doubt it. 

For 37 years the Monitoring the Future study has been comparing American kids to those in 36 other countries. Last year they found that about 27% of American students drank alcohol in the last month. That placed them at the second lowest, behind only Iceland. The average drinking rate in the other countries was 57%, more than twice that of kids in the US. The proportion of American students who smoked was only 12%, also the second lowest in the rankings. And again, the average smoking rate in the other countries was more than twice that what we see in the US. By the way, those smoking and drinking rates were at a 37 year low. That means that they're the lowest in all the time we've been studying this issue.

Despite everything you hear about the knockout game in cities, youth violence is also at an all time low. Ah, the kids these days! 

It's not just the kids either. Ever heard the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce? Turns out that was actually never even true. It got up to about 40% around 1980, i.e. the good old days, but divorce rates are now at their lowest since before then. Seriously. 

Things are better with health too! Infant mortality is at an all time low. You may remember the 60s fondly, but a baby was more than 4 times as likely to die then. Moms were about 3 times as likely to die in childbirth then too. Life expectancy at birth, at almost 79 years, is longer than at any time in our history. You're less likely to die of cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, influenza, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma than ever. You're even less likely to die from assault than in 1960, when I could first find data.

 Everyone complains about how unsafe they feel, but that fear is irrational. The rate of violent crime is lower than at any time since 1970. Murder - lowest since the early 60s. Rape - lowest since the mid-70s. Robbery - lowest since the late 60s. Aggravated assault - lowest since the mid-70s. Property crime - lowest since the late 60s. Larceny-theft - lowest since the late-60s. Burglary - lowest since the late-60s. Car theft - lowest since the late 60s.

Still nostalgic for your youth? You may complain about how farming is done today, but there is no evidence at all that it's hurting us. People long for a return to organic farming but there's no data which shows that food raised this way is more nutritious or safer. And lots of those practices that you hate are what make life so enjoyable for the vast majority of people. 

Not that long ago, everyone had to grow their own food. If we still had to do that there wouldn't be time for people to build computers, and invent the internet, and produce YouTube content. 

By the way more water meets health-based standards today than at any time in human history. 2014 is awesome.

Look, I know everything isn't perfect. Kids are more obese than before, but even that trend has been reversing. From 2008 to 2011, obesity rates in preschoolers declined in 19 of 43 studied states and territories and held steady in almost all the others. In various areas around the country, obesity in all kids dropped nearly 17% from 2005 to 2009. 

And we like to complain that we're watching too much TV, we're spending too much time on the internet, we're so plugged into Facebook and Twitter that we're missing real life. We're even wasting time watching YouTube videos. But part of the reason we're doing so is because we have much more leisure time than ever before. Is that so wrong? 

We hate processed food, but it makes it much easier to make dinner for our families. It doesn't take as long to clean clothes, or dishes, or the house. It doesn't take as much time to mow the lawn or care for our yards. It doesn't take as long to do many jobs, even. So we have more free time, and we spend some of that using modern technology. 

Do our kids really have fewer friends than we did? Is there any evidence for that at all? And do you really think technology is all bad? When I was a kid if I wanted to know what the chief export of the United States was in 1977 I'd have to get my mom or dad to drive me to a public library so I could look it up. Now my kids can walk over to the computer and tell you in seconds. I used to be annoyed by games like cookie clicker, then a couple of days ago my 7 year old girl told me how many quadrillion cookies she needed to buy her 100 antimatter condenser. This is bad?

It may be fun, or even human nature to long for days of yore. But it's important to realize that we see things through the haze of nostalgia. We remember the good and forget the bad. We also ignore the amazing progress we've made and see only the negative. But this is likely how it's always been. I bet if we dug into the archives we'd find some amazing editorials complaining how radio would rot kids' minds, or how since color TV was invented, kids spent no time outside anymore. And yet here we are.

Besides, before now, there was no Healthcare Triage. Would you really give that up? I think not. Happy New Year! It's a great time to be alive!