How Societies Change Over Time - Introduction To The Project
Click here to go back to the home page
Click here to go back to the reports page  


This project examines the ways in which societies change over time.  Specifically, we have present reports on social, economic and political aspects of society, and trends over time in these characteristics.  Through these reports, we intend to present a picture of how society is constructed, and how society changes over time.

We use data sets that are available on the web to describe many different aspects of society, such as basic socio-demographics (i.e., population size, growth, age and urban distribution, infant mortality rate, education), technology (i.e., electricity consumption, telephone mainlines), politics (i.e., political rights, freedom, armed conflict) and communication (tv, radio, newspaper, internet). We also present long term changes in economic growth and population, to place more current changes in context.

It is expected that these reports can serve several purposes:

 •   A source, for teachers, students, researchers, policy makers and the general public, of information about social change.

 •   Easily accessible reports presenting a comprehensive picture of how societies change.

 •   An example for researchers, to see what kind of research is possible, with all of the free data available on the web.

 •   A starting point for researchers interested in social change, and for future research by Dr.’s Shackman, Liu and Wang.

 •   A way to advance the discipline, by creating collaborations and serving as linking point of longitudinal multinational data.

Detailed Purpose Of The Project

Information about social change
:  People often want to know whether the world has become healthier, poverty has decreased or increased, freedom has changed, and so forth.  These reports contains data to answer those questions.

A comprehensive picture on how societies change: Most of the data and analyses presented in this web based report are also presented elsewhere.  However, few other single web sites analyzes all of the many different aspects of social change together (see note at bottom).  Thus one goal of this project is to produce a comprehensive web based report of how societies change.

An example for researchers: These reports can show what data are available, how they may be used, what trends may be derived, and what kinds of future research might be usefully pursued by other researchers.  As mentioned above, few web sites currently examine all of the many different variables in one single place.  Thus, this web based report can stimulate new lines of research.

A data starting point: This site also serves as a web location where links are provided for all of the data used in this study.  While all of the data used are available on the web, no other single web site except these reports contains all of the data or links in one place.

In addition, where possible, this web site will make available the data set used in this study.  Thus, researchers can use this site as a starting point to gather data for their own research.  Dr.s Shackman, Liu and Wang can also use this project as a base for future research, such as more in depth time series studies of selected regions (e.g., Europe, Latin America), where more time series data are available.  In addition, this site can also serve as a basic link point which other researchers can use to suggest additional longitudinal multi national data sets, that can be linked and used in this report, and can thus be easily available for other researchers.

Collaboration.  It is also expected that this project can initiate new networks of collaboration between Dr.s Shackman, Liu and Wang, and other researchers.

Project Plans

These reports currently include a literature review of theories and approaches to social, political and economic change, and reports describing social, demographic and political change, changes in communication and travel, and long term changes in economics and population. Planned future reports include examining the relationships among the various aspects of society. We also plan to examine change in smaller regions or in individual states, where longitudinal data may cover longer time periods. Future plans include:

A Basic Guide to Freedom 

Which Countries Get Better

We also plan to develop a database composed of public domain data from the US government, so that anyone can select variables and create their own data set.

Use Of Reports 


These reports may freely be cited and quoted, as long as proper citation is used.  Please do not repost these reports anywhere, as we may revise them.  Please post a link to this site instead.  If you do post a link or use these reports, we would appreciate knowing.  Send a note to  gsociology  at  yahoo dot com

What is society

These reports describe recent changes in society, in the 20th century, reporting on different "spheres" of society, e.g., social, technological, economic and political.  These divisions (the spheres) are used simply to organize the reports, rather than to conclude that there are really seperate areas.  Society, we believe, is a set of interconnected processes that operate together and cannot truly be understood independently of each other.  Thus, in future reports, we will look at the relationships among all of these 'spheres' and processes.  We also hope to discuss all of the interrelated processes to develop a comprehensive picture of society.

Overview of social change

These reports are meant to be overviews. These reports describe broad general patterns of change in the world as a whole, or among "more" or "less" developed groups, on average. For example, as the demographic reports demonstrate, on the whole, there has been large reductions in infant mortality rates, and illiteracy, and increasing urbanization.

However, there is a lot of variation within groups of countries, for example, urbanization among "less developed" countries varies from less than 5% to more than 70%. It is similarly likely that there is a lot of variation within individual countries. Rating a country as having a certain level of education doesn't necessarily apply to all subgroups in the country.

Thus these reports are an overview, or first approach. A future approach would be to look more closely at specific regions, or individual countries, using individual state data for how change has occured at the more local level. Such reports are being considered.

Free Data

All of the data sets used in these reports are available on the web. In all cases, we obtained permission from the authors or organizations to use the data sets in our reports. Some of the data sets, such as the U.S. Census Bureau's International Database, are public domain, and can be used by anyone for any purpose without need for permission. Others require registration or written permission. But one purpose of this report is to identify and demonstrate the use of free data, so we only used data sets that are available free on the web and that permission can be obtained for use.

Several of the data sets used in these reports are included in a combined data set available on this web site.  Many people and organizations kindly gave their permission for their data to be used in these reports and to be made available for free in our data set.  Anyone can download and use those data without need for further permission.  It would be nice, though, if researchers notified the data owners when the data is used.

For some data sets, the sources require registration at the original data web site to use their data.  The people who prepared those data did give us permission to use the data in this report, for which we are grateful, but we didn't ask about including the data in the combined data set.  Those data, though, are available for free from the original sources.


Of course, we appreciate any feedback about these reports. Send gene a note at gsociology at yahoo dot com. Thanks!


Click here to go back to the reports page
last modified 10/19/03