The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity tells how social and economic factors relate to the success of individuals, families, opportunity, and freedom. Through charts that track changes, and commentary that explains the trends, the Index shows the current state of some key features of American society and tells whether specific indicators are improving or getting off track.
What We Track
The Index tracks social and economic factors related to culture, poverty and dependence, and general opportunity in America. In order to monitor trends and measure our country’s progress, this report includes 31 indicators in three categories based on regularly updated national data:
- Cultural indicators, including data on family, religious practice, and civil society;
- Poverty and dependence indicators related to marriage and poverty, workforce participation, and welfare spending and participation; and
- General opportunity indicators, such as measures of education, jobs and wealth, and economic freedom.
How We Track
For each indicator, we provide the most recent year of data available as of March 2014 and historical data, including the change over the past one, five, and 10 years.1 Data for each of the 31 indicators are shown in chart form. A red line designates the main indicator; in some cases, related data are displayed alongside using grayscale lines. A key above each chart shows the change over one-year, five-year, and 10-year periods (with exceptions in the case of a few indicators).
The primary focus of this Index and the commentators’ contributions is the 10-year change and whether it is on the right track. By using a 10-year change, we are able to observe what has happened over a longer period of time, rather than focusing on a single year. This longer time horizon gives readers a feel for what has been happening regardless of who is President, which party controls Congress, or the state of the economy at any particular time. While examining changes from one year to the next can be helpful, annual data may not always be the most reliable tool for determining overall movement in the right or wrong direction. This is particularly true with data that are affected by the business cycle, such as labor market indicators and data on poverty. It is also true for cultural trends that typically change quite gradually.Download our Methodology | Download the Indicators Master Table
To give context to these indicators, we have invited a variety of scholars within The Heritage Foundation, and at other organizations, to provide commentary. Heritage scholars Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow, and David Azerrad, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, survey the landscape of the entire report in their introductory essay. They discuss social and economic factors and the role of these factors in overcoming poverty and dependence, and generating opportunity.
Each of the three sections opens with a topical essay to set the stage for the indicators. Kathryn Lopez, journalist and senior fellow at the National Review Institute, comments on the cultural indicators section. Larry Mead of New York University writes on the significance of work and marriage in the poverty and dependence indicators section. Two Heritage scholars—Lindsey Burke, Will Skillman Fellow in Education, and Stuart Butler, Director of the Center for Policy Innovation—team up on an essay about the relationship between education and general opportunity in the final section.
For select indicators, we have asked experts to provide commentary on the trend in that indicator and what it shows about culture and opportunity generally in America. These highly respected scholars draw on knowledge in their field that is both broad and deep. Their contributions provide a helpful guide for non-specialists to navigate the data presented in the Index.
Their commentaries also allow readers to gain insights from a wider range of research. While data from many interesting surveys and reports did not fit the specific criteria for inclusion as indicators in this Index, the contributors have drawn on their broad knowledge of their fields to include additional relevant data and research.
Why It Matters
The Heritage Foundation seeks to advance conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. This Index is part of a set designed to assess our nation’s strength in these areas. It is the second in a trilogy of Heritage indexes that will measure America’s economic, social, and military strength to help inform the policy conversation both in Washington and across America.
Policymakers will find the foundational data they need to address issues involving:
- marriage, family, and civil society;
- welfare reform;
- reduced spending;
- economic growth; and
- the opportunity of individuals in a free society to improve their circumstances.
Citizens can use this Index to equip themselves to engage in conversations—whether at a town hall meeting with elected officials or right at the dinner table with the next generation of citizens—about the future of this great nation.
Culture matters, and our actions shape it. We shape it as we make choices individually, and as we make our voices heard in the political process, from our city halls to Washington, D.C. The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity will assist all those striving to advance an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.