Poll Shows Well-Off, Happy Class
Harvard Graduates of '44 Are Financially Secure, Family-Oriented and Politically Moderate
In the 50 years since their graduation, members of the Harvard Class of 1944 have largely met their own expectations of financial success and family comfort.
A poll of 327 of Harvard's 1944 graduates reveals that members of class are most typically political moderates, living in a suburb and still married.
"I was not too surprised," says A. Leroy Atherton '44-'43, who conducted the poll with classmate Richard P. Kleeman '44. "If anything surprised me, it was the degree of unanimity on some issues."
The poll includes no women, since Radcliffe was a separate institution at the time.
The war was the defining moment in many peoples' lives, Atherton says, and it made them more focused on their studies when they returned.
"It was certainly a very early defining event," Kleeman says.
It also shaped their political stances, especially in foreign relations, Atherton says.
"One thing I found encouraging was the quite overwhelming emphasis on the need for the U.S. to maintain a place on the world stage," he says.
Where They Came From
A poll of the Classes of 1943 and 1944 conducted by the yearbook at graduation found a largely middle-class student body intending to enter the professional world after the war.
Though most expected military service directly after college, approximately 15 percent wished to be doctors, with significant numbers planning to become engineers, financiers or manufacturing executives.
Approximately half the surveyed classes attended private schools, and half had family incomes between $5,000 and $7,500, according to the yearbook poll.
The yearbook poll also showed seniors who favored classical music on the radio (65 percent), preferred strong liquor over beer or non-alcoholic beverages (86 percent), and studied less because of the war (66 percent).
They also liked mandatory calisthenics instituted for the war: only 25 percent termed them a "waste of time."
Some of these personal preferences have changed little over the last half-century, according to this year's survey. Sixty-eight percent of the class still exercise, and 80 percent still drink alcoholic beverages.
Today, the Class of '44 is involved a variety of professions--though many are now retired--and is very financially secure.
Twenty-nine percent of households earn between $50,000 and $99,000, 29 percent between $100,000 and $199,000 and 14 percent more than $200,000.
And these weren't even the house holds' income brackets. To that question, the poll found that 43 percent earned between $100,000 and $199,000, and 18 percent made more than 200,000.
But even with those numbers, only six percent of the class termed itself "rich," with 59 percent of alums saying they are "comfortable."
Evidence seems to show that many are more than just well off, however. Forty percent of the respondents own second homes. A plurality of the alumni have their first homes in the suburbs (42 percent), with 25 percent in cities and 16 percent in the country.
And only five percent said the recent recession has had "great impact" on their lives.
The most popular profession was in health care, with 15 percent--the same proportion planning to enter medicine in 1944. The second most popular was the law, which includes 11 percent of the poll's respondents.
Other well-represented professions included education (13 percent), finance (eight percent) business (seven percent) and scientific research (six percent).
Most members of the class (61 percent) Did not change professions over their working lives, and 79 percent say they would choose the same career again.
The political leanings of the fiftieth anniversary Harvard class are fairly centrist, with an anti-isolationist tendency in their foreign policy views.
"I think on the whole they grouped pretty much around the median," Kleeman says. "We had the extremes represented but on the whole I think we were pretty much a centrist group."
The class is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans (39 percent each), with the remaining 11 percent claiming independent status. Twenty-one per cent did term themselves "liberal Democrats," matched by the same proportion calling themselves "middle of the road" Republicans.
Only three percent of respondents were "radicals": one percent radicals Democrats, one percent Republicans, and one percent Independents.
In the 1992 election, Bill Clinton received 58 percent of the class' votes, while George Bush drew 34 percent and eight percent chose "other" candidates--notably Ross Perot. A full 92 percent of the respondents are glad of the presidential vote they cast, according to the poll.
Members of the Class of '44 have little faith in the United Nations as a force for international peace.
Eighty-three percent say the U.N. is not now capable of ensuring a stable new world order. But they also say there's still hope: 76 percent feel the U.S. can "play a role" in making the U.N. more effective.
A Turbulent Time
While World War II affected students of 1944 more than perhaps any other historical event in their life-times, the turbulent period since graduation has also touched their lives in many ways.
The class was divided on which events affected them the most. Relatively few sent children to Vietnam, and Atherton notes the Vietnam, conflict drew far less support from members of the class than World War II had.
Only eight percent said the sexual revolution of the 1960s had "great impact" on them, though one noted on the survey that he regretted coming to late for it.
The civil rights revolution had "some" or "little" impact for most, with only 13 percent citing it as extremely influential.
The feminist movement had "some" or "little impact on 64 percent of the all-male class, while 22 percent said it didn't affect them at all.
Atherton says he feels the most "remarkable" thing about his class is its feeling of unity.
Due to the war, "we didn't have the bonding you think of at college," he says. "We have since gradually begun to find our identity as a class."
Sixty-four percent of the class feels "very favorable" about its Harvard education today. Opinion is a bit more tepid about "Harvard today": 34 percent are "very favorable," and 32 percent are "somewhat favorable."