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Are we Living Larger or Living Differently?

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Free Money Finance wrote a couple of days ago that we appear to be living larger than we were in the 70s. The article focuses an MSN report and data from a survey by Pew Research.

Fact from the article: "At the start of the 1970s, only 31% of households had more than one car, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; more than a quarter had no vehicles at all. By 1995, 60% of households had more than one car and only 8% were carless."
My Explanation: Many households are dual income, which often require two cars for transportation.

Fact from the article: "We ate at home. ...even as food costs have dropped, the portion of our budgets we spend on eating out has grown considerably."
My Explanation: Similar to the above explanation, with both adults working full time, there's less time to cook at home. The solution, out source the job to a restaurant.

Fact from the article: "We vacationed closer to home, too. U.S. airlines weren't deregulated until 1978, and before then flying was a pricey proposition."
My Explanation: There's not really much to explain, flying is cheaper now, so people are able to spend a little more and get far better value. It's also worth noting that in the world of the Internet it's easier to make friends far away and want to visit them. Additionally one can "tour" far away destinations easier online, so we know what we were missing now. I believe that we've decided that we don't want to miss it anymore.

Fact from the article: (Paraphrased) We spend more on entertainment expenses. "TV was free; most people picked up stations with an antenna attached to the roof."
My Explanation: In the 1970's it was possible to watch your favorite sports team on free television. New Englanders have to pay for cable to watch the Red Sox now. If I want to watch them from California, it will cost an addition $160 a year for a special package. In the 1970's that antenna attached to the roof gave pretty good reception. Today, in my apartment where I can't attach antenna's to the roof, I need cable or satellite television to get what people got for free in the 1970's

Fact from the article: 3% of the people surveyed considered an iPod as a necessity.
My Explanation: How many people considered turntables, radios, or 8-track tape players necessities in the 1970s? We aren't given that data, but I'm betting more than 3%.

See living larger and living differently part 2, for more thoughts and conclusions on how we've changed.

Last updated on August 21, 2008.

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Society and Money

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14 Responses to “Are we Living Larger or Living Differently?”

  1. dong says:

    This is actually one the bigger questions with regards to inflation. How do we measure it? Alot of people feel that the CPI is a poor measure of “True” inflation because it measures really just commodity cost. The oft cited example is that we have 100% more channels for cable and we pay 100% more for it, it costs the same because we have 100% more service. It’s not clear to me if that’s really a true measure. But at the same time is inflation suppose to measure standard of living improvements?

  2. With dual income families I might offer that a lot of these situations are out of necessity. Even for the ones that don’t start out of necessity, the lifestyles choices often cement dual incomes as necessity.

    It could be argued that dual incomes are needed because we are living bigger.

    As for antennas, in a few weeks I hope to cancel cable, grab a set top antenna, and a lifetime tivo box. I will lose my Phillies games, but it something I can live with for a $700 savings a year( I could even get MLB TV for 90 bucks a year I think). Antennas have come along way, and even pick up HD channels and channels from other cities depending on location. Just a thought.

    Here is just one example.

  3. plonkee says:

    Your reasoning explains how things have come to pass, but not whether that makes them good decisions any more.

    FWIW if I really think about it, my mp3 player is verging on a necessity. Certainly if I broke it, I’d buy a new one. I’d never admit that in a survey though.

  4. KMC says:

    To answer the title of your post exactly, just this morning I heard on NPR that 1 in 5 homes now have 4 bedrooms versus 1 in 6 in 1990. (I could find census data to confirm the 1990 number, but couldn’t find the more recent number) So, yeah, it appears we are living larger (at least our homes are).

  5. All I can say is thank you productivity… I love my quality of life.

  6. MossySF says:

    I’ve seen stats that say the average sq ft was 1500 back then and it’s 2400 now.

    Question is whether the living larger requires dual income — or dual income forces the living larger.

  7. the standard of living has been improving for decades. even the lower-middle class people
    live better than british kings used to 500 years ago. (except for romans who’ve had indoor plumbing for 2000 years!)

  8. Minimum Wage says:

    I don’t think workers at the bottom of the ecopnomy are living larger. I earn less today in real (inflation-adjusted) terms than I did in 1980.

  9. Super Saver says:

    Lazy Man,

    I think many people are living larger AND living differently. This begs the question of do we need to or do we choose to? My personal opinion is most of us choose to (which is ok) but rationalize it as we need to :-)

    Here via the Sunday Review #22 by Golbguru.

  10. Marcus says:

    Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Thanks for presenting a different perspective.

  11. Good comments – financial conditions vary so much when comparing decades that it’s very hard to make a comparison. Also, when you factor in increases in standard of living with increased price competition driving down consumer goods, it’s no surprise the modern situation is so different.


  12. […] news article came up that Americans are living larger than usual. I argued that people are just living differently. Unexpectedly, it turned into a two-part […]

  13. […] Man wonders if we are living larger or living differently than the generations that have come before. He has some explanations for those in my generation not […]

  14. […] Man at Lazy Man and Money wonders whether we are now living larger or just living differently. Things now are much different from those 30 years ago, are we supposed to live the […]

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