I have seen the sentiment that people nowadays are worse off than previous generations. I don’t agree, I think people in the United States are currently enjoying a better standard of living than previous generations.
My mother was born in a rural farmhouse with no running water. They got their water from a cistern until she was in her teens. Going to a restaurant was a once or twice a year treat. She actually did have to walk two miles in the snow to school, although it was only uphill one way. They didn’t have a television until she was well into her teens. She didn’t think it was that bad when she was growing up because that was all she knew. She enjoyed her childhood but she doesn’t have any nostalgia about that time. She is quite happy with her current standard of living.
Things have changed quite a bit even since my childhood. Cable TV wasn’t available in our town until I was a teenager. The full cable lineup was 13 channels and it didn’t include MTV. Our TV didn’t have a remote, which wasn’t uncommon at that time. Us kids served as the remote. I was into computers as a kid and had an Atari 400 computer which had a fraction of the computing power that a cell phone has now. There was no internet. Long distance calls were expensive. Our house didn’t have central air conditioning and neither did any of the other houses on our street even though they were all relatively new. We didn’t have a microwave. Going out to eat was a special occasion. I looked forward to when we would travel to a large city since we might get to eat at a McDonald’s.
Let’s compare then to now. Our current basic cable TV lineup has about 60 channels. You can’t buy a TV without a remote. A personal computer is incredibly more powerful now and the cost is about the same. Most people have cell phones now and long distance calls are just another phone call. The internet is commonplace now with the average American spending 13 hours a week online. If you didn’t grow up without internet you may not realize just how great a resource it is. Having central air conditioning in a new house is the norm now. Back in the mid 70s only 36% of the entire U.S. population had air conditioning at all. The large majority of households have microwaves now. Going out to eat isn’t a special treat anymore. Overall, 7 percent of the U.S. population visits McDonald’s each day, and 20 to 25 percent eat in some kind of fast-food restaurant. Some studies suggest that, on average, Americans actually eat one out of every four meals and snacks outside of the home.
You could argue that some of these advances are actually detrimental to quality of life but I think it is clear that we enjoy a much higher standard of living now than ever before. There are some areas where the current generation isn’t as well off such as the high cost of higher education. On the other hand college attendance rates are a lot higher than they used to be. Overall, I think kids today are better off than their parents.
The current generation may eventually see their quality of living decrease due to peak oil, a debt default, or some other major happening but for now they have it pretty good.