I found this article by Cheryl Russell really interesting and an eye-opener! I was not very old in 1950, but many statements were still factual in 1960, when I was a teenager.
What the Time Traveler Sees
The year is 1950, and you have been transported (magically, of course) more than half a century into the future to the present time. What would you see? What would surprise you the most? This is a no-brainer: technological change would be the biggest stunner-cell phones, computers, and the Internet. But beyond the obvious technological marvels of the day lie profound changes in our demographics and lifestyles that would be just as shocking as our high-tech gadgets to the 1950s’ time traveler. Here are the ten jaw-dropping demographic trends that make us different from the way we used to be-and what they tell us about our future.
1. We are fatter Much fatter. In 1960, the average woman weighed a reasonable 140 pounds. Now she weighs an oversized 164 pounds. The average man has seen his weight rise from 166 to 191 pounds. A new study study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 75 percent of our weight gain is from eating too much rather than exercising too little.
2. We are diverse. In 1950, fully nine out of ten Americans were white-and virtually all whites were non-Hispanic. Today, only 66 percent are non-Hispanic white, and Hispanics-who were not part of the mix in 1950-are now the largest minority. Every year the U.S. population grows by another 3 million, and Hispanics account for half the gain. Most of the increase is occurring in the nation’s maternity wards, not at the border crossings.
3. We are richer Much richer. The median income of the average household climbed 31 percent over the past forty years, after adjusting for inflation. This is good news, but unfortunately it is also old news. Median household income peaked several years ago, in 1999. Even more alarming, the median earnings of men with full-time jobs peaked all the way back in 1986. Only one factor fueled household income growth until 1999: working women.
4. Most women (including mothers) work In 1960, only 28 percent of married women with children under age 18 were in the labor force. Today, fully 67 percent have jobs. Americans once disapproved of working women, especially working mothers. No longer. The working mother is now the only factor that keeps many families from falling out of the middle-class. But mother’s touch may be fading. The median earnings of women with full-time jobs peaked in 2002, after adjusting for inflation.
5. We are better educated In 1950, only 34 percent of adults had a high school diploma. Today, fully 85 percent of adults are high school graduates. The percentage of Americans with a college degree has climbed from just 6 to 28 percent. But the college boost to incomes may be waning. The median income of households headed by college graduates peaked in 1999 and has fallen 5 percent since then, after adjusting for inflation.
6. Food is cheaper Food prices have plummeted since 1950. The average household spends 40 percent less on food today than in 1950, after adjusting for inflation. But cheap food may not be entirely beneficial. The NBER examination of the reasons for our weight gain finds that as food gets cheaper, we eat more-adding to our girth.
7. We have more stuff Houses are bigger than ever, but they are home to fewer people. More than one in four households (27 percent) are now home to just one person, up from 11 percent in 1950. Our growing affluence has allowed us to buy larger houses, second and third cars, more television sets and other stuff-which is why we also have 2.2 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space available for our use, according to the Self Storage Association.
8. Fewer households have children Since 1950, the share of households with children has plummeted from nearly half to less than one-third, imperiling the public education system as childless homeowners balk at rising property taxes. It doesn’t help that nearly half-45 percent-of children are Asian, black, or Hispanic, while non-Hispanic whites pay 82 percent of property taxes.
9. More children are born out-of-wedlock As men’s incomes have fallen, women have become less willing to make a lifetime commitment to one man. Consequently, out-of-wedlock births are now commonplace. The increasingly dire economic plight of men can be read in this trend: the percentage of babies born out-of-wedlock has climbed from 4 percent in 1950 to 38 percent today.
10. We are living longer Our life expectancy is at an all-time high of nearly 78 years. Life expectancy is rising in part because the death rate from heart disease has plummeted thanks to new medications and the decline in smoking. Disturbingly, however, a shrinking share of young and middle-aged adults report being in very good or excellent physical health, and their mental health is eroding as well.
To the time traveler, it is obvious that Americans have come a long way since 1950. Our rising standard of living over the decades has made us the richest people on earth. But the time traveler can also see-perhaps more clearly than we-warning signs that we may have reached the summit as the Internet levels living standards around the world.
By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications For a comprehensive look at the demographic and socioeconomic trends that have transformed us since 1950, see the new edition of Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections, 3rd edition. If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at firstname.lastname@example.org.