Is it perfectly possible to live like people did in the 50’s and 60’s

In another thread, I responded to @Sam_Stone thusly:

I’m not sure it’s true that a person today could actually live like a person in the 50s or 60s, in light of today’s society.

How far can one interact with the world without any internet access, for example? It’s an expense that didn’t exist half a century ago, but it would be a substantial hardship today if the only way you could go online was to use the public library, or if you didn’t have an email address.

Additionally, there may be other “common expenses” to both eras that are substantially different in cost. Healthcare being an example. As the ability to treat people has increased, due to advances in medicine and technology, healthcare has become more applicable to more conditions, thereby increasing the cost.

I’m not sure I’m absolutely correct, but I think it’s an interesting debate, especially in light of @Sam_Stone’s additional claim as to why people choose not to do so.

So, is it true that people in our modern times could live like they did in the 50s-60s, but that people are over consuming their peers of 65 years ago?

Or is it simply more expensive to live than it used to be?

I aghree that people aren’t going to live like the 50’s. My point was that the common refrain of, “We can’t live on one income like we did in the 50’s because we don’t tax the rich enough, or because the gap between rich and poor is higher than it was” is not correct. We don’t live like we did in the 50’s because we became wealthier and normalized a more expensive way of life, and we don’t want to go back.

I don’t think the Internet is a big cost increase, though. When I was a kid, our phone bill and cable bill (after we got cable) was in constant dollars at least as expensive as an internet connection today. And if you made a lot of long distance calls, it could be far more expensive.

There is no comparing housing costs between today and the 1950s though, especially in the prime urban markets. That’s the biggest hurdle, probably.

I’d also add that in some instances we’re better off even if you tried to live like that. I guarantee your car is safer, more efficient, and much more reliable, especially if you have it paid off. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that lots of costs are way out of comparison now (housing was mentioned, education), we have things that weren’t something then, but then most consumer goods are way cheaper. The decoupling of income from productivity is a real issue but I kind of agree with Sam that the refrain is debatable.

Aren’t the Amish doing OK living in the 1850s and 60s?

Are those peers freeze-dried or frozen?

It’s easy to hit certain years, but others are harder, one can find a friendly remote tribe somewhere like South America also and live like the natives did 100’s of years ago. But the 50’s is going to be hard to hit, and compromises needed to be made to make it as 50’s as it could be.

My parents bought a generic suburban house in the SF Bay Area in 1960 for $17,000. When my dad passed away in 2020, we sold it for $492,000. This is, of course, one of the lowest housing cost communities in the Bay Area.

According to the inflation calculator at 17,000 1960-dollars is worth $170,000 today. So there’s one data point indicating that the cost of housing is way above the general inflation rate.

Yeah, but people still have phone and cable (or tv app) bills. That’s the point: the internet is an additional thing to pay for as part of typical middle class living that didn’t even exist in the 50s/60s.

I think a factor that often gets overlooked is sheer population growth.

In the half-century from 1915 to 1965 the US population expanded from just about 100 million to just under 200 million. In the subsequent half-century up to 2015, it grew by over 125 million. At the same time, urbanization increased to the point where in 2010, over 80% of the US population was living in urban areas.

Many more people concentrated in fewer places comes with inevitable price increases on some fundamental goods and services. Breakthroughs in technology have made a lot of things better and a lot of things cheaper (not always the same things, of course), but they can’t entirely offset the supply-and-demand crunch for those fundamentals.

As are the increased numbers of cars per household, the increased travel costs as families and social groups become more geographically dispersed, etc.

It would appear that some people have attempted to do that. This video is interesting but doesn’t discuss the economics of living a 1950’s life style.

This woman lives every day like it’s 1958 - YouTube

Actually it substitutes for other things which people bought in the 50s/60s. Back then people would probably go to a movie once a week, subscribe to a daily newspaper, subscribe to a few magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Life or Look, TV Guide, Time, Better Homes and Gardens… Many fewer people do these things any more.

Not to mention it allows you to buy things more cheaply than we could do back then. I remember running all over the mall looking for the lowest price for a coffeemaker. Today one click and you get the lowest price in the whole country. I suspect the internet pays for itself.
People didn’t fly as much then, but airfare is a lot cheaper now than it was back then.

As for Sam’s stuff.
I was born in 1951. My mother never fixed my clothes, she didn’t even have a sewing machine. We went out to eat more than my wife and I do - out of choice, not necessity. The real currency is time, not money, and with fewer distractions back then we had more time for hobbies and for reading. But most of the stuff we supposedly need today we don’t really need, it’s just available.

The Amish aren’t entirely in those eras - they aren’t anti-technology so much as very, very cautious about interacting with it. Many Amish communities these days are using things like solar power, pocket calculators, and other bits and bobs. Most of their communities allow phones, even smart phones, *if used for business purposes or required by a job". They make use of advanced medical technology, from organ transplants to something as mundane as glucose meters for a diabetic. Last couple times I took a train trip Amish in Chicago’s Union station were using computerized kiosks with no problem, and one Amish guy was showing an elderly English (i.e. non-Amish) couple how to do so. They use stuff made of plastic, synthetic cloth for clothing, and so on.

So no, even the Amish aren’t living in either the 1850’s or 1950’s.

But, like the Amish, we can choose what our priorities are. The problem is that collectively we’ve mostly decided on one set, when maybe a different set would have effects we’d find beneficial. Or at least different.

We could live more like we did back then, and I have friends who have adjusted their lifestyles to their incomes rather than trying to keep up with the Jones. There are one-income families out there, but they’re perceived as “poor” and weird, and they don’t have as many toys and fancy things. They lack social status, which can be a barrier to advancing in some careers.

People choose to have cable/TV app bills. They are not at all essential. Heck there’s even still broadcast TV.

You can have a minimal pay-as-you-go dumbphone instead of a smart phone. Of course, there is a LOT of pressure these days to do everything on a smartphone, it’s getting harder to avoid the internet entirely. So… you can have minimal smartphone and just use it when you absolutely have to do so.

You can repair your old car instead of replacing it, which is also easier if you do at least minimal maintenance on it.

You can still cook from scratch.

You can still mend your clothes instead of buying news ones. (It used to be cheaper to make your own rather than buy but that’s no longer true.) Instead of replacing my my main winter coat this year when the zipper broke I replaced the zipper. Cost me about $3 and some time, which is still cheaper than another coat.

The thing is, these are, by and large, NOT the choices people make.

^ This. For me the internet replaces all the magazine subscriptions I used to have, I go to the movies less frequently, buy fewer CD’s and DVD’s, the daily newspaper… Not sure it saves me money, but I have less clutter around the house without all that paper coming in. And it might, overall, save me money. Haven’t crunched the numbers on that.

There’s also the time savings for being able to do things over the internet that used to require us to physically go somewhere (@Voyager mentions the shopping aspect) or mail something.

When traveling I can use the GPS on my phone or, if you have a dumbphone, you can still plan your trip out ahead of time on a computer instead of having to purchase maps for a long distance trip. If you’re already paying for internet access it’s free, and if you’re not you can probably still do it for free at your local library (printing out your plans might cost a buck or two).

It all comes down to what choices you choose to make. Many, if not most, people don’t put a lot of thought into their daily choices but they could if they wanted to do so. Most choose not to live as people did in the 1950’s when families lived in smaller spaces, had fewer vehicles, cooked most meals in the home, and usually had fewer material things.

That list doesn’t actually impress me much if any, and the conclusion at the end is certainly a blanket statement with no basis in reality.

We have one used, 20-yo. car. We live in a 800 sq.ft. house. We cook well over 90 % of our food at home, and eat out maybe three times a year. I wear all my clothes until they basically drop off my body, and we mend them regularly until that time. Vacation time means driving to national parks or visiting relatives.

We do use the internet daily, although I don’t use the smartphone for other than calling and texting.

We like living like this, and know dozens of people who do likewise.

This would be us. My husband was an engineer and with his good but not remarkable income and our frugal, live-simple, do-it-yourself, repair-it-until-it’s-unusable attitudes, we lived a one-income life and retired comfortably. However, we acquired a crummy piece of land from my family for little money and built our little house on it (with our own hands), for about $75 K in the 1980’s, and sold it for $875K in 2018. That part had nothing to do with our choices, but was just riding a historical wave in the greater Bay Area.

My husband also chose to work for less salary for the University of California instead of private industry, which meant that he retired with the kind of benefits package that nobody gets at his income level anymore (even from UC).

The internet, eating out, and buying clothes are all cheaper than what people did in the 50s. What costs more is housing, medical care, and college.

Also, women mostly don’t work to keep up with the Joneses. They work to afford a place to live, or they work so as not to be totally dependant on a man, or they work because they take satisfaction in earning a living or in what they do. The country isn’t full of women wishing they could be 50s housewives. The 50s was full of frustrated women who started the modern feminist movement.

In the 1950s, if you lived in a small town there was still a reasonable chance that town had one or more factories with decent-paying jobs for the long term. Nowadays, in many small towns the employment prospects tend to be much grimmer: if you don’t work for the school district, you’re probably either working low-wage retail/service or commuting to a larger town, with the accompanying time and expense thereof.

That’s true. It’s also true that factory wouldn’t hire women for those jobs, and probably fired women in lower paying secretarial roles when they got pregnant.

Eh, depended on the factory. Women in garment-making, for example, has a very long history, and by the mid-1950s around four million American women had manufacturing jobs.