From wirecutter, we see yet another article lamenting the loss of the American dream and how it isn’t possible for a family to live in a home with only one breadwinner. I call bullshit.

I hear this all of the time, and I have to say that I disagree with it. Americans don’t want to have the lifestyle of their grandparents, they want to live a life of unbelievably expensive leisure and luxury.

Degradation of the Family

The idea of a basic family: The Father, Mother, and 2.4 children is no longer the case in America. The share of one-parent families with children under the age of 18 has grown from 7.4% of all families in 1950 to 34.3% of all families today. It’s harder for a family to make it when there is only one adult taking care of what used to be taken care of by two adults.

My mother made most of our clothes, and what store bought clothing we did have wasn’t expensive designer stuff. For jeans, we wore Sears Toughskins because my mother claimed that they lasted longer than the stuff she made at home. I was lucky, being the oldest. My younger brother wound up wearing all of the stuff that I handed down after it no longer fit. My brother and I owned two pairs of shoes at a time- tennis shoes for general wear, and dress shoes for church and other “nice clothes” events.

Mom cooked all of the meals. We almost never ate out. When there were dinners out, it was Mom and Dad going out and we got a babysitter.

Owning a home

The average home built in 2023 is 2657 square feet. Just 50 years ago in 1973, the average new home in the US was 1660 square feet. Seventy five years ago, in 1948, the average size of a new single family home was 983 square feet. In 1938, new homes were slightly larger at 1173 square feet, but it was also more common to have multigenerational households then, with grandparents, parents, and children all living under the same roof.
Children shared a bedroom. I remember when I finally got my own room- I was a teenager and thought we had become rich. My parents bought a new house, and my brother and we finally got our own rooms. Looking back, I remember thinking how large that house is. Built in the late 70’s, it’s a four bedroom house that is only 1854 square feet, small by today’s standards.


Technology has played a role as well. Everyone in the family now has a smart phone with a data plan that permits them to be online 24/7. Multiple televisions in a house, something virtually unheard of in 1973, are the norm.

The stay at home mom didn’t sit around all day and watch TV 50 years ago. No, the woman of the house cooked, cleaned, took care of the kids, made her own and the children’s clothes, and all of the other household chores.

Back then, Dad had the only car, and the upper middle class families had a second, family car. If one of the kids wanted their own car, they paid for it themselves by getting a job.


In 1970, only half of Americans graduated from high school, less than 10 percent went to college. When you were 15 or 16, you went out and got a job. You didn’t spend your whole life in school majoring in smoking weed and getting laid while studying gender roles of non-binary sexual predators. No, you became a mechanic, a farmer, or a factory worker. You did something productive with your life and didn’t waste it making TikTok videos about sex toys.

If you want to live like Americans did in the 50s through the 70s, it is still attainable.

Categories: economicsFake News


BobT · April 9, 2024 at 6:48 am

I agree – I also call bullshit.

Don W Curton · April 9, 2024 at 7:00 am

This exactly. Especially the materialism. What I’m paying for cable, premium movie channels, and cell phones now would easily make my house payment back in the early 90’s. With money left over. Yet every time I talk about “load shedding” those vampire payments (amazon prime, max, hulu, starz, etc.) I get pushback from the wife. I’d dearly love to put that money into savings instead, given that we barely watch TV anyway.

My first house, purchased early 90’s, was built in the 40’s. The footprint was maybe 1400 sq ft. The closets were extremely small. Yet the house was built like a brick shithouse. Stout. But you could easily tell that people back then simply didn’t own as much luxury items as today.

Also cars. My family had multiple vehicles in the 70’s, but all of them were at least 10+ years old, sometimes much older, all except for my mom’s car which was usually only 5 years old. We worked on them constantly, but no way was my old man going to go to a dealership and buy something new. That was only something rich people did.

And yes, my mom sewed clothes for us and we also wore hand-me-downs from my cousins. God forbid our children (or grandchildren) today do the same. Oh no. Not at all. My first granddaughter had enough clothes purchased by us and the other grandparents to wear a different outfit every day and by time the rotation got back to the first outfit, she’d outgrown it.

I better stop, I’m almost to the “get off my lawn” stage of old man ranting.

Grumpy51 · April 9, 2024 at 7:26 am

^^^^^ THIS.

My father (an electrical engineer) made <$10K in the 60s. And supported a family of 7 with it. Vacations revolved around him going to work conferences (or temporary assignments), with all of us staying in the same hotel room….. Yeah, it CAN be done, but "wants" of yesterday have become "needs" of today.

Bad Dancer · April 9, 2024 at 8:03 am

Mixed feeling on this one. Sam Vimes Boots Theory heavily applies here in terms of clothes, goods, and appliances.

I can take my best shot at repairing many of my appliances but they become more complicated and built less robust over time. I remember as a kid my tennis shoes would last me till I outgrew them with appropriate care now they’ll last a year and really should be replaced sooner than that as uppers seperate from the sole or the treads go out. My father still has flannel shirts he wore when I was a kid helping out with yard work that are perfectly servicable while I can’t find a brand that doesn’t go saggy and thin within a year or two.

Starter jobs are difficult for kids as most of the ones that were reserved for them are now considered a career for adults. Fast food, go-fer on a construction crew, road or yard crew Lots of places dont want the liability of a teen. Middle jobs now have been conditioned to not hire someone to train them they want an applicant with a Masters to man a counter.

Housing is the same the market just isn’t mobile for many people. Starter homes get given to section 8 types through grants who wreck them or become forever homes as people move in and can’t move out. I watched one in the neighborhood I jog in go from 227,000 ish to over 580,000 here and any time my boss hears about what I’m paying in rent she laughs and says how dumb I am because thats what her and her husband paid for their McMansion with land and outbuildings back in the 70s. How silly of me to have not been in her generation with inherited wealth! Going further out to what you’d think would be more affordable isn’t as kids are selling their parents and grandparents farm land to build storage units or luxery apartments or per “the new American Dream: Condo living” !

Living within my means and saving over half my pay check every month still means I’m getting outpaced by inflation and companies buying up properties to flip or tear down for apartments. The only light I see is the self study I have to try and improve my viability at work for a raise or to change careers.

I’m gonna keep trucking and learning and hopefully some day be where I’d like to be

    Divemedic · April 9, 2024 at 9:09 am

    You think you are the first generation to have it tough? Every generation thinks that.

    Jonathan · April 9, 2024 at 9:39 am

    In 1937 my grandfather moved his family from Massachusetts to Michigan for a job paying the princely sum of $50 a week.
    If you can’t afford a house or get a good job where you are, move to somewhere you can.
    One problem I see often is people who complain about where they are but who are unwilling to make a change for the better.

      Bad Dancer · April 9, 2024 at 11:58 am

      You’re right about that and the willingness to work does go a long way. I have a good job in a field which primarily requires me to be at university or government research sites which usually means a higher cost of living. I’m working on building the talents and skills I need to make a change to a lower cost of living area or to make myself more competitive in my current field.

      I have lots of hobbies I have monitized which does help and a work background from chicken houses to government contracting and almost everything in between. It’s not for lack of effort.

    Steve · April 9, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    Re: Boots Theory, rubbish. At most it would apply to commodities, where there may be a race to the bottom, but in goods and services, manufacturers and marketeers stress the differences between their products and another’s superficially similar product. Ultimately the reason people choose cheap Chinese goods is simply because they want to use the savings for other stuff, and enough people think that way.

    If you want better quality, stop buying the cheap shit.

    Re: appliances, true to some extent, but the vast majority of “essential” appliances were not in even affluent homes in the early ’70s. My parents didn’t have air conditioning until the mid ’80s, and then it was just a window model in the kitchen. Heck, even the now ubiquitous coffee maker wasn’t available to the public until ’73, IIRC.

Jonathan · April 9, 2024 at 8:21 am

I tell people the same thing and they push back hard.
Lots of people have defined the American Dream upwards and defined their work ethic downward. They want high pay with no work.
Can a family live well on a single income? Yes – my family is proof.
The easiest practical way is to get the education for a good job and use that to get a well paying job in an inexpensive area.
Where we live now is the cheapest housing in the state and the second highest average income in the state.
The catch is that we’re 200+ miles in any direction from a city over 25,000; there is no Costco, Target, etc any closer. Average house prices are going up even here, currently a little above 250k. The closest Walmart is 50 miles away, in a town where the average is 350k and rising.
The last number I saw put average household income at 92k a year; it’s only risen since then.
I know people who have lost good jobs for being unwilling to work, or being unwilling to stay clean enough to pass a drug test.
The jobs here are often long, dirty, and physically demanding but pay well. To give an example I saw recently: Porta potty service worker. Driver’s license and high school diploma. Starting pay $25/hr, all the overtime you can handle at time and a half.

Tsgt Joe · April 9, 2024 at 9:02 am

I’m 75. When I was a kid, there werent a lot of things competing for the consumer $. Most folks didnt have multiple cars, consumer electronics consisted of a black and white tv, a record player and a couple of radios. The phone was hardwired to the house. There were busses and bicycles if I needed to get around ( I grew up in Detroit). Most folks had much smaller wardrobes. Life was simpler. In 1967, after high school I went to work in an auto plant, with shift differential I made $3.78. Folks were raising families in the suburbs on that pay.

Nolan Parker · April 9, 2024 at 9:33 am

Grampa had a 13_stool snackbar in the foyer of Epps supermarket in Houston. When i met him he had a ancient pontiac. Floorboard was flat.Old. I was four? Five,maybe,,in around seven years he had had a roomy two car garage built, added a bedroom, had gutters built and installed. It’s the only time I saw anyone use one of those old blow torches. He slapped up a little shed/barn, got a coupla horses,leased access to the acreage adjoining, traded cars up several times and kept Her happy, and in about seven years he was able to buy a little store between Houston and Humble that had an attached feed store and a room for the minnows. He prospered. That amount of economic growth from that kind of venture? Can that be done today?
I agree that the people who Want the American dream today generally think they are supposed to be able to start out with The Stuff that reasonably comes after a lot of time, effort and judicial use of earnings. Watching the kid wash hands in the kitchen and unwrap three paper towels only to toss them straight in the trash winds me up. There’s a Towel hanging Right There,, dry with that.. No,too germy. Well, toss those paper towels up on the counter, they are still fine for wiping up a spill. Aww,hayullNaw,,
You make good points, but it’s pretty rough out there.

Ozborn · April 9, 2024 at 9:46 am

The single-income American Dream (family, house, etc.) is possible, but tradeoffs are necessary. Maybe the trade-off is harder/more work, maybe it’s a smaller house, older cars, cheaper (or no) vacations, no college savings for kids, etc. Every generation made choices, and a lot of our current options weren’t even available.
But everyone makes their choices, hopefully consciously.

I choose old cars, cheaper neighborhood, cheap vacations. If I can launch my kids as well or slightly better than my Dad did (he bought me a suit at graduation and traded a cow for my first car), I’m going to call that a win. And with a solid launch and a good work ethic, they ought to be able to have as good a life as I do.

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