By comparing the standard of living and the consumerism of 1980 and today, it is easy to see that we simply have more stuff now. Since we, as adults, have more, it is only natural that our children have more. The difference is that adults remember a time when they had less, when for kids this is all they know.
In 1980, the average disposable personal income in the U.S. was $18,854 per person, adjusted for inflation, compared to $29,992 in 2011, according the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The total average personal income was $24,097 in 1980 and $40,454 in 2010, adjusted for inflation. We are also spending more on personal consumption. In 1980, total personal consumption expenditures across the nation totaled $1,755.8 billion or $7,710 per person. Adjusted for inflation, this is equivalent to $21,047.08 per person. In 2011, it was $10,726 billion or $34,373 per person.
The total rate of inflation since 1980 was 172.98% and even accounting for this, buying power across the country has increased. Household consumption has also increased as a percentage of GDP, from under 65% in 1980 to 71% in 2009, according to the World Bank. So not only are we making more, we are spending a higher portion of our earnings on consumption.
In 1980, the average new home was 17,000-square-feet, compared to 2,400 today. Also, the cost of technology has come down. In 1980 New York, the cost of a whirlpool dishwasher was $228. Adjusted for inflation this comes to $394.39. Today you can get a better whirlpool dishwasher online for $372. The cost of computers and cellular phones has come down exponentially. In 1982, a Commodore 64 computer cost $400 and had 64 KB of RAM. Today you can buy a WolVol mini laptop for fewer than $100, with 256 MB of RAM (400 times more).
In 1977, the Atari 2600 was released for $199 ($738.66 adjusted for inflation). Today you could buy your child an iPad 2 with Wi-Fi, 3G, and 64 GB of memory for $639.99 on Amazon.com. So it has become increasingly easy to spoil our children. Basically, we can buy them more for less, so what seemed like a huge deal in 1980 (a brand new Atari) doesn’t compare in cost to what kids consider a big deal today (a new iPad). To the older generation, it seems like kids are getting more these days. Well, they are, but so is everyone else.
USA Today Our Standard of Living; is it better than ever? http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20110203/1astandardofliving03_cv.art.htm
US Bureau of Economic Analysis Person income: http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=9&step=1
Household Consumption as a Percentage of GDP: http://www.chinaglobaltrade.com/fact/us-china-trade-data-household-consumption-share-of-GDP
The People History Cost of Appliances in 1980s: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/80selectrical.html
The People History Cost of Computers in 1980: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/80scomputers.html