Were the Good Old Days Really Better than the Present

The modern narrative often suggests that everything’s going downhill. With a flood of pessimistic voices in media and politics, it’s easy to believe we were better off in the past. But is today really more challenging than the 1980s?

A recent study by Full Stack Economics took on this debate. By investigating various indicators, the platform provided tangible comparisons between today’s world and that of 40 years ago.

You might find the findings uplifting. For instance, the roads have become notably safer. Death rates from car accidents have decreased significantly—more than halving when examining fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles. While there are myriad reasons for this—enhanced road infrastructure and anti-drunk driving initiatives, to name a few—the significant advancements in vehicle safety, such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and advanced collision designs, are primary contributors.

Furthermore, health prospects have improved. Today, there’s a reduced likelihood of dying from heart ailments or certain types of cancer. Specifically, the mortality rates for stomach and breast cancer have decreased by 41% and 35% respectively since the 1980s.

Concerned about inflation impacting our quality of life? Full Stack Economics found a unique approach to gauge purchasing power. They assessed how long a median income earner would need to work to buy specific everyday items, contrasting 1980 prices (sourced from Sears catalogs) with today’s from platforms like Amazon and Costco.

The results are telling. Take a basic fiberglass hammer. In 1980, it cost $9.50—a 1.4-hour wage for the average worker then. Today, the same hammer is priced at $13.98, but given the current average wage, it’s a mere 30 minutes of work—a 63% decrease. Televisions also reveal a stark contrast. Modern 25-inch TVs, vastly superior to their 1980 counterparts, cost a fraction of the price now, even before considering inflation.

Household conveniences have also become more widespread. In 1980, 70% of homes had washing machines and 61% had dryers. Fast forward to today, these numbers have jumped to 84% and 83%, respectively. Similarly, dishwasher ownership skyrocketed from 37% to 73%. Plus, the comfort of central air conditioning is now enjoyed by 66% of households, a massive leap from just 23% in the 1980s.

While nostalgia may tempt us to view the past as a ‘golden age,’ the evidence suggests that today, in many aspects, is the golden age. And if the trend continues, the coming decades are likely to see even more enhancements.