Not long ago; or, Little by little (5): Tyler Cowen on progress in living standards since 1900

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[Even since 1990] the U.S. standard of living has increased by a factor of five to seven, estimated conservatively, and possibly much more, depending on how we measure prices and the values of outputs over time, a highly inexact science.

The data show just how much living standards have gone up. In 1900, for instance, only half of all U.S. households (forty-nine percent) had more than one occupant per room, and almost one quarter (twenty-three percent) had over 3.5 persons per sleeping room. Slightly less than one-quarter (twenty-four percent) of all U.S. households had running water, eighteen percent had refrigerators, and twelve percent had gas or electric lighting. Today, the figures stand at ninety-nine percent or higher. Back then, only five percent of households had telephones, and none of them had radio or TV. The high school graduation rate was only about six percent, and most jobs were physically arduous and had high rates of disability or even death. In the mid-nineteenth century, a typical worker might have to put in somewhere between 2,800 and 3,300 hours of work a year; that estimate is now closer to 1,400 to 2,000 hours a year.

As recently as the end of the nineteenth century, life expectancy in Western Europe was roughly forty years of age, and food took up fifty to seventy-five percent of a typical family budget. The typical diet in eighteenth century France had about the same energy as that of Rwanda in 1965, the most malnourished nation for that year. One effect of this deprivation was that most people simply did not have much energy for life.

Tyler Cowen – Stubborn Attachments [amazon]

See also:

Little By Little 1: Raymond Briggs on 1940s Britain
Little By Little 2: Li Kunwa on indoor plumbing in 1980s China
Little By Little 3: Scarcity and Subsistence in rural Suffolk in the 1900s
Little By Little 4: Dolly Parton on the scar on her toes (rural poverty in 1950s Tennessee)

Tyler Cowen on reading fast, reading well, and reading widely

Matt Ridley: 15 principles of innovation
Efosa Ojomo on market-creating innovation
Marks and Spencer as disruptive innovators
Marc Andreesen on networks of innovation
… and on “Scenius”
C├ęsar Hidalgo on the importance of trust in networks of innovation
Astro Teller on planning, experimentation and innovation
Resource: Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation
Zen Hae on cross-pollination, imitation and innovation
The innovation in your head…
W. Brian Arthur on combinatorial innovation
Seeds (2): bikes, planes and automobiles
Hybrids (2): combinations and connections


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