Dr. Don Boudreaux writes in Cafe Hayek that:
Whether or not Americans are better off these days is a loaded political question. But one thing's for sure - their homes keep getting bigger.My response was:
Any American alive today who remembers 1973 and who continues to believe that ordinary Americans are no (or only slightly) materially better off today than we were thirty years ago is blind or seriously deceived.
So we are economically better off. Are we better off? Young people have to agonize about whether or not to have children because of the economic impact it will have on their lives. Then if they have children, they have to agonize about sending them off to daycare at the tender age of two months or not. Then they have to agonize about how they can juggle their work schedules when the children get sick. And so on and so on.
Again, only speculating, but my experience has show that the comparison of "household" income to 4 decades ago may be a little akin to comparing "work" with "exertion".
In this case, the obvious difference is the comparitor "household". If the percentage of two-income "household" incomes has increased in 40 years, then the comparison is purely ornamental. One would need to look at inflation-adjusted personal income to see why people might be getting the perception that they are "treading water".
After all, if it takes two people to live a lifestyle that is twice as costly as that which one person (on average) can provide, then we have only changed the definition of "household" in the sense that two incomes are now the basis for income rather than one.
Statistics that I have come across indicate that two-income homes have roughly doubled since the early 1970s. The jump from the mid-30%s to the mid-60%s could go a long way in explaining "household income" versus "individual income".
Then one has to look at the cost side of the equation... two cars to drive to work, two sets of work clothes, etc., plus childcare expense. Not really treading water... just a lot more paid work occurring.
I recall when our first child was born that we were a two-income household that quickly became a one-income household. Were we better off? Yes.