Then and Now: How Spending Has Changed Over the Past Century



It’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1901, over 100 years ago. Unemployment was low, women rarely worked, the yearly household income averaged $750, and the U.S. population was a mere 76 million people. Today, there’s more than 318 million people in America, the unemployment rate has fallen over the past few years but is still an issue, and many women work. A lot has changed in just over 100 years, including the way that Americans spend their money.

In 1901, the majority of the money that Americans spent was on housing, and not many Americans owned their own homes. The rest of their money was primarily spent on food and clothing; today, many Americans spent a lot of money on food and clothing, but we also spend a lot of money on entertainment, transportation, and donations or cash contributions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1901, 42.5 percent of annual expenditures went to food ($327), 14 percent for clothing ($108), and 23.3 percent for housing ($179) (the rest went to other items). As of June 2013, the average income before taxes was $65,029. Food represents on average $6,598, which is just about 10 percent of the average income. Of food purchases, $2,698 is spent on food away from home, which never would have happened in 1901. Many Americans now eat dinner regularly at restaurants, and also eat lunch out for work meetings or just because they don’t have the time or the interest in making food at home to bring to work.

Also in 1901, there were 7.2 million owner-occupied housing units (only 19 percent of US families owned their homes though). According to the Census Bureau, in the first quarter of this year, 64.8 percent of Americans owned their own home.