NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

People Are Having More Fun

August 7, 1997


Trying to measure people's "living standards" is a tough task say economists. There are so many variables, it is difficult to get a reliable figure. Dora Costa, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, decided to focus on Americans' recreation habits over the past century. In other words, if people had more time and money for recreation and leisure, living standards were obviously improving.

She based her research on consumption surveys dating back as far as 1888. Here are some of her findings:

  • One hundred years ago, three-quarters of workers' incomes were spent on food, shelter and clothing -- with less than 2 percent spent on leisure.
  • Today, the average household need devote only 38 percent of its income to the necessities -- allowing 6 percent to be devoted to recreation.
  • At the beginning of the century, a family's recreational spending tended to rise by 20 percent for every 10 percent rise in income.
  • By 1991, a 10 percent income gain led to roughly a 13 percent rise in recreational spending.

Thus, Americans of all income levels are able to spend much more of their money on having fun.

Source: "Fun for the Masses," The Economist, August 2, 1997.


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