8 Things Americans Were Better at in the 1950s Than Today

By Tim Lemke on 10 February 2016 1 comment

People love to wax nostalgic about the 1950s. Our rose-colored glasses have us viewing the decade as one of unique amounts of happiness and prosperity. Perception does not always match reality, of course. But there are many things that Americans simply did better back then. We had skills or habits that many of us wish we now possessed.

Let's examine some of the things we did better back in the 1950s.

1. Saving Money

The average American puts away about 5.5% of their earnings into savings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That's up from a mere 2% a decade ago, but in the 1950s, the personal savings rate was more than 10%. Perhaps it was an attitude toward money left over from the penny-pinching days of WWII and the Great Depression. Our nation's current savings rate is especially jarring, given that working Americans are less likely to have pensions to fund their retirements. (See also: This Is How Americans Spent Their Money in the 1950s)

2. Making Stuff

It's debatable if we were "better" at making things in the 1950s, but we certainly did more of it. From cars and appliances, to clothing and toys, we made it with our hands and in factories employing millions of Americans. Today, we live in an era of globalization and automation, with fewer American workers actually manufacturing products. In 1953, there were more than 16 million people working in manufacturing — almost as many as during the peak of World War II. Manufacturing continued to rise until about 1980 and has been on the decline ever since.

3. Fixing Cars

It used to be that if your car broke down, you'd know how to repair it. At the very least, you'd know plenty of people who could. But these days, there's a shortage of skilled automotive technicians. The U.S. Department of Labor says there will be a need to fill 39,000 open positions in the automotive repair and related industries by 2024.

4. Cooking at Home

Despite our fascination with the Food Network, fewer Americans are finding the time or energy to prepare home-cooked meals. The Washington Post reports that fewer than 60% of meals are cooked at home, compared to more than 90% a half-century ago. Americans used to spend 150 minutes per day in the kitchen; it's now down to 110 minutes. There are plenty of theories as to why, including the growth of good restaurants, the introduction of pre-packaged meals, and men failing to pick up the slack as more women joined the workforce.

5. Having Babies

We're all familiar with the term "Baby Boomer." The 1950s was the decade of babies, with more than 25 births for every 1,000 in population. The U.S. now ranks 158th in the world in birth rate, with 12 births for every 1,000 people. This has major implications for our nation's economy, as more people equals greater economic growth.

6. Getting Enough Sleep

Research on sleep from the 1950s is not plentiful (the actual study of sleep was in its infancy then), but there's a growing concern that Americans today aren't getting enough sleep. Many researchers blame the growth in the use of electronic devices, which have bright screens that might lower melatonin levels when used before bedtime. The growth in late night television, caffeinated beverages, and other factors have also led to later bedtimes and less sleep than in the past.

7. Writing in Cursive

Be honest — can you even write in cursive anymore? It's become a lost art in the age of typing and texting. Many schools don't even teach it anymore, but there's been a recent push to encourage students to learn the writing style. Some say it will help when reading historical documents, and there's some evidence it can aid in developing fine motor skills. (See also: 11 Life Skills That Are Now Completely Obsolete)

8. Being Happy

Of course, happiness is very subjective and it's hard to measure it scientifically. But the book Economics and Happiness concludes that the "happiest" time since 1945 was actually the mid to late '50s, when more than 40% of survey respondents said they were at least fairly happy. That figure has since dropped to under 30%. America rates just 15th in the World Happiness Report, despite being the wealthiest nation on Earth.

On the flip side, what have Americans gotten better at since the '50s? Let us know in the comments!

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Guest's picture
Ken

The U.S. is not the wealthiest nation on Earth. Not even in the top 5.