It’s always fun to look through an old newspaper, especially if it was printed more than 50 years ago. On the front page under bold headlines you can read about the biggest concerns of that day. It’s interesting to note how many urgent problems of that era are even thought about today.
But even more entertaining is a look through the ads to see how much prices have changed. A new car for $2,995. A three-bedroom house for $16,000. Groceries for a fraction of what we pay for them today. If you find yourself nostalgic for a time when everything seemed so inexpensive, you’re not alone.
Ben Carlson, a financial advisor who’s studied the history of retirement, writes that this fondness for a past era is called “golden age thinking.” As examples of this, he cites popular social media posts which feature idealized illustrations of happy people in the 1950s overlaid with text such as: “Once upon a time, a family could own a home, a car, and send their kids to college—all on one income.”1
It certainly sounds like a much better economic era than the one we’re in now. Except that what the caption describes was not the experience for the majority of households.
In response to one of these financially nostalgic posts, economist Joseph Politano pointed out that compared to the 1950s, today’s rate of home ownership is 20% higher. On average, we own three times as many cars. And the number of people with college degrees has jumped more than 600%.2
Carlson writes that when it comes to retirement, we are also, on average, far better off today. “In 1880, more than three-quarters of men older than 65 were still in the labor force (working 55-60 hours a week). That number was nearly 50% still in 1950. Today it’s more like 19%.”And back then, for the vast majority of workers, a planned early retirement was never an option.
People in the past also had a lot less free time.
Carlson observes, “They didn’t obsessively watch cable news to hear bad news all day. They didn’t get to spend time on social media when they were bored. They didn’t complain about rising vacation prices because no one really took vacations.”
Every era has its advantages as well as its struggles. And by being realistic about the past, especially in terms of economic conditions, we can guard against deceptive golden age thinking. Life in our own era comes with plenty of challenges, both financial and personal. But we still have very much to be thankful for.
And of course, that gratefulness begins by acknowledging all the things we enjoy that money can’t buy.
We hope that during this Thanksgiving season you’re able to take some time to count your blessings. We all have so many reasons to be thankful.
If you ever have any questions about your investments or retirement plans, please feel free to give me a call at 801-545-0696.
Stonecreek Wealth Advisors, Inc.
11576 S State Street, Bldg. 1002
Draper, UT 84020
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