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Today, more than 60% of families are home owners, and practically everybody owns a car.*The other answer, which you can't see as clearly in this chart, is health care.
In short, health care costs are squeezing Americans. We are squeezed by rising health care costs and scarcity of affordable housing in productive cities. A century ago, we spent more than half our money on food and clothes.
It is a story about how a nation thatfeels poor got so rich. In 1900, seen from perch of the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- which counts national jobs, income and spending -- the United States is like one big farm surrounded by a cluster of small factories. As for the budding services economy: There are more household servants than sales workers. family got smaller, more reliant on working women and computers, less reliant on working children and farms, and, most importantly, much richer. Household income (unadjusted for inflation) doubled six times in the 20th century, or once every decade and a half, on average. Compared to just five decades earlier, the United States is already a different country. The economy's share of farmers has fallen from 40% to 10%, thanks to the mechanization of the farm, led by the mighty tractor.
Here's the big picture in one chart showing the share of family spending per category over the 20th century. We are near the end of the Millennium, but in the "warp and woof of life," we are living closer to the 1600s than the 2000s, as Brad De Long memorably put it. As for the women's rights movement: More than twice as many households report income from children (22%) than wives (9%). At the same time, food has gotten much cheaper compared to wages, and its share of the family budget has declined from 43% to 30%.
Up to the 1930s, you don't see hourly wages gaining much on food prices ......
then, bam, the post-WWII economic boom sends middle class wages skyrocketing while farmers get better and better at consolidating, mechanizing, and productivity-boosting.