50 ways home life has changed in the last 50 years

Written by:
December 18, 2018
Kaspars Grinvalds // Shutterstock

50 ways home life has changed in the last 50 years

Life looked a lot different 50 years ago. In 1968, everyone had landlines and no one had an email address. In 2018, cars can drive themselves, same-sex couples can get married, and single women can get a credit card. A half-century of technological advancements has put a computer in practically every home, and a cell phone in almost everyone's hands.

An undeniable catalyst for the most change was the invention of the modern internet, which was introduced as the World Wide Web in 1991. Now, shopping for anything can be done online. Entertainment and news are consumed on-demand in real time. With search engines at their fingertips, students no longer spend long hours at the library or combing through their home set of Encyclopedia Britannica for their book reports.  

Domestic life also looks different: More women are breadwinners, men share more of the household chores—though perhaps not as much as some might like—and families are having fewer children.

Using data from the Pew Research Center, the U.S. Census Bureau, and news reports, Stacker compiled a list of 50 ways family and domestic life has changed over the past 50 years. Click through to see how modern life is totally different.

More mothers are breadwinners

In 1960, only 11% of households with children under 18 had mothers who contributed all or most of the income for the family. In 2018, that number—which includes single and married moms—has jumped to 42%.

Working moms are the norm

In the 1960s, only about one-third of pregnant women worked up until the month before giving birth. In the late 2000s, that number rose to 82%. Expectant mothers were able to work more easily after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978. This amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy. Because working mothers can't usually return home during the day, they have the right to pump breast milk at work. Employers covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act (nearly all workplaces) are required to provide a clean, quiet space other than a bathroom. Although it is illegal to fire—or choose to not hire—a woman because she is pregnant, it still happens.

Couples share more chores

In 1965, men dedicated about two hours a week to domestic chores. A 2012 study showed that had doubled to four hours by 2010, a number that leveled off in the ‘90s. Men still don't do as much housework as women, and lean toward shopping and cooking. Women report doing more laundry and house cleaning. Research shows that when men share in the housework, couples are more satisfied with their relationship.


Women are having fewer children

Fertility rates in the United States have declined for decades. In 2018, rates for American women hit an all-time low of 1.76 births, but at least the rate for teenage pregnancy has fallen by 70% since 1991.


The internet

In 1969, the U.S. Department of Defense started using the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the precursor to the modern internet. The public didn't get the World Wide Web until 1991. Google launched in 1998, and now nearly half of the world's population uses the internet.

Most homes have a computer

In 1975, IBM released the first modern desktop computer. In 2015, 78% of households had a desktop or laptop computer, and 77% had a broadband internet subscription. In 2008, laptop orders surpassed desktops for the first time.

Television channels expanded

In the 1960s, there were only three major networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. In 2018, satellite and cable options offer hundreds of channels, including movie networks like HBO, which launched in 1972, and MTV, which started playing music videos in 1981.


Emails send instant letters

Before the ubiquity of the internet, people wrote and mailed physical letters. In 1996, Hotmail started a free email service that could send messages instantaneously. A year later, about 10 million people worldwide had an email address. By 2019, about 3.8 billion people are expected to use email.

The internet replaced encyclopedias

Before Google and Wikipedia, kids thumbed through volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the World Book to get information for their book reports and history projects. In 2012, Britannica suspended printing further editions, a decision some say was long overdue.

Books can be stored digitally

There were no Kindles, iPads, or other e-readers 50 years ago, so readers carried physical copies of their books. Now, avid readers can consume pages digitally, keeping 1,000 or more books in one portable place. Physical books aren't dead, however—e-books actually saw a decrease in sales in 2017.

People are giving up their landlines

More than half of the population has given up landlines. Since cell phone ownership wasn't common until the early 2000s, older generations are more likely to hang on to their home phones.

Almost everyone has a smartphone

While 95% of the population has a cell phone, about 77% of Americans have a smartphone. For many, these internet-enabled devices are their chief means of getting online at home. From 2007 to 2013, the smartphone saw double-digit sales growth. Since so many people now have smartphones—and are holding onto them for longer—sales decreased for the first time in 2017.

People are constantly available

In the 1960s, people were much less connected. Getting someone on the phone meant ringing them up at home or at work, not on their commute in-between. Since people constantly have their cell phones or smartphones next to them, they're almost always reachable, which might not always be a good thing.


Netflix killed Blockbuster

The first VHS tape came to America from Japan in 1977. The original VCR cost $1,280 (more than $5,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars). Consumers could rent videos (and later DVDs) beginning in 1987. When Netflix was founded in 1997, it killed video rental chains (well, almost).

Same-sex marriage is legal

In 1968, being gay was classified as a mental disorder. It wasn't removed from the diagnostic manual until 1987. Over the past 50 years, society has become more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, and in 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.


The internet replaced newspapers

Newspaper circulation increased in the ‘60s, and peaked in the ‘90s with more than 62 million Americans receiving a paper on Sunday morning. After the rise of the internet and major declines in advertising, the Sunday circulation dropped to fewer than 34 million subscribers. Newsrooms have lost nearly half of their reporters, editors, and photographers since 2004.


TV commercials are avoidable

With the development of DVR technology, which records live television, people can fast-forward through commercials. With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, viewers can avoid ads completely.


Machines vacuum by themselves

The Roomba hit the market in 2002, and consumers had purchased more than a million of these small, efficient robotic vacuums by 2004. The Roomba was one of the first robots that could do actual housework. Some models collect data while they clean, prompting concern that the vacuums could transmit information about home layout to Amazon, Apple, or Google.

Mirrors can give the weather and exercise lessons

Mirrors of the ‘60s could do one thing: reflect. Modern smart mirrors can show someone's visage while simultaneously displaying text messages and the weather. They can also provide a live fitness session (for a price).


More people work remotely

In 2017, 43% of the American workforce reported working remotely for at least some of the week. Those who spent 60-80% of their time away from the office reported the highest levels of engagement.


Data storage improved

In 1971, IBM installed floppy disk drives into their computers, the first of which stored 80 kilobytes of data. By 1986, the disk size decreased and the storage capacity increased to 1.44 megabytes. In 2018, Samsung created a 2.5-inch device that can hold 30 terabytes of storage—enough memory for 5,700 HD movies.

More people recycle

The first curbside recycling truck hit the streets in 1976. Now the practice is commonplace, though people often unintentionally do it wrong.

No more milk delivery

While Americans still depend on daily mail carriers, the milkman has all but disappeared. In 1963, almost 30% of the population had milk delivered. By 2005—when milk was cheap, readily available, and easy to transport—that figure plunged to 0.4%.


GPS replaced physical maps

Before personal GPS technology, people found their way using map books. While these paper guides haven't completely disappeared, their popularity has waned. It might be worth breaking out a physical map every now and then, however. When humans depend on digital directions, the brain's navigation function goes dormant.


People love the suburbs

Before World War II, only 13% of Americans lived in the suburbs. By 2010, more than half of the population had opted for single-family homes outside of the city. Bucking the trend in 2014, young professionals and older Americans started moving back into the city.


Meal ingredients can be delivered

In the 1960s, someone had to pull out a cookbook before heading to a market to buy ingredients. Now, whether someone is vegan, gluten-free, or a meat-lover, they can have dinner delivered. Some meal delivery kits come with ingredients that customers prepare themselves, while others are pre-packaged and ready to eat.

Grocery shopping on-demand

Don't want to leave the house to get fresh flowers, dairy-free ice cream, or toilet paper? Now online services will deliver groceries to the front door, often same day. Whole Foods, founded in 1980 and bought by Amazon in 2018, can deliver in two hours.

More people have pets

Dog- and cat-ownership has quadrupled in the last 50 years. In 2018, spending on pets reached an all-time high of $70 billion. $440 million of that was just for Halloween costumes, and $751 million was for Valentine's Day.


Houses are more expensive, people are renting longer

While home values have increased, incomes have not risen at the same pace. Compared to the ‘70s, renters are waiting twice as long to buy a home. The average age for a new homeowner is 44.


More unmarried couples are cohabiting

Since 2007, the number of cohabiting adults rose by 29%. The number of unmarried adults who are 50 or older and live together rose by 75%.


Women have more reproductive control

In 1960, the FDA approved the first birth control pill. Within five years, millions of women had prescriptions for oral contraception. In 1973, women gained legal access to abortion services. The next several decades saw a revolution in birth control options, including the IUD and Plan B, emergency contraception available over-the-counter.


Women can get a credit card on their own

An unmarried woman wasn't allowed to get a credit card until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. Until then, only men or married women, whose husbands co-signed their applications, could obtain one.


High school students are having less sex

Parents nationwide will be excited to hear that between 1991 to 2017, the percentage of high school students who had sexual intercourse dropped from 54% to 40%. Kids may be sexting on their smartphones from their bedrooms, but they're on track to have fewer sex partners than previous generations.


People are waiting longer to get married

In 1960, 72% of people 18 and older were married, and they married in their early 20s. Only about half of adults were married as of 2016. On average, a woman was 27.4 years old when she married for the first time; men were 29.5.


More single parent families

In 1960, 73% of children lived with two parents who had likely never been married before. Only 46% of kids live in that type of household today. Single or cohabiting, unmarried parents are more common than they were 50 years ago.


People can listen to unlimited amounts of music

In 1979, people could take their music with them for the first time with the Sony Walkman. Between 1987 to 1997, the popular device led to a 30% increase in the number of people who said they walked for exercise. Cassette tapes gave way to CDs in the ‘90s, which could be listened to on the go with a Discman. Apple's iPod debuted in 2001, and now people can access an unlimited amount of music with streaming services through their smartphones.  


There is a subscription for anything

In the 1960s, people got subscriptions to their favorite magazines. In 2018, you can subscribe to monthly services that send boxes filled with everything from scented candles or murder mystery novels to fossils, craft beer, and dog treats.

Physical banks aren't that necessary

In the digital age, people can deposit or transfer money on their computers or smartphone apps. They can also get money from an ATM, further reducing the need for physical banks. While many choose to bank electronically, physical branches are still a much-needed option in many communities.


Cars can drive themselves

There aren't flying cars yet, but self-driving vehicles are a reality. Autonomous cars have received some bad press, but many think they'll be safer for drivers and pedestrians in the long run.


More teens are transgender

In 2016, about 3% of teens identified as transgender or gender non-conforming. Unlike 50 years ago, more kids are openly talking about gender fluidity, and celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and actress Laverne Cox are raising awareness of trans people's stories.


Millennials don't need a car

With the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, many urbanites are foregoing car ownership entirely, resulting in fewer car purchases than previous generations. More than half of millennials—those born between 1981-1996—claim they simply don't need a car.


Depression and anxiety rates are up

In the 1960s, depression was considered a rare condition. The antidepressant Prozac was introduced in 1987. Over the past 50 years, depression has become the leading cause of disability, and teens are reporting more anxiety than any other time in history.


Fewer people smoke

In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General released its first report on smoking. Since then, more than 20 million people have died from smoking, which is the leading preventable cause of death. Compared to 50 years ago, fewer people are picking up the habit; smoking rates have declined by more than 50%.


Older people are working longer

In the 1980s, 25% of men ages 65-69 reported working. That number is 40% today. People are putting off retirement, partly because people are living longer, but a lack of social benefits also plays a role.


More people eat out

Compared to previous decades, people are more likely to eat out than cook at home. In 2015, people spent more on eating out than on groceries for the first time ever. Fast food, paired with the ease of ordering take-out and delivery, makes eating away from home more convenient than it was 50 years ago.


Fast fashion means more clothing waste

In the 1960s, people were more likely to make their own clothes or buy fewer items. Since the ‘80s, consumption has increased and fashion retailers like H&M and Zara have drastically lowered clothing prices. This has lead to an increase in the amount of clothes people buy and throw away.


People are bigger

Over the past 50 years, obesity rates have risen dramatically in both teenagers and adults. Since people are choosing to eat out more—and portions are up to four times larger than they were in the ‘50s—it's become harder to identify a healthy portion of food.


Kids stay at home longer

In 2016, a report showed that young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to live with their parents than in any other type of housing. People with less education are more likely to live at home longer.


The microwave was invented in 1954. In 1971, only 1% of households had a countertop microwave. In 2016, 96% of American households were equipped with one of these quick-cooking appliances.


Smart refrigerator

Side-by-side refrigerators entered the market in 1949, but weren't common until the '60s. Back then, it was a novelty to have a freezer that would prevent frostbite on food. The 2018 smart fridge is much more energy-efficient than it was 50 years ago, and can track expiration dates and order food. Close to 100% of American homes have a refrigerator; 23% of homes have two.


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