25 ways America has changed in the last decade

Written by:
December 17, 2019
Said Marroun // Shutterstock

25 ways America has changed in the last decade

The end of a decade usually marks the end of an era. There's still debate around if the 2010s end in 2020 or 2021. Either way, the last 10 years brought major changes in the ways Americans work and live. The 2010s brought changes across industries with some dying out and others thriving and taking off. The American workplace shifted to one with more flexibility, but also much longer hours.

Vast changes also occurred in the ways Americans communicate and interact with each other. It was a decade when smartphones became ubiquitous and Americans spent more time than ever before using social media—as did the new president who shifted official government communication to Twitter. There were also changes in education and across economic sectors. Even the ways Americans eat and specifically which types of foods shifted. Changes to the cultural landscape also took place with progressive advances and greater awareness about social justice and identity.

The last 10 years saw the rise of Generation Z, sometimes known as the "post-millennials," many of whom have just reached adulthood. While millennials now outnumber the boomers, the upcoming "zoomers" are on track to be the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. Young Americans in the last decade demonstrated social and political awareness around identity, gun violence, and the environment. They're also the first kids to come of age with new parenting styles in place. 

Using various sources, Stacker compiled a list of how America has changed in the 2010s, including through impacts on our daily lives in the economy, politics, pop culture, technology, social media, education, and health care. Check out all the changes to America in the last decade, and some predictions for the ways American lives will shift in the future.

Upsurge in gig economy jobs

Temp jobs, freelancing, and single-contract gigs all rose over the last decade thanks to companies like Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Etsy, and Fiverr, which make it easier to hook consumers up with workers. While these gigs offer flexibility, they also forgo the stability of traditional jobs—benefits, reliable salary, and advancement.

The gig employment structure increased from a 15.8% workplace share in 2015 to 36% of U.S. workers engaged in some form of gigging in 2019. Gig growth continues to increase with 47% of millennials reportedly freelancing. However, reporting for Quartz, Ephrat Livni writes that “although gig work was initially seen as a way to maximize worker freedom and create opportunities, it has, in its short history, proven corrosive.”

Gig workers often have significant costs (such as a car or ongoing repairs for rideshare gigs) and live without health insurance or other protections provided by traditional jobs. Gig workers get to be their own bosses, but they also rely on app algorithms geared toward corporate owners and other perils. Gigs are part and parcel to general economic insecurity and many workers feel pressure to take any job they’re offered.

College tuition costs rose alongside enormous increases in student loans

Stacker’s Linda Childers notes that in the last decade, “college tuition has outpaced inflation and wages.” CNBC reports that the costs of higher education increased 55% in 10 years. Meanwhile, “real wages have barely budged in decades,” according to Pew Research Center.

Student loan debt increased in tandem with rising tuition costs, with another Pew Research Center report stating that Americans now owe “more than two times” what they did a decade earlier. The total amount of debt increased to $1.6 trillion in 2019.

PaymentsJournal details one study that found student loan debt at historically black colleges and universities “has worsened at an alarming rate when compared to other types of institutions.” At those schools the debt per borrower amount increased by 54.5 % compared to an increase overall of 46.67%.

Americans now spend more eating out than they do on groceries

Americans spent more money eating out than they did on “at-home” foods for the first time in 2014, when 50.1% of total food spending went to restaurants. That trend continues with CNBC’s Kate Rogers reporting that restaurant spending is “surpassing grocery sales at just 3% year-over-year growth.” This upsurge relates to “convenience culture,” with much of the gains coming via quick service-style restaurants.

Americans are flocking to more food trucks and establishments with carry-out and delivery options. Sophie Egan at “Bon Appétit describes this trend toward “fast casual” restaurants like Panera, Chipotle, and Blaze Pizza that come with “greater customization (build-your-own meals, assembly-line style), higher quality ingredients, and more upscale spaces in which to chow down.”

Working from home became the new normal

Remote work positions have exploded in the last decade with 83% of U.S. workplaces offering either flexible options and policies or plans to introduce them, according to new research from International Workplace Group. In the same study, 74% of respondents called remote workplace policies “the new normal,” with 80% saying they would choose a job with a flexible workplace policy over one that didn’t.

Analyses at Flexjobs report that “between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work,” with 4.7 million workers currently in remote or work-from-home positions. Experts note these new workplace trends align with advances in technology that have led workers to become increasingly mobile. Videoconferencing and other advances in telecommunications allow easy connections among workers across industries and time zones.

More and more companies are also noting the economic advantages of forgoing large-scale offices in favor of remote workers in their own spaces. At “Fast Company,” Jared Lindzon predicts the future of remote work to include VR (virtual reality) technologies to replace video options and an increase in AI technologies to oversee employee productivity.

Advances in gender identity acceptance and awareness

GLAAD's 2017 Accelerating Awareness survey found "remarkable progress for the LGBTQ community in the United States, with historic advancements achieved for both legal equality and cultural acceptance" in the last decades. The survey found an increase in LGBTQ identification in the millennial population, age 18 to 34—a segment much more likely to move away from "traditional" gender labels, thus "igniting an identity revolution." There were huge shifts in the language used to identify gender in workplaces, health care facilities, and government agencies.

Official public entities increasingly incorporated policies around inclusion that better recognize a range of gender identities that include nonbinary and gender non-conforming identities beyond "female" and "male." Awareness around gender pronoun usage also grew with increased acceptance around honoring individual preferences. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary added the definition of the singular pronoun "they," and the AP Style guide and services like Radical Copyeditor adapted grammar conventions to reflect these social changes.

Presidential Twitter usage expands in Trump era

In 2015, Barack Obama first tweeted from a verified @POTUS account handle, although he’d been using Twitter since 2007. Obama’s tweets from other accounts such as @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama were used “occasionally” and signed with his initials when not composed by staffers.

Though Trump inherited the @POTUS handle when he became president, he continues to tweet from the @realDonaldTrump account he started in 2009. In contrast to Obama, NPR’s Rachel Treisman reports that “Trump has made unprecedented use of Twitter from the Oval Office and regularly uses it to share thoughts and announcements on politics and diplomacy.”

Trump’s Twitter use (which includes deletions) has changed the 1978 Presidential Records Act which mandates presidential communication as public property with “established guidelines for their preservation.” Obama’s official tweets exist in a searchable archive. Trump has tweeted more than 11,000 times (over 266,000 words) between taking office in January 2017 and November 2019.

Same-sex marriage became legal in states across the nation

In 2009, Vermont, Maine, and Iowa legalized same-sex marriage. Since Bill Clinton’s federal ban in 1996, countless court cases across the country fought against various state bans. The first half of the last decade gave way to countless legal battles in states both upholding the ban and challenging it while legislating various rights associated with same-sex marriage.

In 2015, in a landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a 5-4 ruling, nullifying bans in 14 states. As a result, the number of married LGBTQ+ cohabitating Americans rose from 38% pre-ruling to 61% after. According to Pew Research Center, support for same-sex increased, doubling from the rates in 2009 with 79% of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans in favor. General support increased from 37% in 2009 to 61% in 2019.

Veganism edges toward the mainstream

The vegan food industry exploded over the last decade with plant-based options for staples like mayonnaise and meats becoming more mainstream. Writing at “Forbes,” Janet Forgrieve notes GlobalData’s report that “U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017, a 600% increase.” Further, in 2017 the plant-based food industry ($3.7 billion per year) grew 17% outpacing the 2% growth of overall food sales in the U.S.

The vegan lifestyle is a cultural trend, but one based on animal and environmental activism, as well as health concerns, that many predict has long-term staying power. Newsweek describes the move toward veganism becoming more mainstream due to the millennial demographic, reporting a quarter of 25 to 34 year olds described themselves as vegan or vegetarian in 2019.

Music industry goes digital as CD sales slow

Subscription radio services launched in the late-aughts and took over throughout the last decade with Pandora and Spotify offering personalized radio. Further, in 2014 digital music sales eclipsed physical sales for the first time.

Amy X. Wang of Rolling Stone reports that music streaming services “shot up 35.4%” in 2018 while “album sales fell by 18.2%.” Meanwhile, the outlet notes, Best Buy stopped selling CDs since record labels were reluctant to “even issue them.” According to BGR, paid music subscriptions increased by 42% in 2018 topping over 50 million in receipts.

Climate change hit the U.S. with more extreme weather and higher costs

Seven of the 10 hottest years on record happened in the last decade. Morgan McFall-Johnsen of Business Insider reports that "in 2018, the U.S. Northeast saw a median of one major sunny-day flood per year" with projections of five per year by 2030. Extreme weather events, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and various storms are predicted to continue to increase in the U.S.

Stephen Leahy of National Geographic details that the costs of climate change in the coming decade (a projected $360 billion annually) could "cripple U.S. economic growth." Doyle Rice in USA Today reports that "2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases from human activities."

School shootings steadily increase

CNN compiled data on school shootings from the last 10 years and discovered a sharp increase in these events where “no type of community is spared.” In 2009, there were five killed and 14 injured during 13 separate events. In 2018, there were 37 killed and 68 injured in 28 separate shootings. As CNN reports, there were “at least 180 shootings at K-12 schools across the U.S.” over the last decade.

Of note, CNN explains that “while school shootings disproportionately affect urban schools and people of color, mass shootings are more likely to occur at white, suburban schools.” The shooting epidemic inspired high school students across the country to become activists in numbers not seen since the Civil Rights era. Over a million protesters participated in March for Our Lives, a gun control protest organized by Parkland High School students while additional walkout protests took place across the country in 2018.

‘Intensive’ parenting is now the norm across class divides

Utah recently instituted a law that prevents “free-range” parents from prosecution if their kids play or walk home alone. The law comes in response to the relative rarity of unattended children in public spaces and protects parents from charges of neglect if their child engages in “independent activities.” While helicopter-style parenting has been on the increase since the 1970s, the style used to be the preferred mode for primarily upper-class parents who had the means for a stay-at-home mom who could oversee intense activities.

However, as reported in The New York Times, working moms now spend the same amount of time with their kids that stay-at-home-moms did in the 1970s. The same article reports that “the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes the idea that parents should be constantly monitoring and teaching children...television is to be ‘co-viewed’ for maximum learning.” Intensive parenting starts before birth with strict pregnancy health edicts and continues with toddler classes in sophisticated subjects, birthday parties as events, and other in-depth and directed supervision.

A recent Oxford study found a distinct, contemporary cultural shift where a “nationally representative sample” of parents from different social classes show wide support for “child-centered, time-intensive mothering and fathering.”

Mental illness skyrockets among young populations

Science Daily reported on research by the American Psychological Association that found a sharp increase in mental health disorders in teens and young adults in the past decade. Researchers examined survey results from a pool of 200,000 teens and 400,000 adults from the mid-aughts through 2017 and found a 52% increase in depressive symptoms experienced by adolescents in the 12 months prior, and a 63% increase in young adults aged 18 to 25.

Notably, the research found “no significant increase in the percentage of older adults experiencing depression...during corresponding time periods.” The generational aspect of the increase led some researchers to speculate that social media usage was a cause. However, Jared Keller at Pacific Standard reported on the American Psychological Association’s 2018 stress survey which revealed that 69% of respondents (a 6% jump from the 2016 survey) found “the future of the country as a significant stressor.” Keller explains that “sociopolitically subordinate” populations experience higher rates of stress and associated health problems. The same article reports additional research that found increasing levels of stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety among members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and non-white people.

Writing for the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry Thomas A. Vance, Ph.D. explains that the black community is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health issues, and that associated inequalities are increasing because the same community has lower rates in utilizing care, especially among ages 18 to 25.

Television enters the era of binge-watching

The term “binge-watching” emerged around 2012, marking a moment when the ways Americans watched television changed forever. Some shows still release episodes in a traditional weekly format, but across the last decade there was an explosion of series that dropped an entire season’s episodes at once. The introduction of streaming services—and moves away from DVDs and DVRs into internet-located media—allowed viewers to watch an entire series in one sitting if they wanted.

Netflix changed the television industry by introducing the practice in 2013. The seminal series “House of Cards” was “Netflix’s first foray into original programming,” according to Mashable’s Alison Foreman, garnering millions of new subscribers and elevating bingeable television with Emmy nominations and critical acclaim. The show inaugurated a new form of TV with original programming now advancing across new platforms like Facebook Watch, AppleTV+, and many others.

Online education explodes in grades K-12

Online classes for college students became mainstream in the aughts at major universities, with most departments offering at least some classes online. In the last decade, the same trend emerged for elementary and secondary school students. Stacker’s Madison Troyer notes that the number of younger students taking online classes nearly doubled, to 2.7 million, between 2010 and 2013. She explains that by 2017 at least “20% of all high school and middle school credits were being completed through a single online learning program” with 40% of high school seniors engaging in some form of online learning.

The move to online education corresponds with advances in technology that allow for greater flexibility with learning styles and schedules, while also allowing customization of courses and accessibility to materials previously out of reach. As the ubiquity of online education grows, however, there remains a strong cultural belief in the social benefits of classroom-based learning.

Smartphones become ubiquitous for work and everyday life

Iphones have been around since 2007, but in the last decade they became ubiquitous devices that changed the way Americans work and play. One of the most significant changes occurred in the ways that smartphones have replaced traditional cameras. Smartphones became the go-to source for any task requiring the internet while also ensuring constant connectivity.

USA Today reports that 81% of the population, or 265 million Americans, currently own a smartphone. Northeastern College of Computer and Information Science associate professor Stephen Intille predicts the next decade will bring “a deeper personal relationship between user and tech.”

Wealth gap continues to increase

Drawing on recent census data, Taylor Telford of the Washington Post reports that income inequality is at its highest level in five decades, exacerbated by a booming economy that benefits high earners who own capital while those without it face wealth stagnation. The rich are now richer than they were before the 2007 recession.

According to the Associated Press, household wealth jumped 80% in the last decade, but “more than one third of that gain—$16.2 trillion in riches—went to the wealthiest 1%.” Additionally, the “bottom half of the population gained less than 2%.” Also, the federal minimum wage has stalled at $7.25 per hour since 2009, while in the decade prior the amount grew by over two dollars.

Rideshare services change commuting

The last decade changed the way Americans commute with the emergence of ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft that made more pickups per month in 2017 than taxis did in any month since 2009. Both companies started in just a few cities before expanding to most cities and suburbs across the nation. Uber and Lyft became part of the booming “gig economy” with Census data showing the D.C. metro adding 10,000 drivers per year between 2014 and 2017.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the number of DUI arrests were cut in half in the last decade and credited to the uptick in rideshare services. While both companies experienced huge growth in the last several years, they’re reportedly not yet profitable as they adjust to the relatively new market. In 2019, 110 million users booked rides with Uber each month—up from 50 million per month in 2016.

Increases in workplace awareness around diversity and inclusion

The last decade saw an increase in awareness around diversity and inclusion that entered the workplace as companies sought experts in the field to create policies and initiatives that focus on a supportive environment and training in subjects such as sensitivity, unconscious bias, and sexual harassment. Indeed reports that job postings seeking diversity and inclusion professionals were up 18% in 2018 after a slump in the years prior. Corporations increasingly noted the value of a workplace culture that supports diversity and inclusion.

Forbes recounts statistics that show that companies with “organizational diversity” increase “financial performance” by as much as 35% over typical median growth. MemberPress founder Blair Williams told Inc. that businesses will have an even greater interest in a diverse workforce in the next decade both to promote a positive brand image and increase support for employees. A report in TechCrunch by Megan Rose Dickey notes the last decade as just the beginning of a diversity and inclusion movement that needs to make many more strides in the coming years.

Amazon Prime changes shopping habits

An Amazon Prime account, introduced in 2005, included free two-day shipping until 2011 when it added unlimited streaming video. Reporting for Wired, Marcus Wohlsen describes the evolution of Amazon Prime and stark jumps in memberships—up 50% just in the last quarter of 2014. A Prime account rose in cost but also included digital music, storage, and books.

By 2017, Prime had launched such services as Prime Wardrobe, Prime Day shopping, Amazon Key, and various shipping enhancements such as free two-hour delivery from Whole Foods. Amazon also introduced Alexa and Echo, smart assistants, while allowing members to order virtually anything online with hyperfast delivery options, instigating what The Verge’s Nick Statt calls a “retail revolution” that shifted American shopping habits.

Voicemail dies out along with landlines

The traditional landline system has been on the outs since the emergence of the smartphone. Switchboard operator positions, which still exist, are predicted to fall 33% in the next decade. Moneywise reports that operators are being increasingly replaced with voice recognition systems. Further, in the last decade there has been a 40.1% drop in jobs related to telephone-apparatus manufacturing—things like corded “house phones” with landlines.

USA Today describes the quick phase-out of traditional, now obsolete, mounted phones. With the death of the telephone there has also been a sharp decline in voicemails in favor of text messaging. Notoriously, millennials hate voicemails, and in a 2012 study, making actual calls was only the fifth most-used function for smartphone users.

The traditional work schedule shifts and vacation days die out

The majority of Americans, 77%, work more than 40 hours per week. Steven John of Business Insider explains part of the reason for the increase in work hours in the last decade is the expansion of the traditional workplace. The advent of email, messaging, and connectivity provided by smartphones, keeps workers “on the job” even during off hours.

Employees increasingly deal with work-related communication during any time of day. Vacations became “a thing of the past” since most employees answer emails and deal with other business when they’re off work or away. While the increasing gig economy offers flexibility, it can also increase hours on the job per day and deprive workers of traditional “vacation time.” Americans are working more and more, and a recent study concludes these longer hours pose long-term health dangers.

Entertainment moves from cable to streaming

Americans increasingly “cut the cord” to cable TV packages, nixing expensive monthly cable subscriptions for streaming services. Americans can now watch television on phones, tablets, or smart TVs with access to streaming platforms. However, the move toward streaming allowed the proliferation in the last decade of streaming services with original programming—making it necessary for consumers to pay for multiple monthly services to keep up with their favorite shows.

Hulu, Amazon, Disney, HBO, Apple, and several other new digital networks joined Netflix to offer monthly subscriptions that come with libraries of streamable content on demand. It’s hard to remember those DVD mail sleeves that Netflix used to send or Blockbuster, the rental giant that filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

People spend way more time on social media

It’s been just over a decade since the iOS App Store launched in 2008, but since then, we’ve seen a proliferation of apps and a huge increase in the amount of time Americans spend using them. Recent data projects that in 2019 people will spend 153 minutes per day on social media. Spread across a lifetime, that comes out to over six years. However, social media does provide human connection, though in a relatively new form, and is used by one in three people globally.

The last decade has brought a huge increase in users. While just over 500 million people used Facebook (still the most popular network) in 2010, that number has increased to 2.3 billion. The decade has also seen giant surges in users across the most popular platforms: YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Instagram evolved into an industry of “influencers” and became a huge marketing tool and cultural touchstone. Meanwhile, the most popular social media site in 2009, Myspace, still has users but is now a virtual ghost town with a consistent decline in users over the last decade.

Print newspapers rapidly decline

According to 24/7 Wall Street’s Grant Suneson, newspapers employ “less than half as many workers” as they did in 2008. Furthermore, over 150,000 newspaper employee positions dried up in the last decade, with 1,800 newspapers closing up shop. For those industry pros who still have jobs, wages declined by 17.8%, “one of the larger declines in any industry,” per Suneson.

The rise of internet media slashes the need for daily printed hard copies, and rising environmental concerns have also stunted the industry. Pew Research Center notes that newspaper circulation hit 1940s levels in 2018, with a sharp decline over the past 10 years. Additionally, new digital subscriptions don’t make up for the overall decline across the industry.

Trending Now