Everyone loves to romanticize the past. Things were just better before cell phones and two-income households, some say. We could have that world again if only we committed to a certain degree of asceticism.
Consider this meme making its way around social media. It suggests that families could get by on a single income if only they cut out all their luxurious entertainment expenses.
On closer examination, the claim doesn’t hold up. Sure, you could save a significant amount of money by cancelling cable and internet, getting rid of a car, or dropping your cell phone service. But it’s clearly not enough to prove worthwhile when all things are considered, or more people would do it. Even using the meme’s numbers, $10,140 a year in savings would not translate to one parent or the other quitting their job, certainly not if the work was full-time.
Plus, consider the value families get for that $10,140. An extra car literally doubles the household’s transportation options. It may enable that second job, making it more than worth the cost. Cell phones put the whole family in range of contact at a moment’s notice, providing both convenience and peace of mind.
The options available to parents for the control and monitoring of their children through phones have grown downright draconian. Moms can hover that copter pretty low these days. Then there’s cable and internet, services which provide ever expanding value for an increasingly reasonable price.
The shift to two-income households has been cultural as much as, if not more than, economic. Once it became socially acceptable for women to enter the workplace, their earnings were added to the income upon which families could draw for a better lifestyle. Families came to afford a bigger house in a better part of town, which is by far the biggest expense most people have.
In other words, people pursued a higher quality of life in a new social context. Before, when it was expected that the man would provide and the woman would stay home, families worked within that framework and scaled their living situation accordingly. Now, they don’t have to. They can aspire for more, so they do.
You can argue that children might be better off if mom stayed home and they all lived in a smaller house in a worse location. But the same could not be accomplished by merely ditching their cable bill and their cell phones.