One economist says life today is simpler than you may think

Feb 2, 2022, 5:21 PM
In this 1915-1923 photo made available by the Library of Congress, a doctor examines a child with a...
In this 1915-1923 photo made available by the Library of Congress, a doctor examines a child with a stethoscope, accompanied by a nurse, in the United States. Two centuries after its invention, the stethoscope _ the very symbol of the medical profession _ is facing an uncertain prognosis. It is threatened by hand-held devices that are also pressed against the chest but rely on ultrasound technology, artificial intelligence and smartphone apps instead of doctors’ ears to help detect leaks, murmurs, abnormal rhythms and other problems in the heart, lungs and elsewhere. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress via AP)
(Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Life seems so fast today — nonstop cellphone notifications, constant emails and text messages that need your attention now — all chirping, beeping, ringing and buzzing. All this race and chase life has Americans yearning for the simpler life of decades ago. 

Don Boudreaux from George Mason University talks with Inside Sources host Boyd Matheson about the simple life of today compared to the comparative struggle of the early 20th century. 

“I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear people complain, and I occasionally complain myself about just how complicated life has become. You say it’s simpler than we think,” Matheson said.

“If you compare it to life in the past, it is,” said Boudreaux.

Life in America in 1915

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Life expectancy at birth for people born in 1915 was 54.5 years, whereas the most recent life expectancy estimate is 78.8 years. 
  • On January 12, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote.
  • On October 23, 2015,  25,000 women marched up New York City’s Fifth Avenue to advocate for women’s voting rights.
  • Less than 5 percent of the population in 1915 was age 65 or older, compared with 14 percent today. 
  • Social Security didn’t exist.

More time to fill

“Some people say, ‘Well, it’s simpler, but, man, we got a lot more on our to-do list every morning,'” Boyd said. “How do you address that?”

“Precisely because our lives are so simple. It gives us time to do more things than we would otherwise do,” Boudreaux said. “And so what we focus on, of course, are the complexities that we encounter.”

Life was dangerous then

In America 100 years ago, manufacturing workers averaged 55 hours at work per week. And the jobs were more dangerous: With a fatality rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers, the workplace was about 30 times more dangerous than it is today. The typical American spent one-third of his income on food 100 years ago, which is twice today’s share, according to The Atlantic, which found:

  • 10% of infants died during their first year, compared with 1 in every 168 births in the U.S. today or about 0.6%.
  • Over 95 percent of childbirths occurred at home, according to BrainyDose.
  • Yes, houses were cheap to purchase 100 years ago, but mortgages required a down payment of 50%.

Take time to step back and appreciate life today

“I’ve always said that the real difference between success and failure is not time management. It’s choice management. Because of the simplicity of all these other things, doesn’t the stress level… really come down to what we’re choosing to do because of the simplicity?” Boyd asked.

Just like our ancestors, there are still 24 hours to fill each day, Boudreaux said. And the percentage of that 24 hours devoted to gathering food and water and sheltering from danger is much smaller today than in the distant past, he said.

“I’m not saying that the fact that our lives are simpler in very real ways compared to lives in the past, there’s no stress, there’s no anxiety or real problems. But I’m counseling that we step back occasionally and appreciate just how good our lives are compared to those of our grandparents and great-grandparents,” Boudreaux said.

“Many say they long for simpler times. There’s never been a more simple time than the time that we live in,” Boyd said.

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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One economist says life today is simpler than you may think