Understanding the Drastic Socioeconomic Differences Between Yesterday and Today

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Have you ever had one of those intergenerational conversations about certain social milestones that we should be achieving by some arbitrary age? You know, those, “When are you having kids, getting married, buying a house, getting that degree, etc.?” Let’s look at why our lives may be on a different trajectory for generations to come.

Our world is much different from our parents and, quite frankly, any generation before us. Experiencing multiple global economic, social, health, and environmental challenges and advancements, the current generation of adults is trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during one of the most pivotal moments in human history. 

Aside from managing daily life in a rapidly changing society, the current generation is navigating the challenges of the ever-rising cost of living. Although the costs have begun to balance out, housing remains the biggest challenge for most young adults today. When we look at the prices of food, gas, education, and clothing, among other hallmarks of daily life, previous generations’ dollars were way more valuable than they are now. So where does that leave us who are climbing socioeconomic ladders today?

Consider how the buying power of $50 has changed over the past four generations. (You can also compare some price changes with this calculator.

YearPrice2024 Price EquivalentRate of Inflation 
1930$50$929.121758.2%
1960$50$524.20948.4%
1990$50$118.72137.4%

 

The above chart demonstrates that the average person’s buying power has plummeted astronomically since the 1930s. Considering that most generations embark on their journeys toward financial success in their younger adult years, the younger generations may be in for a longer haul toward achieving financial stability unless we take creative measures.

Studies show that wealth and wages have increased for upper-class families while the middle class grows further from these same levels of stability with stagnant wages and rising costs. Even during times like the 80s and 90s when growth was seen across all classes, the upper class saw more than 40% a greater increase than their middle and lower class counterparts. 

As the cost of basic necessities rises, wages fail to provide the average American with a liveable and sustainable income. One study shows that the once attainable ideals of living the American Dream (having a house, nutritious food, a pet, a family, a car or two, no debt, etc.) typically are valued at over $3 million, leaving most of us with quite a long way to go to achieve such a feat. Not to mention navigating the changing climate patterns, sociopolitical unrest, growing and changing health concerns, and other environmental factors that alter our sense of reality, tradition, and justice right before our eyes. Understandably, there is a lot to manage in the 21st century. While we are still reeling mentally and emotionally from the last three years alone, we continue to find ways to forge forward, innovate, and generate resources and the means to obtain them. 

Wage discrepancies have even greater ramifications for specific groups of people. Though pay gaps and other financial barriers have affected previous generations of marginalized groups, they continue to dramatically affect the quality of life for them to this day. Not to mention the increased risks and costs that come with striving for better conditions, many women and people of color, in particular, bear the greatest weight of these economic challenges. 

As more research is done to understand the causes and effects of our socioeconomic burdens, there is hope as we mend the fabric of our society. With greater access to technology, there are more ways for individuals to launch multiple streams of income from the comfort of their own homes while tending to their other daily needs. Remote work and courses, social media influencing and streaming, affiliate marketing, blogging, and many other online opportunities make it possible for people to be flexible in their pursuit of happiness. With multiple sources of income comes a greater need for effective time management and general organization skills. 

Since COVID, our society has faced economic burdens that are comparable to those of the Great Depression, yet there is also evidence of a similar potential for Great Change. Shortly after the depression, there was a boom in several fields, boosting opportunities for success and growth for those who dared to take risks and stand up for freedom. 

Now more than ever, we see breakthrough collaborations, conversations, and action toward meaningful and lasting changes for all. Daily, we see the rise of more entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought leaders who are helping us blaze the trail to a better future. With technology, communication, and art driving much of our current progress, our ability to come together despite divisive social norms will determine how bright our new day will be. 

Despite these pivotal times, resilience continues to be the cornerstone of our potential to thrive, much like previous generations, who faced unique experiences, challenges, and worries of their own. Though the road may be rocky, there is still hope as yet another generation is born out of our overcoming. 

We are rapidly being thrust into the future, leading us to a world that is truly much different than any we've ever known. As we collectively examine the ways of the world that got us to where we are as a society today, we are also brave enough to take action, being the change we’ve always dreamed of seeing. And for that, the wild and outspoken Millenllais and Gen Z’ers will become one of the most insightful and resilient generations yet.