A woman’s place was in the home

In 1920 just 9% of households had two working spouses.


Do families need two incomes in the 21st century? Most likely they do and that’s because we created a society of consumption and stuff.

If families in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s didn’t need two incomes to meet their needs, why do families need two incomes in 2021?

The answer may be in the marginal propensity to consume. To put it simply, the more one earns the more one spends and accumulates more stuff.

Since the 1920s the average home has grown by over 1,000 square feet. The average number of people in a household in 1920 was 4.34. Today it is 3.15.

How many televisions in your home, how many electronic devices, what do you pay for cable, internet, streaming services, how many cars -technically vehicles- in your household? Are those vehicles to provide basic transportation? Not likely.

How much did you spend on vacations? How many baths and bedrooms in your home; I bet there is a family room or finished basement. How many of the latest toy or games do your kids have? Do the kids attend pre-K?

How much does your family spend overall on non-necessities in a year? I should ask how much do you save for an emergency and for retirement, but why bother I already know – not enough – because all the stuff usually comes first; the new necessities that is.

To keep up, indeed to have what we now define as basic needs, two incomes are a virtual necessity for most Americans. For those Americans at the lower end of the economic scale two incomes are necessary for most of their spending because demand has driven up prices over the decades.

Living paycheck to paycheck includes all the stuff we have and consume – way beyond our basic needs.

Regular readers will know I am big on consequences, especially unintended consequences. Here area few in this case:

  • At least a part-time time job is a necessity for most women
  • We need (or want) pre-school and childcare to help raise our children
  • We need government tax credits and cash payments to afford our children
  • We need paid leave to initially care for our children
  • We spend so much on the new necessities and beyond, we are not planning for financial emergencies or our financial future


  1. This is why when you ask a question of ten economists, you get eleven different answers.

    “Average” can be misleading.

    Labor force participation among prime-age workers across household income distributions
    (25-54 age group)*

    Which came first; the chicken or the egg? Is labor force participation lower in the lower household income groups, because fewer spouses are working?


    * In 2013, households in the lowest 25% of the income distribution, or the first quartile, had an average monthly income of less than $1,770. The median total household monthly income was $3,430. At the top of the distribution, the lower bound for being in the highest 25% of households, or the fourth quartile, was a monthly income of $5,993.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree that the modern first world economies are based on consumption.

    But life has change too. Prior 1900, there were few processed foods and refrigeration. That mean that the mother spend her time preparing food. Spending hours to bake bread instead of buying a loaf. Lighting might have been from oil lamps which required wicks to be trimmed and glass globe to be cleaned of soot. Heating and cooking might have been by coal or wood stoves. Rural American didn’t get electricity until the 1930s. Clothes still had to washed by hand. Now you put a load in the washer and go do something else. If you were on a farm, I am sure you had other duties.

    Young women often worked as maids or in factories in the cities so they were out working until their domestic duties kept them home. There is proof of this in my family trees US Census forms of the day.

    WW II put women to work. Innovations from the world war worked their way into the home. In the 1950s the credit card was invent and really took off in the 1970s. Modern inventions and food innovations lessen the workload in the home. With more time on their hands and the push to keep up with the Jones, women when to work.

    I think that the difference is now is the families over bought and spent and both are forced to work,

    Liked by 1 person

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