The United States has changed a lot since 1969. Gone are the days of the four-person nuclear family and the single-income household where one breadwinner works for the same employer for 40 years. Family units today are fluid and ever-changing. Some American families have one parent while others have two. Some have same-sex parents or grandparents raising kids. Some families have one child while others have half a dozen; others don't have any at all.
People are waiting until they're older to get married, and even older still to have children. For some folks, this is due to higher education commitments while others want to save money or be more financially stable first. Others simply want to enjoy their youth a bit longer. Career-wise, it's rare these days for Americans to work for one employer for decades. Instead, people are jumping around more as technologies shift and opportunities change. The rise of the virtual office space has created a new generation of employees who work from home and never go into the office or see coworkers in person.
In addition to these changes in careers and family units, the country has become more diverse, both racially and in the languages that are spoken. Spanish speakers currently number 40 million and other languages are proliferating, too, with Chinese at 3.4 million speakers and Philippines Tagalog at 1.7 million. Religious diversity is on the rise, as well. No longer is the United States primarily a white, Christian country. Populations of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other religious groups are increasing while growing numbers of people are identifying as agnostic, atheist, or non-religious.
In terms of social wellness indicators, it's hard to say if things have gotten better or worse. On the one hand, there are more homeless people, more folks on food stamps, and more adults over age 30 who say they're less happy than those of the same age were 50 years ago. On the other hand, the poverty rate has dropped, we're living much longer, and teenagers say they are happier than ever. Here, Stacker has put together a slideshow featuring 50 ways the country has changed since 1969. Take a scroll through to see some of the biggest shifts.
You may also like: 50 ways the weather could change in the next 50 years
There's no doubt that wages have risen in the past 50 years and American families are bringing home more money. The average household income in 1969, for example, was $9,543; by 2016 it had risen to $83,143. However, when you adjust for inflation, the real median income shows a different picture that indicates far less growth. Keeping that in mind, the inflation-adjusted family income in 2017 was $75,938 which would have been the equivalent of $55,916 in 1969. Americans' purchasing power, which measures one's financial ability to buy goods, has hardly budged, either. In 1973, for instance, the purchasing power of someone earning $4.03 per hour is equivalent to someone earning $23.68 today.
In 1960, 72% of adults in the country were married, according to U.S. Census data. By 2017, it had dropped to a mere 50% of the population. Today, marriage rates are higher among the less-educated and lower for folks with a bachelor's degree or higher. Much of the initial shift can be attributed to women working outside the home and no longer being financially dependent on men. Incarceration rates also have risen sharply in the past 50 years, adding to the decline. Other factors include greater acceptance of having children out of wedlock and changing attitudes toward pre-marital sex.
In 2016, about 40 million U.S. residents 5 and older spoke Spanish, per U.S. Census data. Although these records weren't included in the U.S. Census in 1969, it is known that the Hispanic population grew by more than six times between 1970 and 2012. Further, the current figure marks 133.4% growth just since 1990. Much of the increase can be attributed to immigration—between 1965 and 2015, about half of all U.S. immigrants originated from Latin American countries, adding about 30 million Spanish-speaking people. Now, however, the trend has reversed, as Latino immigration has decreased Spanish use is staying about the same or decreasing.
Spanish-speakers aren't the only group that's shifted the American language composition over the past 50 years. In 2016, more than one in five people in the country—21.6%—reported speaking a non-English language at home. Although there aren't statistics for 1969, the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau stopped tracking language the following year because foreign-born residents had reached an all-time low of 4.7% suggests it was significantly lower. Today, Spanish is the biggest non-English language, spoken by 40.5 million people, with Chinese following at about 3.4 million, and Tagalog coming in third at 1.7 million.
In 2016, almost 50 million people in the United States were 65 or older, totaling around 15.6% the following year. By contrast, only 10% of the U.S. population was 65 or older in 1970. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the increase in older Americans can be largely attributed to lower fertility rates and increased longevity. Today, the older population is more racially diverse and more educated than in previous decades. In 1965, for example, only 5% of people 65 or older had a bachelor's degree, while the number was 25% by 2014.
In 1970, the top tenth of the U.S. population earned about 6.9 times as much as the bottom tenth—roughly $63,512 a year compared with the lower tier's $9,212. By 2016, the gap had climbed to 8.6 times as much, with the top tenth of Americans earning an average of $109,578 annually (while the bottom 10% of the country earned $12,523). When looking at upper-income families—defined as those who bring in more than $127,600 a year—the difference is even greater. For example, the median upper-income family currently holds 75 times the wealth of the median low-income family. Numerous theories exist as to why the gap is widening so dramatically, including tax rates that favor the wealthy, lower capital gains taxes, climbing personal debt, declines in consumer purchasing power, and greater social acceptance of financial inequality.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 70.6% of Americans currently identify as Christian. That number has been decreasing steadily for seven decades. In 1948, for instance, 91% of the population considered itself Christian, and by 1989 it had dropped to 82%. The change in the number of white Christians specifically is even more dramatic. In 2016, for example, only about 43% of the U.S. population identified as both white and Christian, while four decades prior about eight in 10 Americans considered themselves white Christians. The transformation has been “fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether,” according to a 2017 report by Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press.
In 1967, only 3% of Americans were married to someone of a different race or ethnicity than themselves. In fact, that was the first year interracial marriage even became legal, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court's in Loving vs. Virginia. By 2017, however, one in six married couples—or 17%—were in interracial marriages. Hispanics and Asians are the two groups with the highest intermarriage rates today, while Caucasians and African Americans have the lowest likelihood of marrying outside their own race.
As of 2016, a striking 40% of adults over age 19 in the United States were obese, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. What's more, 7.6% were considered “severely obese,” defined as a BMI of 40 or more. By contrast, from 1971 to 1974, just 14.5% of the population was obese and only 1.3% was “severely obese.” Numerous factors are to blame, according to experts, including the rise of fast food chains, increased sugar consumption, the widespread use of pre-packaged meals, the spread of processed foods, and sedentary lifestyles. Interestingly, the population considered “overweight” (defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9) has not changed in 60 years, hovering around 31% since 1960.
The average life expectancy for Americans in 1969 was 66.8 years for men and 74.3 years for women. By 2016, however, the number had increased dramatically to 76.1 years for men and 81.1 years for women. The overall average that year in the United States was 78.7 years. The life expectancy figures have mostly been rising steadily over the decades; though a trend emerged in 2015 when the number dropped three years in a row. The consecutive drops marked the longest sustained decline since the low period from 1915 to 1918 when a combination of World War I and a brutal influenza pandemic claimed many young lives. It's not fully understood why life expectancy is suddenly dropping again; however, the opioid epidemic, drugs, and alcohol, as well as suicide, have been suggested as likely culprits.
The U.S. Census Bureau established the American poverty rate in 1959 and at that time it was almost a quarter of the population (22.4%). However, the number dropped steadily over the next 10 years, declining 10.3 percentage points by 1969. In the years since, it has fluctuated, increasing 14 times and dropping 17 times. But there hasn't been a significant change in the figure over time despite the ups and downs. In 1969, for example, it was 12.1% and in 2017, the rate was 12.3%.
It's no secret that the United States produces an enormous amount of waste for the size of its population—considerably more than almost any other country in the world. We currently produce almost one-third of the planet's waste, for example, despite only having 4% of its population. This has changed dramatically since 1960 when the United States produced 88.1 million tons of municipal solid waste (compared with 262.4 million tons in 2015). And it's not just that the population has increased—in 1960, each individual American generated 2.68 pounds of garbage per day; by 2015 that amount had climbed to 4.48 pounds per person.
In 1969, there were 98 million males in America and 103.3 million females, making men about 48.6% of the population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 there were 156.2 million men in the country and 162.6 million women, indicating that the male population had grown ever so slightly to 48.9%. Scientists still do not fully understand why, even excluding environmental and cultural factors, there is a worldwide biological phenomenon that favors females births over male births at a ratio of about 105 to 100.
In 2017, more than 84.6 million American households (of the 124.5 million surveyed) reported owning some kind of pet, according to the U.S. Census. That's a whopping 68% of all American households. Of those, about 48% included at least one dog and 3% included at least one cat. The data have only been tracked since 1988 so experts only have 30 years of information to consider. However, given that the figure increased steadily from 56% during that time, it is likely that the number was even lower in 1969.
Although there's a pervasive myth that only 10% of Americans own passports, that hasn't been true in more than 20 years. In fact, recent numbers have been growing astronomically. In 1974, for instance, just 2.4 million passports were issued by the U.S. Department of State, while in 2017, it handed out 21.4 million—nearly nine times more in a 43-year period. That number has increased the most sharply in the past 20 years—for example, it still was only 6.3% in 1997—likely due in part to increased globalization. Today, more than 40% of Americans hold passports.
The U.S. fertility rate hit a historical low in 2017 with 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, marking the lowest it had been in 30 years. By contrast, the rate hovered around 88 per 1,000 women in 1970. The number has been decreasing over the past 50 years, although a sharp falloff occurred and continued after the Great Recession in 2008. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared that without immigration, the U.S. population would be declining rather than growing.
In the 1970s, people over age 30 consistently reported being happier and more content than their younger counterparts. In the 2010s, however, the paradigm reversed and young people, once considered sad and angsty, began reporting greater happiness levels. According to a report published in “Social Psychological and Personality Science,” 38% of American adults said they were happy in the 1970s; today it's only 32%. Conversely, just 19% of 12th graders and 28% of young adults (ages 18 to 29) were happy in the 1970s, while the figures now are 23% and 30%, respectively. “Our current culture of pervasive technology, attention-seeking, and fleeting relationships is exciting and stimulating for teens and young adults, but may not provide the stability and sense of community that mature adults require,” said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University.
In 1969, about 2.87 million Americans received food stamps a benefit of the Food Stamp Act of 1964. Given that the population was roughly 203.3 million people at the time, that reflected about 0.7% of the population—less than 1%. By 2018 the number had skyrocketed, with roughly 40.3 million Americans needing the program. The number constitutes roughly 13.4% of the population of about 328.5 million.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, blue-collar jobs in painting, welding, manufacturing, and other trade sectors made up about one-third of all U.S. jobs. The precise figure was 31.2% in 1970. As of 2016, these types of jobs constituted just 13.6% of all employment in the United States. Numerous factors have contributed to the falloff, some of which include global outsourcing, changing technology, a climbing trade deficit, and the effects of 2008's Great Recession.
In the 1960s, most women got married before they were even old enough to drink a beer. In 1969, for instance, the average young woman tied the knot at 20.8 years of age. Fast forward 50 years and that median has increased by seven years, with the average woman getting married at age 27.8. Numerous theories exist as to why women are waiting to get married, including increased college attendance (more than double the number of women are enrolling in university studies), greater emphasis on their careers, the desire to save money first, and fear of marriage because their parents had divorced.
Women don't have a monopoly on getting married later in life. Men, too, have begun postponing their nuptials until later, most of them waiting until they're nearly 30. The average man today, for example, gets married at age 29.8, while in 1969 the age was 23.2. Some of the reasons are similar to women's motivations, such as wanting to save money or fear of divorce. Interestingly, the gap in the age of marriage between men and women has remained fairly consistent over the years, with men getting married about 2.5 to 4 years later than women.
In the 1960s, homelessness had “declined to the point that researchers were predicting its virtual disappearance,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Although accurate data were not widely available then, experts generally agreed that there was not a significant homeless population at that time in history. However, state psychiatric hospitals began releasing patients then, prompting a wave of homelessness. In the 1980s, it hit crisis levels following cuts to housing advocacy programs and other social services. Since then, factors including lowered wages, decreased labor union power, the Great Recession of 2008, and other economic factors have contributed to a worsening situation. As of 2017, there were more than 500,000 homeless people in the country on any given night. Social advocate Bob Erlenbusch said of the crisis: “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight.”
The amount of beef Americans eat has dropped by more than one-third since 1970, according to the Pew Research Center. As meat consumption has dropped, chicken consumption has increased. Since 1970, Americans have doubled their chicken intake. In 2014, the average American ate 39.4 pounds of beef per year and 47.9 pounds of chicken. Consumption of such dairy products as milk has decreased, though cheese consumption has gone up.
As of 2016, roughly 5.21% of American women and 3.9% of American men openly identified as LGBTQ, according to UCLA's Williams Institute. The numbers total 4.5% of the U.S. population—about 9 million people. However, UCLA's Gary Gates points out that tracking this information accurately is difficult due to “shifting definitions of LGBT and inconsistent questions.” It is also difficult because some people are either not open about their sexuality or do not report it on surveys, something that was even more prevalent 50 years ago. Because of these reasons, there's no reliable information about how many Americans were openly LGBTQ in the 1960s.
In 2017, women earned roughly 80.5% of the wages that men did, often for performing the same type of work. In 1969, the figure was 58.9%. The narrowing of the gap can partly be attributed to the passage in 1963 of the Equal Pay Act. According to economist Evelyn Murphy, president of The Wage Project, the gap has created a lifetime loss of wages (defined as 47 years of work) of $1.2 million for college graduates and $2 million for women with graduate degrees.
Despite widespread theories about Americans getting dumber, IQ tests over the past 50 years have suggested we may be getting smarter, at least in some sense of the word. Average IQs in the United States have risen about three points every 10 years in the past half-century, resulting in a nine-point gain per generation. Political scientist James Flynn, who first discovered rising IQs back in the 1980s, called the number “highly significant,” pointing to the Industrial Revolution as the greatest factor. That said, he noted that the data don't necessarily mean we're smarter than our ancestors. ”What is important is how our minds differ from those of people 100 years ago, not whether we label it ‘smarter' or ‘more intelligent.' I prefer to say our brains are more modern,” Flynn said. The phenomenon, dubbed the “Flynn Effect,” may be starting to reverse, however, according to recent studies that indicate IQs are starting to drop again.
In 1969, about 42% of American women participated in the labor force. By 2015, the number had increased to 46.8%, and by 2024 it's projected to hit 47.2%. However, the increase is more notable when analyzing data from 70 years ago when just one-third of women worked outside the home. A proliferation of equal rights movements in the 1960s led to dramatic increases in female labor participation between 1950 and 1970.
In 1970, there was still some risk associated with having a baby, with 20 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. By 2017, however, the infant mortality rate in the United States had dropped to 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the Southern states, as well as parts of the Midwest, infant deaths are more common, with the mortality rate hovering around 7.1 to 8.6 in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota,
The rise of modern technology has prompted widespread speculation that human attention spans have decreased over the past 50 years. However, scientists and researchers are still arguing about this. In 2015, a Microsoft study concluded that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000 and less than that of a goldfish (which allegedly has a nine-second attention span, per the study). However, numerous researchers have since attempted to debunk the report, pointing out that “average attention span” is a meaningless metric since it's a task-dependent skill. Not only that, there is no evidence that goldfish have poor attention spans to begin with.
Measuring how many hours a week Americans work is difficult due to variations among industries and sectors. Still, there's evidence that overall hours have increased. A 2013-14 Gallup Poll suggested, for example, that full-time American employees work an average of 47 hours a week. Another report found that employees in fields like tech and finance worked more than 60 hours and that some factory workers were logging 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week. By contrast, a 1970 poll concluded that the average employee worked 40.3 hours. And an ABC News analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information suggested the average workweek in 2017 was just over 40 hours.
In 2016, the Williams Institute estimated that about 1.4 million Americans openly identified as transgender, constituting about 0.6% of the U.S. population. In 1969, there were no statistics kept on transgender identities so it's difficult to quantify how the number may have changed. However, the figure doubled in the five years between 2011 and 2016, so a logical conclusion is that it has dramatically increased in the past 50 years. The 2016 report indicated that adults 18 to 24 were more likely to be open about their identity, suggesting that “a growing awareness of transgender identity” has been partly responsible for the increase.
In 1969, the same year Richard Nixon took office as president, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.5%. Last year, the rate was 3.9%, comprising about 6.3 million people. That figure has fluctuated wildly over the past 50 years (and the highest rate was 86 years ago in 1933 at 24.9% during the Great Depression). What is significant is that the overall unemployment numbers have consistently been higher in the past half-century. In fact, there have only been two other years—1951 and 1952— when numbers were lower than in 1969 and last year, at 3.1% and 2.7%, respectively.
Despite popular belief, the divorce rate has actually decreased since 1970 when it was 3.5 divorces per every 1,000 Americans. The number in 2017 was 2.9 divorces per 1,000 Americans—the lowest it had been in decades. The biggest upswing in divorces occurred between 1960 and 1980 when the rate went from 9.2 to 22.6. The decrease since then can be attributed to numerous factors, including later marriage ages, increased access to birth control, and more “love marriages,” according to The New York Times.
In 1970, more than one in four Americans (26%) lived in rural counties throughout the country. However, a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau found that just 19.3% of the population, about 60 million people, resided in rural areas in 2017. Among numerous differences between the two populations, the report also discovered that folks in rural communities are more likely to own homes, reside in their birth state, and serve in the military than those who live in urban centers.
Americans owned about 529 passenger cars per 1,000 people in 1970. By 2016, the number had climbed to 833 vehicles per 1,000. But the number of gross auto sales has dropped from 9.5 million cars in 1969 to 5.3 million in 2018. The figures may suggest that although more Americans own cars, they aren't buying as many new ones.
In 1970, the average American consumed 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, it has jumped to 152 pounds per year, marking a significant increase which can be viewed as contributing to climbing obesity levels. In 2017-18, the U.S. population ate a total of more than 11.18 million metric tons of sugar. During the 30 years from 1977 to 2010, sugar consumption specifically by adults, measured as calories per day, increased by 30%.
Americans are attending college in much higher numbers today than they were 50 years ago. In 1969, for example, only 8.1% of women completed four years of college compared with 13.6% of men. Today, the number has more than quadrupled for women and more than doubled for men, with 35.3% of women and 34.6% of men finishing college in 2018.
Almost half the working population of the United States currently spends at least part of its time telecommuting—and nearly one-third is fully or almost fully remote. In 2016, a Gallup poll found that 43% of employed Americans reported spending some portion of their time working remotely, while 31% said they telecommute 80% to 100% of the time. The dramatic shift since the 1960s and 1970s in the workforce is due to the rise of the internet and the ensuing digital revolution.
Fifty years ago, it was almost unheard of for gay and lesbian couples to have, adopt, or raise children together. Today, however, it's becoming fairly common. According to the Family Equality Council, about 2 million to 3.7 million children under age 18 have at least one parent who identifies as LGBTQ. Of those, roughly 200,000 have same-sex parents raising them. And the proportion of same-sex couples raising kids is higher in more conservative pockets of the country, likely because people tend to come out later in life and have children from a previous opposite-sex partner.
In 1969, it was rare for traditional couples to live together before getting married; those who did were mostly bucking the norm. “Back in the 1960s, the ‘70s, and the ‘80s, cohabitation was a more unconventional way of getting together,” said Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project. “The types of people who were cohabiting were less likely to conform to the traditional standards of marriage such as responsibility, fidelity, and commitment. Yet today, 18 million couples were cohabiting in 2016, a figure that rose 29% from 2007.
Although home ownership overall has remained fairly steady in the United States in the past 50 years, there has been a decline in the number of young people who own homes. The drop began in the early 1980s and has continued decreasing ever since with only a slight bump during the housing boom of 2001 to 2005. Among other theories, many experts believe the drop is linked to people marrying later.
America has a long history of military service, particularly during times of a draft, and all men between 18 and 25 are required to register with the U.S. Selective Service system, even though the United States currently has an all-volunteer military. In 1968, during the height of the Vietnam war, 3.5 million Americans were serving on active duty, according to the Pew Research Center. By 2016, however, the number had dropped by almost two-thirds, down to 1.3 million, totaling less than 1% of the U.S. population.
Given the stigma that existed to some degree in the 1960s and ‘70s regarding children born out of wedlock, it was uncommon to see single mothers raising children on their own. In 1970, for example, there were 7.4 million children in the United States being raised by a single mother. By 2018, however, shifting societal norms had made it less of a taboo and today there are 16.4 million kids living with single mothers.
Although heart disease is still the #1 one cause of death in the United States for both men and women, it has seen a sharp decline over the past 50 years. Experts predict the trend will continue, noting that the 20th century may turn out to be the only century where heart attacks caused the most deaths. The heart attack epidemic broke out in the early 1900s when a rash of coronary atherosclerosis plagued the country, rising rapidly through the mid-1960s due to a combination of smoking, diet, and poor diagnostic abilities. However, changes in lifestyle combined with advances in medicine, particularly diagnostic tools, began driving the death rate down and today there are 165.5 heart attack deaths per 100,000 people.
Being a millionaire in America used to be uncommon—an unequivocal sign of success and material wealth. Today, however, despite extreme poverty and a growing wealth gap, millionaires are proliferating in the United States. In fact, a study released in 2017 concluded that 1 in 20 Americans is now a millionaire, 15.3 million people nationwide, all told. The study also found that Americans now make up 43% of the millionaires on the planet.
In 1970, most women had children at much younger ages, with 21.4 the average age for having their first child. By 2016, however, the average age was 26.6. A multitude of reasons helps explain this phenomenon, many of which echo why women are waiting to get married. It's a combination of increased higher education, heightened career ambitions, wanting to save money, and less societal pressure.
It should come as no surprise that U.S. goods and services are worth more than they were 50 years ago. In 1969, our real gross domestic product (GDP) was $4.94 trillion. Fast forward five decades and it was $18.5 trillion in 2018. However, the growth rate was higher in 1969 at 3.1% compared with today's 2.9%.
In the late 1960s, there were still a lot of stay-at-home moms, despite the surge of women into the workforce amid the equal rights movement. However, there were few stay-at-home dads— so few, in fact, that there are no statistics available. However, it is a much more common occurrence today. According to the Pew Research Center, there were about 2.2 million stay-at-home dads in the country in 2012. Moreover, their attitudes toward parenting are shifting, with an equal amount now saying that parenting is “extremely important to their identity.”
Although the United States of 50 years ago is often revered by gun enthusiasts as a bygone era, gun ownership hasn’t actually decreased significantly in the past five decades. In 1973, for instance, 47% of all American households owned at least one gun. In 2018, the number had dropped to 43%. There are currently about 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the country.
Although more than 600,000 people still die each year from cancer in the United States, the rate has been steadily declining since 1969, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1969 and 2014, overall cancer death rates dropped by 21.9% for men and 15.6% for women. Still, as heart disease continues to drop, cancer is predicted to become the #1 one cause of death in the United States by 2020.