Question for Ken O

Ken, you’re the bloke around here who knows where all the economics statistics are buried.

So, this idea that in the 70s (and to make it fun, let’s add the 50s, 60s and 80s to it) people could live a full life and raise a family on just the one income.

It occurs that there’s a way to test this. In order to calculate inflation ONS (and if we can find it, Commerce Dept in the US) monitors a bundle of consumer goods. That bundle changes over time as the things which people buy changes over time.

Thus we can use this the other way around. We can examine the consumer bundle for a year in order to get an idea of what the typical lifestyle bought.

For example, at some point between the 50s and 90s ONS will have added a foreign holiday to that standard bundle of prices they monitor. At some point turnips (maybe, depends upon the level of detail, but the weighting of root vegetables will have changed at least) will have dropped off.

So, is there some place where we can see what is in the consumer bundle being monitored in any one year? Easily that is?

25 thoughts on “Question for Ken O”

  1. Uh?
    “…but the weighting of root vegetables will have changed at least”
    What’s the relative obesity of MPs got to do with anything?

  2. “The PDF of the basket for 1976 includes such things as; cassette recorders and gramophone records”

    Ironically vinyl LPs are now the hip trendy thing for the young people of today to listen to music to, and purchases are at decades highs. Who knows, they might end up in the RPI again………….

  3. In the 1950’s my parents did not run a car, had a one channel TV, holidayed at Eastbourne and did not have the array of household equipment common today, but used a laundry. Etc. etc. and reckoned themselves well off on their joint, albeit each low incomes, roughly equal to a middling range single income.

  4. When it comes to the shift between one income and two as being required to keep a family, one thing that changed during the ’70s was Women’s Lib, and the consequent expansion of the labour force as expectations changed. Whereupon the law of supply and demand will have kicked in, right in the middle of the decade of stagflation.

  5. While the monthly cost of servicing a mortgage may be somewhat constant due to a cheap money policy if the average price of a house is now many more times the multiple of a wage, and if inflationary pay rises are no longer occurring to reduce that ratio then the cost of housing over your life is therefore rising.

  6. Jim, it was the cassette recorders that caught my eye, as vinyl never really went away, some bands continued to issue albums on vinyl as limited editions for collectors.

    Can’t really remember when I noticed, but probably about 2 or 3 years ago, that the turntables with a USB connection had become available at the pro-sumer level. So 20 quid will get you one from Maplin, or you could spend over 300 quid on one.

  7. @DuckyMcDuckface: at the O2 arena there is (or at least was a year or so ago) a piece of wall art that consists partly of old music cassette cases complete with album inserts all glued together to make a wall. Thats how disposable cassettes became you could use them to make art with. I wonder is cassettes are due a hipster revival? Along with the Walkman and boomboxes?

  8. It has already been noted but the key facts that no statistic will cover is expectation. As Demetrius says, the one-income family that considers itself comfortable in the’50s &’60s would probably be heading for the food bank today such is their state of foreign holiday poverty.

  9. So 20 quid will get you one from Maplin, or you could spend over 300 quid on one.

    Hell, I just spent more than that on the Berlin Philharmonic Mahler box set (of LPs).

    The Pro-Ject DAC Box S USB is what you actually want if you want to do it properly.

  10. Oooh, get you, flaunting your kultur on a Sunday lunchtime.

    Tho’ that’s seems like a nice piece of kit, I think if I wanted to transfer analogue to digital, I’d prefer to use an ADC, not a DAC….

  11. Jim, I would have liked to have seen that, just to get all judgemental and snobby about the albums. Did you notice any Mahler in there? I bet it was all Bananarama and Bros.

    Doubtful that cassettes would make a comeback. Pain in the arse having to do all that rewinding and dealing with the tape loops everywhere when the player stripped it out. That’s something you don’t see adorning hedgerows these days.

  12. Was this the same decade which saw 20% inflation for much of it? Mass strikes as people struck for 20,30% pay increases?

    Doesn’t sound too comfortable to me.

  13. Ah, how will you weight the ability to let children of primary school age wander about on their own or with pals? And various other safety and security characteristics of (say) 50s and 60s society, some of which it would doubtless be illegal to mention.

  14. There’s a point: how would you weight the loss of the British tradition of free speech? That really is far more important than whether the Lord Chamberlain censored stage scripts in case they were obscene or rude about Her Majesty.

  15. @dearieme
    Curiously enough, that was my immediate recollection of the 70s. Being able to wander about, happily unconcerned, in parts of London you wouldn’t catch me now without full body armour. OK, maybe a reflection of where I was living then & what they’ve turned into. And prompted by my then street turning up in a recent news report. But there’s no doubt. London, pre large scale enrichment, was a relative pussycatsville.

  16. Bloke in North Dorset

    “I wonder is cassettes are due a hipster revival? Along with the Walkman and boomboxes?”

    As a twat fashion statement, maybe, but not for the music connoisseur.

    Vinyl has always been preferred over digital by connoisseurs because of its depth of sound and the lack of quantification distortion*. The real big guys even prefer valves because a valve amplifier has better linearity over the frequency range than transistors.

    The wow and flutter of those small Walkmans really wasn’t bearable for anything other than pop music or maybe some of the rowdier end of rock music.

    * I don’t believe they can hear but claim they can

  17. Social attitudes counted too. My parents married in 1947, my father had a job which I am certain was not well paid. My mother, before the children were born, could have got a job, built up some savings, bought furniture for their new house, which they were saving for.
    Her mother-in-law, with whom they were living while the house was built, would not allow her to work. “It would look like he can’t support you.”
    One wage was enough. But two would have been better.

  18. Dearieme, especially since we now have MPs of the soi-disant Labour variety trying to deny free speech to the US President

  19. When it comes to the shift between one income and two as being required to keep a family, one thing that changed during the ’70s was Women’s Lib, and the consequent expansion of the labour force as expectations changed.

    Yes. One reason families could live happily on a single income in the 70s was that most families were single income (or, at least, one full-time plus one part-time). That meant less competition in the labour market, and less combining of incomes to push up house prices.

    Another was that wage inflation was high. That meant high interest rates, which meant houses were cheap, and mortgages rapidly decreased in real value. It’s one thing to pay 15% interest on a 2,000 pound mortgage when your wages are going up 10% or more every year, and quite another to pay 2% on a 300,000 pound mortgage when your wages are going up 1-2% a year.

  20. My mother did not go out to work in the 70’s, but then again washing without an automatic machine and cleaning with the materials available then took rather a lot longer.

    Not to mention sewing clothes, which was common then and vanishingly rare now.

    If someone wanted to live on a single income, but was prepared to spend time growing a large vege garden, making their own clothes and having only one car, they probably could do so quite well.

  21. On the subject of digitising one’s vinyl…

    I’m using PS Audio’s Nuwave Phono Converter – a very nice phono preamp with a well-engineered ADC. Hook it up to one’s nearby Mac Mini or whatever with appropriate software. My ears are happy to believe the digitised signal is the same as the analog, but with the added advantage that one can save as a playable file AND stick it through the digital speaker/room correction thingy (MiniDSP Dirac Live).

    They’re selling off the Nuwave Phono Converter at about half price on the PS Audio website (and elsewhere), though Paul McGowan is pondering continuing production…

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