Cost of Living from 1958 to 2024


A meme popular on social media is only a starting point in understanding our economy.

I sampled some items and found the conclusions we should draw need more study that the meme presents. Two things need consideration: How incomes have changed relative to these prices, and the characteristics of the items. I did not consider all items the meme uses.

I first found the average income in 2024 and converted it and the 1958 value to hourly wages. (Notes on sources are at the end of this article.) Then we can calculate how much work time it takes to purchase each item. Some differences are striking, such as the work time needed to buy milk has fallen by 75 percent. Some things, like housing and cars, have increased, as have their characteristics.

The characteristics of the commodities I selected — eggs, bacon, milk, and sugar — haven’t changed much since 1958, and their prices have fallen in terms of the work time required for their purchase. Gasoline has risen by 12.7 percent.

Three items have become more expensive, based on the work time needed for their purchase: Houses, rent, and automobiles. These are important as they account for large amounts of consumer spending, unlike, say, eggs and sugar. Not only have these items become more expensive, but their cost also varies widely, which complicates understanding the vague and ambiguous descriptions of the items presented in the meme.

For example, house prices vary greatly among the states, with the most expensive states about three times as expensive as the cheapest. Similarly, new cars (excluding exotic) range widely. Average prices for sedans range from subcompact at $23,715 to full-size at $45,179. SUV average prices range from subcompact at $30,353 to full-size at $74,502.

We don’t know much about the cars and houses the meme uses, so I had to make a few judgments. Importantly, the characteristics of houses and cars have changed dramatically. A typical car made in 1958 had no air conditioning, few safety features like seat belts and airbags, and polluted the air. Houses today are much larger and livable. I asked ChatGPT, a large language artificial intelligence model, to explore the differences in these items, and I present the findings below.

Memes like this present an artificial and superficially sentimental memory of times past. We need to consider factors other than prices. The facts of rising incomes and vastly improved products should temper nostalgia.

Characteristics of items in 1958 and 2024


Comparing a new car from 1958 with a new car from today highlights significant advancements in technology, safety, comfort, and performance. Here are some key differences:

Design and Aesthetics:
– Large, bulky bodies with prominent tail fins and chrome accents.
– More attention to decorative elements and distinctive styling.
– Limited color options and fewer aerodynamic considerations.
– Sleek, aerodynamic designs focused on fuel efficiency.
– Modern materials like carbon fiber and aluminum.
– More color and customization options.

– Basic AM radios and optional heating systems.
– Mechanical gauges and manual controls.
– Carbureted engines with minimal electronic components.
– Advanced infotainment systems with touchscreens, Bluetooth, and navigation.
– Digital displays, automated controls, and driver assistance systems.
– Fuel injection and hybrid/electric powertrains with complex electronics.

– Basic safety features like seat belts (often optional) and rudimentary crash structures.
– No airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), or electronic stability control (ESC).
– Multiple airbags, ABS, ESC, and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
– Crumple zones, reinforced passenger cabins, and pedestrian protection measures.

– V8 engines were common, with horsepower ranging from 150-300.
– Rear-wheel drive was standard.
– Manual transmissions were prevalent, with automatic transmissions as an option.
– Wide range of engines from small turbocharged 4-cylinders to powerful V8s and electric motors.
– All-wheel drive and front-wheel drive are common.
– Advanced automatic transmissions with many gears and manual mode options.

Fuel Efficiency and Emissions:
– Lower fuel efficiency, with typical consumption around 10-15 miles per gallon (mpg).
– No emission controls, leading to higher pollution.
– Significantly improved fuel efficiency, with many cars achieving over 30 mpg and electric vehicles offering zero emissions.
– Strict emission controls with catalytic converters and particulate filters.

Comfort and Convenience:
– Basic interiors with limited adjustability and manual windows/locks.
– Air conditioning was a luxury feature.
– Highly adjustable seats, climate control systems, and advanced ergonomics.
– Power windows, locks, and seats are standard, along with heated and ventilated seats.

– New cars typically cost between $2,000 and $3,000, which was a significant investment at the time.
– New cars range from around $20,000 for basic models to over $100,000 for luxury and high-performance vehicles, reflecting inflation and the addition of advanced technology.

Reliability and Maintenance:
– More frequent maintenance was required, with shorter intervals between oil changes and tune-ups.
– Simpler mechanical systems but more prone to wear and tear.
– Longer service intervals, with synthetic oils and improved engineering.
– More complex systems but generally more reliable and longer-lasting components.

In summary, the evolution from a 1958 car to a modern vehicle showcases dramatic improvements in almost every aspect, reflecting the advancements in automotive engineering and technology over the past six decades.

Automobile Safety

The safety of automobiles has dramatically improved from 1958 to the present day. Here are the key differences in terms of safety features, structural design, and overall vehicle safety:

Structural Design and Materials:
1958 Cars:
Structure: Heavier, less advanced crumple zones, often with a body-on-frame construction.
Materials: Primarily steel, which contributed to the vehicle’s weight but not necessarily to occupant safety.
Modern Cars:
Structure: Unibody construction with advanced crumple zones designed to absorb impact and protect occupants.
Materials: High-strength steel, aluminum, and composites that provide better strength-to-weight ratios, enhancing both safety and fuel efficiency.

Passive Safety Features:
1958 Cars:
Seatbelts: Often absent or rudimentary (lap belts only).
Airbags: Nonexistent.
Headrests: Typically not included, increasing the risk of whiplash injuries.
Modern Cars:
Seatbelts: Advanced systems with pre-tensioners and load limiters.
Airbags: Multiple airbags, including front, side, curtain, and knee airbags.
Headrests: Adjustable and designed to reduce whiplash injuries.

Active Safety Features:
1958 Cars:
Braking Systems: Basic drum brakes, which are less effective than modern braking systems.
Traction Control: Nonexistent.
Stability Control: Nonexistent.
Modern Cars:
Braking Systems: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD).
Traction Control: Standard in most vehicles.
Stability Control: Electronic stability control (ESC) is now standard in most cars, helping prevent skidding and loss of control.

Crashworthiness and Testing:
1958 Cars:
Crash Testing: Minimal or no standardized crash testing.
Safety Ratings: Lack of standardized safety ratings.
Modern Cars:
Crash Testing: Rigorous crash testing by organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Safety Ratings: Comprehensive safety ratings based on crash test performance, helping consumers make informed choices.

Driver Assistance Technologies:
1958 Cars:
Driver Assistance: Virtually nonexistent.
Modern Cars:
Driver Assistance: Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and parking assistance.

Lighting and Visibility:
1958 Cars:
Headlights: Basic incandescent headlights with limited range and brightness.
Visibility: Limited visibility aids; side and rear mirrors were often small and less effective.
Modern Cars:
Headlights: Advanced LED or HID headlights with better illumination and range.
Visibility: Improved visibility aids, including larger mirrors, backup cameras, and 360-degree camera systems.

Child Safety
1958 Cars:
Child Safety: Limited to non-existent child safety features and restraints.
Modern Cars:
Child Safety: Dedicated child seat anchors (LATCH system), rear-seat reminder systems, and advanced airbag deactivation for child seats.

Pedestrian Safety:
1958 Cars:
Pedestrian Safety: Minimal consideration for pedestrian safety in vehicle design.
Modern Cars:
Pedestrian Safety: Features designed to reduce injuries to pedestrians, including softer front-end structures, pedestrian detection systems, and automatic emergency braking.

Overall, modern cars are significantly safer than those built in 1958 due to advancements in engineering, materials, and technology. Today’s vehicles incorporate a wide range of passive and active safety features designed to protect occupants and pedestrians, prevent accidents, and reduce the severity of injuries in the event of a collision.


The evolution of automobile tires from 1958 to today reflects significant advancements in materials, design, and technology. Here are the key differences:

Materials and Construction:
1958 Tires:
Materials: Made primarily from natural rubber with textile (rayon or nylon) reinforcement.
Construction: Bias-ply construction, where the layers of fabric are crisscrossed, resulting in a stiffer sidewall and less flexibility.
Modern Tires:
Materials: A mix of synthetic rubber, natural rubber, steel, and textile reinforcements (polyester, nylon).
Construction: Radial construction, where the fabric layers run perpendicular to the direction of travel, offering more flexibility and better road contact.

Performance and Durability:
1958 Tires:
Performance: Less traction, especially in wet conditions. Prone to higher rolling resistance, which reduces fuel efficiency.
Durability: Shorter lifespan, more prone to punctures and blowouts.
Modern Tires:
Performance: Enhanced traction and handling due to improved tread patterns and rubber compounds. Lower rolling resistance, contributing to better fuel efficiency.
Durability: Longer lifespan due to advanced materials and construction techniques. More resistant to punctures and wear.

1958 Tires:
Safety Features: Limited to basic tread patterns without advanced safety features. Blowouts were more common.
Tread Design: Basic, often symmetrical designs not optimized for specific driving conditions.
Modern Tires:
Safety Features: Incorporate advanced tread patterns, sipes, and compounds to enhance grip, especially in wet or icy conditions. Run-flat technology and self-sealing materials are available.
Tread Design: Specialized designs for different conditions (e.g., all-season, winter, performance), offering optimized safety and performance.

Technology and Innovation:
1958 Tires:
Technology: Basic tire manufacturing processes with limited focus on innovation.
Pressure Monitoring: Drivers had to manually check tire pressure, with no integrated monitoring systems.
Modern Tires:
Technology: Advanced manufacturing processes, including computer-aided design and testing. Incorporation of silica in rubber compounds for better performance.
Pressure Monitoring: Integration with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS), providing real-time pressure information to the driver.

Environmental Impact:
1958 Tires:
Recycling: Limited recycling options, leading to environmental waste.
Eco-friendliness: Less focus on environmentally friendly materials and processes.
Modern Tires:
Recycling: Improved recycling programs and technologies, with efforts to reduce the environmental impact of used tires.
Eco-friendliness: Development of low rolling resistance tires and use of more sustainable materials to reduce the carbon footprint.

Customization and Variety:
1958 Tires:
Variety: Limited options in terms of sizes and types. Fewer choices for specific driving needs or preferences.
Modern Tires:
Variety: Wide range of options tailored to different vehicles, driving conditions, and performance requirements. Availability of high-performance, off-road, and eco-friendly tires.

Overall, modern tires offer significant improvements in performance, safety, durability, and environmental impact compared to tires from 1958. The advancements in materials, construction techniques, and technology have led to tires that provide better traction, fuel efficiency, and a more comfortable driving experience.


Comparing a house built in 1958 to one built today involves examining several aspects, including design, construction materials, energy efficiency, and technological advancements. Here are the key differences:

Design and Layout:
1958 House:
Architecture: Typically, mid-century modern or ranch style with simpler lines and open floor plans.
Rooms: Smaller rooms and fewer bathrooms. Kitchens were often closed off from living areas.
Storage: Less built-in storage space.
Garages: Often a single-car garage or carport.
Today’s House:
Architecture: Diverse styles including contemporary, craftsman, and modern designs with more intricate details.
Rooms: Larger rooms with open-concept layouts integrating kitchens, dining, and living areas.
Storage: More built-in storage, including walk-in closets and pantry spaces.
Garages: Typically, larger garages (two or three cars) with additional storage space.

Construction Materials and Methods:
1958 House:
Materials: Primarily wood framing, plaster walls, and hardwood floors. Asbestos was commonly used in insulation and other materials.
Windows: Single-pane windows with wood or steel frames.
Insulation: Minimal insulation, often with older materials like vermiculite or fiberglass.
Today’s House:
Materials: Advanced materials such as engineered wood, steel, and composites. Asbestos-free materials.
Windows: Double or triple-pane windows with energy-efficient coatings and frames made from vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass.
Insulation: High-performance insulation materials like spray foam or rigid foam boards, with better overall thermal performance.

Energy Efficiency:
1958 House:
Heating and Cooling: Basic systems, often less efficient. Central air conditioning was less common.
Lighting: Incandescent bulbs.
Appliances: Less efficient, higher energy consumption.
Today’s House:
Heating and Cooling: High-efficiency HVAC systems with programmable thermostats and zoning options.
Lighting: Energy-efficient LED lighting.
Appliances: Energy Star-rated appliances that consume less electricity and water.

Technological Advancements:
1958 House:
Electrical: Limited outlets and basic electrical systems without modern safety features.
Plumbing: Galvanized steel pipes, which can corrode over time.
Internet and Connectivity: Nonexistent; homes were not designed with modern connectivity needs in mind.
Today’s House:
Electrical: Modern electrical systems with GFCI and AFCI protection, more outlets, and higher capacity for electronic devices.
Plumbing: Durable materials like PEX or copper pipes.
Internet and Connectivity: Homes are often wired for high-speed internet, with smart home technologies integrated for security, lighting, and climate control.

Environmental Impact:
1958 House:
Sustainability: Less focus on sustainability and environmental impact.
Water Usage: Higher water usage due to less efficient fixtures and appliances.
Today’s House:
Sustainability: Emphasis on sustainable building practices, including the use of recycled materials and renewable resources.
Water Usage: Low-flow fixtures and water-saving appliances.

Overall, houses built today are more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and equipped with advanced technology compared to those built in 1958. However, some people still appreciate the charm and character of mid-century homes, often renovating them to incorporate modern amenities while preserving their original style.

Notes on sources

As of April 12, 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average annual salary in the United States to be $61,900.

The average price paid for a new vehicle in the United States fell 1.2% in January from a year earlier, to $47,338, according to data collected by

Gasoline: Today’s AAA National Average $3.593 Price as of 5/18/24

Eggs 2.86 from BLS
Bacon $6.64 from BLS
Milk Dillons Vitamin D Whole Milk, gallon $3.29 May 2024
Sugar 1.01 per pound May 2024 BLS
Movie ticket from AMC 2023 11.90

U.S. rent $1,516/month from May 2024.
Zillow median rent $2,122 May 2024
The average rent for an apartment in the U.S. is $1,713. March 2024

The average home price in the United States was $495,100 in the second quarter of 2023, according to the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The U.S. median home price was $412,000 in September 2023, according to Redfin.

The average (median) income of families was estimated at $5,100 in 1958, or about 2 percent higher than in 1957, despite the decline in economic activity which extended over much of the year, according to estimates released today by the Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce.

The median household income in the United States in 2023 was $67,521, with most states ranging from $50,000–$90,000. The estimated median income for four-person families from October 1, 2023, through September 30, 2024, is $104,888.


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