11
Jan
08

The Cost of Housing: 1050% Higher than 1970 and Climbing

Warning:  Do not try to read this if you are not wide awake and sober.  The staggering number of statistics will cause mental short circuits.  Author is not responsible for “fried brain” or other problems associated with excessive statistics.

Consider these sobering statistics.  In 1960, a new house would cost around $16,500.  Ten years later in 1970, a new house would cost around $26,500.  The cost of a new house went up $1,000 per year.  The national inflation rate ranged from 1.4% in 1960 to 6.5% in 1970.  Unemployment ranged from 5.5% in 1960 to 3.5% in 1970.  Obviously, the 1960s were a fairly stable decade with little change in most key indicators.  The highest level the Dow hit in 1960 was 685 and the highest it hit in 1970 was 842.  The average price for a gallon of gas in 1960 was .31 and in 1970 it was .36.

In 1960, the median household income was $5,600.  To put these statistics in proper perspective; a new home would cost the average family three times its annual income.  By 1970, the median household income had grown to $8,730 or 55.9%.  Guess what?  It would still cost the average family three times its annual income to get a new home. 

In the ten years of the 1960s, the median household income rose 55.9% and the average price of a new house rose 60%.  It is very interesting to note that the average price of new house in 1968 was also $26,500 compared to $20,500 in 1964.  Thus, most of the increase in housing cost came in the middle four years when inflation was averaging around 3%. 

By 1980, the average cost of new house had jumped to $76,400.  This was a $50,000 increase in ten years.  Remember the increase in the 1960s was only $10,000.  The cost of new house increased 188% during the decade of the 1970s.  Inflation ranged from around 5% in 1971 to an astounding 13.5% in 1980.  Unemployment was fairly stable between 3.5% and 6%.  The 1970s were racked with two separate oil crisis and the resulting double digit inflation that came with them.  In 1974 and 75, inflation hovered around 14%.  Between 1977 and 1980, inflation was between 11% and 13.5%. 

Needless to say, the price of just about everything skyrocketed during the 1970s.  A gallon of gasoline went from .36 per gallon in 1970 to 1.25 in 1980; a 247% increase.  A gallon of milk went from $1.15 to $2.16, a 88% increase in ten years.  The highest level the Dow hit in 1970 was 842 and the highest it hit in 1980 was 1000 which represents only a 19% increase.  The stock market was not the vehicle to wealth in the 1970s but CDs and other set rate investments provided a huge windfall to those wise enough to invest in them. 

In 1970 the median household income was $8730.  By 1980 the median household income had grown to $17,700.  Although this represents an increase of 103%, when compared with the 188% increase in the average cost of new house and the 247% increase in a gallon of gasoline; it is plain to see the average American family went backwards in the 1970s.

In 1990, the average cost of a new house had increased to $149,800.  This was a 96% increase from 1980.  To place these figures in proper perspective, a new house cost $123,300 more in 1990 than in 1970.  A new house cost a staggering 465% more in 1990 than a mere 20 years earlier in 1970.  Unlike the 1970s, inflation was fairly tame in the 1980s after 1983.  The incredible 96% increase in housing costs cannot be explained by inflation as they were in the 1970s. 

Unemployment ballooned during the recession of 1983 and 1984 to just under 10% but averaged closer to 7% most of the decade.  The big thing that changed in the 1980s was the value of the Dow.  Remember its highest close was 1000 in 1980.  In 1990, the Dow hit 3000.  Certainly the 200% increase in the Dow during the 1980s generated a huge new class of wealth in this country.  Those who invested in the stock market in 1980 were rewarded with returns on their investments never before seen in history, even with the temporary dip in 1987.

The median household income was up to $29,943 in 1990 which is more than $12,000 more than 1980.  The 69% increase in household income basically kept pace with the rate of inflation and was in line with the percentage of increase in the cost of a new house.  Again, to keep these figures in better perspective, the median household income increased by $21,213 between 1970 and 1990.  This represents a 243% increase.  This sounds good until compared to the 465% increase in the cost of new house.

Here is a statistic to chew on.  The price for a gallon of gasoline in 1970 was .36 and in 1990 it was only $1.16.  The price of a gallon of gas went up 222% in 20 years even with two huge oil crises.  By comparison, a gallon of milk in 1970 was $1.15 and by 1990 it was $2.78; an increase of 142% in twenty years.  Both the price of gasoline and milk went up less in twenty years than the median household income.

In the year 2000, the average cost of a new house was $207,000 only a 38% increase from 1990.  The 1990s were similar to the 1960s in that inflation was very low, averaging around 2.5% and unemployment was moderate in the 6% range.  What bore no resemblance to the 1960s was the stock market.  If the gains of the 1980s were impressive; the gains of the 1990s were phenomenal.  The Dow hit 3000 in 1990.  In early 2000, the Dow reached 11,723 an amazing 290% increase over 1990.  One must remember that early in the year 2000 the Dow started dropping and didn’t get back to 11,723 until 2006.

The median household income in 2000 was $42,100 which was only a 40% increase from 1990.  For the first time since the 1960s, the percentage increase in the cost of new house and the median household income were roughly the same.  Of course when comparing actual dollar figures, the comparison takes on a whole new light.  The average cost of a new house increased $57,200 while the raise in median household income raised $12,127.  This is why actual figures are better for comparing differences than percentages of increase. 

Here is your statistical food for thought of the day.  A gallon of gasoline cost $1.38 in 1980 and in twenty years it still only cost $1.50.  In twenty years, a gallon of gasoline only went up .12 on average.  That amounts to 8% increase in TWENTY years.  Amazingly, gasoline in 1999 averaged $1.17 or .21 LESS than in 1980.  I do not believe we Americans have much to complain about just because the price of gasoline has finally caught up with everything else. 

Finally we come to 2006.  What has transpired in six years since 2000 is truly incredible yet horribly troubling.  The median household income increased to $48,201 which is up all of 14% since 2000.  The Dow finally managed to get back to where it was in 2000 and even went over 14000 before falling back to its current levels.  Inflation had been pretty much under control until the last year, and unemployment has been very stable.  From these perspectives all seems to be going well.

That gallon of gasoline that cost $1.50 in 2000 now ranged between $2.20 and $3.05 in 2006.  We have seen pretty much a 100% increase in gasoline prices in the past six years.  Keep in mind, we saw a 247% increase in gasoline costs in the 1970s.   The average cost of a new home in 2006, just before the sub-prime crisis turned the housing market upside down, was an astounding $305,900.  To say the cost of a new home increased 48% between 2000 and 2006 doesn’t do the comparison justice.  The only way to really see what has happened is to realize the average cost of a new house jumped $98,900 in less than six years.

Here is the crux of the whole matter.  A new house cost 1050% more in 2006 than in 1970.  That means a new house in 2006 was 10 ½ times more expensive than one in 1970.  By comparison, the median household income increased 452% between 1970 and 2006.  The 600% difference between income and housing expense is why there is a crisis of monumental proportions plaguing this country.   

In 1970, the ratio between income and new home cost was 33%.  In other words, a new home cost about 3 times more than the median household income.  By 1980, due to the horrific inflation during the 1970s, that ratio dropped to 23%.  The new home was now 4 times more than the median household income.  By 1990, the ratio had dropped further to 20% and was still at 20% in the year 2000.  By 2006, the ratio had dropped to 15.7%.  People can no longer afford new houses.  The income is not rising nearly as fast as the cost.

Think about these statistics when you drive down the road and see the signs advertising “new homes starting at $300,000.”  Who exactly can afford to move into a new home with that kind of price tag?  Yet, every day in America someone signs their life away just to purchase a grossly overpriced piece of the American dream.  Every day in America, tens of thousands of construction workers go to work building more and more houses with price tags that only a few short years ago represented the anticipated lifetime earnings of a worker.

America cannot handle what is happening in the housing market.  The only way would be to hike wages dramatically.  If that were to happen, we would be back to the days of 13% inflation.  The only solution is for the housing costs to come back down to a level commensurate with income.  This does not sit well with those building the houses and those who have already paid highly inflated prices for them.  But, who deserves the break today?  The few who through greed and shortsightedness grossly overpaid for their home or the rest of us who are fighting to stay in ours?  I vote for us, how about you?

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52 Responses to “The Cost of Housing: 1050% Higher than 1970 and Climbing”


  1. January 11, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Everything with exact numbers, percentages is shocking. What you`ve tried to illustrate is really astounding but being an optimistic I`m waiting for even worse situation. Jumping from one employment to another it took me ten years to have a real estate in Toronto. Imagine, that`s a long time. The cost of housing is climbing but your salary remains the same…that`s the image of the 21st century.

  2. February 2, 2008 at 4:55 am

    Amazing! What a wonderful resource!

    I’m a journalist covering the cruise industry. In 1990, the price of a one-week cruise was roughly $1500 per person (two to a cabin). Today it’s much, much lower. I can say that in the Caribbean in 2008, during peak season, a one-week cruise costs $550 per person. Today, $1500 per person gets you a suite.

    The reason for this is economy of scale in ship building. The major cruise lines build enormous vessels because the price per/cabin decreases significantly: a ship carrying many more people has one set of officers, one engine, one hull.

    So for in 2008, cruises are selling well. People book 6 to 12 months in advance, and a lot of inventory in Europe is gone. The reason this segment of the travel industry is holding up is because a cruise is a good deal. You pay for roughly 80% of your vacation costs up front …. your cabin, all the food and entertainment.

  3. 3 Allison
    February 19, 2008 at 2:49 am

    This is a very interesting article. I am a recent college graduate struggling to find a decent job with a decent wage and get on my feet. I find many of my peers in terrible financial situations despite their college graduate status. Many of my peers are waitressing, bar tending, or working in retail, yet all are relatively bright and hard working individuals. Most still live at home with their parents and struggle to pay back student loans, make car payments, pay car insurance, gas, food, etc. Employers don’t return calls, or offer wages that are unacceptable considering the cost of living (I live in south Florida, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States). The future looks bleak for me and my peers and I spend a lot of time wondering how I will ever be able to afford a home, to have children, and to retire.

  4. 4 John Gruskos
    February 21, 2008 at 5:37 am

    Why are no politicians approaching the housing question from this point of view? By intervening to keep housing prices at their current high level, politicians are compromising the future of an entire generation for the benefit of those who bought overpriced houses 2004-2007, often with no money down. Raise interest rates and let the bubble pop! House flippers and real estate agents got rich, and millions of middle class Americans got ripped off; that was tragic, but keeping prices where they are through government intervention would be even worse.

  5. 6 Allen Michaels
    February 26, 2008 at 3:02 am

    I agree 100% with John. Use common sense and look at the historic figures and then you won’t get ripped off. I sold my house in 2006 and moved to rental property closer to work. Best decision I ever made. The only thing that can save this economy is to raise the interest rates, drop the house prices to 3X average salary, and watch what happens – economy will rebound fast.

  6. 7 Brendan
    March 22, 2008 at 6:55 am

    I took your numbers above and plugged them into excel, then made a bar graph. I think that the visual representation of the differences between home values and incomes is easier on the brain than simply a series of numbers.

    The dark bar is median household income; the light one is median home price, taken from your statistics above.

  7. 8 john
    April 8, 2008 at 4:39 am

    I guess either you are not married or your wife does not work.
    Now a day, most partner or wife or husband do work. So a double income “family” is buying the house. If you consider this, then the housing price are more affordable then previous decade when one partner worked.

  8. 9 Jack
    April 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    One consideration: while all the numbers are interesting, when you are trying to put housing costs into the mix it is misleading to use the home price itself as the indicator. Housing should be considered as a flow, or monthly expenditure. Using this number incorporates the cost of the money (normally) borrowed. As an example: when an individual is looking to buy a house the figure that is important to them is the monthly payment. This number is compared to their income rate to determine if the house is affordable to them. If money is cheap, as it was a few years ago, payments are lower, and people determine that they can afford “more” house. When more people look for “more” house, competition drives house prices up. When money is cheap (and readily available), house prices will go up. This is what has happened in the past few years. The upshot though, is that the price of the house is mostly only an imaginary number for purposes of these kinds of comparisons. It will fluctuate, in conguction with the cost of moeny, to price monthly payments in the competitive market. Better for your comparixons here is to say, for example, that an average house in 1970 would have cost the new homebuyer (i.e. someone who had just secured a loan at contemporary rates) $140 per month, whereas the average house in 1980 would have cost $700 per month.

  9. 10 Jared
    July 10, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Mercyman53,

    What are your sources for the statistics? I have been looking for similar stats to do my own analysis. I have been thinking about this information for awhile now and I agree with your stats. I live in New Jersey, have a graduate degree and there is no way I could afford the average house with my above average income! The 1960’s may have been the best time in America. In 2004, I anecdotally knew not to buy a house until prices fell, but this type of analysis shows just how much further prices have to drop. With the huge run up in the value of the DOW, are we going to see a huge decline there too? Is that what is really going to bring housing prices into alignment? I can’t help but notice that 1985 is an inflection point in the value of the DOW that is same period in which the US became a debtor nation. I think we are in for some big trouble here and this is only the begining!

  10. 11 John Mc.
    July 29, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    This is a very good resource it says what the Media wishes to hide. Fred Thompson talked about this in one of his town meeting but the media turned the cameras off. My Wife and I came close to falling intot eh trap of buying too much house. I left home with an associate degree, joined military for a few key benefits. 1) serve country 2) get college fund (No way would I get a loan) 3) Veterans can qualify for a one time low interest 90% to loan value mortgage. in 1997 I got out of th eservice and found a nice 3 bedroom home pais 119k in 2003 when I sold it someone paid 165k – I thought this is stupid. the house was the same as when I moved in only some appliances newer, inground sprinkler stupid stuff for the lazy home owner who did not want to wastre time watering lawn. Anyway I got married and we got approved for a 300k home – I asked the realter how do you figure that my salary is th esame – she said interst rate is lower. Ah I get it banks barrow from fed at 3% and charge me 5.5% so my salary gets a boost. So a home that cost 163K 5 year ago is 300K why? Realter oh it is the country living and well water ya da ya da – we found another home for 198K similar to 300K and bought it we sold it 4 years later to move and the appraised value was 225K – the market was already slipping.

    Bought a house in Texas – paid 129k best decision I could have made. Around the corner houses that were selling for 265K are now 199K Ya HOO… Come on down the price is getting better.

    Advice to a new college Student – get specialized and get certified. Mechanical engineer – for automotive get an ASE for grins and giggles. comp sci get an RHSE/MCSE as a start. Accountant get SOX compliance or ITIL/ITSM. Check out payscales.com or salary.com do your research before you go to college. I am a single wage earner – and have basically forced wife back into school. not all on her shoulder she had a bad previous marriage – Do NOT Marry a liar – if you get small lies on first dates just wait it get’s better.

  11. 12 markbaland
    September 23, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    People are always telling me that I am throwing money away by living in apartments. Get a house, they say. Then I see how they have to pay for their own maintenance, pay more for electricity, pay for gas to mow a lawn, keep up some standards of appearance for home-owner’s associations, and ultimately, when they lose their jobs in our insecure economy, usually have trouble finding anybody to buy their houses, which have supposedly gained equity. It doesn’t matter if it has supposedly gone up in value, if you can’t find someone to buy it. Thanks, but no thanks. I will live in apartments until I win the lottery. The only way I’d buy a house is if I had it built, on land I owned, and paid cash for the land and house, no interest. And even then, I don’t own it. Some oil baron or water baron like T. Boone Pickens can get their friends in the government to let them take it from me to build a pipeline or a road or whatever. The American Dream is a dream.

  12. 13 Ashleigh Atkins
    October 8, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    This is amazing. The statistics are unbelievably accurate. Im doing a project on prices during the 1960’s to 2008 for my economics class and this is one of my number one sources. This site has made my project a lot easier. Thanks. Great Job.

  13. 14 a
    October 9, 2008 at 11:39 am

    What were your sources, the most I’ve seen the U.S. median home price at is $225,000.

  14. October 9, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    median INCOME not house prices were used. NEW home prices were quoted in this article from stats on average new home prices in America as well as US Government data.

  15. 16 Sonia
    October 28, 2008 at 5:39 am

    Thanks for putting housing in perspective, but one thing that you left out – that house that is 1050% more than it was in 1970 is very likely the SAME house that sold for $26,500 IN 1970. When I tried to find a house in my price range ($100,00-150,000) in 2006, I was shown several homes behind a bar where shootings regularly occurred, a house that was 120 years old and not up to code, and one that couldn’t actually be entered by prospective buyers. It had asbestos construction, was being sold “as is”, and would have required complete gutting by someone approved to remove and dispose of asbestos before it could be occupied. I was told getting a loan on this “as is” would likely be difficult. Then, the agent wanted to show me what $200,000 would get me – a 90-year-old one-bedroom crackerbox with a crumbling cinder-block foundation. I now live in a two-bedroom apartment that rents for two-thirds what my sister pays for a mortgage on a five-bedroom home because you don’t have to qualify for a loan to get reamed on apartment rent.

  16. December 10, 2008 at 7:50 am

    There’s a point at which the timeline becomes a bit obscuring. Regrettably, most buyers are looking at a 5-10 year timeframe for return of equity. and, of course, lately it has been even shorter than this.

    But interesting none the less!

  17. 18 joe langley
    January 27, 2009 at 1:41 am

    hey i would like to interview you. i am writing a book on this very subject and would like some expert insight. if you have a business line i could call you on that would be fantastic. the first time i heard these stats a few years ago i allways felt like they needed to be exposed.

    i am very serious about this if your available please let me know

    Joe Langley
    joelangley28@yahoo.com

  18. 19 Vermontster
    February 4, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Housng prices WILL come down, since there is no demand and way too much supply. Unless, that is, the rich people who built the houses get us all to bail them out.

    Sorry, if you bought a house you could not afford, or built/flipped a house that was also overpriced (vs reasonable, affordable homes) due to your greed, look for no sympathy here.

    “Gee, it seems like it is just too good to be true to be making $30K a year & own a 300K home.”

    It was, Dummy.

  19. 20 Hector J. Negroni
    November 20, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    I´m kinder of late on my comments because I just saw this site, but there is something I have
    picked up from your report; tell me if you agreed with me. And that is, that the power money
    owners of the world recently shifted their income returns sources from the housing industry to the oil industry. And they are getting away with it because people are not vocal about it and there is not a grass roots movement strong enough to deter their greed. In the mean time
    middle income households will be deflated of their American dream. Which is not a dream but a
    vision of the way we want things to be for us and our children in future generations.
    The problem is that power money owners in this world don´t think of profit in terms of 20%,50%,100%, 200%, 300% or the sort; but in thousands of per cent.And they can´t wait more than 5 to 10 years for it to happen. Becoming a ¨in debt¨ nation has made us have a taste of what most other countries around the world are experiencing. Where the ¨International Money Fund¨, the World Bank, the Vatican in Rome and other sources of money like the republic of China are lending money to countries their interests want to own. We have to get back to our roots of being a nation that would lend not borrow, because you become slave of who you own
    money to when their motives are obscure and are not about freedom and health; about helping the needy who will in turn help others in need.

  20. 21 FYI
    November 28, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Development of “All-on-One” Chart.

    An “all-on-one” median housing price; median home price to median income ratio; median family income; graph could be developed as follows if the remaining data can be obtained (and graphed).

    The chart would have an x-axis (time) displaying the years 1970 to 2009 (better 2010) at a minimum. (If data are available, the earliest year could be 1965 or before).

    The left-hand side vertical axis would run from $0 to $600,000 (dollars).

    The right-hand side vertical axis would run from 0 to 10 (or 11-12 as necessary) to display the median home price/median family income ratios for the years 1970-2009.

    The missing data needed are:
    Median family income for the U.S. and California over the years 1970-2009 (non-inflation adjusted).
    Median home price/median family income ratios for California for the years 1970-2009.

    The other graphs/data are contained in the items below.

    Dr. Housing Bubble:
    ‘USA and California Existing Single-Family Resale Median Price 1970 – 2009’

    US Existing House Price / Median Family Income By Barry Ritholtz – February 20th, 2009
    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/02/us-existing-house-price-median-family-income/
    ‘U.S. Existing House Price (Case-Shiller)
    div by Median Family Income (1965-2009)’

  21. 22 latenight
    January 24, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Having lived through the decades described, and experienced the events described, there is something I always notice missing from exposes like this one. The “average” new home has changed drastically during my lifetime.

    I would love to see analysis include what an “average” house actually was decade by decade, including square feet, amenities and construction materials. What I have observed is a massive upgrade in people’s expectations.

    Today, new homes “typically” include double car garages, two or more bathrooms, large kitchens with multiple appliances and upgraded cabinets, countertops and flooring.

    The “average” homes of the 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s did not compare to later times.

    And, yes.. interest rates make a huge difference in how much home one can afford!

    People do buy based on monthly payments and down payment required, not price.

    Yes, the real estate market went crazy due to greed, improper financing rules and
    a government and banking industry that was pumping real estate along because no other segment of our economy was growing and providing blue collar jobs.

    The growth of the real estate market disguised our losses in manufacturing.

    People “getting rich” on their property values did not think about the real economy or the national debt, or the long term outcome of rapid real estate inflation.

    States getting rich off increasing property taxes did not point that out, either.

    Shortsighted greed did the whole country in. All parties are accountable.

    But, if mortgage lenders had stuck to normal lending standards, or if ratings agencies had done their jobs, Wall Street would have been stopped in their tracks.

    The new trend of building very small homes is taking us back to the good old days.

  22. 23 Aviator
    January 27, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Other interesting facts. And I know I am going to piss someone off… And please don’t hit me with the “wifey in the kitchen crap”

    As a 58 year old trying to raise a family during the 70’s, I would like you to consider this too…

    As the housing and auto prices outpaced income increases, it also forced spouses to go to work as the two income household no longer was a luxury, it was now a necessity. Regardless of how the feminists’ react to this, this time period had an enormous affect on the family unit, the influx of people in the job market, crime rates, dropout rates, teen pregnancy rates, and the divorce rate. Mom was a key factor back then in keeping the family together, like it or or not it;s the truth. I personally believe this was a main factor in destroying the American family.

  23. March 31, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    To fyi (November 28,2009).The All-on-One chart you wish for exists at this address: http://www.demographia.com. Not only does it compare median housae prices with median incomes, it does so within (metropolitan)markets within countries. It ranks cities on an ‘affordability” ratio and has been publishing these comparative results for the past 7 years. I strongly recommend it , it’s research is impeccable.
    If you think things house-to-income ratios are bad in America, thank your god you don’t (as I do) live in Australia.

  24. 25 Brian Slack
    April 26, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Hi all,

    Of course the unspoken side to all of this is that a very select few have gotten and are continuing to get extremely rich from all of this. It’s time to get political again. Your parents and mine would not have stood for this insane gap between costs and income or the gap between rich and poor.

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