Percentage of U.S. Household Expenditures Spent on Food, 1919 and 2019

Chart showing household expenditures on food in 1919 and 2019 by income level. Regardless of income, people spent a higher percentage of their income on food in 1919 than they did in 2019.

It seems like food is expensive today, but we actually spend a much lower percentage of our total household expenditures on food now than what our ancestors did a hundred years ago. For example, a typical medium income family in 1919 in the United States spent 30% of total expenditures on food, while today a medium income family spends only 14% on food.

Here is additional information about the data that I used to prepare this chart:

1919 – The 1919 data are from a table in a 1919 book by Mrs. Christine Frederick titled Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. It was published by the American School of Home Economics (Chicago). See the table below for the 1919 data. The table had information for six income levels. I used the lowest and highest income levels in the table in the book as the “low income” and “high income” respectively when preparing the chart at the top of this post. In the original table, the 3rd and 4th income levels (the middle levels), each spent 30% of their household income on food, so I used 30% as the middle level for 1919. The author of the book says that the expenditure information was collected and compiled “through an extensive survey made through a periodical (p. 284).”

Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home (author: Mrs. Christine Frederick), 1919

2019 – Data are not yet available for 2019 household expenditures. The most recent year available is 2017, so I assumed that expenditures were similar in 2019 to what they had been in 2017. The data are from the Statistica site. The 2019 household expenditure data were presented by quintiles. Here are the food expenditure data for each quintile:

  • 1st quintile: 15.6%
  • 2nd quintile: 14.4%
  • 3rd quintile: 14.0%
  • 4th quintile: 13.0%
  • 5th quintile: 11.2%

For the comparison chart, low income was considered to equal the 1st quintile, medium income equaled the 3rd quintile, and high income equaled the 5th quintile.

Average Weight and Height of Babies in 1914

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, May 21, 1914: Mother was with Besse today. I dreaded it when she came home for I was afraid she would bring bad news, but no, they filled me with glad anticipations.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (February, 1914)
Source: Ladies Home Journal (February, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s married sister Besse gave birth to a daughter the previous day. Besse lived in the nearby town of Watsontown. She had a baby that died in 1912, and Grandma was very worried about this infant.

I wonder if the baby was born prematurely, and was very small. Here’s what Ladies Home Journal had to say in 1914 about the characteristics of “normal” babies:

The Normal Baby

Every mother is anxious for a normal baby, but many mothers, do not know just what a normal baby should be like. Variations are always found in every human being, but the following measurements given by Dr. L.E. Holt in his large book, “Diseases of Infancy and Childhood,” are now taken as the standard for the normal baby.

The weights are taken without any clothing. The height is taken by placing the baby on a perfectly flat surface like a table, and having some one hold the child’s knee down so that he lies out straight, then taking a tape-measure and measuring from the top of his head to the bottom of his foot, holding the tape line absolutely straight.

The chest is measured by means of a tape line passed directly over the nipples around the child’s body and midway between full inspiration and full expiration. The head measurement is taken directly around the circumference of the head, over the forehead and occipital bone.

Some other points of interest in the development of the normal baby are the following: head held erect if trunk is supported during the fourth month. Sit alone for a few minutes about seven months of age. In the ninth or the tenth month the baby will usually attempt to bear his weight on his feet. When ten or eleven months old he often stands alone with slight help. Makes first attempt to walk at twelve or thirteen months. The baby must not be urged to do any of these things; let him alone to develop naturally.

The teeth are always of interest; here is the way the average normal baby cuts his first set of teeth: Two lower central incisors, 6 to 9 months; four upper incisors, 8 to 12 months; four canines, 18 to 24 months; four posterior molars, 24 to 30 months.

At 1 year a child should have 6 teeth; at 1 1/2 years, 12 teeth; at 2 years, 16 teeth; at 2 1/2 years, 20 teeth.

The “soft spot” on fontanel on top of the head closes with the average normal baby at eighteen months, but often varies greatly.

Ladies Home Journal (February, 1914)

US Inflation Rate, 1910 – 1915

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, December 29, 1913:  Earned ten cents this morning a-doing darling sister’s milking. She doesn’t always pay me, but that was the bargain this morning.


Data Source:  Consumer Price Index (Estimate), 1800 –, The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

10 cents!?!?!? I don’t think that I would have agreed to milk the cows for only 10 cents.  I guess that it’s better to be paid than not paid, but even by 1913 standards, 10 cents wasn’t much.

According to an online inflation calculator a dollar in 1913 is now worth $23.81—so a dime in 1913 is now worth $2.38.

There’s been a lot of inflation over the years—though the inflation rate was only 2.4 % in 1913.

Was a College Degree Worth More a Hundred Years Ago than it is Now?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, October 13, 1913:

10/13 – 10/17: Nothing worth writing about for these days. Don’t go any place or do anything of much importance.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Some days are just like that—they barely seem worthwhile. Today I hear so many recent college graduates worrying about whether it was worthwhile getting a college degree since the job market is so tight.

Was a college degree worth more a hundred years ago than it is now?


According to a 1913 book called Rural Arithmetic by John E. Calfee:

A business  man who has studied the productive power of intelligent labor in New York reports that the man with a common-school education is able to produce one and one-half times as much wealth as the illiterate man, the high-school man two times as much, and the college man four times as much.


According to Frontline on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), today:

The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the US Census Bureau. That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.


There’s more of an income benefit of earning a high school diploma today than back then—and the value of getting a college has also increased slightly.

In other words, today someone with a high school diploma earns on average 1.5 times as much as a high school graduate and someone with a college degree earns 2.8 times as much.

This can be compared to 1913 when (after the base was converted to 1 for a high school dropout), a high school graduate on average earned 1.3 times as much as the dropout,  and the college graduate earned 2.7 times as much as the dropout.

For those who care about the details–

I assumed that the benefit of a college degree didn’t change much between 2012 and 2013. The data I used was from a 2012 article.

Rural Arithmetic is a math textbook. A subheading in one of the chapters was “Educated Labor”.  The quote above was pulled from the introduction to that subsection. It was followed by a series of word problems about the value of education.

The 1913 book used the term “common school graduate” to refer to someone who had completed 8 years of education.  For the purposes of this analysis I considered a common school graduate to be a high school dropout.

And, here is a chart that contains a crosswalk between the base (salary of illiterate person=1) used in the 1913 book, and the base (salary of a high school dropout = 1) that I used in the chart at the top of this post.

An aside–We must be doing something right with education today since we no longer even think about what the salary would be for an illiterate person.


Causes of Death in Pennsylvania During March, 1913

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, June 14, 1913:  Nothing much doing.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Did you ever wonder if people died from different causes a hundred years ago than what they do today? Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share an interesting article I found in the June 16, 1913 issue of the Milton Evening Standard.


Births Exceed Deaths in State During March

Births in Pennsylvania during March numbers 18,945, but to offset this increase in population the deaths numbered 11,000, the ratio of deaths to births being higher than the average.

Pneumonia, which always exacts heavy toll during the winter, caused 1,721 deaths in March. The deaths were distributed among the various diseases and other causes about as usual.

Following are the figures compiled by the bureau of vital statistics of the state department of health:

Typhoid fever. . .62

Scarlet fever. . . 100

Diphtheria. . . 171

Measles. . . 314

Whooping cough  . . . 77

Smallpox. . . 1

Influenza. .  .211

Malaria. . . 4

Tuberculosis of lungs . . . 817

Tuberculosis of other organs . . . 118

Cancer. . . 485

Diabetes. . .63

Meningitis . . . 87

Acute anterior poliomyelitis. . 7

Pneumonia . . . 1721

Diarrhea and enteritis, under 2 yrs. . . 240

Diarrhea and enteritis, over 2 yrs. . 63

Bright’s disease and nephritis .  . . 716

Early infancy. . . 716

Suicide . . . 76

Accidents in mines. . . 80

Railway injuries. . . 85

Other form of violence. . . 462

All other diseases. . . 4343

Percentage of US Population Affiliated with Various Religions, 1913 and 2013

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, June, 1913:  

What is so rare as a day in June ,

For then if ever comes perfect days,

When song of bird and hum of bees

Bring to us fair summer’s sweetest day.

Went to Sunday school this afternoon. Took my time a getting home. I heard some of the best speaking I have ever listened to this evening. A converted Jew talked about some of the customs of the Jewish people in the Reformed Church at McEwensville.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’ diary entry made me wonder: What percentage of the US population were considered members of the various religions in 1913 and 2013?

I discovered that this was a much more difficult question to answer than I thought it would be.  The data on religious affiliations were collected very differently in the early 1900s than how it is gathered now—so when the data are compiled to do a comparison, it’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges.

This gets complicated, but let me try to explain what I did to create the figure above:

In the early 1900s , the US Bureau of the Census conducted a religious census every ten years.  Religious leaders were asked how many members their congregation had; whereas in recent years, various non-profit organizations have conducted surveys where they asked a sample of the population about their religious preferences.  As a result of these differences in methodology many more people were considered to have no religious affiliation a hundred years ago than now.

Calculation of 1913 Percentages

For the figure above, I used data from an article titled “U.S. has 42,043,374 Members of Church, New Census Shows” in the May 2, 1918 issue of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. According to the article:

The term ‘members’ has  a wide variety of uses. In most Protestant bodies it is limited to communicants or confirmed members; in the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some other churches it includes all baptized persons, while in some bodies it covers enrolled persons.

The membership for the Jewish congregations requires some explanation. Some congregations reported as members all who contribute to the treasury of the congregation and not infrequently included women and children. The more orthodox, of the other hand, reported only those males who have incorporated the institution or have bought share or membership in it, but do not recognize as members other persons who are regular attendees or even contributors.

For the figure, I used data from the 1916 Religious Census, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune article, since this was the one done closest to a hundred years ago.  To calculate the percentages I used the US population estimate for 1916 as reported by the US Bureau of the Census. I assumed that the percentage of the population who were members of various religions did not change much between 1913 and 1916 when creating the figure.

Calculation of the 2013 Percentages

For the 2013 percentages, I used data from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.  Phone interviews were used to survey a sample of the US population. Respondents were asked which religion they identified with.

The survey was conducted in July, 2012—and I assume that the percentages have not changed significantly since then.

Monthly Poem

On the first of each month Grandma included a poem in the diary. For more information about the poems, see a previous post:

Monthly Poem in Diary