Things We Can’t Live Without: Luxury or Necessity?
As Americans navigate increasingly crowded lives, the number of things they say they can’t live without has multiplied in the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that asks whether a broad array of everyday consumer products are luxuries or necessities.
For example, the percentage of American adults who describe microwave ovens as a necessity rather than a luxury has more than doubled in the past decade, to 68%. Home air conditioning is now considered a necessity by seven-in-ten adults, up from half (51%) in 1996. And more than eight-in-ten (83%) now think of a clothes dryer as a necessity, up from six-in-ten (62%) who said the same in a survey a decade ago.
The two most ubiquitous products of the information era -- home computers and cell phones -- are currently situated in the middle of the consumer-necessity pack, with the public evenly divided about their status as a necessity rather than a luxury.
The survey finds that computers are deemed a necessity by 51% of the adult public, and cell phones by 49% (see chart above, click to enlarge). But both of these products are making a swift climb up the necessity scale. A decade ago, just 26% of adults considered the home computer a necessity, and back in 1983, when computers were still a novelty, only 4% felt that way. Meantime, cell phones were still so exotic in 1996 that they weren't even placed on the survey.
These findings serve as a reminder that throughout human history, from the wheel to the computer, previously unimaginable inventions have created their own demand, and eventually their own need. But you don’t have to take our word for it — just ask the American public.