Consumers Society

The Bare Necessities


With avocado toast and smartphones entering the cultural and generational battles of 2020, we set out to understand how Americans’ perceived necessities, conveniences, and luxuries have changed over time.


Rather than have respondents recollect, we asked them whether they think Americans believe certain consumer goods, services, and individual rights are necessities they can’t live without, conveniences they’d rather not live without, luxuries they want but definitely don’t need, or are not needed.



Click the image to find an interactive version of all the tested items


One pattern is clear — Americans born in the 90s (1990s, that is) tend to have a much more narrow conception of what is a necessity.

Among Baby Boomers, there is almost a universal belief in the necessity of healthcare and education. But about half of 90s babies believe Americans can’t live without both of them and about one-quarter believe healthcare and education are conveniences.

In an era where employment is both at record lows and a primary source of healthcare coverage, are we really surprised?


So what can’t younger generations live without? Amazon Prime and Netflix. More than one-quarter of Americans who were born after 1990 believe low-cost, rapid delivery services are an inalienable right and that Americans shouldn’t live without video streaming services compared to fewer than 10% of Americans born before 1970.



Young Americans believe retirement savings is about as necessary as a microwave. They better keep that microwave in pristine condition because many won’t have a 401(k) to dip into after the age of 65.


Want to learn more about how essential 30+ consumer goods, services, or individual rights are to American consumers? Check out this interactive plot (not mobile friendly).