The Rural Economy of New England: A Regional Study

By John Donald Black | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 31
Farm Family Living

It is only when the farm incomes presented in the last chapter are converted to terms of actual living that one can see how well the farm people of New England are faring. It is not easy to determine how well people are living, and even harder to find a way of stating it after it is determined. One can, of course, put down in writing what families spend for food, clothing, medical care, etc., and add these amounts together and say that these total expenditures measure their level of living. This has actually been done at times in the United States. Much, however, of what is consumed or used on farms is not bought, or like the farm dwelling, was acquired a long time ago; or like the family automobile, is used by both farm and family. Money values can be placed on these, but they are sure to be arbitrary; and besides, they do not measure what these really add to the well-being and satisfactions of the farm families. Accordingly, we shall make cautious use of money valuations in this chapter.

A few terms that will be used freely in this chapter had best be defined at the outset. First of all, we shall say content of living when we have in mind simply the things that make up living -- the actual physical amounts of different items. Second, we shall speak of the plane or scale or level of living when we have in mind the level of well-being at which the families live. In popular writing, one frequently finds the term standard of living used when only content or plane is intended. In precise use, the standard of living of a people is the level of living to which it has become accustomed or habituated and which it therefore struggles to obtain. It may represent much more than the actual content or plane of living in a period of depression or low income; and somewhat more even in prosperous years. Standard of living is therefore a psychological concept. Only occasionally will this term be mentioned in this book. Our concern is with the actual content and plane of living of the rural people of New England.

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