McMansions a legacy of the 1980s?

A Philadelphia man who loves the 1980s suggests that one of the legacies of this decade is the McMansion:

Remember the ’80s? Greed. Narcissism. Size.

“Everything was big — really big,” Sirota writes. “Big hair. Big defense budgets. Big tax cuts. Big shoulder pads. Big blockbuster movies. Big sports stars. The Big Gulp.”…

Sirota (who was born in 1975) says the ’80s speak to us today for one simple reason: “Because it’s still the ’80s. The calendar doesn’t say ’80s, but we’re still looking through an ’80s mind-set.” Think Charlie Sheen. Think Lehman Brothers. Think McMansions.

I don’t know if this guy is right or not about these specific links between the 1980s and today. I suspect people growing up in different time periods (whether it is was the 1980s or 1960s) would suspect that the periods of their early lives are most consequential for subsequent events.

But, we could examine more closely his idea that the 1980s gave rise to the McMansions of recent years. Let’s first look at the average square footage of new homes. Here are the increases over the decades (US Census data):

1973-1979: from 1,660 to 1,760 square feet – increase of 100 (5.68%)

1980-1989: from 1,750 to 2,035 square feet – increase of 285 (14.00%)

1990-1999: from 2,080 to 2,223 square feet – increase of 163 (7.33%)

2000-2009: from 2,266 to 2,438 square feet – increase of 172 (7.59%)

So it appears the 1980s did see a larger increase in the size of new homes.

Second, we could look at when the term McMansion entered the popular lexicon. From news sources that I have looked at (this is not one of them but it does give a similar idea), the term really started picking up steam in the late 1990s. Even if the houses started getting larger in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that people frequently started calling them McMansions. In this case, perhaps the term took some time to develop or McMansions really originated in changes of the 1990s.

Overall, these sorts of sweeping ideas (everything was BIG in the 1980s!) could use some more nuance.

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