Past vs. Present: Are We REALLY Better Off Today?

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
How much have we progressed in the last 100 years, really? From job security and air travel, to sports and entertainment, to music and movies, to sex and relationships, how is life different today? And is life today better than the past? WatchMojo shows you how life has changed in the past 100 years and how life is different today.

Special thanks to our user Godslayer79 for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/History%20Vs.%20Future

Past vs. Present: Where Would YOU Rather Live?

“Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” – but that’s what we’re doing today! Welcome to, and in this installment of Versus, we’re pitting the past against the present to see which era in history comes out on top.

Round 1: Travel & Transportation

If we only compared wagons to cars, or looked at life before the railways, the present would win in a landslide. But the real battle here is in air travel.

If you dream of a flight where you’re fed a full, luxury meal, where every traveler dons his or her Sunday best, and where you pack whatever you want – weight and liquid restrictions be damned – then you’re pining for the Golden Age of Travel of the 1950s-60s.

However, before Congress passed 1978’s Airline Deregulation Act, air travel was pricier and slower – in 1955, a New York-London flight with TWA lasted 13 hours and ran $290, or about $2,600 adjusted for inflation. In 2016, you could travel that same route for about $900 and the flight would be half as long. But travel was a more positive experience back in the day – and we can pinpoint when things changed for good.

Since 9/11, safety concerns mean that the luxury is basically gone from air travel. And it’s been replaced by aggravation. Most passengers dress for comfort and to get through security screenings more easily – and forget about keeping your belts and shoes on all the way through. Once you’re actually onboard, seats have shrunk and EVERYTHING costs extra, from checked baggage to snacks. One airline, low-cost Irish company Ryanair, even tried charging passengers to use the bathroom!

We’ll admit: today’s tech is better, and being able to watch any new movie on our own personal screen is a plus, but just ONCE we’d like to eat a gourmet meal on an airplane like a civilized person. That’s why Round 1 has to go to the past.

WINNER: Past 1 / Present 0

Round 2: Health & Wellbeing

If you’d been born in the Paleolithic period, you probably would’ve lived to age 33. Sounds bad, and it wasn’t much better in 1950 when the world’s average life expectancy was 48.

On the flipside, Americans were living to 78.8 years old by 2012 – a record high. Modern medicine is keeping people alive longer – at a price. The 21st century is an era of sleep deprivation, chronic stress, rampant obesity, cancer and more. It seems like EVERYTHING will kill you: sunbathing, drinking coffee that’s too hot, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine even found that sitting is roughly as bad as smoking. BUT, we can treat these afflictions when they do come up. Can you imagine living in a time before penicillin?

In the past, people didn’t need to exercise, because their entire lifestyle was active. If they died early, it was likely because of an infection or injury; degenerative diseases were likely much less common.

100 years ago, people either grew and raised their own food or bought it from their local butcher, milkman, farmer, etc. But beginning in the 1950s, food needed to be easier, cheaper, faster. So, by 2013, 70% of the food Americans ate was processed.

Yes, today we can choose organic foods, but according to a 2013 New York Times article, we’ve bred the nutrition out of fruits and vegetables so that today’s are not as healthy as yesterday’s. In fact, in many cases, we’ve also increased the sugar and starch content in that same produce.

While the past was a simpler time when food was food and lifestyles were active, we can’t say we’d be okay with dying the first time we got an infection. So, modern medicine FTW in Round 2!

WINNER: Past 1 / Present 1

Round 3: Jobs & Financial Security

In the past, people took jobs to make money. Today, people choose careers because they love what they do. In the 1950s, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, people worked longer hours, got fewer holidays, and were less safe on the job – but were, on the whole, happier. Today – even though work-related health and safety risks have dropped dramatically – stress is on the rise due to the death of the traditional 9-to-5 workday.

By the 1960s – thanks to the economic boom after WWII – the American middle class was thriving, with over half of households bringing in between $35,000-$100,000 annually. That meant there could be one wage earner and one homemaker, kids, a car or two, a suburban house, and extras like savings or vacations. Plus, a high school diploma was all that was needed to get a secure “forever” job.

Since then, the gap between the rich and poor has widened. The subprime mortgage crisis left many struggling to keep or buy homes. Additionally, mainly thanks to the economic downturn of 2007-08, a college degree is necessary to get your foot in the door at any company, even for low-level jobs. That means anyone expecting to join the workforce needed to shell out an average of $31,000 in tuition and fees for a private university during the 2014-15 school year.

However, the deciding factor here may be human rights: the 1960s’ Equal Pay and Equal Rights Acts paved the way for changes in how minority groups were treated in the workplace, with African-Americans promised equal opportunities, for example, and sexual harassment eventually prohibited.

We’ll admit that it’s still an uphill battle to ensure the protection of all groups everywhere. As of 2015, the gender pay gap still meant the average woman earned 82 cents to every dollar a man made – but that was significantly better than in 1980. The race wage gap also hadn’t closed: if a white man made $21/hour, then a black man would make $15, and a Hispanic man would make $14. While these numbers might seem discouraging, law protects the rights of far more people today than in the past. If you’re mistreated at work, you have more recourse in today’s workplaces than you would have in 1960.

The white picket fences of the 1950s are all well and good, but civil rights were still an issue, so we’ve got to award this round to the more tolerant present.

WINNER: Past 1 / Present 2

Round 4: Sports & Entertainment

Sports and entertainment have always functioned as a bonding experience for humans. Together, we watched gladiators battle, or attended Shakespeare’s latest plays. But today, from movies to music to video games and sports, the entertainment industry is pretty different.

In 1960, an average movie ticket cost approximately 70 cents. And, since movies cost less to make, many argue that filmmakers took more chances, resulting in better films. In 2015, a ticket was almost $9 – and that’s not even mentioning snacks or if you’re seeing something in IMAX. However, you do get a better overall viewing experience now.

Filmmaking technology has also improved drastically. From “Life of Pi”’s fantastical visuals to James Cameron’s otherworldly “Avatar,” we can now tell stories onscreen that once would’ve been impossible to adapt. Does this mean today’s movies are better? No; some critics say they’re actually worse, with poorly reviewed action extravaganzas earning more than their fair share at the box office – meaning that more and more of them will get made.

How ‘bout music? Do you know how much a ticket to Woodstock cost? $24 at the gate – for all three days! According to Pollstar, the average concert ticket price in 2015 was $74.25. We’ll let you decide if today’s music is worth the extra dough…

Well, one thing’s for sure: today’s video games beat anything from the past. They weren’t really a thing until the ‘50s, and Pac-Man wasn’t released until 1980. We’re pretty sure you’re aware that today video games are big business.

As for sports, older fans miss the “good old days” when pads were smaller, athletes had part-time jobs and no one made millions. Today’s professional sports may not be as “pure” as they once were – what with the fancy gear and drug controversies – but the games are faster, more exciting and feature the best athletes in the world.

As much as we love video games and blockbuster movies, we have to admit it would’ve been pretty cool to see Hendrix at Woodstock or the premiere of “Romeo and Juliet” or to live through the Golden Age of Cinema. It was a tight race, but it seems like pure entertainment was much more easily accessible in the Past.

WINNER: Past 2 / Present 2

Round 5: Sex & Relationships

The sexual revolution and the rise of feminism in the 1960s and ‘70s changed everything when it comes to sex and dating: they allowed women to gain control of their destinies, with the birth control pill – for example – letting them finish their educations and enter the workforce. That, in turn, helped women and men to be seen more as equals, so today a marriage is less the financial contract it once was and more a declaration of love.

But not only did the sexual revolution change the Western world’s general outlook on women’s sexuality, pre-marital sex and sexuality in general, but on homosexuality as well, allowing it to slowly become more accepted, until finally – in 2015 – same-sex marriage became legal across the U.S.

Unfortunately, the “free love” era was decisively ended in the 1980s by the spread of genital herpes and HIV/AIDS. While sexually transmitted infections had been around for centuries, the popularization of antibiotics like penicillin and prophylactics like condoms had lessened the risks significantly until these ailments came along. So today, STIs are a very real threat to those in the dating pool, since even condoms aren’t 100% effective.

Of course, even since the 20th century, courtship has evolved, thanks to online dating and social media sites like Facebook and Tinder. Sure meeting people is easier, but it’s often completely based on looks. Some criticize today’s youth for stereotypically engaging in casual sex or always looking at their phones rather than using face-to-face communication. True or not, many critics argue there’s a generation gap between millennials and their old-school counterparts, where younger generations aren’t willing to work as hard and therefore engage in purely superficial relationships.

In spite of what you may’ve heard about how great sex was in the ‘70s, access to prophylactics in this day and age has never been easier. And with a more tolerant and open-minded culture that continues to push forward, we’ve got to give this round to the Present.

WINNER: Past 2 / Present 3

By a score of 3 to 2, the Present edges out the Past as the greatest historical era. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present, and that’s why it wins this Versus. After all, there’s no time like the present.

Do you agree with our choice? Don’t forget to battle it out in the comments, and for more existential versus battles be sure to subscribe to