standard of living, level of consumption that an individual, group, or nation has achieved. The evaluation of a standard of living is relative, depending upon the judgment of the observer as to what constitutes a high or a low scale. A relative index to the standard of living of a certain economic group can be gathered from a comparison of the cost of living and the wage scale or personal income. Factors such as discretionary income are important, but standard of living includes not only the material articles of consumption but also the number of dependents in a family, the environment, the educational opportunities, and the amount spent for health, recreation, and social services. Unemployment, low wages, crowded living conditions, and physical calamities, such as drought, flood, or war, may bring a drop in the standard of living, and, conversely, an increase in social benefits and higher wages may bring about a rise. While standard of living may vary greatly among various groups within a country, it also varies from nation to nation, and international comparisons are sometimes made by analyzing gross national products, per capita incomes, or any number of other indicators from life expectancy to clean water. Overall, industrialized nations tend to have a higher standard of living than developing countries. In the United States, as in most Western nations, the standard of living has shown a steady trend upward.
See F. J. Bayliss, The Standard of Living (1969); B. Mieczkowski and O. Zinam, Bureaucracy, Technology, Ideology: Quality of Life East and West (1984).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.