How Much Did It Cost the Year You Were Born?

June 19, 2019
By  Maria Hyrc
birthday cake

We’ve all heard our parents talk about “the good old days.” Whether cheaper gas, simpler technology or nostalgia for their youth makes other generations reminisce about the past, data can lend credence to their claims.

Was gas really that much cheaper when you were a kid? How much did coffee cost? Find out with FRED, the Federal Reserve Economic Database.

Created in the early 1990s, FRED has gone from a dial-in bulletin board to a powerful digital tool that houses more than half a million data series. Data ranges from employment and literacy rates, to the global prices of shrimp and sunflower oil, all the way to county-level commute times.

Who’s it for? FRED is used by everyone from consumers like you to professional economists for research, data presentation and even just for fun!

Say you or your friend has a milestone birthday around the corner. Here’s how to find out …

What Did Gas Cost 20 Years Ago?

If you were born this month in 1999, gas cost around $1.12 a gallon.

If you search for “gasoline price per gallon” on FRED, the first data series you’ll see is called US Regular All Formulations Gas Price. The graph below displays the weekly average price of all grades of gasoline since 1990 (not seasonally adjusted). Roll over to see individual values, which are found by taking the average of gas prices at about 900 self-service gas stations around the country, tax included.

This data series runs 1990 to present. The gray bars indicate recessions.

For example, you can see that when the series started, the average price of gas was $1.19 a gallon. It rose all the way to $4.11 in the summer of 2008, and it was sitting around $2.81 at the beginning of June 2019.

What Was the Price of Coffee 30 Years Ago?

If you were born this month in 1989, a pound of coffee cost $1.23 (commodity).

Simply search “coffee” from the FRED homepage to be greeted with a wide array of data series about our favorite drink. The first, Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Coffee, can give you information about how inflation has impacted the price of coffee since 1967.

But if you’re looking for more concrete prices, skip to the second and third series. We’ll look at the second: Global Price of Coffee, Other Mild Arabica, which goes back to 1980. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, arabica accounts for the bulk of global coffee production, despite its lower caffeine content than robusta. Arabica is the variety you’re more likely to find at any coffee shop.

This series runs from 1980 to 2017.

Remember that this is the global commodity price, so the amounts you see will be significantly lower than what you’d observe on a grocery store shelf.

What Was GDP 40 Years Ago?

If you were born this month in 1979, GDP was about $6.75 trillion (in chained 2012 dollars).

What was the dollar value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. the year you were born? Find out with one of FRED’s most popular series: gross domestic product (GDP).

You can select real GDP, which will be adjusted for inflation so that all values are reported in today’s dollars, or nominal GDP, which reports values in the dollars of the year the data were produced. Real data are easier to conceptualize and compare, so we’ll use real GDP. It is shown in chained 2012 dollars.

This series runs from 1947 to present.

This is a seasonally adjusted value, meaning that economists have performed statistical calculations on the data to get rid of seasonal fluctuations that may impact the data, such as weather, school schedules and holidays.

How Much Ice Cream Was Produced 80 Years Ago?

If you were born this month in 1939, about 36 million gallons of ice cream were produced.

The series Ice Cream Production for United States spans the era from 1918 to 1940, so you’ll probably have better luck finding a grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s birthday.

Likewise, you can line up the data with historical events. The month that the stock market crashed ahead of the Great Depression, October 1929, 15.82 million gallons of ice cream were produced in the U.S. When “The Wizard of Oz” was released in August 1939, Americans produced 36.68 million gallons.

This series runs from 1918 to 1940.

Additional Resources

With about 566,000 data series to explore, FRED is a treasure trove of information. Here are just a few to check out:

The St. Louis Fed’s most recent annual report (2018), Go Figure with FRED, showcases the power of FRED and its related data tools.

About the Author
Maria Hyrc
Maria Hyrc

Maria Hyrc served as a Research intern at the St. Louis Fed.

Maria Hyrc
Maria Hyrc

Maria Hyrc served as a Research intern at the St. Louis Fed.

This blog explains everyday economics, consumer topics and the Fed. It also spotlights the people and programs that make the St. Louis Fed central to America’s economy. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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