Food is cheap in the United States. In fact, when you compare the price of groceries to the average household income, it's some of the cheapest in the world. The average working family doesn't need to worry about putting food on the table and while issues do exist in lower income families, it's nothing like the issues faced in most countries around the world.
But what are American families spending their money on? What does the average American household spend on food per year, how much of this goes on healthy food and fresh food, how much is spent on eating out, and what percentage of it is spent on junk food?
What Does the Average American Household Spend on Food?
America’s relationship with food is unique, to say the least. The multiethnic concoction of different cuisines, as well as the nation’s deep love for fast food, mean that the average American household now spends a significant amount of its income on this necessary commodity.
In late 2014, the Census Bureau reported that the median household income in America was $51,939. The Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that the average annual American household spend on food, amounted to $7,023. This means that the average household spends at least 14% of its income on food. Not a high figure, compared to what other nations spend, however, there are great disparities depending on the state and on socioeconomic status.
The quality of food differs significantly depending on the household’s socioeconomic status, with wealthier households being able to afford fresh, high-quality ingredients, while those of a lower socioeconomic status are able to afford only poor quality cheaper food, being deprived of fresh ingredients and subsequently, one would say, nutrition.
Socioeconomic disparity in nutrition is a significant factor, often disregarded in annual household food expenditure stats in the United States. Annual food expenditure statistics reveal a rather dangerous degree of inequality, as children from poorer households are less likely to achieve good grades and progress to study in college when compared to the offsprings of wealthier backgrounds. Further on in the article we will be looking at food expenditure data from other countries to how these compare to the American average food spend. This is when the real noteworthy statistics appear and when the US begins to differ significantly from other countries.
Patterns of Spending
Upon first glance, this is not surprising news, however, upon closer analysis, the patterns of spending reveal an unsettling story. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seem to only account for $531, a mere 7.6% of the $7,023 total annual spend. So where are Americans spending all their household food budget you ask? Well, looking at the statistics, the obvious answer would be ‘eating out’. This means that Americans are now spending approximately 8% of their annual food budget on restaurant and takeaway meals.
All the aforementioned are a clear indication that Americans are spend almost half their household annual food budget on meals on the go. There are several factors leading to this shift of preferences, with long working hours, and busy family lives directing individuals to a more ‘convenient’ food schedule. This does not always mean that the food consumed will be unhealthy, as the United States has seen a significant rise in health food, vegetarian and vegan chains populating large urban centers.
Patterns of annual household food spending also reveal that the average American household now spends approximately $374 on non-alcoholic beverages and $346 on bakery products. It is very hard to resit the smell of a freshly-baked croissant, granted.
Statistics on sugar-laden treats also reveal that the average American spend amounts to only $155, which definitely helps the US hold onto the title of the country with the best teeth in the world, although we’re not entirely sure if that applies to unprivileged inner-city families as well as those who have the money (or insurance) to cover expensive dental treatments.
American Food Budget Compared to Other Developed Countries
It is difficult to begin to understand our household spending, if we don’t compare it, albeit superficially, to that of other countries around the world. So, let’s take a quick look on how these figures compare to those of the annual food spend of other countries.
Across the Atlantic, the average UK household budget for food amounts to £4,635 ($6,265.39). Brits spend £3,006 ($4,063.38) of that on buying food to be consumed at home, and the rest £1,630 (2,203.36) on food consumed outside the home. How does that expenditure compare to that of American households?
The average UK annual income is reportedly around £27,600 ($37,303.94), this figure would mean that Brits spend almost 17% of their household income on food, but the percentage of budget spent on buying fresh fruits and vegetables is significantly higher, making up more than 9% of their total expenditure, while eating out makes up a staggering 35% of their annual food budget.
Again, the likelihood is that this annual food spend has its routes in the modern ‘mobile’ worker, and the overachieving school child who just cannot and will not spend their precious time cooking a homemade meal when they can easily find food of an equivalent quality and nutritional value in any city centre.
The Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO), published research findings that reveal a very different story. Total household income in Ireland comes up to €45,611 ($54,345.03), with €7,748 ($9,231.75) spent annually on food. The Irish average spend on food at home amounts to €6396 ($7,620.93), with a spend of just €1352 ($1,610.93) for food consumed outside the home. This means that the Irish spend 17% of their total household budget on food.
American Food Budget Compared to Developing Countries
Generally speaking, the more advanced a country is, the less its residents spend on food. The most advanced countries in the world spend less than 20% of their total household income on food. The data is very surprising, placing the United States, Canada and Australia as the countries who spend less of their total household budget on food, while residents in Nigeria and Cameroon spend approximately 57% and 46% respectively.
One could very easily misinterpret the data, as an indication that food is more expensive in Cameroon than it is in the US, but the fact is that residents in the poorest countries earn significantly lower wages and have a much lower expendable income, than the richest countries. Even within the US itself, the disparity is immense, with the poorest households spending approximately 30% of their total annual income on food, compared to 10% spent by the wealthiest households.
Say what you want about living wages and poor quality food, but it’s clear that the United States has it considerably easier than many other countries, with its citizens afforded more choice, cheaper food, and considerably higher wages.