The American obsession with lawns

by | Jun 27, 2017


Lawns of grass arose in 16th and 17th England and were found on great estates.  Grass grows nicely in a northern European climate.  It’s quite a bit tougher to have a nicely quaffed lawn in much of the U.S. as grass is not native to most of our country. Here are some interesting facts that demonstrate our cultural obsession with lawns.

  • While lawns existed prior to WWII in the U.S., most working class people did not spend time and money on their lawns.  Instead, they were more likely to have a garden or animals in their lawn than grass.
  • Suburbanization following WWII led to the ubiquity of grass lawns in the U.S.
  • Americans spend $60 Billion a year on their lawns.
  • Lawns occuby 40.5 million acres of turf.  That is bigger than the state of Iowa. Grass along highways and roadways is an additional 17 million acres.
  • We use 20 Trillion gallons of water each year to water our lawns.  Compare that to the 30 Trillion gallons used each year for agricultural irrigation.
  • Every square foot of turf grass in California uses between 28 and 37 gallons of water per year.

Source: Freakanomics Radio


  1. “Usable” water is not a closed system. Pour a glass of drinking water in the ocean and it is no longer usable. It requires money and energy to get clean water to your home. We only produce a certain amount of usable water each day which is how we can have water shortages we use too much on things like our yards.

    I work in insurance, but I listen to enough science related podcasts to consider myself a scientist. So feel free to refer to me as one.

  2. I’m always interested in statistics of “using” water. I believe we live in a closed system, and, save for that water taken into outer space, all the water that’s ever been is here today. It just gets moved around above, on and in the ground as well as passing through all living plants and animals.

    I’m a CPA, not a scientist, so if I’m wrong, please enlighten me.

  3. Another reason why living in Tucson was so great- no grass to manage! Just rake the sand into nice little pattern or quick sweep and be done with it! More time to run, bike, swim, hike, be with our kids, or do anything else than waste water and time on yard work! Green space is lovely, and important, but there are other options than grass- you have to live somewhere other than suburban Midwest to appreciate alternatives. I don’t get the people who put all the chemicals on their lawn either?! Can’t possibly be good. Good IFOD to share with my lawn obsessed neighbors 🙂 haha


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