Microwaves, Unfortunately, Aren't Going Away

Are Americans really getting tired of microwaves? No. They're using them differently.
You should be shopping for a sous vide machine. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

"America is tired of the microwave," says Quartz, and my heart rejoices. We have a microwave, and I do use it. But mostly what I use it for is to time the oven.

Also, as a kitchen gadget aficionado, I do love spotting new trends. And the accompanying chart here certainly seems striking.


But when you read a little deeper, it turns out that people aren't actually abandoning microwaves; they're just not replacing them as frequently. As the Quartz piece notes:

New microwave sales may be falling, but microwaves are still in over 90% of American households. Americans aren't throwing out the ones they have; they're merely using them less and buying new ones less frequently. Couple that with the fact that technology is helping extend microwave lifespans, and the result is that people don't have to replace them nearly as often as they once did.

Microwaves are also, in some ways, moving upscale. Sales of microwaves that are built into the kitchen, rather than sitting alone on a counter -- which are much closer cousins to the commercial oven -- have grown by more than 100 percent since 2000.

Hmm. So people are shifting toward built-in microwaves -- and sales of microwaves peaked in 2006. This doesn't suggest a trend toward fresher food to me; it suggests that the housing bubble produced a surge in demand for microwaves, as contractors and homebuilders installed them above half the ovens in the U.S. When the housing bubble popped, demand sank precipitously. Because people replace built-in appliances much less often than they do the ones on their countertop, it's taking a long time to recover.

Now, I'd love to hear that Americans are ripping out their expensive over-the-stove microwaves and replacing them with high-powered ventilation hoods. I'd be thrilled to hear that frozen-food manufacturers are switching over to high-quality sous-vide-ready meals. But if there's one thing that being a libertarianish columnist teaches you, it's that the rest of the country rarely shares your preferences.

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