The Depression of the 1930s wiped out the market assets of many investors and all subsequent financial events are compared to that one. After reviewing some historical stock market data, I was surprised to learn that an investor who put $1000 into the large company stocks on Jan 1, 1928 still had about a $1000 ten years later on Dec. 31, 1937. No gain but no loss.
In the past 10 years, from June 1, 1999 to May 31, 2009, a $1000 invested in large company stocks are worth $840 now. More depressing than the depression.
You can investigate a number of historical returns at Index Funds Advisors by clicking on the index calculator at the top of the page. What if, instead of the crooked teeth and allergies your parents bequeathed you at birth, they had invested $1000 for you?