The original oak floors you see refinished today in many postwar homes from the '50s and '60s were considered subfloors for the new, trendy wall-to-wall carpets of the day. (Later incarnations included cheap thin parquet floors, a pale imitation of the genuine parquet wood subfloors in earlier postwar construction.) PREWAR floors were meant to be seen, which is why you often find them in beautiful species (tiger oak, mahogany) and designs (herringbone, Greek Key). Whether pre- or postwar, real hardwood floors are today easily maintained (vacuum, sweep, swiffer, dust OR lightly mop!) because they're sealed with matte, semi or gloss polyurethane. Which is why you see wood floors in kitchens today - not just because they tend to be open, flowing into dens, now. Before those durable seals, there was linoleum or vinyl over slab or hardwood kitchen floors, and after that, ceramic tile.
But today I'm amazed that anyone would seriously ask whether carpet or hardwood is a better choice for floors. What's the first two things a new buyer or seller does when they renovate? Replace formica countertops with stone and carpet with hardwood. Carpets and formica are more functional and easier to maintain (carpets don't scratch and formica doesn't need resealing and is easier to clean with almost any cleaner). But aesthetics rule. Form over function.
Just as there are different grades and durabilities of stone countertops (marble and granite which need resealing versus newer quartz composites that don't) there are different types of wood floors.
GENUINE hardwood is the best - solid wood throughout, and if it gets scratched it can be re-sanded many times over.
ENGINEERED "prefinished" hardwood is trendy and beautiful but I avoid it at all costs because once you scratch it, it's all over. That pretty finish on top is like a veneer; beneath it, it's essentially murphy- or particle-board strips laminated atop each other. Once on a construction site I saw an uninstalled strip in a bucket that had been filled with rainwater the night before - the cherry veneer soaked clean off and was floating at the top. If you try sanding it you'd be down to what looks like essentially cardboard in milliseconds. Also to me, engineered hardwood always looks like engineered hardwood; a bit too pretty/exotic and when textured, with too-uniform ripples. When I last season episodes of "Glee" shot at the fake Manhattan arts school the fake engineered rippled wood dance floor always distracted me because it was incongruous to the otherwise more realistic-looking prewar set. I predict that in 15 years people will be ripping out even still-pristine engineered hardwood floors wondering "What were my parents THINKING?" Just as they're ripping out perfectly good Corian today.
VINYL that looks like hardwood - some truly do, fooling even me. But it scuffs. That's why I never had it installed.
LAMINATE floors are more durable than vinyl ones. I never thought I'd get them because I worried about them scratching like formica kitchen countertops (which is what they feel like walking on them - hollow and plastic), but I'm told they're more durable than formica countertops. But they have their uses - like vinyl and linoleum, on slabs. That's why you find laminate and vinyl wood-look floors in places where the floor's a concrete slab, like basements and most houses in Florida. If you tried to lay a real wood floor on slab, even a "cured" one, the humidity would make it buckle. The only way to do it would be to underlay a wood frame/scaffold as a subfloor, which is cost-prohibitive for most. I went the laminate route for a rustic den in my house because of that room's slab floor (only that room's built into a hill), and because I found one that truly looked like wide plank pine, which was both unusually wide AND long for laminate flooring (fewer seams), and might actually ADD value (though not as much as hardwood or even engineered hardwood). I have to say it feels warm and cushy underfoot (unlike vinyl and linoleum it's installed with a thin cushioning underpaid) and has held up to traffic so far:
(the mission-style recliner's still in the basement so the dog bed's taking up residence)
(Note those are REAL distressed, original pine stair treads which had been carpeted; the contractor tried to upsell me to new oak treads and I said NO WAY, I'll strip the paint off the edges and you'll lightly sand)
(closeup of my new laminate den floor)
Personally I prefer hardwood floors throughout except perhaps for a master bedroom so you (or a prospective buyer can see that) there's only one room of carpet to take out. Today's hardwood floors are sealed with polyurethane so they're easy to sweep and mop - waxing and oiling is a thing of the past. As for ceramic floors, my parents in Florida have them and while they're durable, easy to clean and maintain and stay cool underfoot they're hard on the joints. Know how your feet and knees hurt after walking a mall? That's why hospitals have linoleum floors.