As people across Britain get set to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, myfinances.co.uk takes a look at the changing shape of society over the past 60 years.
For millions of Brits, this bunting-bedecked bumper holiday weekend will consist of paper plates piled with party snacks, face painting, drinks flowing – a time for celebration, and rightly so: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is a once in a lifetime event, offering a much needed feel-good factor amid the economic gloom.
It’s only the second time in UK history that a monarch has ruled for 60 years – the first being Queen Victoria, who achieved 64 years – and our tills are expected to jingle to the tune of £823 million on food, flags and souvenirs, an average of £40 per person among those marking the occasion, according to MoneySupermarket estimates.
The weekend’s television coverage charting the various stages of Her Majesty’s mammoth reign make fascinating viewing and will doubtless bring back memories for many. The fact that most people didn’t have a TV prior to the coronation, for a start.
But over the course of this country’s second Elizabethan Age (except for the Scots, of course, for whom this is the first era), just how has our nation changed?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has compared data from 1952 with figures from 2012 or the nearest available year, to show how life has been transformed since the young princess Elizabeth became queen.
Back in 1952, Brits were still recovering from the Second World War and there was still rationing for some items such as tea, sweets, sugar and food. Thankfully, tea rationing ended in the October, in time for the first street parties that were to take place for the Coronation the following summer. Sweets and sugar limits were lifted in February 1953 but food rationing went on until July 1954.
Sixty years ago, Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP) was £15,983 million compared with £1,507,585 million in 2011, an increase of 9,332 per cent, according to the ONS. In terms of the pound in your pocket, £1 in 1952 would be worth £24.34 today – or, looking at it another way, £1 today would be equivalent to 4p in 1952.
But how were these pounds earned? Britain now has much more of a consumer driven, service economy than the heavy industrial and manufacturing base it had 60 years ago. According to the 1951 Census, the top five occupations for men in England and Wales were clerks; metalworking, engineering, electrical and allied trades; agricultural workers; unskilled workers; and drivers of self-propelled goods vehicles.
The 2001 Census revealed that the main male roles were production works and maintenance managers; elementary goods handling and storage occupations; sales and retail assistants; retail and wholesale managers; and metal working production and maintenance fitters.
In 1951, the female top five jobs were clerks; shorthand typists and secretaries; domestic servants; non food goods workers and charwomen or office cleaners. But despite a technological revolution in the years between, the 2001 women’s list seemed surprisingly familiar: sales and retail assistants; general office assistants/ clerks; care assistants and home carers; nurses; and cleaners or domestics. The gadgets involved – typewriters to tablet PCs, mangles to front-loading washing machines – may have altered beyond recognition, but the job titles have actually changed very little.
However, the more unusual roles featured in the 1951 poll such as puddlers or shinglers – better known as furnacemen – have been replaced by male fitness instructors 50 years on, while female ‘locomotive engine firemen’, of which there were just three, have been superseded by lollipop ladies nowadays, of which there are substantially more, at around 6,000.
Workers put in 42 hours a week on average in the 1950s, substantially higher than the 32 recorded today, and a typical man’s pay packet contained £9, compared with the current £495, while a woman’s weekly wage was £5 back then, compared with £318.
Some things never change, however. The number of days lost to labour disputes across the UK in 1952 was calculated as 1.79 million, ONS figures show, not really that much higher than in 2011, at 1.39 million.
In terms of population growth, more babies were born in recent years compared with 60 years ago. There were 673,735 new arrivals in England and Wales in 1952, but by 2010 the annual birth rate had risen to 723,165, prompting a call for more midwives to be recruited. It hasn’t been a steady climb – the figures show peaks and troughs over these six decades, from the baby boom in the 1960s to the dip in the mid-70s, just before the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year.
But what has risen consistently is the number of births outside marriage (or civil partnership), rising almost tenfold from just 4.8 per cent in 1952 to 46.8 per cent by 2010. And at 29.5 years old, new mums are slightly older now than they were back then, when they were typically 28.1 years of age.
Sixty years ago, around 349,308 people tied the knot in England and Wales, significantly higher than the 241,100 Brits getting hitched in 2010. And for 81 per cent of newlyweds in 1952 it was their first marriage, compared with just 66 per cent of the most recent figure. But divorce has more then trebled in the same period, with 119,589 dissolutions noted in 2010 compared with 33,922 in 1952, the statistics reveal.
In total, the UK population is now around a fifth bigger than it was when the Queen first came to the throne, rising from 50 million to 62.3 million. And with at least 20 million of these Brits expected to celebrate this weekend, surely the economy will benefit?
Not necessarily, according to some economists. The long holiday weekend could affect output.
“It is likely that there will be a significant hit to GDP in the second quarter,” Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said. “The major cost to the economy is that there is an extra day’s public holiday.”
ONS data indicated that the additional public holiday for last year’s Royal Wedding was among the one-offs that could have hit quarterly growth by up to 0.5 per cent.
But last year, there were also a number of other special factors that held back growth, including disruptions resulting from the Japanese tsunami, sharply reduced oil and gas extraction owing to maintenance work in the North Sea, and the paying out of money for Olympic tickets.
Dr Archer said: “There will be some beneficial factors to the economy – notably sales of Jubilee-related souvenirs, and also sales of food and drink for street parties.
“Tourists may also be attracted by the pageantry and events. Having said that, some extra people may leave the UK to get away from it all!”
He added: “Over the year as a whole, the overall negative impact to the economy from the Diamond Jubilee should be pretty modest.”
Retailers are reportedly expecting a boost of up to £500 million this weekend, so with a flag in one hand and a glass of bubbly in the other, let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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