Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in British history. Her long reign coincided with fundamental shifts in the British economy, politics and society.
Here, the Financial Times data team looks at the past seventy years in a series of charts.
The UK’s population increased by about a third during the Queen’s reign, from 50.5 million in 1952 to 67.5 million today. But the reasons for change shifted over time. The first decade saw the post-war ‘baby boom’, which was tempered by the advent of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s and the increased participation of women in the labor force.
During the 1950s and 1960s, immigration from the Commonwealth, particularly the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, was offset by Britons moving abroad.
However, net migration increased sharply after the millennium, when new members joined the EU, triggering waves of immigration that resulted in a much more ethnically diverse country than in 1952. About 14 percent of the current population is foreign-born
Social norms have undergone a massive transformation under the Queen. Family structures are no longer as rigid as they used to be, partly as a result of the waning influence of religion.
Legislation in the 1960s and early 1970s legalized abortion and homosexuality and made divorce much easier. Divorce and single-parent families were socially stigmatized in 1952, but are very common today.
Last year, for the first time, a majority of children were born to unmarried parents. Same-sex civil partnerships were allowed, initially in England and Wales, from 2004 and marriages from 2013
One of the greatest social changes during her reign was in women’s economic activity. During both World Wars, the number of female workers increased and they replaced men in the armed forces, but in peacetime many industries, especially mining and manufacturing, were almost exclusively male.
The proportion of women in the workforce has increased by a third over the past 50 years, partly due to improvements in contraception, but also due to economic shifts from heavy industry to service activities.
This shift is seen in higher education, vital to a modern economy. Female graduates were once a rarity, but women now account for the majority of first degrees awarded.
In 1952, the UK was still the third largest economy in the world, behind only the superpowers of the US and the Soviet Union, becoming the world’s third nuclear power late that year.
Now the UK ranks eighth in the top ten largest economies measured by purchasing power parities. Even in cash terms, the economy of India, a former British colony, is expected to overtake that of the UK in size this year.
The early years of the Queen’s reign were marked by a growing economy and broad party consensus on economic policy. Governments, both Conservatives and Labor, supported taxation to fund the welfare state. Large parts of the industry were in the hands of the state.
That consensus disappeared in the 1970s when inflation rose – peaking at 27 percent in mid-1975 – and the first severe recession since the war saw the return of mass unemployment.
After Margaret Thatcher’s government from 1979 to 1990, a new consensus emerged, of low taxes and spending, and market-oriented solutions to economic problems
The Covid pandemic and the energy price shock of the war in Ukraine have put the government to the test, with double-digit inflation and a recession expected next year
Dean Acheson, former US Secretary of State, said in 1962 that Britain had “lost an empire, but has yet to find a role”. The problem is clearly illustrated by the UK’s changing trading patterns.
In the early 1950s, trade was still concentrated on former colonies. Since joining the EEC in 1973, it has been increasingly dominated by European neighbours. Relations with Europe have been a major issue in British politics, culminating in the 2016 Brexit vote and the country’s eventual exit from the EU.
Many aspects of the economy and society have seen a decline in collective provision and identification since the 1950s, replaced by an individualism defined by property.
The transport sector has long been dominated by private cars. On the housing front, the Thatcher government’s attempt to create a “property democracy” and the ensuing sale of council-owned housing has increased the proportion of owner-occupiers.
These changes have not been without problems. Governments of all shades have faced the impact of widespread car ownership on the environment and the impact of house prices on consumer confidence and, consequently, economic growth.
Average wages in the UK generally rose above inflation for most of the period. But there was an abrupt break with that trend in the wake of the global financial crisis. Unions, weakened by the reforms of the Thatcher government in the 1980s and declining membership, were unable to raise wages. With the return of high inflation in 2022, union militancy has resurfaced.
The late Queen hosted 15 different prime ministers during her 70 years on the throne. The first, Sir Winston Churchill, was born in 1874, the last, Liz Truss, more than a century later in 1975. The Conservative party was in power for two-thirds of its reign, including five years as the Liberal’s dominant coalition partner. democrats .
Old political identities have broken down over the course of her reign. The Conservative and Labor parties — with largely class-based loyalties — claimed 97 percent of the vote in the 1951 general election. The Labor government won 48.8 percent of the vote — and lost.
Voters are now much more likely to support other parties. Between a quarter and a third of the electorate in every election since 1997, except 2017, where both Labor and the Tories polled more than 40 percent.
In 2015, the nationalist SNP won more than 50 percent of the vote in Scotland and 56 of the 59 seats. The last party to win a majority of the Scottish vote was the Tories, in 1955.