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Our Changing Society – charting political, social and economic change over nine decades

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 May 2023

Commuters walk around a London station. Some are blurry with movement. Image credit: Chris Mann via Adobe Stock.

Commuters walk around a London train station. Image credit: Chris Mann / Adobe Stock.

Aidan Riley.

The UK is home to a remarkable set of scientific studies that have tracked generations of people growing up in Britain over the last 90 years. These longitudinal population studies are unique in science and unparalleled elsewhere in the world – no other country has anything like them on the same scale.

Over those nine decades major political, social and economic changes have impacted every area of study participants’ lives. CLOSER’s ‘Our Changing Society’ resource provides this detailed historical context through a set of interactive charts and downloadable datasets to help you understand how these changes may have impacted people’s complex lives.

Insights into the UK population

Our Changing Society provides insights across 35 topic areas, including income inequality, fertility, life expectancy and unemployment. Where possible, these include data from 1930 up to the present day, covering the period in which study participants have lived.

Each topic is categorised under a theme, such as social mobility, ageing and mental health. Our handy drop-down menu allows you to filter topics by theme, enabling quick access to the areas that you’re most interested in.

Image of a drop down menu showing topic areas for the data.

Explore the data!

The centrepiece of each topic is an interactive graph which visualises key trends over time. Each graph is available as a downloadable image, which can be incorporated into your own reports, teaching materials and presentations. For those who want to undertake a deeper analysis, each topic also includes a downloadable dataset containing the original source data, information on when the data was released and helpful user notes.

Where applicable, topics also include a ‘Key Dates’ section, detailing the legislation, reports or events that impacted a particular topic area. For example, our topic on the number of live births and deaths in the UK highlights the Family Planning Act (1967), which made contraception readily available through the NHS.

Spotlight: smoking and cardiovascular disease

Looking across two pertinent topics: current cigarette and e-cigarette smokers and death rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD), you can clearly see the downward trajectory of adult cigarette smoking (a key risk factor in CVD) from the 1970’s reflected in the steady decline in death rates from CVD over the same period.

Chart showing the steep decline in age-standardised death rates per 100,000 from cardiovascular disease (CVD), all ages, 1969 – 2020 (United Kingdom)

Age-standardised death rates per 100,000 from cardiovascular disease (CVD), all ages, 1969 – 2020 (United Kingdom)

Government intervention and legislation which contributed to this decline is detailed on each page. This includes the introduction of health warnings on cigarette packaging in 1971, and the Health Act 2006, which banned smoking in enclosed public spaces.

Looking at more recent trends, comparing the decline in cigarette smoking with the emergence of e-cigarettes in 2014 provides a fascinating visual insight into the long-term changes in adult smoking habits.

Chart showing the steep decline in the proportion of current cigarette smokers by sex, 1974 to 2021 (Great Britain), and growth in e-cigarette smoking from 2014-2021

Proportion of current cigarette and e-cigarette smokers by sex, 1974 to 2021 (Great Britain)

Both topics are a useful resource for researchers, teachers, students or policymakers who are interested in health outcomes across the life course.

What are you waiting for – check out Our Changing Society today!

Our Changing Society is a living resource that accurately reflects contemporary social indicators through regular reviews and updates. We hope it provides you with valuable insights into the circumstances and contexts which influence the complex lives of study participants. Visit the Our Changing Society resource today to check out the range of topics available!

We’d love to hear how you’re using Our Changing Society! If you have any feedback, suggestions for new topics or examples of how you’ve used the resource in your teaching or research, please let us know at closer@ucl.ac.uk.

This blog post was first published on the CLOSER blog

Suggested citation:

Riley, A. (2023). ‘Our Changing Society – charting political, social and economic change over nine decades’. CLOSER. 27 March 2023. Available at: https://closer.ac.uk/news-opinion/blog/our-changing-society/

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