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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Was life better fifty years ago?
The BBC's Grove Family
Many older people feel that the quality of life has got worse over the last fifty years according to a survey by Yours magazine.

Out of 3,000 people polled, 93% said they missed respect for authority, 91% missed seeing bobbies on the beat and 81% missed the pride people used to feel in being British.

Many also felt that the only good things about modern life are washing machines, inside toilets and central heating although many admitted that it was better to be a pensioner today than fifty years ago.

Is modern life too complicated? Were things better in the 1950's? What do you miss about that time? Send us your comments and stories.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Too many people look back through rose coloured spectacles
Clive, Birmingham, UK
In 1955 my family moved down from Scarborough to Birmingham so my Dad could earn 10 a week, not a 10 raise but for 10. Houses may have been cheaper then, but Dad couldn't afford one so we lived in a council house. Mom didn't work, most married women didn't. That I think is the point, houses may have been cheaper, but not necessarily more affordable. It's true that the pace of life was slower, but Dad never came to the School Xmas play or sports day, he couldn't get the time off work. I never missed one for my kids because I could get the time. Too many people look back through rose coloured spectacles.
Clive, Birmingham, UK

One thing which has changed is the family. In the '50s, the extended family was the norm and there were grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living close by. Now that the nuclear family has arrived, we are all more isolated and problems that would have been tackled by relatives are now outsourced to a burgeoning social work culture. In my childhood, in the '50s, every other house had an elderly relative - to have granny end up in an old folk's home was a last resort.
Anne, Scotland

Ah, yes - 1954. High infant mortality, endemic poverty, choking pollution in the cities, rampant racism and sexism, the start of the Cold War, ignorance of worldwide affairs, a much reduced lifespan and severely limited opportunities for the majority of the population based on what class they were. Who wouldn't want to live in 1954, eh?
James Matthews, Hull, oop North

Were children in the 50's really brought up with more discipline and better values? If so, why did they then reject these values in the 1960's? It is because of the fifties generation that we are in this mess. Give me the 1920's any day.
Matt, Herts

I would never want to experience what it was like 50 years ago. As a black man I'd have extremely limited rights, would find it a lot harder to find a decent job amongst other things. I'd hate to have to face the troubles my grandparents went through.
Andre, London

I have every thing I need, but I would rather be back in the fifties
Mick Kinnard, England
In the 50s I was 15 yrs. went to a youth club every week night. We did learn respect for our elders from family, friends at school, and at work. TV finished family life. Before TV we sat round as a family to eat, talk to each other, play games and listen to the Radio. I am now a pensioner, frightened to go out at night, with gangs of youths running wild, shops selling booze to under age drinkers for fear of reprisals should they refuse. No Police around and parents afraid to use discipline on their own children. I have every thing I need, but I would rather be back in the fifties, times were harder for all but we were happier.
Mick Kinnard, England

As a Gay man, if I was living in the 1950's I would have been subjected to discrimination, humiliation, mental torture through the inability to live a normal open and free life. Today I am on the whole accepted as an individual, able to live a normal life and generally free to pursue relationships without fear of discrimination. I like the age that I am in.
Alec, London

There were good things and bad things about the fifties, just as there are in today's modern society. I would be happy to bring back the sense of community they had then, the respect for bobbies and authority, the neighbourliness and the respect people showed towards each other by using less foul language and less promiscuity on tv. On the other hand, they can keep the beating the carpets on the washing line, wringing clothes through a mangle, coal fires instead of central heating, having to heat up the water for a tin bath that the whole family shared. Oh I can't type anymore I'm breaking into hives just thinking about it!
Kiltie, Staffs, UK

I can remember a 50s childhood. Although I had few material possessions, I believe I had a wonderful childhood. Today? Well as a teacher I have experience of the lives of a wide variety of children, and I certainly would not like to be young now. The innocence has gone from life, and the demand for the 'finer' things dominates the lives of too many people. However, where there is good, it is great - I love the access I have to travel and the Internet, and I love some modern music as much as that of the 50s and 60s when I was growing up. I am glad I experienced a 50s childhood, but I am equally delighted to be experiencing the 21st century with all it has to offer. I make the most of what is offered and try not to yearn for what is lost (which is sometimes difficult as I teach history).
Philip, Birmingham, England

I'm quite happy in the 21st century
Helen, Banbury, UK
As a woman I can honestly say I cannot think of a better time to be alive than now. 50 years ago job prospects would have been limited, social expectations would have me married with children by the age of 23, whether or not I wanted it, and to carry the double-burden of low-paid work plus all the housework and childrearing. I'm quite happy in the 21st century.
Helen, Banbury, UK

I would have loved to have been born 50 years ago as I think life would have been a lot better. I am now pregnant and sometimes wonder if I am making the right choice bringing a child into this society.
Tara Arnold, Welling, Kent

Life was always "better" in the past according to the pundits, and in some respects that's true. However, travel back to the past is not yet possible, so we'd better concentrate on the present and the near future.
Jon Davis, USA

When I talk to my 80 year old father on his mobile (!) he tells me to be grateful I'm living now. I hope I'll be able to do the same on my videophone when I'm 80.
Richard, Surrey

Although I was not around 50 years ago I can say without a doubt my life would have been worse. I wouldn't have gone to university for a start, and I actually had a childhood unlike my father who worked from being very young. Many of the older people who moan about a lack of respect from young people show no respect back.
Paul, Northampton, UK

Life was simpler then but people had far less in the way of worldly goods
Heather Cooke, Lincs/Cambs border
I left school at the end of the 50's having lived in several different areas of the UK, including a stockbroker belt area and an extremely remote rural area. I think, although most people would say we have a more classless society now, that is not really so; things were more level in the fifties, one of the reasons being that it did not matter how much money you had, many luxury items just were not available and the range of goods was much more limited. I am a "new" pensioner, so bear in mind that many of the people who grew up in the fifties are not exactly decrepit and are quite capable and efficient in the use of modern appliances. Life was simpler then but people had far less in the way of worldly goods.
Heather Cooke, Lincs/Cambs border

You can still buy fresh food, not processed, the central heating can be switched off and have your bath in the main room if you wish, although it may be a bit too cool with the heating off! We have more choice now.
Paul

"Many older people feel that the quality of life has got worse over the last fifty years"..."although many admitted that it was better to be a pensioner today than fifty years ago". Just like my gran - can never make her mind up about anything!
Chris, Batley

The ones who say life was better are remembering through rose coloured spectacles. They only remember the good of that period, not the bad. Polio and TB were part of everyday living. Teddy boys and other young thugs made life a misery in much the same districts as drug pushers do today. Life expectancy was such that you were lucky to survive more than five years after retirement. Employers were even more autocratic than they are now. On the whole life is much better now for the vast majority than it was fifty years ago.
Markham, Huddersfield, UK

Quite apart from anything else, culinary Britain was a desperately dreary place in the '50s. The influx of food from abroad since then has significantly improved life for people for whom a special treat meant meat and two veg at a Lyons Tea House!
Adrian, London, UK

Perhaps we were nicer people then than we are now
Sheila, London, UK
We were probably healthier, walked further and ate less processed food. Children certainly had more freedom as we were largely ignorant about the dangers of paedophiles and there were fewer cars on the road. I find it difficult to imagine my parents' generation driving past a young woman lying unconscious in the road - so perhaps we were nicer people then than we are now.
Sheila, London, UK

What's wrong with not respecting authority? I respect people whose skills, views, achievements and talents are great. Someone in a position of authority should show themselves worthy of respect before the general public respects them, not automatically be given it.
Anna, UK

Perhaps the people who thought that life was better in the 50's are now too old to enjoy the vices they are objecting to.
Andy Bird, Cheshire, UK

Now we see the fallout of the "progressive" methods of teaching (or more commonly, failure to teach) since the sixties. Many of the pensioners who are now complaining supported the cause of the problems they now suffer.
BF, London, UK

The same people in this survey are the ones who have been instrumental in the development of this country over the last 50 years. If they think it was so great when they were younger, why didn't they make more effort to keep it that way?
Anonymous

If you long for the past it only means you have not embraced the present or the future
Brian H, Surrey
Washing machines, inside toilets and central heating are the best things about modern life? How about the growing recognition that prejudice, bigotry and racism belong in the past? That, for me, is the greatest achievement of modern Britain (though admittedly there is still some way to go). If you long for the past it only means you have not embraced the present or the future.
Brian H, Surrey

Some things are better, some things are worse. Whether or not it is better or worse overall depends on your point of view.
DRL, Milton Keynes, UK

I wasn't around 50 years ago, but neither were the pill or the equal opportunities/pay acts - 2 things on which 2004 scores over 1954 for this woman!
Jen, UK

Fifty years ago? Life was better fifteen years ago... I was still in school and the biggest worry I had was whether I'd be getting an Atari ST for Christmas...
John, Southampton, UK

Although, I'm only in my mid 30's I too still miss the respect, seeing police on the beat and having pride in being British!
John, Bristol, England

You only remember the good times
JD, Oxford, UK
No doubt those people polled were looking at life through rose-tinted glasses as you only remember the good times. I bet in another 50 years today's youngsters (myself included) will be exactly the same.
JD, Oxford, UK

Yes, I think life overall was better in the 50's. For a start we were probably healthy, no junk food in those days, fresh food was the norm not the frozen prepacked stuff we see today.
Cliff, Colchester

50 years ago my mother would have loved for us kids to have mobile phones - so we could tell her where we were, that we were safe and when to expect us home.
John, Fleet, UK

For 50% of the population at least - massively improved. Women cannot surely think their lot in life was better back then.
Nigel, Redhill, UK

I can't speak of what life was like in the '50s, but I can definitely say that the majority of rudeness and bad manners I come across today is from those over 60.
Matt, Brighton

I bet people were as miserable in the 1950s as they are now
Sam Wren, Woking, England
I think it is always easier to see things through rose tinted glasses about the past. If things have got worse since the 1950s then we can pretty much blame the people who didn't bring their children up properly since then. I bet people were as miserable in the 1950s as they are now.
Sam Wren, Woking, England

At any point there are good and bad things. Surely we don't miss unmarried mothers being forced to give up their children, homosexuals being sent to prison, women being made to stop working when they married, discrimination against women, blacks, Asians, gays....
Ruth K, NW, UK

I may agree, with the statistics at the top of the page but have they forgotten the reality? Outside toilets, tin bath in front of the fire, no central heating and carpets, scrape the ice off the inside of the bedroom window in the morning, some rationing still in place, and there was still real poverty and slums then! These are memories of my parents' childhood in Surrey 50 years ago.
Karl Grover, Wokingham, England, UK

This is not a yes or no answer. Many things have gone downhill, politeness, policing, feelings of friendliness towards others to name but three. However, massive moves forward in technology, production and choice, central heating etc make this period far better than the 50s. I, for one, would not want to go back to those days.
Richard, Northampton




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