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How changing lifestyles affect your finances

9 April 10 07:42 GMT

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter, BBC News

Back in 1970, politicians were bickering about tax in the run-up to an election and the England football team captain was facing some off-pitch controversy.

It seems some things just do not change.

Yet, a statistical insight into our lifestyles - published on Thursday - has highlighted the changing way we save and spend our money.

In a nutshell, compared with 1970, we spend a smaller proportion of our income on food but a bigger slice on housing and fuel.

We spend more on recreation, notably on electronic equipment. Nearly all of us now have a washing machine in our homes.

But women will still find that the gender pay gap widens as they approach middle age.

Supermarket sweep

Walk into any supermarket nowadays and you will find that many of the aisles contain no food products at all.

They have expanded their offer to such an extent that most stores now sell clothes, DVDs and even furniture.

The Social Trends report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that while we might not be spending less than we used to on food, it takes up a much smaller proportion of our income than it used to.

In 1970, food and non-alcoholic drinks took up 21% of household expenditure. By 2008, this was down to 9%. Alcoholic drinks and tobacco dropped too - down from 8% to 3% over the same period.

Instead, housing - excluding mortgage payments - water and fuel take up the biggest chunk, having risen from 15% of household expenditure to 21%.

Transport, and recreation and culture, are the other sectors where the proportion of expenditure has increased.

It is not that we are all getting out more to the theatre or galleries. The main spending increases in our household recreation budget was on home entertainment, such as computers and DVD players, as well as cameras and camcorders.

Ownership of durable goods has increased, with 92% of UK households having a microwave and 96% having a washing machine by 2008.

The way we buy things has also changed significantly since 1970. The emergence of the internet has revolutionised shopping.

"As more people have gained access to the internet, it has been increasingly used by individuals for various transactions such as paying bills, transferring funds between accounts and purchasing goods and services," the ONS report says.

"People may also buy goods and services directly from manufacturers and wholesalers or from overseas providers rather than using traditional retail channels."

Men are more likely than women to buy items on the internet, with films and music top of the list, followed by clothes and sports goods, and household goods including furniture and toys.


The figures in the ONS report show the initial effects of the economic downturn on our personal finances. During 2008, the banking crisis led to plunging stock markets and extreme economic uncertainty.

As a result, personal wealth in the UK fell by 15% in 2007 to 2008, the first annual fall in household net wealth per head since 2001.

The drop was the result of falling property prices, the falling value of shares and the dip in pension fund values - all of which have recovered since 2008.

Much of the debate during the downturn surrounded levels of personal debt in the UK, and whether people had over-extended themselves with credit.

The figures show that in 2008, the amount of outstanding household debt in the UK was almost six times greater than it was in 1987. Household disposable income tripled during the same period.

The emphasis on borrowing rather than saving is clear from the figures which show that, in 2008, the level of household saving was at its lowest for 40 years.

The savings ratio peaked in 1980, when it amounted to 12.3% of household resources. In 2008, it was down to 1.7%.

"People's perceptions and expectations towards their financial well-being affect their likelihood of saving," the report says.

Historically low interest rates since 2008 are unlikely to have tempted more people to deposit their money into savings accounts.

Pay gap

The figures show that the gender pay gap has narrowed for both full-time and part-time workers. Yet, the issue is different depending on the age group concerned.

There is no gap between men and women's pay on average when employees are aged in their 20s, but it emerges as they enter their 30s.

During their 40s, the pay gap means the median woman's earnings are 18.4% below that of the median man's, with the gap dipping slightly to 16.9% for those aged 50 to 59.

The proportion of people living in low income households has fluctuated in the last 20 years, the ONS says.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of people in this situation rose, peaking at 22% of the population in 1990-91.

This fell to 17% in 2004-05, but increased slightly to 18% in the three years to 2007-08.

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