Belfast Telegraph

Was standard of living really better years ago? Well, yes ... and no

By Mary Kenny

Was life really better years ago or are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses? A UK animal charity, Spana, has found that half of adults over the age of 50 think that life was better in the past - only 19% like it better today. But there are pros and cons in this debate, surely …

Life was better when:

- People answered the telephone when you rang them on what was called a 'landline'. There was no 'breaking up' mid-conversation.

- It was more testing for a woman to obtain a mortgage: but a mortgage was within the reach of most couples in work - even a single-income household.

- Women had fewer career choices but some also had less stress. There wasn't as much pressure on girls to be sexually active in their teens, let alone to take photographs of their nude anatomy and put these on social media.

- Meals were simpler. We didn't know what 'quinoa' was.

- Animals were not as intensively farmed, so a chicken tasted more like a real fowl, rather than a piece of rubber. Before barcodes and sell-by dates, there was less food waste.

- Buses had bus conductors, who were often very entertaining native wits.

- Young people swapped records, cassette tapes and CDs, a sharing that led to friendships based on common interests.

- Every small town had a police station and the local sergeant had a store of knowledge about the local characters.

- Kids went out to play in streets and fields without their parents fearing a paedophile behind every bush.

- There was more hypocrisy, but there was also more privacy. Not everyone wants to share information about everything. You were allowed to be shy.

- Families wrote letters to one another. I have a screed of them still and they instantly bring back times happily (and sadly) lived through.

- Teenagers didn't have access to alarming pornography at the click of a mouse.

- Disparage health care run by nuns if you wish, but their hospitals were spotlessly clean. Matrons had such authority that even the consultants were intimidated.

- People didn't resort to swearing quite so loudly, frequently and repeatedly.

- It was considered a childhood treat to be taken to the airport just to watch the planes take off.

- We weren't driven mad checking emails, Twitter and Facebook every half hour, suffering from FOMO.

- The press and media outlets had a commitment to the journalism of record - simply recording what went on where, when and by whom, creating a priceless archive of every court case and local event in the country.

- The month of January was much cheered up by the ritual of 'the dress dance'. And there were some 'ballrooms of romance' (and many of disillusion too).

- Loneliness has always existed, but older people didn't seem to feel so isolated and vulnerable, particularly when living in the countryside.

Life is better now because:

- While air travel can be purgatory, and airports locations of existentialist anomie, flying is more affordable for all.

- The coffee revolution has brought pleasure, excellence and the revival of the 18th century coffee house, an alternative place of fellowship for people who don't booze and the esteemed profession of the barista.

- 'Cancer' is no longer whispered as though an automatic death sentence. There are great improvements in survival rates, particularly breast cancer in women and child leukaemia - once dreaded and feared.

- There is a more open attitude to mental health and - arguably - it is less stigmatised, though there is still room for improvement.

- Dads are not embarrassed to push a baby buggy, or even to carry their offspring in a papoose strapped to their chest.

- There are many more labour-saving devices to which whole populations now have access: the deep freeze, the microwave, the brilliant new generations of vacuum cleaners led by Dyson, the state-of-the-art washing machines and dishwashers.

- The en-suite bathroom is now routine in hotels and increasingly installed in guest houses. With that enviable luxury of modern times: the walk-in shower.

- More young people can now go to university. It's considered a right, not a privilege.

- Racism is more overtly unacceptable.

- Sensible walking shoes can be regarded as quite stylish.

- 'Assortative mating' means that people are tending to marry partners with similar standards of education and professional status, which makes marriage more equal (though it also probably reinforces elites' networks).

- There are scores of TV channels to choose from, plus catch-up technology, plus the joy of box sets.

- Worldwide, there has been a staggering increase in prosperity, with the spread of liberal democracy, and, yes, capitalism: 36 years ago, 40% of the world's population lived on $1 a day - today, this has fallen to 14%.

With social change, as with everything else, you win some, you lose some…

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