Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, tells the story of a transformation in personal life in Britain, through the numbers that capture change on the grand scale.

He delves into the data for the big patterns and trends in history, finding new ways of thinking about the whole shape of the population - the balance between adults and children, for example, or the shifting shape of what we do with our lives, from infancy to retirement and death. He seeks answers in history to some of the problems that perplex us now, such as how badly austerity has bitten or the paradox of why no-one seems able to afford a house but so many people own one. And he tells these stories not just with data, but through people and the real experiences that bring the numbers to life.

In the search for data to measure how we've changed, the programme counts rotten teeth and adds up what people ate, what they own and throw away. What did we earn through the centuries, how do we know, and what could we do with it? What was our health like, or our homes, our jobs or education? What was the status and experience of women? And how has it all changed?

This is all presented with innovative radio techniques to capture data in sound - for example, new ways of creating graphs for the senses so that we can not just know, but feel, the changes.
Each of these ten programmes takes one theme, to explore how far we have made progress, and why it might continue, or falter.

8. Old Age
Andrew reveals the changing shape of our lives by compressing a whole life into 20 seconds and comparing it over the centuries. Did we once grow old in the comfort of family life? How old was old?

Producer: Michael Blastland
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

14 minutes

Last on

Wed 27 Nov 2013 13:45