Society and private lives

Some changes in society were driven by laws that strongly affected people's private lives:

A British woman with her child, casting her vote for the first time in the General Election 1918.

Women get the vote

A British woman voting for the first time in the General Election, 1918

  • Families - the availability of the contraceptive pill after 1961, meant that women could choose more easily how many children to have and be more active in family planning. Family size fell, and women could more easily have careers and lives outside the home. The 1969 Divorce Reform Act made divorce easier. This resulted in many more divorces, and in more single-parent families.
  • Women - were given the vote in general elections in 1918, but it was 1928 when they were allowed to vote on the same terms as men. The invention of appliances like washing machines meant the household jobs mostly carried out by women became quicker and easier. Issues around women's health became a fiercely debated issue with the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act that allowed pregnancies to be ended under certain circumstances. Feminism and women's rights continued to be an important issue. In 1970, Germaine Greer published her book The Female Eunuch, which further increased debate. Women were finally given equal rights in law in 1975 with the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act, but women remained under-represented in the highest paid jobs such as lawyers and company directors.
  • Religion - in 1900 most people considered themselves Christian. 55 per cent of children went to Sunday school, but by 2000 only 4 per cent regularly attended. Immigration saw the increase of other religious beliefs in Britain, but in 2001 over 70 per cent of the population still said they were Christian. For the first time, a question about faith/religion was included in the census of 2001. 59.5% considered themselves Christian, 4.4% followers of Islam, 1.3% Hindu and 0.4% Jewish. The biggest change was that over 25% declared that they were followers of no religion at all.
  • Freetime - became a more common part of people's lives by the end of the century. In 1900 a working class young person would probably work on Saturday and go to church on a Sunday. After the Second World War people began to have more time to enjoy leisure activities such as TV, radios and record players. On the other hand, people were much fitter and more active at the beginning of the 20th century than at the end.

Where next?

You can compare everyday life in Britain in the 20th century to that of the Middle Ages, Tudors and Stuarts and the industrial era .

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