Global norms, trends and culture are constantly changing as time progresses, due to the development of new technology and inquisitive nature of mankind. The constant desire to carry out processes in the most cost effective manner and in an appropriate amount of time, has led to the world of work changing throughout history. Work can be defined as ‘activities directed at satisfying the human need for survival, for the vast majority, at a subsistence level.’ (Edgell S, 2012, p.1) This is a broad definition which is different now, in comparison to how it was used back in 1968.
Global norms, trends and culture are constantly changing as time progresses, due to the development of new technology and inquisitive nature of mankind. The constant desire to carry out processes in the most cost effective manner and in an appropriate amount of time, has led to the world of work changing throughout history. Work can be defined as ‘activities directed at satisfying the human need for survival, for the vast majority, at a subsistence level.’ (Edgell S, 2012, p.1) This is a broad definition which is different now, in comparison to how it was used back in 1968. An example of this doing laundry, when a teenager does it at home it can be deemed as a chore which receives no financial gain. However, launderettes are a source of profit for those who own them. While in various countries, such as Tanzania, domestic employees do laundry as one of their responsibilities. The popularity of such tasks today and the fact that it was also a standard job, in 1968, suggests that to an extent the world of work has not changed. However, the fact that machines can now carry out these tasks and it is a job held more equally, by both women and men, contradicts this notion. In addition to this, the rise of more creative careers such as YouTubers, suggests that in the last fifty years, the world of work has indeed experienced several changes.
To further support the notion that work is changing, contemporary issues that were not experienced, at such large magnitudes, fifty years ago are important to analyse. Contemporary issues can be described as a predicament that is ‘living or occurring’ (Oxford Living 3 Dictionaries, 2018) and are experienced in work. These issues stretch from ones that are based on theories, such as post-Fordism services, to social issues of creating a balance between work and life. The development of technology has undoubtedly resulted in different policies being employed in the work place, such as depending more on automation in manufacturing industries. With these policies, new issues occur which may have not been as dominant fifty years ago. Therefore, contemporary issues are an influential factor when looking at the extent in which the world of work has changed.
In addition, social divisions can be deemed as another contributing factor. Societal norms have left different classes, genders and races being treated in contrasting manners. Gender, a decisive division, has remained an issue. On average, this has left women earning less pay then men, due to their biological composition. This is an example of how social divisions cause discrepancies even in 2018. In relation to the impact of contemporary issues on the business environment and the way in which work has changed in previous years, globalization is a process that occurs worldwide, and has enhanced the changes that have taken place thus far.
Globalization can be defined as ‘the creation of linkages or interconnections between nations. It is usually understood as a process in which barriers (physical, political, economic, cultural) separating different regions of the world are reduced or removed, thereby stimulating exchanges in goods, services, money and people.’ (Hamilton, L., Webster, P., 2015) This has changed greatly, as the attempted withdrawal of the USA from agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2017, suggests that globalization is slowing down. The changes in both social divisions and the emergence of contemporary issues, highlights the way the world of work has evolved to a certain extent.
Bearing this in mind, this essay will address the degree to which work has changed since 1968. It will do this by firstly, looking at the differences in the economic environment fifty years ago and currently, which would have then influenced the way in which work occurred. Secondly, this essay will present an argument suggesting that work has not changed, particularly when looking at the social division of gender, since then. But will then counter argue this notion and instead present an argument, highlighting the aspects of work that have been amended over time. Both arguments will be supported with credible and concise evidence. The impact of globalization as a contemporary issue will then be discussed and the way in which it has been revised will be focused on. Lastly, an analytical conclusion will provide a definitive end to the essay supporting the concept that work has indeed changed.
The global economic state at that time, as well as the way in which work operated, is a critical aspect of the changing environment of work since 1968. According to Robert M. Collins, in his publication title ‘The Economic Crisis of 1968 and the Waning of the “American Century”’ (published in 1999) the first months of 1968 were characterized with economic decline to such a great degree that he described this period as ‘the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.’ (Robert M. Collins, 1999) The Great Depression ended in 1939 and the world was still recovering from its detrimental effects, which included: 13 million unemployed people and industrial production reducing by 45% between 1929 and 1932. (BBC, 2018) Such impacts dented the economies of nations around the world, and consequently 5 affected the world of work. Production fell drastically and unemployment was on the rise creating a mass shortage of goods and services. For 1968 to be described as a period with effects second only to those experienced in the Great Depression, is an adverse description and would suggest that work has indeed changed to an extent. However, due to continued lack of precise government implementation of laws in relation to gender equality in the work place and the continued popularization of clerical jobs, such as call centres, it can be argued that this change is limited and that work in 2018 resembles how it operated in 1968.
Personal accounts of work, are credible sources of information when analysing the world of work fifty years ago as well as in the present day. Through his book ‘Working’ Studs Terkel writes about experiences of working individuals in the 1960’s. Donna Murray discusses her life as a book binder. The tranquillity associated with this kind of work became enjoyable for her, and it gave her a sense of importance and accomplishment, once she had successfully put a book back together. The conditions she worked in were undisturbed, however she did then confess to feeling alienated because she worked alone for most of the day, when her assistant was not present. In addition, she benefited from flexibility of work hours, as she dictated when her working day started and when it ended. However, her job was not all advantageous as the wages were low.
For a present-day example of work, employment at a call centre can be evaluated. In James Bloodworth’s book ‘Hired’ his experience of working in Welsh company, Admiral’s call centre is discussed. The repetitive daily routine of having to ensure that individuals stayed with that company as their car insurance provider, was tedious. The working hours were long as 6 Bloodworth notes that ‘they had to work on the phones from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, keeping us in the office for an hour longer than many similar jobs.’ (Bloodworth, 2018) In addition, the wages did not facilitate an extravagant lifestyle as ‘my take-home wage after deductions was a mere £13,027-£4,000 less than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s recommended amount for a minimum standard of living.’ Due to these avoidable conditions, a motivating co-operate culture is created by the managers of Admiral as employees were ‘bombarded with positivity and contrived wackiness’. Taking these two examples into consideration, the world of work has changed to an extent in terms of the its structure, the type of work, as well as clauses in employment contracts, such as working hours. However, it is crucial to evaluate this notion and in turn note aspects of work which have remained constant throughout time.
The inequality of pay and the societal norm that deems that women should stay at home and not be employed, has existed since before 1968 and is still prevalent in work today. The Guardian reports that even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, in 2018 women are ‘still paid almost 10% less than on average’ when working fulltime and ‘over 19% for all employment, full time and part time combined.’ Even though, this act was passed more than fifty-five years ago, the lack of equal pay is still evident as the total median pay gap in 2017 was 18.4% in the United Kingdom. (Lecture slides on Gender and Patriarchy) Furthermore, inequality in employment rates follows suite as there are more men in the working population, then there are women. In 1993, the employment rate amongst the male population was 14,020.6 7 (0) while amongst the female population it was 11, 457.6 (000). While in 2018, this difference is reflected again with more men being employed compared to females: there are 17, 028.8 (000) men employed in the United Kingdom compared to 14, 973.1 (000) women. (Euromonitor International, 2018).
Moreover, to support the statement that work has not changed since 1968, its crucial to look at the similar types on contracts that women held then, and still hold fifty years later. Part-time work differs for full time work in the number of hours spent working, with part time work involving fewer hours, (Unison, 2018) and is done more by women that it is done by men. This is largely due to the household responsibilities that women must meet, such as looking after children and doing tasks around the house. The social stigma associated with women who work was a concerning issue years ago. (Roberts, 1995) highlighted the fact that those who worked were looked at negatively; ‘working-class women were far more likely to work outside the home than their middle-class counterparts, and as a result were criticized heavily for neglecting their domestic responsibilities.’ (Edgell S, 2012) This negative social perspective still exists today as ‘46,000 women are reported to work part-time’ (Office for National Statistics, 2017) In addition to this, post second world war mentalities lowered spending, as men had lost their lives at war. This meant that economic activity was low which therefore let employers ‘use part-timers to soak up fluctuations in demand and yet to avoid having to pay National Insurance contributions or involve themselves in the legal aspects of dismissing full-time employees etc.’ (Beechey, 1986: 28-9)’ (Grint, K., and Darren, N., 2015), p.172) The applicability of a theory used to describe the way in which the world of work operated in 1986, so many years later, supports the outlook that work has not changed much since 1968 and after that.
Society’s perspective of women, and the role that they play in the world of work has changed to a small degree, as fifty years ago women’s primary work was to cater to their families, however in the present day, women balance both household responsibilities as well as demanding jobs. Engels theorized this, by stating ‘…patriarchy was derived from private property, and since working men’s exploitation of their female partners was a reflection of their own exploited position within capitalism, the elimination of capitalism and private property would reintroduce sexual equality.’ (Grint, K., Nixon, D., 2015, p.163) Although in theory, this might have worked, inequality based on gender is still an issue as women in the workforce is not seen as a normality. In addition to women being employed less in comparison to men, women on average also earn much less. According to (Perfect, 2013), in 2012 ‘women earn 90% less than men, when holding the same jobs.’ (Grint, K., Nixon, D., 2015, p.162) This then suggests, that women with the same level of qualifications and experience, will tend to earn a smaller wage 9 simply because they are female. The fact that there was a gender pay gap, in 1989, as ‘women earned 67% less than men’ (Grint, K., Nixon, D., 2015, p.162) and that it is still present today, supports the sentiment that gender inequality still prevails.
On the other hand, the level of inequality has reduced over the last fifty years due to women becoming more educated of the equal rights that are they are entitled too. This change has seen ‘increased rates of employment for married women and mothers…women have tended to adopt either a fragmented work career or a two-phase career with substantial break of between five and fifteen years while they raise their children.’ (Grint, K., Nixon, D., 2015, p.174) This suggests that gender inequality has subsided with the balance between life and work becoming prominent. Domestic responsibilities are still critical though, as part-time employment amongst women remains higher than that of men as ‘approximately 20% of the labour force consists of part-time women, while only 7% are part-time men.’ (Grint, K., Nixon, D., 2015, p.174) This 13% difference shows that in the present day, in the world of work, gender inequality has reduced, however it remains a prominent social division as society still views men as the income providers in households.
The rise of the service industry, the decline of the manufacturing industry and increases in income equality support the thought that over the past fifty years, work has indeed altered. Coombs (1985), Weber (1964 ), and Heckscher (1994) theories suggest that three main technological and organizational phases have occurred between the ‘late 19th century and the 10 early 21st century’. They suggest that these technological changes occurred in this order, ‘electric power’ to ‘tertiary mechanization’ and lastly to ‘computing power’ between these three centuries. (Edgell S, 2012, Table 1.3, p. 22). Combs (1985) defines tertiary mechanization as ‘the form of electronics-based computing and information technologies dates from the second half of the twentieth century and facilitates the co-ordination and control of production.’ (Edgell S, 2012, p. 21) Innovations in technology, from the simplicity of the stem engine to growth in popularity in the gig economy, has shown the continued development of automation and use of machinery in the world of work. However, there has been a ‘decline in the British economy particularly in manufacturing due to the uncertainty of public policy’ due to the complexity of Brexit as well as higher levels of inflation, as it reached 3.1% in November 2017. (Joana Ferreira, Trading Economies, 2018) The higher levels of economic activity in the present day, particularly in the service sector, has been facilitated by the population having more money to spend on wants rather than on needs, as there was a notable ‘extension of borrowing to the public’ in Britain. (Jeremy Black, BBC, 2014).
Furthermore, work has changed in the terms of employment contracts. As well as contracts, throughout the history of work, trade unions have become increasingly frequent. With the development of education, workers are more knowledgeable about the rights that they are entitled to in the work place. Additionally, the development of industrial capitalism, as work progressed from ‘hunter, horticultural, agrarian, industrial capitalist, post-industrial’ societies (Edgell, S., 2012) to present day ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (Fuchs, C., 2018) has changed the clauses of employment contracts. As part-time work, zero-hour contracts and short term contracts have become increasingly popular. In addition to this, advancements in technology, 11 have led to the creation of the gig economy, which is ‘a labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts of freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.’ (Nicole Kobie, Wired, 2018) With ‘1.1 million gig workers in Britain (Annabel Denham, The Telegraph, 2018) it is an expanding sector. With the success of companies such as Deliveroo and Uber, businesses dependent on applications which use short term contacts, that didn’t exist in 1968, it is evident that the world of work has changed in the last fifty years.
Contemporary issues, such as globalization, support the notion that the world of work has indeed changed as concerns were not experienced, in the same magnitude, fifty years ago and beyond as they are now. Marx and Engels noted ‘the global character of industrial capitalism: ‘The need of a constantly expanding market for its procedure chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.’ (n.d. : 54) (Edgell, S., 2012, p. 219) The rise of globalization has allowed goods, services and people, to move between nations with ease, increasing economic activity.
Although globalization has risen, with the creation of organizations aimed at promoting free trade, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), barriers to it are still prevalent. There appears to be a growing mentality for countries to prioritize their domestic affairs over global matters, leading to countries such as the USA withdrawing from agreements created to promote trade such as the TPP. Furthermore, this goes to suggest that work has been limited in how much it has changed. The structure of call centres, 12 with mass production and the high level of managerial control associated with this industry, prove that some work today still ‘conforms to the Fordist model of production or has developed in a neo-Fordist or post Fordist direction.’ (Edgell, S., 2012, p. 223)
The world of work has encountered changes to its structure with short term contracts becoming increasingly popular due to technological innovation, however this change is limited as gender inequality remains an adverse aspect of it. The societal perspective that still views women as being less capable of providing income and at the same time mastering domestic responsibilities, has led to high percentages of part-time female workers, in comparison to male ones. This illustrates the similarities of work between fifty years ago and now. Since 1968, technological advancements have made the world of work more reliant on machines now than in previous times, a noticeable change that has increased production. The reliance on technology has led to the creation and success of new careers that were absent in the past, such as YouTubers. In addition, more efficient modes of transportation and the creation of organizations promoting free trade have encouraged globalization, and are conspicuous differences in work today and fifty years ago. Therefore, the world of work has changed since 1968 and it will undoubtedly continue to progress in the forthcoming years.
1. Edgell S, (2012), The Sociology of Work, 2nd Edition, SAGE
2. Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2018, Oxford University Press
3. The Economic Crisis of 1968 and the Waning of the “American Century”’ (1999) by Robert M. Collins (professor of history at the University of Missouri, Available at: https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article-abstract/101/2/396/155646?redirectedFrom=PDF
4. BBC, 2018, Available at: /Accessed 22nd April 2018
5. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do’ by Studs Terkel (1974)
6. Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain’ by James Bloodworth (2018)
7. Emily Thornberry, 2015, 45 years after the Equal Pay Act, there’s still a long way to go, Available at: /Accessed 22nd April 2018 14
8. Euromonitor, 2018, /, Accessed 26th April 2018
9. UNISON, 2018,
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