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1970 1971 1972 1973 1974

1975 1976 1977 1978 1979

1950s 1960s - 1970s - 1980s 1990s
20th century

The 1970s decade refers to the years from 1970 to 1979, also called The Seventies. In Western cities primarily, the social decay continued, however, the focus shifted from the social "activism" of the sixties to social activities for one's own pleasure: drug use, all-night dancing at discotheques and swinging parties. The seventies were considered by Tom Wolfe as the "Me Decade." A notable exception was the tremendous growth in environmentalism. It should be noted that many of America's smaller towns had a decidedly tamer experience in the 1970s.

The traditional Western values of nuclear family, religion and trust in one's government continued to lose ground during this time. Major developments of the sexual revolution included the awareness of the impact of contraceptive pills on social-interactional relationships, and an increase in divorce rates, single parent households, and pre-marital sex. By the end of the decade, the feminist movement had helped change women's working conditions. The "Homosexual" lifestyle movement became prominent, and the hippie culture, which started in the 1960s, peaked in the early 1970s and carried on through the end of the decade. The United States' withdrawal from its extensive military involvement in Vietnam and the resignation of Richard Nixon helped bring about a sense of malaise and mistrust in political authority. Also during this decade, the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalised abortion severely affected the growth of the white population.

The United States experienced an economic recession, but the economy of Japan prospered. The economies of many third world countries began to make progress in the early 1970s however, their economic growth was slowed by the oil crisis of 1973.


Worldwide trends

The second ethos of the 1970s emerged from a transition of the global social structure. It reflected the transition from the decline of colonial imperialism since the end of World War II to globalization and the rise of a new middle class in the developing world.

Globally, the 1970s had several features that were similar and definitive across economic levels and regions. Some defining points of the 1970s were the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 and the subsequent oil shock of 1973, the economic strain caused by the rapid increase in the price of oil and its influence on the Bretton Woods system of international economic stabilisation, and the effect of the contraceptive pill on social dynamics.

Developing nations that were rich in oil experienced economic growth; others, not so endowed, saw the economic strain of oil price hikes lead to economic decline, particularly in Africa where a number of moderately democratic states became dictatorial regimes. Many Middle Eastern democracies crumbled into chaotic regimes with pseudo-democratic governments. Several Asian countries also saw the rise of dictators, including South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.

As well, people were influenced by the rapid pace of societal change and the aspiration for a more egalitarian society in cultures that were long colonised and have an even longer history of hierarchical social structure.

The first face lifts were attempted in the 1970s.

The green revolution of the late 1960s brought about self sufficiency in food in many developing economies. At the same time an increasing number of people began to seek urban prosperity over agrarian life. This consequently saw the duality of transition of diverse interaction across social communities amid increasing information blockade across social class.

Other common global ethos of the seventies world include: increasingly flexible and varied gender roles for women in industrialised societies. More women could enter the work force. However, the gender role of men remained as that of a bread-winner. The period also saw the socioeconomic effect of an ever-increasing number of women entering the non-agrarian economic workforce. The Iranian revolution also affected global attitudes to and among those of the Muslim faith toward the end of the 1970s.

The global experience of the cultural transition of the 1970s and an experience of a global zeitgeist revealed the interdependence of economies since World War II, in a world increasingly polarised between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Novelist Tom Wolfe coined the term Me decade in New York magazine in August 1976 referring to the 1970s. The term describes a general new attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and, in clear contrast with the 1960s, away from history, community, and human reciprocity awareness.


The 1970s were perhaps the worst decade of Western and certainly of American economic performance since the Great Depression.[1] Although there was no severe economic depression as witnessed in the 1930s, economic growth rates were considerably lower than previous decades. As a result, the 1970s adversely distinguished itself from the prosperous postwar period between 1945 and 1973. Then, the world economy was buoyed by the Marshall Plan and the robust American economy. However, the high standing enjoyed by the American economy gradually became discomposed by years of loose domestic spending[1] (begun during the Kennedy administration[1] and continued with the Great Society campaign) and funding for the Vietnam War. The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 added to the existing ailments and conjured high inflation throughout much of the world for the rest of the decade. Soaring oil prices compelled most American businesses to raise their prices as well, with inflationary results. In contrast, Japan's economy continued to expand and prosper during the decade.

The average annual inflation rate from 1900 to 1970 was approximately 2.5%. From 1970, however, the average rate hit about 6%, topping out at 13.3% by 1979. This period is also known for "stagflation", a phenomenon in which inflation and unemployment steadily increased, therefore leading to double-digit interest rates that rose to unprecedented levels (above 12% per year). The prime rate hit 21.5 in December 1980, the highest in history.[1] By the time of 1980, when U.S. President Jimmy Carter was running for re-election against Ronald Reagan, the misery index (the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate) had reached an all-time high of 21.98%.

In Eastern Europe, Soviet-style command economies began showing signs of stagnation, in which successes were persistently dogged by setbacks. The oil shock increased East European, particularly Soviet, exports, but a growing inability to increase agricultural output caused growing concern to the governments of the COMECON block, and a growing dependence on food imported from Western nations.

Oil crisis

Economically, the seventies were marked by the energy crisis which peaked in 1973 and 1979 (see 1973 oil crisis and 1979 oil crisis). After the first oil shock in 1973, gasoline was rationed in many countries. Europe particularly depended on the Middle East for oil; the U.S. was also affected even though it had its own oil reserves. Many European countries introduced car-free days and weekends. In the U.S., customers with a license plate ending in an odd number were only allowed to buy gasoline on odd-numbered days, while even-numbered plate-holders could only purchase gasoline on even-numbered days. The experience that oil reserves were not endless and technological development was not sustainable without harming the environment ended the age of modernism. As a result, ecological awareness rose substantially.

International issues

  • Major conflict between pro-western (capitalist) and pro-eastern (communist) forces in multiple countries, while attempts are made by the Soviet Union and the United States to lessen the chance for conflict, such as both countries endorsing nuclear nonproliferation.
  • Rise in the utilization of terrorism by militant groups across the world.
  • The presence and rise of a significant number of women as heads of state and heads of government in a number of countries across the world, many being the first women to hold such positions, such as Soong Ching-ling continuing as the first Chairwoman of the People's Republic of China until 1972, Isabel Martínez de Perón as the first woman President in Argentina in 1974 until being deposed in 1976, Elisabeth Domitien becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Lesotho, Indira Gandhi continuing as Prime Minister of India until 1977, Lidia Gueiler Tejada becoming the interim President of Bolivia beginning from 1979 to 1980, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo becoming the first woman Prime Minister of Portugal in 1979, and Margaret Thatcher becoming the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
  • Oil crises in 1973 and 1979.


  • Idi Amin, President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, after rising to power in a coup becomes infamous for his brutal dictatorship in Uganda. Amin's regime persecutes opposition to his rule, pursues a racist agenda of removing Asians from Uganda (particularly Indians who arrived in Uganda during British colonial rule). Amin initiates the Ugandan–Tanzanian War in 1978 in alliance with Libya based on an expansionist agenda to annex territory from Tanzania which results in Ugandan defeat and Amin's overthrow in 1979.
  • The Angolan Civil War begins in 1975, resulting in intervention by multiple countries on the Marxist and anti-Marxist sides, with Cuba and Mozambique supporting the Marxist faction while South Africa and Zaire support the anti-Marxists.
  • Haile Selassie is overthrown from power in Ethiopia, ending one of the world's longest lasting monarchies in history.
  • The death of Steve Biko.



  • On September 6, 1970 the world witnessed the beginnings of modern rebellious fighting in what is today called as Skyjack Sunday. Palestinian terrorists hijacked four airliners and took over 300 people on board as hostage. Later the hostages were released but the planes exploded in front of world wide media coverage.
  • Multiple conflicts and crises occur in India and Pakistan during the 1970s including the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Bangladesh Liberation War, and the Indian Emergency 1975–1977.
  • Martial law was declared in the Philippines on September 21, 1972 by President Ferdinand Marcos.
  • The Vietnam War came to a close in the early Seventies with the Paris Peace Accords. Opposition had increased in the United States which led to U.S. withdrawal in the early part of 1973. However, in 1975 North Vietamese forces invaded the South and quickly took over the government breaking the treaty.
  • In Cambodia the communist leader Pol Pot led a revolution against the American backed government of Lon Nol. On April 17, 1975 his forces captured Phnom Penh the capitol, two years after America had halted the bombings of their positions. His communist government, the Khmer Rouge, moved the citizens into communal housing which led to starvation. The estimated death toll in the genocide ranges between 800,000 and 2.3 million. Vietnam invaded the country in 1979 which led to a long ensuing war between the nations.
  • Major political changes in the People's Republic of China. The PRC is recognized by the United States and the subsequently the United Nations, after negotiations succeed between United States President Richard Nixon and the PRC's Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao's death results in the end of the Cultural Revolution, the arrest of Gang of Four in 1976, and economic liberalization under Deng Xiaoping.
  • Major change in Egyptian relations with Israel and the United States after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signs a peace treaty with Israel at Camp David in the United States, ending outstanding disputes between Egypt and Israel. Sadat's decision was unpopular and he was assassinated in 1978.
  • In Iraq, Saddam Hussein began to rise to power by helping to modernize the country. One major initiative was removing the western monopoly on oil which later during the high prices of 1973 oil crisis would help Hussein's ambitious plans. On July 16, 1979 he assumed the presidency cementing his rise to power. His presidency led to the breaking off of a Syrian-Iraqi unification, which had been sought under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and would later lead to the Iran–Iraq War starting in the 1980s.
  • The Iranian Revolution of 1979 transformed Iran from an autocratic pro-west monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to a theocratic Islamist government under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Distrust between the revolutionaries and Western powers led to the Iran hostage crisis on November 4, 1979 where 66 diplomats, mainly from the U.S., were held captive.
  • Japan's economic growth surpassed the rest of the world in the 1970s.


  • In 1971, Erich Honecker was chosen to lead East Germany, a role he would fill for the whole of the 1970s and 1980s. The mid-1970s were a time of extreme recession for East Germany, and as a result of the country's higher debts, consumer goods became more and more scarce. If East Germans had enough money to procure a television set, a telephone, or a Trabant automobile, they were placed on waiting lists which caused them to wait as much as a decade for the item in question.
  • The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany witness the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian Arab nationalist militants of the Black September terrorist organization.
  • Growing internal tensions take place in Yugoslavia beginning with the Croatian Spring movement in 1971 which demands greater decentralization of power to the constituent republics of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia's communist ruler Joseph Broz Tito subdues the Croatian Spring movement and arrests its leaders, but does initiate major constitutional reform resulting in the 1974 Constitution which decentralized powers to the republics, gave them the official right to separate from Yugoslavia, and weakened the influence of Serbia (Yugoslavia's largest and most populous constituent republic) in the federation by granting significant powers to the Serbian autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. In addition, the 1974 Constitution consolidated Tito's dictatorship by proclaiming him president-for-life. The 1974 Constitution would become resented by Serbs and began a gradual escalation of ethnic tensions.
  • Enver Hoxha's rule in Albania was characterized in the 1970s by growing isolation, first from a very public schism with the Soviet Union the decade before, and then by a split in friendly relations with China in 1978. Albania normalized relations with Yugoslavia in 1971, and attempted trade agreements with other European nations, but was met with vocal disapproval by the governments in Washington, D.C. and London.
  • On October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyła, a Polish cardinal, was elected Pope, becoming Pope John Paul II after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I. John Paul II would become a highly popular Pope and was known for challenging authoritarian communism, especially in his home country of Poland.
  • The Soviet Union under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, the country pursues an agenda to lessen tensions with its rival superpower, the United States, while beginning the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979. The Soviet Union becomes the world's leading producer in steel, and oil in the decade. Despite this growth, inflation continued to grow for the second straight decade, and production consistently fell short of demand in agriculture and manufacturing.
  • Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party rise to power in the United Kingdom in 1979, initiating a neoliberal economic policy of reducing government spending, weakening the power of trade unions, and promoting economic and trade liberalization.

World leaders


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books, 292–293. ISBN 0465041957. 
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