How much did people earn in the 1970s? - UK

Office workers in the 1970s
Office workers in the 1970s

Wages increased significantly for most jobs in the 1970s. Price also rose, but people were still better off in 1979 than they were in 1970.

The average weekly wage in 1970 was £18.37, in 1979 it was £68.92. The 1979 wage in 1970 money was £23.79. An increase of 30%.

Unemployment went up in the 1970s. In the middle years of the decade many school leavers found it difficult to get a job.

Manual occupations

Welders at the new Pallion Shipyard, April 1979
Welders at the new Pallion Shipyard, Sunderland, April 1979 Image: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (public domain)

Rates of pay for male manual workers improved in the 1970s.

Source: New Earnings Survey (NES) time-series of gross weekly earnings from 1938 to 2017, published by the Office for National Statistics

Although inflation took a big chunk of the spending power, rates of pay went up by a factor of 3, prices were 2.6 times higher in 1978 than in 1970.

Women doing manual jobs were paid lot less:

Source: New Earnings Survey (NES) time-series of gross weekly earnings from 1938 to 2017, published by the Office for National Statistics

Non-manual occupations

Both men and women earned more in non-manual (white-collar) jobs.

Source: New Earnings Survey (NES) time-series of gross weekly earnings from 1938 to 2017, published by the Office for National Statistics

Source: New Earnings Survey (NES) time-series of gross weekly earnings from 1938 to 2017, published by the Office for National Statistics

The gap between non-manual and manual wages declined in the 1970s. The gap between women's and men's earnings (in percentage terms) also closed a bit. Women ended the decade still well behind men.

School leavers

On 1 September 1972, the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16. Children did GCEs and CSEs in their final year at school. Less academic pupils could leave earlier if they were 16.

In 1970, you could join the Post Office as a clerical officer at age 16 and earn £575 pa. You could also join as a postman at age 15. The Post Office recruited far fewer postwomen. In London the starting wage for postmen was £9 16s per week. In the same year Prudential offered jobs for school leavers with GCE O or A levels starting at £675 pa.

If they wanted something more active, boys could join the Army on leaving school and earn £17 7s if they were prepared to sign up for nine years.

By the middle of the 1970s things were looking much bleaker for 16 year old school leavers. In 1975 one in four school leavers in London did not find a job. [1]

Armed services

Source: Hansard HC Deb 09 December 1977 vol 940 cc1858-949

Teachers

Teachers' pay had fallen behind that of other occupations in the 1970s. In 1973, it took ten years for a teacher starting out to reach the average manual worker's pay. Teachers gave up hope of ever reaching the average clerical salary. [3]

In 1974, the Houghton Report by Labour MP Arthur Houghton recommended a huge pay increase for teachers. Teachers got the recommended salary increase the following year.

Footballers

The days of enormous wages for footballers started in the 1970s. In 1979, Trevor Francis received a share of a record £1m transfer fee from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest. At Forest he received wages of £1,000 per week. [4]

Police

In 1979 police constables earned up to £5,700 in the provinces and £6,669 in London from aged twenty-two. They also got a generous housing allowance or a rent-free police house.

What were the best paid jobs?

The highest paid executive of the 1970s was Richard Tompkins, the Chairman of the Green Shield Stamp Company. In 1971, he was entitled to £395,000, but he waived £135,000 of his pay.

In 1979, Norman Castle, the Chairman of S & W Berisford, received a salary of £272,672.

Source: The Guinness Book of Records, 1980 page 234

The Palace of Westminster in the 1970s
The Palace of Westminster in the 1970s: MPs pay went up from £3,250 to £9,450 in the 1970s
Image by Leonard Bentley licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Politicians

In 1970 MPs were paid £3,250. In 1972 their salary increased to £4,500. By 1979 MPs were paid £9,450.

Source: 'Members' pay and allowances - a brief history', by Richard Kelly

What did other jobs earn?

This is a selection of jobs that were advertised in the national press in the 1970s.

References

[1] 'On the dole' by Richard Sear, published in The Daily Mirror, 12 August 1975, page 5

[2] 'Top of the form', published in the Daily Express, 27 May 1974, page 2

[3] 'Ammunition for teachers in salary talks' by John Ezard, published in The Guardian, 27 November 1973, page 6

[4] 'Francis pay freeze' by Joe Melling, published in the Daily Express, 24 August 1979

By Steven Braggs, January 2022

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