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How the Working World Has Changed Since the ’70s


Let’s face it, if you were sitting in an office in the ’70s, imagining what the working world would be like in 2016, I doubt you’d conceive of the changes that would take place in just 40 years. Before we even begin to talk about the internet, let’s talk about clothes, job types, and yep, money.

old phone

(Photo Credit: Willy D/Flickr)


Do You Know What You're Worth?

While you were sitting in your office chair in the mid-’70s, you probably would have predicted that wages would keep on going up in the future. Unfortunately, they’ve stagnated, along with our purchasing power, according to numbers from the Pew Research Center.

Wages have gone up, of course — the national average wage in 1975 was $8,630.92 and in 2014 it was $46,481.52, according to data from the Social Security Administration. Bad news, though: Sorry to say, we’re getting paid more dollars, but those dollars aren’t what they used to be. In fact, according to PayScale’s Real Wage Index, the buying power of our earnings has declined 6.9 percent since 2006.

Dress Code

There’s a chance you’ve never even worn a suit to work, much less to a job interview. Gone are the days when suits were de rigueur for the office. Anyone who tuned in to the later seasons of Mad Men saw how Hollywood envisioned the 1970s shift to plaids and paisleys, and they really were quite spot-on.

While we’re still not really into flip-flops and cutoffs at work (unless you’re working at home, or as a lifeguard, I guess), it’s a pretty casual world we’re living in. We still need guidance for how not to go too low down the casual scale, but still keep it productive at work. Still, your mom is probably pretty confused by what you wear to work these days.


Welcome our robot overlords, or run from them — they’re here to stay. Tech has made leaps we probably couldn’t have seen 40 years ago. We’ve gone from rotary phones and the telex machine being the height of office innovation, to instant messaging, video conferencing and the quest for a good wi-fi signal so you can work from that cozy coffee shop downstairs. Things change faster than we can even pretend to keep up with them. (Case in point: have you heard of “Peach“?)


Not as many people are in labor unions as they were 40 years ago. Like, a LOT fewer. That shift is in part due to the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy in the last 40 years. As The Economist points out, “total manufacturing employment in America has fallen from nearly 20m in 1979 to 12m today.”

Just think about what a factory floor must look like in 2016. Where in the mid-1970s you would have still seen assembly lines full of workers (doing it their way), now, you might see a few workers, but a lot more machines and robots doing the heavy lifting (literally).

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think your office will be like in 40 years? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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