By Robert Hickson 06/06/2016

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith is officially 90. Happy Birthday Ma’am.

What are some of the most significant changes that have happened during her life, and what could we expect over the next 90 years?

1926 to 2016

Profound changes have occurred over those nine decades. Admittedly, they didn’t start off that well (from a Great Power perspective, at least) or progress smoothly; the continued decline of the Empire,  and the Great Depression. Followed by World War II, the Cold War, and other conflicts.

But compared to earlier periods, it’s been a great time to be alive in the later decades, particularly in Western economies. The OECD describes some of the key well-being data and trends in their 2014 publication How was life?  In an earlier blog post I also linked to some of the presentations on demographics by Hans Rosling.

The significant changes can be summarised as:

  • Decolonisation
  • Population explosion
  • Globalisation
  • Diversification (of societies and economies)
  • Mechanisation
  • Degradation (of the environment)

Social changes

Households became, in the words of Robert Gordon, “networked” – with electricity, water, and sewage, radio, telephone, and television available to most (Western) houses.

Medicine and healthcare dramatically improved. So did agriculture, both in the west, and elsewhere, providing more people generally cheaper and better food.

These all improved survival, health and longevity, and led to the dramatic increase in the global population.

world pop 1926-2016

The world rapidly urbanised, and is continuing to do so.


More people went to school, and stayed there longer. Women have participated more in the paid workforce, business, and in politics. Attitudes toward homosexuality rapidly shifted.

Political and economic changes

The number of sovereign states went from 74 to 194.

Some major political and social changes happened rapidly; the collapse of communism, the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Economies and societies really became globalized, through new forms of air and sea transport, as well as international agreements, and de-regulation. International institutions, such at the United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development also arose to attempt to regulate and govern at the global level.

Economic productivity, as measured by GDP rapidly accelerated.

Source: The Atlantic -
Source: The Atlantic –

Scientific and technological changes

A new “general purpose technology”, information and communication technologies (aka computing), emerged. Novel, or improved, forms or energy production were created (nuclear, solar, wind, and wave), while we also got better at extracting oil.

Science has moved from being a largely gentleman’s pursuit to one of global collaborations involving very expensive and complicated equipment. We’ve gotten better at understanding and manipulating physics, chemistry and biology at more fundamental levels. And we are exploring and inhabiting space.

Environmental changes

We began to recognise the damaging influences of our societies on the environment. But we are not doing enough to slow that. We managed to react quickly to one global threat, but responding to the challenges of climate change is a more difficult problem.

What happened in New Zealand?

New Zealand’s fortunes have, as elsewhere, been mixed. We’ve developed a greater sense of our own national identity, continued to move to towns and cities, particularly Auckland.

Our economy has diversified.

Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity.

But we’ve slipped from having one of the strongest economies in the world mid century (thanks to being “Britain’s farmyard”). We still have one of the best standards of living, although our social and economic disparitiessuicide and imprisonment rates aren’t something we tend to boast about.

Socially and politically we have gone from ignoring to redressing some of our past colonial sins. We are beginning to recognize the benefits of biculturalism, and some of the critical roles that Maori will have in the country’s future.

What happens next?

Now there are concerns that climate change and population growth are going to make things worse, capitalism is failing or out-dated, we aren’t as economically productive as we once were, robots and algorithms will take our jobs, and ugly nationalism is returning.

In the next post I’ll look to the next 90 years.


Header Image: Philip Alexius de Laszlo: Princess Elizabeth of York 1933