The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

By John Benson | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
CHANGES IN DEMAND

It is axiomatic that the growth, and redirection, of consumption that have taken place over the past two hundred years could not have done so without corresponding changes in the scale, and distribution, of consumer demand. It is not surprising therefore that demand and consumption can sometimes prove difficult to disentangle. But disentangled they must be. For demand and consumption are not necessarily synonymous: one has only to think of the recurrent shortages of private-sector rented accommodation, or of the unsatisfied demand each year for cup-final and centre-court tickets. In fact, even when demand is disentangled from consumption, considerable difficulties remain. For in seeking to understand changes in demand, it is essential to distinguish between two distinct developments: changes in the ability to consume; and changes in the willingness to consume.

Accordingly, this chapter is divided into two: the first section considers the material changes that increased consumers' ability to consume; the second, and much briefer, section examines the ideological changes that increased consumers' willingness to do so.

It is relatively easy to document the material changes that increased consumers' capacity for consumption. For instance, it has long been recognised that demography and demand are intimately entwined, and that the growth of the population constituted a fundamental cause of the expansion of the domestic market. 1Table 1.1 shows that the population of Britain grew more than five times between the early nineteenth and the late twentieth centuries. It doubled between 1801 and 1851, almost doubled again during the next fifty years, and increased by more than 50 per cent between 1901 and 1981. Of course, population growth does not always prove economically and socially beneficial. However, in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, as opposed, say, to nineteenth-century Ireland or many developing countries today, population growth was accompanied by economic growth, with the result that wealth, income and free time all grew very significantly.

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The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vi
  • LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One CONTEXT 9
  • Chapter 1: CHANGES IN DEMAND 11
  • Chapter 2: CHANGES IN SUPPLY 35
  • Part Two CHANGES 57
  • Chapter 3: SHOPPING 59
  • Chapter 4: TOURISM 82
  • Chapter 5: SPORT 110
  • Part Three CONSEQUENCES 141
  • Chapter 6: THE CONSOLIDATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY? 143
  • Chapter 7 the Creation of Youth Culture? 164
  • Chapter 8: THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN? 180
  • Chapter 9: THE DEFUSION OF CLASS TENSION? 204
  • Conclusion 233
  • NOTES AND REFERENCES 235
  • GUIDE TO FURTHER READING 236
  • Index 240
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