How working life started 60 years ago
Remember being handed your first wage packet? There probably wasn’t much in it, but having money that was all yours to blow on clothes, music, make up, dancing or a pint (or few) down the pub was a fantastic feeling. That is if you had anything left after your mum had taken out board and keep!
In 1952, the average wage was £7.50 a week - that’s about £210 in today’s money - and a 48-hour week was the norm. Today the average salary is around £530 for a 35-hour week, so we’re certainly better off financially, but work related stress is higher now than ever before.
Maybe we were happier back then- there were plenty of jobs to go round, with endless opportunities for fresh-faced school leavers to learn a trade.
We started young
Kids in the 1950s led very different lives to young people today. We left school much earlier and had to grow up quickly. Some of us started work as young as 14, even though 15 was the official school leaving age.
Our work choices were very different too. Girls would go into a job expecting to leave when they married to become a mother and homemaker. Boys were expected to learn a trade they could rely on, to fulfill their role as breadwinner.
Here are just a few of the many different jobs that earned us our first crust.
Apprenticeships were the most popular form of on-the-job training and there was a vast range of skills to choose from. Apprentices earned a small percentage of the full wage and had to wait around 5 years before they were properly paid. And if National Service got in the way, they had to wait even longer!
Apprentices in the new millennium don’t do much better, earning a minimum of just £3.40 an hour in their first year.
Talking of National Service, a recruit in the 1950s was paid 24 shillings a week - that’s about £30 now. Teenage boys had to cope with the shock of leaving home and becoming little more than a name and number. Who remembers their number? They say it’s almost impossible to forget the last three digits because they went on everything from your boots to your beret!
National Service slowed in the 1950s but continued right up until the early 1960s, so it’s hardly surprising that there were four times as many servicemen in Britain back then as there are today.
In the early 1960s, a qualified RAF pilot earned about £1200 a year. Today an RAF pilot is paid the equivalent of £1900 in old money - earning about £40,000 a year.
In the 1950s, three quarters of the British workforce were in manual jobs. All kinds of construction trades were needed to rebuild the country and manufacturing and industries like mining, steel and printing still relied on huge workforces.
Youngsters often headed straight to work in the local factory or mill as soon as they finished school. Average pay for a man aged 15-20 was just £5 12s a week, just £3.60 an hour today based on a 48 hour week. Back then there was no such thing as the minimum wage.
Secretary / shorthand typist
Before the digital age, every manager (usually a man) had a secretary and there were pools of shorthand typists churning out memos and letters. It was very polite. Always Mister and Miss, never first names.
Britain’s technical and secretarial colleges buzzed with the click clacking of typewriters to keep up with demand. Can you believe that 60 years ago over 1.5 million women were employed as secretaries and typists?
Today, shorthand is all but forgotten and computers marked the end for typists. Changing times have seen secretaries evolve into PAs (personal assistants), earning around £19,000 a year. That’s equivalent to £767 in 1955, over £300 more than the average salary at that time!
In a world without hard drives and clouds, everything was done on paper and hoards of clerical workers were needed to carry out transactions and maintain records in perfect order. Many a green youngster started work under the watchful eye of a senior clerk with delusions of grandeur!
50 years ago, a young bank clerk might earn around £350 a year. Not much, especially when basic rate income tax was over 40%! Today bank and post office clerks earn around £19,500 on average and pay a more reasonable 20% basic rate income tax.
Nursing was a popular and highly regarded career choice for women. There was a real sense of pride in wearing the uniform. Some nurses in London even remember passengers giving up their seat for them on the tube.
The pay wasn’t great and a chunk of a young nurse’s earnings went on laundry to keep their uniform spic and span. There are reports of junior nurses being left with as little as £7 a month (£175 today) to get by on. Now, a qualified nurse earns around £2,000 a month.
And finally… Footballers
Make sure you’re sitting down for this one. In 1961, a player in England’s top division got paid about £20 a week – that’s £311.26 in today’s money. A top class footballer’s pay has gone up a little over the years… and is now a whopping £33,868 a week. Yes, a week!
Can you remember your first job and what you earned? Did you hand your first pay packet over to mum or blow it all on the way home? We’d love to hear your memories.
If you enjoyed our look back at first jobs and wages, we have lots of other articles all about growing up after the war, including 14 fabulous memories of a post war childhood, What was your first car and what did you pay? and 10 foods to take you back to childhood.