Olympic Britain

10 July 2012

Olympic Britain is a book written by the researchers of the House of Commons Library and published on 10 July 2012. It tells the story of social and economic change in the UK since the two previous London Games in 1908 and 1948, using data visualisations to bring to life a period during which our standards of living, the type of work we do, our leisure activities and our lifestyles have changed almost beyond recognition, much like the Olympics itself

The Olympics first came to London in 1908, Britain was a very different place. One in eight children died before their first birthday, one in six people had the right to vote, and just one in a thousand who died were cremated. The government spent more on defence, to protect the largest empire in history, than on health and education combined.

In other ways Britain hasn’t changed at all. We drink as much alcohol per person as we did in 1908, London’s population hasn’t grown much since then, and the economy shrank that year. Farming methods may have changed dramatically, but the area of the UK given over to farmland is largely unchanged. The rail network is half the length it was in 1908, but the number of passenger journeys is about the same. And the weather in the first week of the 1908 Olympics was atrocious: during the clay pigeon shoot, the targets had to be specially marked to make them visible against the bleak sky.

These remarkable facts and many more are collected and illustrated in a new book produced by the statisticians and economists at the House of Commons Library.

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