12 Things From the ’70s That Changed the World Forever

Roller disco parties were fun in the 1970s, but they weren't exactly world-changing.

So, what moments from the '70s changed the world from our point of view? The end of the Vietnam War and the inauguration of the Twin Towers, a building that would many decades later spark another war, are a couple of examples.

As a 30-something millennial, I can't vouch for what living in the 1970s was like. However, I know from living in our modern-day world how things that happened in the '70s affect me and the world today. It's not all doom and gloom — looking at you, Mickey Mouse.

1. Women as Credit Card Holders

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It wasn't until October 28, 1974, that American women were allowed to own a credit card without a male co-signer. Owning a credit card empowered women to own their own properties, start their own businesses, and take more control over their finances. But it also changed things on a global scale.

Imagine trying to book a flight or make a hotel reservation without a credit card in today's world. If American women still needed a male co-signer to take out credit, the solo female travel movement would likely be smaller. Fewer American women would have the opportunity to have cultural exchanges with people abroad, and mixed-raced marriages that happen from international encounters would also be less frequent.

2. Walt Disney World Opened

Disney World, Cinderella Castle, crowded tourist attraction
Image Credit: dorengo5/Shutterstock.

Walt Disney World in Florida opened its doors to vacationers on October 1, 1971. Although the Orlando theme park wasn't Walt Disney's first invention (Disneyland gets that distinction, having opened in 1955), it was Walt Disney's keen eye for business that led him to change the world forever.

Disney realized that a mere 2% of Disneyland's visitors traveled there from east of the Mississippi River. Since the success of Disney World's opening, there are now 12 Disney Parks around the world.

3. Voting Age Lowered

Vote, politics, voting booth, Black man.
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On July 1, 1971, Congress changed the Constitution, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years old. Since then, young voters have played a role in electing presidents who make global decisions, impacting countless non-Americans.

According to Quinnipiac University‘s political science professor Scott McLean, Americans under 30 years old have been more active in politics than youth in the 1960s. Sadly for them, the passionate youth of the '60s were a decade or less away from exercising the right to vote at 18.

4. End of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh, Cu Chi tunnels.
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The polarized Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. America lost 57,939 armed forces who either passed away or remain missing. The Vietnamese fatality count was much worse, with Vietnam releasing an estimate of 2 million civilian fatalities on both sides and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters who passed away.

Although the United States and Vietnam now have a strong relationship, the suffering didn't stop with the end of the Vietnam War. During my visit to Ho Chi Minh City in 2022, a wall at the War Remnants Museum was filled with pictures Vietnamese children drew of their physical deformities from the herbicide mixture Agent Orange.

5. Punk's Emergence

Punk rock, concert, band, crowded.
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Music speaks to the soul. For many people growing up in the 1970s, that had less to do with rock ‘n' roll and Bob Dylan's soothing-sounding protest music and more to do with the emergence of punk rock.

The pace of 1970s music increased, and the artists' messages became rawer, according to the University of Oregon. Creative freedom flourished while five-minute rock songs took a back seat to faster-paced 3-minute singles on FM radio. To this day, many people around the world still enjoy listening to the Ramones and Iggy and the Stooges.

6. The Beatles' Breakup

The Beatles, vinyl records.
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While people in the 1970s soaked up newfound punk rock, a hard reality hit in April 1970: Paul McCartney was set on wanting a break from being in The Beatles. McCartney eventually filed a suit to dissolve the Beatles' business.

People love to speculate whether the Beatles would have reunited if John Lennon hadn't passed away. We'll leave that to your judgment and imagination. But this much is true: Beatles fans across the globe still enjoy listening to classics like I Want to Hold Your Hand and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

7. Nasdaq Went Digital

Nasdaq, stock market, finance, stock trading.
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Okay, we'll admit it: “Going digital” in the 1970s looked a heck of a lot different than it does in the 2020s. Nevertheless, Nasdaq launched in 1971, marking the first electronic trading system in the world.

Many large technology companies across the globe are listed on the Nasdaq. Nowadays, people with and without trading experience can digitally buy and sell orders on Nasdaq-listed securities (stocks, bonds, etc.).

8. Pope John II Elected

Pope John Paul II, Catholic church.
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Polish-born St. John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. Pope John II had many firsts, some of the most notable being that he was the first pope from a Slavic country, and he traveled larger distances than any of the popes before him combined.

What was Pope John II's mission as a world traveler? To encourage understanding between different nations and religions. In an unexpected turn of events, Pope John II also apologized to groups that Catholics had done wrong, including Jews and Muslims.

9. Creation of the 401(k) Plan

401(k), retirement, savings.
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The 401(k) plan changed the American worker's retirement planning world as they knew it — and not necessarily for the better, depending on who you ask. Congress passed the Revenue Act in 1978, allowing Americans to take a more active role in saving for their retirement.

Many Americans used to rely on an employeer-paid pension during retirement where they could opt to receive a monthly payment until death did them part. Now, pensions are few and far between. The 401(k) plan normalized Americans taking money from their paycheck to help cover their retirement, with employers contributing a certain percentage.

10. The Godfather's Release

The Godfather, Marlon Brando, Salvatore Corsitto.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The Godfather, the iconic crime and action film, was released in 1972. Harvard Film Archive director Haden Guest ventures that the reason The Godfather had a praised debut and continues to be beloved around the world today is that it served as a “bridge between the classic Hollywood of the studio-era…and the New Hollywood of the 1970s.”

That said, it appears more people around the world may have heard about The Godfather than actually watched it. The Guardian reported on a survey that revealed The Godfather is the number one film people say they've seen even though they haven't.

11. World's Tallest Building

Willis Tower, Sears Tower, Chicago, tall building, architecture, city.
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Chicago's Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower) was the tallest building in the world at the time of its completion in 1973. The 1,454-foot steel building has 110 stories and weighs over 440 million pounds.

While architects around the world marveled at the Sears Tower, others raced to create the new tallest building in the world. Twenty-two years later, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia achieved this, standing 33 feet higher. Today, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai is the tallest building in the world at over 2,716 feet.

12. Twin Towers Opened

Twin Towers, World Trade Center, September 11th, 9/11, New York City in 1998.
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The Twin Towers was a recognized name around the world long before the terrorist attacks on September 11. When the Twin Towers opened on April 4, 1973, American and international business people and visitors alike enjoyed its office and hotel space, shops, and securities and exchange center.

Heartbreakingly, terrorists targeted the Twin Towers in 2001. Since that day, the term “Twin Towers” has carried a heavier meaning for Americans and the world.

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