In the 21st century historians have increasingly portrayed the decade as a "pivot of change" in world history focusing especially on the economic upheavals. In the Western world, social progressive values that began in the 1960s, such as increasing political awareness and political and economic liberty of women, continued to grow. The hippie culture, which started in the latter half of the 1960s, waned by the early 1970s and faded towards the middle part of the decade, which involved opposition to the Vietnam War, opposition to nuclear weapons, the advocacy of world peace, and hostility to the authority of government and big business. The environmentalist movement began to increase dramatically in this period.
In the United Kingdom the 1979 elections resulted in the victory of its Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher, the first and to date only female British Prime Minister. Industrialized countries, except Japan, experienced an economic recession due to an oil crisis caused by oil embargoes by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries. The crisis saw the first instance of stagflation which began a political and economic trend of the replacement of Keynesian economic theory with neoliberal economic theory, with the first neoliberal governments being created in Chile, where a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet took place in 1973.
Novelist Tom Wolfe coined the term Me decade in his article "The 'Me' Decade and the Third Great Awakening", published by New York magazine in August 1976 referring to the 1970s. The term describes a general new attitude of Americans towards atomized individualism and away from communitarianism in clear contrast with the 1960s.
Wolfe attributes disappearance of the "proletariat" with the appearance of the "lower-middle class", citing the economic boom of Post-War America as affording the average American a sort of self-determination and individuation that ran alongside economic prosperity. Wolfe describes this abandoning of communal, left, and New Deal politics as "taking the money and running". He traces the preoccupation with one's self back to the aristocrat. The nature of the "chivalric tradition" and the philosophy behind "the finishing school" are inherently dedicated to the building and forming of personal character and conduct.
The attitude of the counter-culture of the 1960s and The New Left promoted a recovery of the self in the wave, of what was deemed, a flawed, corrupt, and almost fascistic, America. This philosophy left the 1970s with the promise that the use of LSD or acid unveiled the true and the real self. Wolfe describes the revelatory experience of hallucinogens as attenuating the ecstatic religious experience, transforming the religious climate in America. Chronicling the First and Second Great Awakenings, Wolfe comes to describe the "Me decade" as the "Third Great Awakening."
In Asia, affairs regarding the People's Republic of China changed significantly following the recognition of the PRC by the United Nations, the death of Mao Zedong and the beginning of market liberalization by Mao's successors. Despite facing an oil crisis due to the OPEC embargo, the economy of Japan witnessed a large boom in this period, overtaking the economy of West Germany to become the second-largest in the world. The United States withdrew its military forces from their previous involvement in the Vietnam War which had grown enormously unpopular. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan which led to an ongoing war for ten years.
The 1970s saw an initial increase in violence in the Middle East as Egypt and Syria declared war on Israel, but in the late 1970s, the situation in the Middle East was fundamentally altered when Egypt signed the Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty. Anwar El Sadat, President of Egypt, was instrumental in the event and consequently became extremely unpopular in the Arab World and the wider Muslim world. He was assassinated in 1981. Political tensions in Iran exploded with the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty and established an Islamic republic of Iran under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The economies of much of the developing world continued to make steady progress in the early 1970s, because of the Green Revolution. They might have thrived and become stable in the way that Europe recovered after World War II through the Marshall Plan; however, their economic growth was slowed by the oil crisis but boomed immediately after.