Special Report

Most Important Event the Year You Were Born

Detailed Findings & Methodology

There is little doubt that in the last 100 years, mankind has progressed dramatically. People live longer, eat better, have greater access to improved medical care, and are freer to express their opinions and associate with whomever they want.

That optimism can be seen in population growth. Despite the two most devastating wars in human history, the world population has nearly tripled, from 1.9 billion to 7.5 billion, since 1917.

One hundred years is an eye blink in history, yet 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote in the United States. African Americans were prevented from voting in the American South. Labor unions were in their infancy and were weak, and laws reforming child labor had yet to be passed by Congress. All that changed because of women’s suffrage, the inexorable march of civil rights, and the strengthening labor unions.

One hundred years ago, a person anywhere in the world was more likely than not to be illiterate. And there was a good chance he or she was the subject of colonial rulers in South America, Africa, and Asia. Two world wars would spell the end of imperial houses in Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia, and weaken the grip of another, Great Britain. Independence movements sprouted in Europe, Africa, and Asia, yearning for freedom and expressing national pride..

Nationalism had its dark side, though, with fascist governments ruling Italy and Germany. It would take a world war to remove their scourge. Another form of totalitarianism, communism, would dominate the USSR and Eastern Europe for several generations, as well as China and other countries in Asia, before the West would triumph over the Soviet Union and its allies in the Cold War.

Speaking of the Cold War, that conflict launched the space race and accelerated technological progress, hastening the use of personal computers and cell phones. These inventions have fundamentally changed our lives — from the way we communicate to the way we shop and socialize — and made billions of dollars for the companies that make them and their founders. These products and innovations are a major part of the culture today.

We included on our list disease outbreaks such as the Spanish flu in 1918 and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s because of the lasting impact they had on society.

Disasters such as the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 changed the course of Japanese history. Tokyo was devastated and was rebuilt into one of the world’s great cities. The effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are still being felt in Louisiana to this day.

To determine the most important event the year you were born, 24/7 Wall St, drew on research materials and media sources to compile its list. Deciding the most important event in a given year by its nature is a subjective exercise. In reaching our decisions, we chose the event that had the most far-reaching impact, and was not necessarily the most famous event in a given year.