The Gilded Age set to air in 2022 and strike a chord with finance-savvy viewers
Period drama fans have something new to enjoy into this year thanks to Julian Fellowes. The man behind Downton Abbey is back, and this time he’s focusing on New York in the 1880s. Why? Those with a penchant for history and/or economics will know that the 1880s were the peak of America’s Gilded Age. Through a combination of industrialisation, innovation and economic migration, the US was booming.
The average wage for an industrial worker grew 48% from $380 in 1880 to $564 in 1890. That rapid increase far outstripped the level of growth in Europe, which prompted workers to cross the Atlantic in search of a better life. This influx of workers fuelled the growth of industries across the US, particularly in the northern and western states. This led to a marked increase in wealthy business owners which, in turn, sparked a culture war between “old money” and “new money”.
The Gilded Age charts these economic, cultural and social shifts of the time in Fellowes’s inimitable way. While some may see it as a transatlantic Downton Abbey, Fellowes believes it will stand alone as a dramatic representation of the time. He told TVGuide.com’s Megan Vick that writing The Gilded Age was the fulfilment of a personal dream:
“I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years, and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen,” Fellowes said in 2018.
Now, four years later, The Gilded Age airs on HBO in January 2022. What might help this TV show strike a chord with audiences in the US, UK and beyond is its focus on finance. Attitudes to money, saving and investing have changed over the last five years, the shift becoming most apparent since 2020 due to a number of factors. As well as economic uncertainty amid the pandemic, the general public is now more aware of stocks and shares thanks, in part, to influential figures like Elon Musk.
At the end of 2021, Musk asked his 62 million Twitter followers if he should sell shares to satisfy his critics and pay more tax. The majority said he should, and that’s why he did. However, more interesting than that, the tweet sparked a discussion about finance, investments, tax and savings. Musk was reacting to a so-called billionaire tax US lawmakers were considering. The aim was to tax unrealised assets, i.e. profits gleaned from stocks that haven’t been sold. Musk brought the debate into the spotlight and, in turn, exposed millions of people to the relationship between tax and investments.
A few tweets to more than 60 million people have the potential to create a new generation of savvy savers and investors. In fact, the relative ease with which it’s now possible to get information about financial topics is already influencing young adults. A 2020 survey by Finder showed that 75% of young Brits had either invested in the stock market or were considering it. One of the main financial products being used by over two million Brits is the individual savings account (ISA).
A stocks and shares ISA is one of the most tax-efficient ways to invest because any profits from the stocks in the account are sheltered from capital gains tax. As such, these ISAs are often tipped as one of the best ways for people to invest up to £20,000 per year (the 2021/2022 annual allowance). In fact, government data shows that the number of active stocks and shares ISAs in the UK increased by 300,000 between 2018 and 2019. Those are the most recent figures, but other indicators suggest this upward trend is still in play.
Thus, we’re in a time where people are not only more interested in money but how to take control of it. This culture of working to increase one’s own wealth mirrors that of the Gilded Age. Entrepreneurs in the US were given the ability to increase their financial status thanks to the industrial revolution. Today, the mechanisms through which people are making money have changed. However, the underlying principles remain the same. That’s why Fellowes’s new drama is likely to strike a chord with viewers around the world.
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The material contained in this article is of the nature of general comment only. The financial information is not advice and should not be treated as such.