In the 21st century, historians have increasingly portrayed the 1970s as a "pivot of change" in world history, focusing especially on the economic upheavals that followed the end of the postwar economic boom. In the Western world, social progressive values that began in the 1960s, such as increasing political awareness and economic liberty of women, continued to grow. In the United Kingdom, the 1979 elections resulted in the victory of its Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, the first 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 essay "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.
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 in 1979, which overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty and established an Islamic republic of Iran under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Africa saw further decolonization in the decade, with Angola and Mozambique gaining their independence in 1975 from the Portuguese Empire after the restoration of democracy in Portugal. The continent was, however, plagued by endemic military coups, with the long-reigning Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie being removed, civil wars and famine.
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.