The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

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The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

In the 1980s, American culture was defined by a proud political and social conservatism. The election of Republican Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 was the high-water mark of late twentieth-century American conservatism. (Conservatives, represented by the Republican Party, favor preserving traditional values and customs. They oppose any sudden change to the arrangement of power in the country, and they believe the federal government should have limited control over the lives of American citizens. On the other hand, liberals, represented by the Democratic Party, favor a stronger central government. They believe in political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and bring about social change.)

During his two terms as chief executive, Reagan tried to abolish the so-called welfare state and reduce the size of the federal government. Reagan and his administration believed that eliminating federal bureaucracy and regulations would allow American business to return to doing what it did best: producing a mountain of goods for a mass-consumption society.

The Reagan presidency brought high style back to the White House, and Americans wanted to copy that style and elegance. Urged on by their president to spend, Americans did so. American culture became a culture of consumption as shopping became Americans' number-one hobby. For some, shopping became a religion and the shopping mall the new American church.

A good education, a good job, and a loving family no longer defined success for many Americans. They had to have an M.B.A. degree, a high-paying job, an elegant home or apartment, a membership to an upscale health club, and the necessary clothes to give at least the appearance they had succeeded. Indeed, for these Americans, called "yuppies," dressing for success became the rule to live by. They wanted more, and they were in a hurry to get it. Popular phrases that arose in the decade—"A.S.A.P." (as soon as possible), "what's the bottom line?," and "cut to the chase"—communicated their sense of urgency as they sought money and a way of life that flaunted it.

Beyond the shopping malls and mail-order catalogs, serious social issues made news, and some people were concerned. While many Americans spent freely, others were left with nothing as the Reagan administration stopped providing financial support for numerous social programs. As increasing numbers of Americans lost their homes, they found society had neither the means nor the will to help them in their time of crisis. Many of them were left to wander the streets of American cities, swelling the ranks of the homeless. Reports of child abuse also soared during the decade, overwhelming social service agencies. Officials finally declared the problem of child abuse "a national emergency." As with homelessness, American society's attempts to address child abuse were often inadequate.

The substantial fear of a nuclear war also weighed heavy on the minds of many Americans in the 1980s. President Reagan was staunchly anti-communist, and he created a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union that led many to believe a nuclear war was not only possible but inevitable. Americans from all levels of society people banded together in a movement to stop the arms race, but their protests went unheard in the White House. Only a change in Soviet leadership led to reduced tensions between the two major nuclear powers of the world and allowed Americans some relief from their fear of nuclear war.

In this decade of excess, Americans still found time for religion. Many polls showed that the majority of people in the country had a strong belief in a Supreme Being and an afterlife. Yet many found it difficult to adhere to the strict traditions of their churches, and they sought out other forms of religions. The New Age movement, a blend of eastern philosophies and centuries-old mystical beliefs, captured the attention of millions of Americans. The polar opposite of New Agers were televangelists or television evangelists. They saw their audiences grow dramatically, and they became rich in the process. Armed with money and the ears of many Americans, these evangelists tried to use their pulpits to convert people to their religious and political beliefs. Some even went so far as to enter national politics.

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The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

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The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview