Millennium: 2nd millennium

The 1980s also known as the "Nineteen Eighties" or "9teen 80s" abbreviated the "Eighties" or "80s" was the decade that began on Tuesday, January 1, 1980 and ended on Sunday, December 31, 1989. It was the ninth decade in the 20th century. Particularly in the United Kingdom and USA, it was a period of renewed optimism and economic liberalization. During this time the word "yuppie" entered the lexicon in the United States and UK, referring to the well-publicized rise of a new middle class. College graduates in their late 20s, early 30s were entering the workplace in prestigious office professions, holding more purchasing power with which they purchased trendy, luxurious goods. The decade witnessed a religious revival and the rise of conservatism, which began with a backlash against disco music late in 1979.

The decade saw the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The era was characterized by a period of increased telecommunications, a shift towards liberal market economies and the new openness of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR, and the onset of the "Family values" iniative. This transitional period also saw massive democratic revolutions such as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the Czechoslovak velvet revolution, and the overthrow of the dictatorial regime in Romania and other communist Warsaw Pact states in Central and Eastern Europe. These changes continued to be felt in the 1990s and into the 21st century.

The eighties are also well known (and often ridiculed) for the popular culture of the time such as the over-the-top fashion, big hair styles and the commercialization of music and film.

The 1980s was also an era of tremendous population growth around the world which, along with the 1970s and 1990s, was among the largest in human history. This growth occurred not only in developing regions but also developed western nations, where many newborns were the offspring of Baby Boomers.

Social trends[]

  • Political correctness became a concern in mainstream politics.
  • American Conservatism peaked in 1984, but had declined by 1990.
  • Social attitudes of the White American majority toward African Americans eased, showing more tolerance for people of color. The same went for every other ethnic, racial and national minority. Baby boomers, who first began to enter positions of power during the 1980s, likely did much to effect this change. During the 1980s, public bigotry became largely a thing of the past and racial prejudice lost moral acceptance; also during the decade, the popularized concept of multi-culturalism, particularly in advertising, first appeared.
  • Right-wing talk radio started in 1984 when Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting from KFBK AM 1530 in Sacramento California. Also in the United States in California. In 1989 he moved to his flagship station, WABC in New York City. Limbaugh became nationally syndicated by 1989.
  • Gay issues entered public awareness through the tabloid talk show genre popularized by Oprah Winfrey, which gave gay, bisexual, and transvestite people an unprecedented degree of media visibility. Examples include the Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision, openly gay pop stars such as Boy George, Dead or Alive and the Pet Shop Boys, and the increased perception of the AIDS epidemic as a "gay disease."
  • The role of women in the workplace increased. Continuing the 1970s trend, more and more women in the English-speaking world took to calling themselves "Ms.", rather than "Mrs." or "Miss." A similar change occurred in Germany, with women choosing "Frau" instead of "Fräulein" in an effort to disassociate marital status from title. In most western countries, women began to exercise the option of keeping their maiden names after marriage; in Canada, legislation was enacted to end the practice of automatically changing a woman's last name upon marriage.
  • Child abuse gained public attention as alleged incidents of child molestation were reported, in particular at day care facilities in various parts of the country. Several court cases were followed by the media, including California (the McMartin Preschool case), South Carolina (the Little Rascals Day Care case) and New Jersey (the Wee Care Day Nursery case), spreading hysteria among parents and teachers. Similar large-scale cases were also reported in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
  • Social welfare for handicapped children improved, and they were no longer ignored or forced into mental institutions.
  • No-Fault divorce laws paved the way for increased divorce rates, as depicted in the movie Irreconcilable Differences, and divorce became widely acceptable in western countries. Conservatives espousing "family values" responded by objecting to divorce, among other moral and cultural issues.
  • National safety campaigns raised awareness of seat belt usage to save lives in automobile accidents, helping to make the measure mandatory in most countries and U.S. states by 1990. Similar efforts arose to push child safety seats and bike helmet use, already mandatory in a number of U.S. states and some countries.
  • Alcohol education and drug education expanded, bringing about movements such as M.A.D.D., Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign and D.A.R.E.. By 1990, every state in the U.S. mandated the drinking age to be 21, the only country to ever do so.
  • Rejection of smoking, perceived as more unhealthy and deadly than in previous decades, increased among Americans following a 1984 reconfirmation of earlier studies into the risks of smoking by the U.S. Surgeon General. "Smoking" and "non-smoking" sections in American restaurants became common, state efforts to combat underage smoking (such as banning cigarette sales to minors) intensified, and acknowledgment of smoking-related birth defects became more common.
  • Opposition to nuclear power plants grew, especially after the catastrophic 1986 Chernobyl accident.
  • Environmental concerns intensified. In the United Kingdom, environmentally-friendly domestic products surged in popularity. Western European countries adopted "greener" policies to cut back on oil use, recycle most of their nations' trash, and increase focus on water and energy conservation efforts. Similar "Eco-activist" trends appeared in the U.S. in the late 1980s.
  • The U.S. support and pressure group Remove Intoxicated Drivers experienced rapid growth.
  • Research on alcohol and weight expanded.


The first Macintosh was introduced in 1984, the first commercially successful computer to use a graphical user interface.

The 1980s included the transition between the industrial and information age. The petroleum supply disruptions which had marked the 1970s were not repeated, and new oil-field discoveries boosted supply and helped keep energy prices relatively low during most of the decade. The 1980s saw rapid developments in numerous sectors of technology which defined the modern consumer world. Electronics such as the personal computer, electronic gaming systems, the first commercially available hand-held mobile phones, and new audio and data storage technologies such as the compact disc are all still prominent well into the 2000s. On the strength of their high-technology industries, the Japanese economy soared to record highs in the 1980s.

In personal computing and electronics, the bulletin board system (BBS) gained popularity, compact discs were introduced in 1983 and Walkmans, VHS videocassette recorders, and cassette players became popular in households in developed countries. Also in electronics, the first commercial hand-held mobile phone was released in 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. The Apple Macintosh was introduced in January 1984 and became the first commercially successful computer to use a graphical user interface. Several other computers were introduced in the 1980s including the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST and BBC Micro. In software, Microsoft released the first versions of the Windows operating system, which would later dominate the operating system market through the 1990s and into the 2000s. New digital technology contributed to the popularity of synthesizers in electronic music.

In the United Kingdom, inventor Sir Clive Sinclair introduced the C5 electric transport vehicle in 1985, but it was a massive flop and a commercial disaster.

Interest in space exploration declined as the space shuttle took precedence. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 passed Saturn in 1980 and 1981 respectively. Voyager 2 went on to give the first up-close looks at Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989). Japan and Europe had their first ventures into interplanetary exploration with the launches of Giotto, Sakigake, and others in the "Halley Armada." The first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia launched in 1981; and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred in 1986, the same year the Soviet Union launched the space station Mir.

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the USSR occurred in April 1986, and became the world's worst nuclear accident.



Popular culture[]


Art exhibitions held in the 1980s included:


1980s fashion incorporated distinct trends from different eras, including ancient Egypt, early 20th century British royalty, Edwardian era buccaneers, and punk rockers from the 1970s. A conservative, masculine fashion look that was most indicative of the decade was the wide use of shoulder pads (similar to those worn by women in the 1940s and to those worn in ice hockey). While in the 1970s the silhouette of fashion tended to be characterized by close-fitting clothes on top with wider looser clothes on bottom, this trend completely reversed itself in the early 1980s as both men and women began to wear loose shirts (tucked in) and tight close fitting pants. One variation of this trend was to wear loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts or sweaters with the sleeves scrunched up to the elbows). Men wore power suits, an example of the greater tendency for people to display their wealth. Brand names became increasingly important in this decade, making Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein household names. Lauper made popular the colourful hairstyles and makeup.

Hairstyles are also well known from the decade. Big, messy hairstyles, similar to those worn by women in the 1940s, made popular with the introduction of glam metal, became all the rage throughout the entire decade. Shorter hairstyles also became more common for women. Colorful hair colors (made popular by singer Cyndi Lauper), were also used widely during the era. The eighties also made popular the well known mullet haircut for both men and women and the jerry curl, a wet curly hair style that was very popular in the African American community. The eighties also saw an interest in bright and colorful makeup as well as makeup used on men (as used by poodle rock bands of the era). The decade also saw the introduction and popularity of hair crimping.

In the United States, Madonna was known as the "Material Girl" and many teenage girls, sometimes referred to as "Madonna wannabes", looked to her for fashion statements. The popular movie Flashdance (1983) made ripped sweatshirts well-known to the general public. The television shows Dallas and Dynasty also had a similar impact. The television show Miami Vice influenced a whole generation of men by popularizing, if not actually inventing, the "T-shirt under Armani jacket"-style. The Crockett character played by Don Johnson also boosted Ray Ban's popularity by wearing a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers (Model L2052, Mock Tortoise). Crockett's perpetually unshaven appearance also sparked a minor fashion trend, inspiring men to wear a small amount of beard stubble, also known as five o'clock shadow or "designer stubble", at all times. The show's costume designer Gianni Versace provided the fashion sense. Pastel colors dominated the series in clothes. People were also known to wear acid-washed jeans.


  • The decade began with a backlash against disco music and a movement away from the lush orchestral arrangements that had characterized much of the music of the 1970's. Music in the 1980's was characterized by simpler and cheaper electronic sounds accomplished through the use of synthesizers and keyboards, along with drum machines.
  • Michael Jackson revolutionized music with his best-selling album Thriller. Thriller, released in 1982, is the world's all-time best selling album with over 104 million sold copies. His mannerisms and trends were copied repeatedly, from the single-glove, to the various jackets he wore, and the now-famous moonwalk.
  • House music was a new development in dance music mid-way through the decade, growing out of the post-disco scene early in the decade and later developed into acid house, a harder form of dance often associated with the developing late 1980s drug culture.
  • The Hip hop scene evolved to become a powerful musical force, bringing with it several dance styles. As hip hop artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and N.W.A. gathered mainstream attention, hip hop's influence began to spread outside of Los Angeles and New York City, eventually taking off into America's shores during the 1980s in 1986.
  • American singer Prince, French band Indochine ("3e sexe"), Canadian singer Norman Iceberg ("Be My Human Tonight"), Spanish band Mecano ("Mujer Contra Mujer") became part of a worldwide movement of artists writing innovative lyrics filled with sexual innuendos reflecting the then-popular and highly fashionable androgynous style.
  • With increased commercialization of popular music, thousands of new bands from all over the country sprang up in opposition by performing aggressive, stripped-down punk rock with an even larger amount of political and social awareness injected into the lyrics. Known as Hardcore punk, it would go on to influence and create other musical genres well into the 21st century. Popular bands included Dead Kennedys in San Francisco, Minor Threat in Washington DC, Black Flag in Los Angeles and Reagan Youth in New York City.


  • American superhero comics underwent a new age, sparked by Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, that paved the way for more independent and creative ideas. Many different genres other than superheroes were introduced to comics, along with the first translations of manga.
  • More adult-targeted comics featuring mature themes, strong violence, and strong language, like the examples cited above, began to become more widespread.


See also: 1980s in television

The Cosby Show debuts in 1984 and is rated number 1 in the Nielsen Ratings in the United States for five consecutive TV seasons.


The 1980s was a prosperous and extremely active decade for the film industry, seeing many box office hits. The industry began to put a greater emphasis on producing mass-market blockbusters in place of the more director-led approach of the 1970s. (Many film historians have pointed to the massive box office flop of Heaven's Gate in 1980 leading to studios wanting greater control of film production.) During the 1980s, much controversy arose over the colorization of black and white films.

Video cassettes became extremely popular in households. A videotape format war broke out between JVC and Sony over their formats, VHS and Betamax. VHS eventually became the new standard, despite offering initial poorer quality recordings. Only after many years did VHS eventually catch-up, although the format always provided a recording length advantage. The widespread popularity of video cassettes aided in the rise of video rentals, with the first Blockbuster opening in 1985. The Sundance Institute was set up in 1981 to help independent film-makers gain professional contacts and experience. The first Sundance Film Festival was held in 1986. The cross-over success of the film sex in 1989 paved the way for the independent film boom in the 1990s.

The Crime and Gangster film genre was also active, with hits such as The Untouchables and the legendary Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma.

The science fiction genre experienced a surge in popularity following the success of Star Wars. This is best exemplified by Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), which shattered records for box office gross receipts and became the decade's biggest earner both in the United States and United Kingdom. Popular sci-fi films of the decade also included Blade Runner, Aliens, Tron and The Terminator. The original Star Wars trilogy was concluded with The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Tie-in merchandise became extremely common following the success of Star Wars tie-in products. Special effects become more sophisticated and advanced with films like Tron, Predator and The Abyss, paving the way for the CGI-intensive films of the 1990s. Also, Star Trek saw a resurgence of popularity for the original 1960s TV series with the release of a series of popular films in the 1980s, highlighted by Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Action movies, common since the 1950s, entered mass production, with actors like Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger helping to pioneer the genre. Among the most famous action movies were the Rambo series, RoboCop, Predator, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Escape from New York and Commando. Ghostbusters (1984, directed by Ivan Reitman) was very popular and successful, as was Back to the Future (1985), which captivated audiences with its youth-oriented time travel fantasy. Movie sequels became a trend as evidenced by Ghostbusters II and Back to the Future Part II (both 1989). Ronald Reagan frequently made references to Back to the Future and Rambo.

The Horror genre boomed with hit franchises including the Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series and the Halloween series. Others include the Hellraiser films, Poltergeist and Evil Dead series', The Lost Boys, The Fly, The Shining and John Carpenter's The Thing.

The 1980s also experienced many infamous high-profile commercial flops, including Howard the Duck, Ishtar, Dune, Revolution, Inchon and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The most famous flop is Heaven's Gate which cost US$44 million to produce yet only grossed $3.4 million, leading the studio United Artists into bankruptcy. However, the success of The Little Mermaid (1989) heralded a renaissance for Disney and animated films in general after a string of commercial failures.

Teen films arose as a highly successful genre, most notably those of John Hughes who, with the so-called "Brat Pack", made such decade-defining films as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink and Uncle Buck. Other teen films of the decade include The Sure Thing, St. Elmo's Fire, Risky Business, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Less Than Zero, Heathers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything and Rumble Fish. In addition, teen sex comedies made their mark in the public eye, such as Spring Break, Porky's and the Lemon Popsicle series. Several of these are set in the 1950s, reflecting the 50's-nostalgia common at the time.

Several films examining the United States' role in the Vietnam war were released, most notably Platoon (1986), as well as Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Good Morning (all 1987), Born on the Fourth of July and Casualties of War (both 1989). The Rambo series took a more visceral look at the effects of the war.

Music/dance films appeared and became staples of the decade, notably Fame, Flashdance, Footloose, Streets of Fire and Dirty Dancing. Several breakdancing/hip-hop films were made including Body Rock, Beat Street, Rappin', Wild Style, Krush Groove, Breakin' and its sequel Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

In Britain, concern ensued over the violent content of the 'video nasties'. This led to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which banned films such as The Driller Killer, I Spit On Your Grave and Cannibal Holocaust. At the time, many claimed that the Hungerford massacre had been inspired by violent films. In the U.S., Red Dawn (1984) became the first film released with a PG-13 rating, and in the UK, Batman was the first to receive a 12 certificate.

Video games[]

Although popularity of video games and arcades began in the mid to late 1970s, it continued throughout the 1980s with rapid growth in video game technology throughout the decade. Space Invaders, developed in Japan in 1978, was first previewed at a UK trade show in 1979, making a huge impact on the early 80s gaming scene. Many other games followed including Pac-Man, creating a Pac Man fever craze early in the decade, especially in 1982 and 1983; Super Mario Bros. games became a highly successful franchise starting in 1985 and its popularity continues today.

In the 1980s, Atari failed to apply proper quality control to the software development process for its popular Video Computer System game console. The amount of low-quality software caused a massive collapse of the home console industry. The release of Nintendo's Famicom/NES console rectified the problem and revived home gaming by only being able to play games approved by the company. PC Engine and Sega Mega Drive were next generation game consoles that were released during the last years of the decade.

Home computers become popular in the 1980s and during that decade they were used heavily for gaming, especially the ZX Spectrum. The prevailing IBM PC standard was born in 1981 but had a status of a non-entertainment computer throughout the decade. Along with the IBM PC, the Commodore 64 (1982) was the most popular 8-bit home computer and its successor, the Amiga (1985), was the most popular 16-bit home computer.

International issues[]

In the United States[]

In Canada[]

In Europe[]

In the United Kingdom[]

In Australia[]

Natural disasters[]



Sports figures[]


See also[]

External links[]

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