Life in the 1980s

This is a list of items describing life in the 1980s, mainly in the Los Angeles, California, USA, area.

  1. Economically, the decade started out slowly, but then there was the longest period of sustained economic growth up to that time, as people regained confidence from the malaise of the 1970s.

Price Comparisons 1980 1989
gasoline (average price per gallon) $1.25 $.98
bread (price per one pound loaf) 50¢ 69¢
Dow Jones Industrial Average 839 2753
minimum wage (per hour) $2.90 $3.35
postage (first class letter) 15¢ 25¢
Gross Domestic Product ($ billions) 2775 5584
Consumer Price Index (1977 = 100) 126.7 187.0
Inflation (1980 = 1.00) 1.00 1.50
  1. Telephones .
  2. The postage for a first class letter was 15¢ per ounce since 1978, 18¢ briefly in 1981, 20¢ from 1981 to 1985, 22¢ from 1985 to 1988,  and 25¢ from 1988 to 1991.
  3. Amtrak operated the following trains that terminated at Los Angeles: 
  4. Air travel had become the main form of business travel, and was preferred for long-distance leisure travel.
  5. Smoking was permitted indoors, and even in airplanes; but there were usually separate smoking sections in restaurants and on airplanes. By decade’s end, smoking was banned in grocery stores in California, and many workplaces banned smoking indoors.  Trains had some cars designated NO SMOKING, and buses usually only allowed smoking in the last few rows.
  6. AIDS makes its first appearance in 1981.
  7. U. S. Presidents during the decade were
  8. International leaders of the decade included:
  9. The Cold War reached its climax in the 1980s
    1. To protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter led a boycott of the 1980 summer Olympic games in Moscow.
    2. The Solidarity movement was founded in Poland in 1981.
    3. Mikhail Gorbachev became top man in the Soviet Union in 1985.  Attempting to overcome a stagnant economy, he called for glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).
    4. President Reagan began a significant military expansion, and announced that the United States planned to work on a "Strategic Defense Initiative".
    5. In 1988, the Soviet Union withdrew its military from its Eastern European satellites, and announced that they were on their own.  At first, no one believed this.
    6. In 1989 many Chinese in Beijing held protests against communism in Tien An Men Square. At first the government seemed unable to act, but after about a week the demonstration was brutally put down with tanks.
    7. In 1989 Poland held free elections, and the communists were thrown out.  To everyone’s surprise and delight, the Soviet army did nothing. Hungary then eased its border restrictions with Austria. Thousands of East Germans began traveling through Czechoslovakia to Hungary to Austria. To ease the plight of this massive flow of refugees, and perhaps to keep them as citizens, the East German government decided to allow direct crossings into West Germany. But the border guards were unprepared for the flood of persons trying to cross.  The Berlin Wall was opened, and then came down.  Then the communist governments of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary collapsed.  (Romania and Bulgaria remained communist, but not for long.)  Symbolically, at least, the Cold War was over.
  10. There were some "hot" wars in the 80s, including:
  11. There were numerous terrorism incidents in the decade, which at the time seemed like isolated incidents, but after 9/11/2014 were seen as part of a pattern of Islamic terrorism.
  12. Some decolonization continued in the decade.
  13. Many social movements continued into the 1980s.
  14. There were religious changes in the 1980s.
  15. In the 1984 presidential election campaign the term Yuppie (from Young Urban Professionals) became prominent to describe socially liberal and fiscally conservative supporters of the candidacy of Senator Gary Hart.  Later the term became slightly derogatory for those 20-30s who drove BMWs, ate Brie, drank Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, and wore designer suits.
  16. Cable television (originally, CATV=Community Antenna TeleVision), originally designed for areas that could not get good reception with an antenna, became generally available in most areas.  This led to many new cable channels, including MTV, CNN, and HBO.
  17. Sports news of the decade
  18. Numerous fads came and went during the decade.
  19. Fashions of the decade became more conservative.  Men’s hair was short again. Professional men ("Yuppies") wore "power suits" to indicate success. Yet there was a trend toward casual wear, partly influenced by the fitness craze.  By decade’s end, many companies were allowing "casual Fridays".
  20. There was more heavy industry in the Los Angeles area than there is today.
  21. There were more department stores, including Robinson’s, I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, Bullock’s, Ohrbach’s, The May Company, and The Broadway.  Both J. C. Penney and Sears had retail stores that have since closed.
  22. To attract business, grocery stores offered double coupons, which doubled the discount if the shopper presented a manufacturer’s coupon for "cents off", usually up to a limit of 50¢ or $1.  At first, you had to clip special "double coupons" from the newspaper ads, but later they doubled all coupons.
  23. The 99 Cents Only stores opened in 1982.
  24. Arcade video games were popular in the 1980s.  Popular games were Pac-man, Ms Pac-man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders.  Home video games became popular, especially Atari, but the market collapsed in 1983. 
  25. Compact disks were introduced for music in Japan in 1982, and elsewhere in 1983.  Their popularity spread quickly, and soon vinyl disks were no longer being made.  Cassettes remained popular through the decade, reaching their peak sales in 1988.
  26. Cellular phones first became available in the United States in 1983. They used analog technology, and gradually began to proliferate.
  27. Microcomputers were proliferating, and IBM, not wanting to be left out of the market, introduced its PC in 1981.  It may not have been the best computer design, but its open architecture led to numerous clones, and that, with IBM’s prestige, allowed the PC to become the standard. In 1983 was introduced Lotus 1-2-3, very similar to the earlier VisiCalc, the first really successful spreadsheet program, the "killer application" that made PC sales take off, becoming an essential tool for small business. In 1984, Apple introduced the McIntosh computer, the first graphic user interface (GUI). By the end of the decade, many people, having used computers at work, saw the advantage of having one at home.
  28. Microwave ovens began to appear in just about every home over the 1980s.
  29. Video recorders (or VCRs) proliferated in the 1980s, with VHS becoming more popular than Sony’s Betamax.
  30. Cable TV (CATV), which had been primarily to provide access for areas with poor antenna reception, began adding more channels and marketing to all areas.  New channels that began to have an impact included CNN, MTV, ESPN, Showtime, and TNT.
  31. Almost all televisions purchased during the decade were color.
  32. Some popular advertising slogans of the decade included "Where’s the beef?"
  33. The music industry changed with the introduction of the audio compact disc (CD) in Japan in 1982, and in Europe and North America in 1983.
  34. Popular music began to diverge into many subcultures during the 1980s.
  35. Notable songs of the 1980s:
  36. In 1984, due to numerous complaints that the PG rating allowed too many movies unsuitable for young children, the PG-13 rating was created.  Notable movies of the 1980s included:
  37. Notable Broadway musicals of the 1980s included:
  38. Notable television shows of the 1980s included: The Oprah Winfrey Show (Syndication, 1986–); Taxi (ABC/NBC, 1978-83); The Rockford Files (NBC, 1974- 80); Sesame Street (PBS, 1969–); The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1985-89); St Elsewhere (NBC, 1982-88); Thirtysomething (ABC, 1987-91); Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-87); Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1975–); The Simpsons (Fox, 1989–); Seinfeld (NBC, 1989–1998); The Jeffersons (CBS, 1975-85),  M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972-83), Dallas (CBS, 1978-91); The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS, 1979-85); Flo (CBS, 1980-81); That’s Incredible! (ABC, 1980-84); Yes Minister [UK] (PBS, 1980-88); Dynasty (1981-89); Falcon Crest (1981-90); Cheers (NBC: 1982-93); Magnum P.I. (1980-88), The A-Team [including Mr. T] (1983-87), Press Your Luck (1983-86); Murder, She Wrote (CBS, 1984-96); Married... with Children (Fox: 1987-97); Miami Vice (1984-89); The Cosby Show (CBS: 1984-92); EastEnders [UK] (1985-); MacGyver (1985-92); The Golden Girls (1985-92); ALF (1986-90); 21 Jump Street (1987-91); Full House (1987-95); Life Goes On (1989-93); Roseanne (1988-97); Star Trek: The Next Generation (Syndication: 1987-94); Santa Barbara (1984-93); The Wonder Years (1988-93); and You Can’t Do That on Television [USA/Canadian children’s comedy show is now a nostalgic cult classic.] (1979-92)
  39. The blockbuster television mini-series continued with Shogun (1980: NBC); The Winds of War (1983: ABC); and War and Remembrance (1988: ABC). 

This list is intended to be similar to the "Mindset List", published each year by Beloit College. For more information about social, political and cultural trends in the decade, see the Wikipedia article on the 1980s. For suggestions, additions, and corrections to this list, please email me: tf_mcq {at} yahoo {dot} com.


See also: