Socio-cultural rift of 1970 still dominates our lives

The socio-cultural history of the current generations starts in 1970 (1). In that year a ‘hard’ breach in societal trends can be marked. A run up to this trend can already be noticed from the fifties, and onward. The dissemination of popular culture through radio, soon followed by television, the general introduction and use of the car, the growing wealth, the disappearance of political, social, and religious restraints, the expansion of leisure time, the rising educational levels, all powerfully contributed to the breach in the socio-cultural trend of 1970 (2).

The replacement of the standard life cycle

Some call this breach a “separation of the spirits” (3): “… newer generations felt themselves more attracted to popular in stead of traditional culture. The appeal of popular culture was not just a youthful folly, but a preference that stuck during the course of life of the generations whom grew up with the entertainment industry.” Another striking feature of the change in the socio-cultural trend is the diversity of the modern lifestyle: “In previous days one central activity was part of a life’s phase, such as paid labor or domestic activities, from 1970 and onward in every phase of life all kind of different activities are combined or alternated. The standard life cycle is replaced by a mounting diversity of life cycles.” (3). We burden ourselves with this demanding diversity of modern life. It’s all about “individual choices made voluntarily” (4). Such as, both partners work, relational and family duties, a high mortgage, big consumptive spending, and a varied leisure repertoire (3).

Hedonism as a general attitude

The socio-cultural breach of 1970 has improperly been claimed by the ‘baby-boomer’ generation. If hedonism is taken to be the most characteristic attitude of today’s socio-cultural life, in 1970 almost unnoticed all generations veered to this attitude, young and old, the political left as well as the political right. Freedom of choice, and to enjoy life, here and now, did become and still are dominant life principles in society. People are supposed to be happy, with their partner, with their children, at work, and in social life, to be physically healthy, and stay “forever young” (4). Material wealth contributes hugely to the happiness people experience.

A new socio-cultural rift is rising?

The socio-cultural rift of 1970 was accompanied by some noteworthy other developments, which emphasize the puzzle as to which societal changes caused this breach. The first puzzle is the paradoxical relation between the perception of health and longevity. Today, we live longer as ever, but we also have never been so nervous about our health. Perhaps peoples’ anxiety was stirred by the fact that from 1970 the dynamism of medical progress came to a standstill (5): “… doctors are increasingly discontented and the public is increasingly neurotic about its health.” The second paradox is the lack of macro-economic growth, despite the rise of the computer and internet (6). A technological revolution, made possible by Intel’s invention of the first ‘cheap’ microprocessor in 1971 (7)! Now, forty-five years later, the question still looms what caused the socio-cultural rift of 1970. And whether we should expect the financial and economic crisis to launch a new era, and how we will be able to identify the socio-cultural rift, which will announce it.


1. Liefbroer, A.C. & P.A. Dykstra (2000). Levenslopen in verandering. Een studie naar ontwikkelingen in de levenslopen van Nederlanders geboren tussen 1900 en 1970. Den Haag: Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR). [Only in Dutch]
2. According to Liefbroer and Dykstra 1970 is a ‘turning point’ because of “(…) the relatively quick change in the process of the formation of families.” People married later, got children later, and fewer children, more people even stayed without any children, and a growing number of people lived together without even getting married.
3. Broek, A. van den, F. Huysmans & J. de Haan (2005). Cultuurminnaars en cultuurmijders. Trends in de belangstelling voor kunsten en cultureel erfgoed. Het culturele draagvlak 6. Den Haag: SCP. [Only in Dutch]
4. Danesi, M. (2003). Forever Young. The ‘Teen-Aging’ of Modern Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
5. Le Fanu, J. (2006). The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine. London: Abacus.
6. Roberts, K.H. & Grabowski, M. (1996). Organizations, Technology and Structuring, in Clegg, S.R., Hardy, C. & Nord, W.R. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Organization Studies (pp. 409-423), London: Sage.
7. Ridder, W.J. de (2006). Omgaan met doorbraakinnovaties. Een nieuwe democratische revolutie op komst. Den Haag: SMO. [Only in Dutch].

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