Changes in the Late Twentieth Century

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Changes in the Late Twentieth Century

During the 1970s and 1980s, major changes to society occurred. These changes were cultural, economic, political and social in nature. Cultural changes came about through the affirmation and extension of the civil rights of blacks and women, and the furthering of equality for all, as well as through the changes to the social make up of cities and suburbs. Economic changes corresponded to advancements in technology, communications and transportation. Political changes came about through the shifting of power between those who governed and those being governed. Social changes were seen in many areas, both on a personal level as well as a community or national level. There was a restructuring of family and household. There was also a rise of electronic mass media that connected people in ways they had never been connected before and this allowed the emergence of a single nation-wide information system that everyone had access to. All of these changes, cultural, economic, political and social, had a profound effect on crime control and the welfare system (Garland, 2001).

Cultural changes in the 1970s were wide reaching as blacks gained their civil rights and sought to further their equality. Expectations of equality for all persons and social inclusion for minorities who had previously been relegated to the lowest social ranks dominated this time period. While these expectations were not always realized, they did open the way for increasing changes (Garland, 2001). Challenges between citizens and authorities resulted in new cultural and political structures such as bureaucratic checks and balances, bills of rights, and parliaments to enhance the accountability of political leaders to citizens. Previous transnational social movements promoted international peace, sought to end slavery, and provided for equal rights for women, but those movements were mostly created by those from privileged backgrounds. Beginning with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, social and cultural change movements have increasingly expanded to include those of lesser means in an attempt to promote global change and equality (Smith, 2013).

Advancements in the manufacturing of automobiles, airplanes, electronic components, telephones, and personal computers have led to rapid transformation in technology, transportation and communications, making possible the current information society and the globally connected cities around the world. Consumption and consumerism eliminated social divisions due to the unending search for new markets and higher returns expanded globally. The spread of mass production techniques and the low cost of energy created almost three decades of economic growth prior to the 1970s, with economic security and a reduction of the gap between the poor and the rich. Consumerism became a symbol of America with the advent of mass production that allowed access to durable goods previously only afforded by the rich. Technological advances led to portable electronic equipment such as televisions and radios. The oil crisis of the 1970s brought about a period of economic recession and negative economic growth exacerbated by inflation and political tensions. This period saw the end of lifetime job security with workers required to become more mobile and have more transferable skills. Instability created uncertain futures as the economy sought new ways to grow and change (Garland, 2001).

Political changes in the 1970s and 1980s stemmed from the structural conditions of this period. Workers refused to continue to act like servants of their employers. Changes in form, rather than a real shift in power, was the result with absolute authority and top-down leadership becoming unsustainable. Moral absolutes and prohibitions lost their credibility leading to political changes in the norms governing drugs, divorce, and sexual conduct. This change resulted in a shift of power between the individual and the group as well as a relaxing of traditional social controls (Garland, 2001). The 1980s produced a redistribution of wealth with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. During this time the United States went from being the world’s largest creditor to being its largest debtor, essentially squandering the future of the United States by placing so far in debt that it only increases every year (Phillips, 1990).

Many changes to social structures can be seen during the last part of the twentieth century. Most notably a change in the structure and influence of family. New patterns of divorce and separation brought new problems of single parent homes and female poverty to light. Decreases in household size and increases in the number females in the workforce have led to many changes within the household, including the decline of the family wage where only the male is expected to work and bring home a paycheck to support the family (Garland, 2001). Traditionally, women were economically dependent on the earnings of men, but as the workforce expanded, women increasingly began to work outside the home, rather than only being responsible for child rearing and maintaining the home. Increasing numbers of women began working outside the home, continually changing the makeup of families and the responsibilities of child rearing and home management (Stacey, 1998).

One of the most influential and far reaching developments of the late twentieth century is the expansion of electronic mass media. Initially mass media meant the circulation of newspapers until the invention of the radio and later the television. Television transformed the way media was available and delivered to the average household. The emergence of a single information system on a nationwide scale provided increased knowledge of disadvantages, allowing the demand for equal rights and treatment. Television also led to a more intimate conveyance of news casts. Changes in the media have also led to greater levels of transparency and accountability in the government and society, with bad decisions much more visible to many more people than ever before, allowing for greater scrutiny (Garland, 2001).

During the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, crime rates rose sharply. Increased opportunities, reduced controls, an increase in the vulnerable population, and a reduction in the efficiency of social control contributed to this rise in crime rates. Reductions in situational controls as seen in self-service shops, increased opportunity and the relaxation of social controls, at home and in the community, along with the questioning of traditional authorities led to increased crime and delinquency. Welfare programs were initially designed to regulate economic life, secure living standards, adjust the money supply, manage infrastructure projects such as highway building, and manage prosperity. The institutions designed to meet the public’s needs always seemed to find more unmet need, thus they did not get solved and became increasingly demanding of public funds. The success of the welfare state undermined its own credibility, leaving many to blame the state for the problems rather than see it as the solution to the problems (Garland, 2001).

Many changes took place in the 1970s and 1980s that ushered in a new way of thinking about crime control and the welfare state. Increasing upheaval across all aspects of life led to uncertainty and changes to beliefs and policies. Increasing crime rates and the failure to provide sustainable success brought about a change in the policies and practices used in crime control, as well as rendering the welfare institutions ineffective and unwarranted. Changes from economic, political, social and cultural arenas, all led to the massive changes in crime control and the welfare state by producing a convergence of all the forces that came together in such a ways as to not simply call for reform but a complete and total transformation of the system.


Garland, D. (2001). The Culture of Control: Crime Control and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Phillips, K. (1990). The Politics of Rich and Poor. New York, NY: Random House.

Smith, J. (2013). Transnational Social Movements. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. Retrieved from

Stacey, J. (1998). Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth-Century America. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.