Was Everything Really So Much Better in the 80s? [Infographic]

Nayomi Chibana

Written by:
Nayomi Chibana

May 11, 2016

80s-Retro2If you grew up with Super Mario Brothers, The Breakfast Club and Michael Jackson, chances are the mere thought of the '80s brings back fond memories. But what is it about the '80s that makes it so much better than the present? Is it really one of the best decades in history? Many tweeps would like to think so:

As someone who also grew up in the '80s, I have to admit that everything did seem simpler and more innocent back then. I remember no fears of an impending terrorist attack or mass shooting; no fretting over skin cancer and the dangers of GMOs; no bad reality shows; no crazy elections that seemed like bad reality shows; and no stress over how to pay your bills.

But then again, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Our perception of things can easily be mistaken for reality, which is why I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to put our infographic tool, Visme, to the test and create visual comparisons of how things were back then to how they are today.

This is what we found, and we hope it will only add to your fondness of this beloved decade in modern history.


First, The Fun Part

So we're all on the same page, let's first be clear on why the '80s was--and still is--so great in the minds of those who grew up then, even if it's nothing more than nostalgia.

First of all, some of the most iconic musicians created their best art during this decade: Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, U2... Need I say more?

And let's not forget all the amazing coming-of-age stories this decade brought to the big screen: Back to the Future, Dirty Dancing, E.T., Ferris Bueller's Day Off and all of John Hughes' classics, of course. Who doesn't remember wanting to ride through the streets on a hoverboard like Michael J. Fox?

Then there were the memorable TV shows. Remember furry and lovable Alf? Or the line, "What you talkin' 'bout Willis?"

I could go on and on, but why not take a trip down memory lane with this fun, interactive infographic we created with Visme.


Embed code: 
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Now, The Serious Part

Lest we get lost in all the sunny optimism of the '80s, with its newfound love of consumerism and blockbuster movies, let's not forget that the decade also had its bad moments: the first cases of AIDS surfaced and it quickly became known as the "gay syndrome"; drug use became rampant among young people (remember D.A.R.E.?); and the country's leaders were busy fighting the spread of communism.

But to really judge how good--or bad--the times were, let's have the numbers do the talking for us.

For example, here's a chart that helps us visualize the changes in Americans' satisfaction with the country, from 1980 to now, based on polls conducted at that time.

The beginning of the decade saw Americans just coming out of a recession, which is why satisfaction levels were so low (33%). But then things started to turn around. The two highest points in the national mood occur during the '80s and then just before 9/11. This just goes to show that maybe our love for the '80s has something to do with more than just fuzzy, warm feelings. Or does it?

Besides our mood at the time, let's look at something that most likely concerns all of us: our wallets. It's no news that things are becoming more expensive by the minute, but this interactive chart makes it easier to visualize the trends over the past three decades. (Click on the buttons at the top to view changes in prices for different necessities.)

Here we see that while salaries have increased by a little over 100% in the past 25 years, the costs of a new house and new car have quadrupled (!) in this same time period.

You might want to chalk this up to inflation but money is still only as good as what it can buy you. This means that according to these numbers, we were in a much better position to buy a new house and car with the average salary in the '80s than we are now. Now that's enough to make anyone want to go back in time!

How about income inequality? According to this chart, wages for the bottom 90% have remained stagnant during the past three decades while salaries for the top 1% have soared. The decade with the least amount of income inequality was, you guessed it, the '80s.

On a much more somber note, it certainly seems like the '80s were much less violent and turbulent times, but does this assumption hold true against the numbers? This chart reveals the total number of victims of mass shootings in the last three decades.

As expected, the numbers exponentially increase as time goes on. In this decade alone, with four years still left until its completion, the number of victims is already nearly 3.5 times greater than that of the 1980s.

How about other social indicators, such as divorce rate? Well, according to the data, this is the one area so far that seems to bode well for the future. Contrary to popular belief, the divorce rate is plummeting--and will continue to fall.

This doesn't take into account, however, that the marriage rate is also falling because couples are more open to living together without formalizing a union.

So, what do you say? Would you still like to go back to the '80s if you had to choose between then and now? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you.

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    About the Author

    Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

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