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What Significant Changes Occurred Within American Society in 1970–1990?


Women’s liberation, homosexual rights, and environmental protection vied for public attention in the 1970s alongside the Watergate scandal, the energy crisis, and the Vietnam War. The 1970s are remembered for bell bottoms and the advent of disco, but they were also a time of political unrest, cultural upheaval, and scientific advancement. The 1970s were the “Me Decade,” in Tom Wolfe’s words. Americans everywhere looked hellbent on escaping the wars and social movements that had dominated the preceding decade. Many people were disillusioned with national and global activity and turned inside, seeking refuge in self-exploration. This article will look at the transformations that took place in the United States from the 1970s to the 1990s. The report also uses two case studies of societal and political shifts to support the thesis.

The campaigns for more civil and political liberties throughout the decade of the 1970s birthed significant changes in the American social sphere. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution was ratified in 1972 following years of agitation by feminists. It states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or curtailed by the United States or any state based on sex” (Shi et al., 2016). The Amendment has a high chance of passing. Twenty-two of the required 38 states ratified it immediately, with the other states seemingly on the verge of doing so. Many conservative campaigners were frightened by the ERA because they believed it would weaken conventional gender norms. These activists organized a successful campaign to kill the Amendment. Indiana was the 35th and the last state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977(Shi et al., 2016). Many feminists who had previously been politically active gave up after experiencing such setbacks. Feminists started establishing feminist societies and groups such as feminist art galleries and bookshops, feminist consciousness-raising groups, feminist childcare and women’s health cooperatives, feminist rape victim services, and feminist abortion facilities (Eschbach et al., 2019). Other events that gave rise to significant changes that took place in American society during that era are;

The Watergate Scandal

Paranoia and defensiveness crept into President Nixon’s character as his time in office progressed. Despite being reelected in a landslide in 1972, he did not like having his authority questioned and supported in efforts to undermine his opponents (Eschbach et al., 2019). Five members of Nixon’s Committee broke into the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Watergate complex to Reelect the President in June of 1972. They soon learned that Nixon was complicit in the crime, having ordered the FBI to cease its probe of the break-in and instructing his advisers to bury the incident. A congressional committee authorized three impeachment articles in April of 1974: obstruction of justice, abuse of government agencies, and rejection of the sovereignty of Congress (Shi et al., 2016). Nevertheless, President Nixon announced his resignation before Congress could indict him. When Gerald Ford gained the presidency, he immediately pardoned Nixon, much to the dismay of the American people.

The Conservative Backlash

After the upheaval of the late 1970s, when urban riots, antiwar demonstrations, and an alienating counterculture all occurred, many Americans, especially whites of the working class and middle class, embraced a new sort of conservative populism (Eschbach et al., 2019). Political strategists used the term “silent majority” to describe those who were fed up with what they saw as spoilt hippies and whiny demonstrators and an overbearing government that, in their opinion, subsidized welfare for poor and black people. In 1968, President Richard Nixon was elected with the support of this mostly undemonstrated bloc of voters. Nixon wasted no time in dismantling the welfare state that was the root of the problem (Shi et al., 2016). As much of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty as he could, he eliminated and publicly opposed Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to desegregate public schools via strategies like busing. However, Nixon’s domestic policies of the time seem quite liberal in retrospect: His proposals included the Household Assistance Plan, which would have provided $1,650 annually to every American family, and the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, which would have ensured that all Americans could have quality medical treatment at a reasonable cost (Eschbach et al., 2019). However, Nixon’s programs helped those in the middle class whom the Great Society had neglected. Some of these individuals later influenced the “New Right” political movement’s development in the 1970s. This social movement, which originated in the suburbs of the Sun Belt, praised free enterprise while lamenting the erosion of conventional family and gender norms (Shi et al., 2016). As a result of what they viewed as government interference, conservatives from the New Right became more hostile. For instance, they opposed Western national park programs, affirmative action, school desegregation initiatives, high taxation, environmental laws, highway speed limits, and affirmative action.


In retrospect, the 1970s may be described as a turbulent decade. The decade might be seen as an extension of the 1960s. The struggles for equality of women, people of color, indigenous people, homosexuals and lesbians, and other disadvantaged groups persisted, and many Americans supported the movement to end the war in Vietnam. However, the 1960s were mostly rejected in this decade. Since President Richard Nixon’s time in office, many Americans have lost trust in the government’s ability to protect their rights and advance their interests. A “New Right” movement has emerged to defend conservative politics and conventional gender roles. These conflicts and disillusionment towards the decade’s conclusion created an atmosphere for civic spaces that many people would say is still with us now.


Shi, D. E., & Tindall, G. B. (2016). America: A narrative history. WW Norton & Company.

Snipp, C. M., & Hirschman, C. (2019). Assimilation in American society: Occupational achievement and earnings for ethnic minorities in the United States, 1970 to 1990. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 22, 93-117.


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