The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
The American Scene

In 1987, the population of the United States was 244,425,000. The top five most populated states were California (27,660,000), New York (17,830,000), Texas (16,790,000), Florida (12,020,000) and Pennsylvania (11,940,000). The five least populated states were North Dakota (670,000), Delaware (640,000), Vermont (550,000), Alaska (530,000), and Wyoming (490,000). And 61% of Americans lived in the same state in which they had been born.

In 1986, 50% of Americans lived in the Eastern time zone, while 30% lived in the Central time zone, 15% in the Pacific, and 5% in the Mountain.

In 1985, 77% of Americans lived in urban areas. The five most populous urban areas were New York City (17,678,100), Los Angeles (13,074,800), Chicago (8,116,100), San Francisco (5,877,800) and Philadelphia (5,832,600).

In 1988, there were 91,061,000 households in America. Of these, 72% were family households, and 57% (51,809,000) were married couple households. In 1987, the number of family households increased over non-family households for the first time in two decades. The number of unmarried couples living together was 2.3 million in 1987.

In 1987, 70% of Americans owned their own home. The average sale price for a new house in 1985 was $84,300. That year, over 3 million housing units were sold. Renters paid an average of $332 a month in 1987 for previously occupied apartments, and $515 a month for new ones.


In 1987, 121,602,000 Americans were either working or looking for work. That figure included 76% of the men in this country and 56% of the women.

In 1985, 6.1% of the workforce was unemployed -- 7,425,000 Americans actively seeking employment; of these, the group with the largest percentage (nearly 35%) were black teenagers.

In the Eighties, the majority of workers were white-collar. In 1985, 55% of those employed were in managerial, professional, sales or technical jobs, while only 28% held blue-collar jobs. 13% were in the service industry and 4% of working Americans were in agriculture. 8% were self-employed.

The top five companies employing the most people in 1986 were General Motors (811,000), Sears, Roebuck & Co. (409,000), IBM (405,500), Ford Motor Co. (369,000) and AT&T (337,000).

In 1986 there were 2,167,000 Americans on active military duty. The U.S. military also employed a little over 1 million civilians. 10% of all ranks were women.

Fewer Americans belonged to labor unions in the 1980s. In 1980 there were nearly 21 million union members; that number had declined to 17 million by 1985.

There were two women and no blacks among the 100 senators of the 99th Congress (1985-1987). In the House of Representatives (434 members) there were 22 women and 20 blacks; 251 of the representatives were lawyers.

In the mid-Eighties, 88% of Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs. In spite of this, less than 40% expected to remain in their current job for more than five years. Most Americans (72%) didn't think it would be difficult to get another job. This indicated general optimism about the economy and the job market in the mid- and late-Eighties. The most important aspect of a job for the majority of Americans surveyed was a feeling of accomplishment, beating out high pay by a better than 2 to 1 margin.


In 1987, the median family income was $30,853 -- three times what it was in 1970, though if you adjusted for inflation it was only a 7% increase. 23% of Americans made over $50,000, 20% made between $35-50,000, and 17.5% made between $25-35,000. At the other end of the scale, 4.4% made under $5,000, while 7.3% made between $5-10,000. A family making $86,000 found itself in the highest 5% of the population. The median family income for whites in 1987 was $32,274 and for blacks was $18,098.

In 1985, 116,985,000 Americans earned wages or salaries, while 47% received some kind of income from the government; for instance, 33 million Americans received Social Security checks.

In 1987, the average personal income for men was $22,684. For women it was $11,345. That year, 56% of American women were in the workforce. The highest wages were paid in the West, the lowest in the South and Midwest.

In 1985, nearly 60% of Americans were paid hourly, and median hourly wage for men was $7.45. For women it was $5.26. Among salaried workers, the highest paid occupations were airplane pilot, chemical engineer and lawyer, the only three who made median weekly earnings of over $700. Half of one percent of the population earned more than $280,000; over 30% of them were in the banking, real estate, or insurance fields.

In 1984, 18 million Americans (20% of the workforce) were employed by some level of government. The federal government employed 2.9 million. The Postal Service employed nearly 750,000.

In 1986 there were 2,176,000 teachers in the public schools, earning an average salary of $25,257 a year. Among doctors, general practitioners averaged $79,000 a year, while neurosurgeons brought in $205,000 a year. Fresh out of law school, an attorney could expect to make $26,000 with a law firm.

In 1985, 14% of the American people (about 33 million) lived below the poverty line ($10,989 for a family of four.) Two-thirds of them were white. The majority lived in rural areas. But most of the poor did not remain poor; less than 3% were poor for 8 or more years.


In 1984, the average household spent $21,788 a year, or 88% of pre-tax income. Only 31% of households had any discretionary income -- that is, anything left after paying taxes, mortgage or rent, car payments, and expenditures for food, clothing, etc.

Americans paid for 57% of their purchases by check in 1984, and 36% of them in cash, while charging only 6% -- even though by 1987 1 billion credit cards were in the possession of 100 million Americans.

In 1985, Americans paid $329 billion in taxes on $2.3 trillion dollars of adjusted gross income as revealed on 101,700,000 income tax returns. (A little over 19,000 American reported adjusted gross incomes of over 1 million dollars.) The 26% of Americans with adjusted gross incomes of $30,000 and up paid 76% of all income tax. The average tax burden on the individual American was 22.5%.

In 1985, Americans gave $80 million to charitable organizations.


In 1987, we bought 10.2 million new automobiles, nearly 30% of them imports. The average new car price the previous year was $12,585, and the most popular cars were the Ford Escort, the Ford Taurus, and the Honda Accord. Moreso than before, Americans were buying vans and trucks, with a record 4.6 million of them sold in 1987. In 1986, 16.5 million used cars were purchased at the average price of $5,833. In 1986, over 158 million Americans had a driver's license. That same year, 22% of them were involved in a motor vehicle accident, and only about 30% consistently wore seatbelts. In 1985, 8,449,000 speeding tickets were issued.

Americans owned 111 million bicycles in 1986, and nearly 14 million pleasure boats and 5.5 million motorcycles the previous year. In 1985, 94% of American households had a television set, and 50% had a videocassette recorder, double the number from only a year earlier. Following the breakup of AT&T, more and more Americans owned their telephones -- 55% in 1985. Another hot item in the Eighties was the telephone answering machine; while only 5% of households had one of those in 1985, nearly 20% did two years later. In 1985, 12% of American households owned a computer. In 1987 we bought 300,000 car phones, yet another hot new item in the 1980s.

There were approximately 120 million privately owned firearms in the United States in 1986, with about half of the households having at least one. Nearly 60% of households had at least one pet in 1985, including 46 million dogs, with one out of three of those dogs being mixed breed. The most popular pure breeds were the German shepherd and golden retriever. We also owned 45 million cats (26% of households), 27 million birds (15% of households) and 250 million fish in 12% of households.


In 1985 there were 45,480,000 single adults between the ages of 20-64 in America. Most Americans surveyed met singles of the opposite sex most often through friends or at social gatherings; only 24% of men and 18% of women met at bars, and only 10% of men and 9% of women met at work. A five-year study revealed that women made the first move most of the time.

A 1984 study showed that 53% of 18-year old girls had had sex. A similar study revealed that 66% of 18 year old boys had had sex. Less than half of both boys and girls used any contraceptive method. Not surprisingly, 4 out of 10 teenage girls became pregnant before they were 20. In 1984, nearly half of the 892,000 teenage pregnancies ended in abortion. Teenagers with poor academic scores were more likely to be sexually experienced (over 50%) while those with good academic scores were less likely (21%).

Casual sex declined somewhat in the Eighties due to the fear of sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS in particular. Of the 11 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported in America in 1986, only 15,000 were AIDS, while there were 500,000 cases of herpes and 1,800,000 cases of gonorrhea. However, since AIDS was 100% fatal, it was the chief concern, and by1987, 50,000 Americans had contracted it, with 73% of these being homosexual or bisexual men, 17% intravenous drug users, and 4% heterosexuals. Only 6.6% of AIDS victims were female.

In 1981 there were 2,422,000 marriages in the U.S. and 1,213,000 divorces -- a record in both cases. Between 1981 and 1985, the number of marriages rose 3% while the number of divorces declined 5%, the first time this had happened in modern times. In1985, 21% of all American adults had been married twice or more. Generally, women were marrying at an older age; however, in the South, 36% of marriages recorded in 1983 involved a teenage bride (with 18% in the Northeast.) Interracial marriages accounted for only 1.3% of the total in 1982 (719,000). Three-fourths of all first marriages occurred in a religious setting.

More than half of both men and women (50% and 57% respectively) were in relationships in which both spouses worked and shared child-rearing responsibilities. Nine out of ten Americans believed marriage was the best of all living arrangements. The most important reason American had for getting married was "love" (83%), followed by" to have children" (44%) and because it was "better than living on one's own" (21%). By 1985 the number of Americans who thought divorce was acceptable had declined by nearly 5% since 1980.

However, only half of women in their first marriages who were polled in 1986 said they would marry their spouse again, while 77% of men in their first marriages said they would marry the same woman again. The number one cause for discord among spouses was money (78%), with adultery being the cause 25% of the time. The number of physically abused women actually declined between 1975 and 1985, but 1 out of every 38 married women were physically abused in 1985.

A 1983 survey of 100,000 adults showed that 48% of married men and 38% of married women had affairs. Half of the marriages in which cheating occurred ended in divorce. The divorce rate, though, declined between 1980 and 1985. Women who married in their teens had the highest divorce rate. Poor communication was cited as the leading cause of the divorce 90% of the time.


There were 3,756,000 babies born in the U.S. in 1986. This number reflected a continuing decline in the birth rate since the 1950s. About 90% of the babies were wanted at the time of conception. In 1984, 21% of babies were born out of wedlock. Among single mothers age 18-29, 43% were black and 8% white; among those age 30-49, almost 70% were black and 11% were white. There were 1.5 million abortions performed in 1985, 43 for every 100 live births. The vast majority of women having abortions were unmarried -- over 80%.

In 1987 there were 63,542,000 children under the age of 18 in this country. Many -- 42% of white children and 86% of black children, lived with only one parent. A decade-long National Family Violence Survey revealed that severe violence against children was declining during the 1980s. This was due to tougher penalties against abusers, and the increased likelihood that child abuse would be reported. In 1986, 8,686,000 working mothers made some kind of day care arrangements for their children.

In 1985, 88% of the nearly 27 million children enrolled in grades 1-8 attended public schools. There were a little over 14 million children in high school, 91% of them in public schools. In 1986, 2,402,000 students received high school diplomas, representing a 72% graduation rate. The percentage of drop-outs declined during the 1980s, particularly among blacks teenagers -- that rate dropped from 22% in 1970 to 12.6% in 1984. In 1985, a little more than half of all high school graduates were either attending college or had completed at least one year of college.

In 1986, studies showed that 93% of all students had tried alcohol by the time they were high school seniors; 11% drank several times a week, and there were an estimated 500,000 teenage alcoholics. As for marijuana, 54% of students admitted to having tried it. This rate was down from a high of 60% in 1979. Cocaine use, however, was on the upswing, with 17% of high school seniors having tried it. In 1986, 30% of high school students were cigarette smokers.

In the Eighties, kids were not in very good physical condition. In fact, only 2% of 18 million youngsters passed the Presidential Physical Fitness test in 1984. Only about one in three met the Amateur Athletic Union's standards for average health. Reasons: increased television watching and less physical education in schools.

Leisure time declined in the Eighties, because the average work day increased from 46.9 hours in 1980 to 48.8 hours in 1985. Between 1980 and 1984, leisure time declined from 19.2 hours to 18.1 hours. This was due in part to the increase in white-collar salaried jobs and a decrease in blue-collar "time clock" jobs. Previously, it had been predicted that technology would increase leisure time; that didn't seem to be the case.

Americans spent the majority (57%) of their leisure time at home in passive activities like reading or watching television. We talked on the phone at lot, making 1,263,000 calls daily in 1985, with over half of them from home. In 1986, 82& of American adults watched television daily, and a TV set was on an average of 7 hours in an American household. Children and men watched TV an average of nearly four hours a day, while women watched about four-and-a-half hours a day. One reason that TV viewing was on the rise was cable television service; in 1985 cable was available to 68% of all households, and 41% (36.9 million households) subscribed to a cable service.

In the late Forties, Americans went to the movies, on the average, at least twice a month, but by the 1980s, we only went to the movies an average of five times a year. About 67% of Americans attended a play or some other live theater performance at least once a year, and 60% of us attended a concert or some other musical live performance at least once a year. In 1986, Americans purchased 2 billion books; 66% of women and 54% of men surveyed the previous year had read at least one book in the past three months. Meanwhile, 60% of Americans read a newspaper every day, and 90% read at least one magazine every month. The most-read magazines were Reader's Digest (18 million readers) and TV Guide (17 million readers.)

As for outdoor recreation, a 1985 presidential commission study revealed that 50% of Americans liked to walk, and nearly as many liked a pleasure drive, while 30% went swimming, 10% played golf, and 17% liked to jog. One out of four of us fished, and one out of ten went hunting, 17% went bicycling and 10% played tennis. In 1986, nearly 70% of Americans were exercising, with almost half exercising 1.5 hours a week or less, and 27% working out five hours or more. In 1985, 20% participated in aerobics. (Nonetheless, nearly 60% of us were overweight in 1985.) Gardening was the number one outdoor activity, it occurred in 82% of households.

In 1986, nearly 105 million Americans took a vacation, with about one in ten traveling to foreign countries for that purpose. Golfing and skiing were by far the most popular recreational activities during a vacation. The most popular vacation destinations in the U.S. were Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park.


Sex Education -- In the 1980s a majority of Americans believed sex education should be taught in public schools -- in one poll, they thought so by an 85% to 14% margin. That included 68% of all born-again Christians, 80% of Republicans, and 77% of rural people. They felt that if sex education were not available there would be even more unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Smoking -- By 1985 the percentage of Americans who smoked had declined from a high of 45% in the Fifties to 30%. In spite of a vigorous anti-smoking campaign in the second half of the decade, polls showed that only 34% favored restrictions on smoking in the workplace. Only 8% supported an all-out ban on smoking, and only 32% supported a total ban on cigarette advertising. And 62% of smokers were willing to accept restrictions.

Guns --In 1986, the Senate repealed significant portions of the 1968 gun control law that had been passed following the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The National Rifle Association exercised considerable political clout during the 1980s, and had a staunch ally in President Ronald Reagan. That year -- 1986 -- polls revealed that 60% of Americans favored stricter gun laws, and only 8% wanted less stringent controls than those that already existed. 70% of those polled favored the registration of all handguns.

Pornography --1985 polls showed that a 51% to 44% majority were offended by the sexual content in movies, with slightly greater majorities offended by the sex found on television. A substantial 67% to 39% majority believed that sexually- explicit magazines and movies led to a breakdown of public morality. In spite of this, slightly over half of Americans polled on this subject believed that such material could improve their sex lives, and 37% admitted that they sometimes read magazines like Playboy. As for banning pornographic magazines, 69% were opposed.

AIDS appeared on the scene in the 1980s, and it's safe to say that for a while there was a sense of panic among the general public as medical experts scrambled to learn more about the disease and disseminate correct information. By 1986, 98% of those polled had heard of AIDS, and just about everyone (73%) believed it was a very serious problem. While 53% of those polled thought AIDS could be contracted by living in the same house as someone with the disease, about two-thirds of Americans understood by 1986 that it could not be contracted by breathing the same air or through touch. A big majority, 87%, favored requiring hospitals to accept AIDS victims (some hospitals were reluctant to do so) and 86% supported federal funding for free blood tests for anyone who wanted to be tested for AIDS. Americans demonstrated their great faith in medical technology when asked if they thought a cure for AIDS would be found in the next few years -- 84% said yes.

Abortion -- A few years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, 60% of Americans polled supported legalized abortions. But by the Eighties that had dwindled to 50%, and only 31% of born-again Christians favored it. By 56% to 40%, Americans in the 1980s equated abortion with murder, and 60% felt that the fetus should have rights. On the other hand, 72% feared that if abortions weren't legal, more women would die from complications connected to illegal abortions. And a majority of Americans said they could support a woman's decision to have an abortion if her life or mental health were in danger, or if she had been the victim of incest or rape. And while both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were opposed to abortion, and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist's goal was to overturn Roe v Wade, three-fourths of all Americans were convinced that abortion would never be made illegal -- that, essentially, the issue had been resolved.

American Medical Association, American Rifle Association, Electronics Industries Association, Hertz Corporation, Gallup Organization, Louis Harris and Associates, Motor Vehicle Manufacturer's Association, National Center for Health Statistics, National Education Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Safety Council, US Bureau of the Census, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Congress Quarterly Directory, US Department of Defense, US Department of Education, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Energy Information Administration, US Federal Highway Administration, US Internal Revenue Service, Ward's Business Directory, Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education