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The 1960s and 2010s Decades in the United States Essay

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Updated: Jul 7th, 2021


Comparing decades is a monumental task as modern history shows, a tremendous number of world-changing events can occur in such a short period of time. Each decade is unique, having an identity shaped by its culture, political differences, as well as social tendencies, and perceptions. However, the most interesting approach is to compare a historic decade to modern time, after all, history is meant to demonstrate the progress of human civilization and provide invaluable lessons about society’s biggest mistakes. The 1960s and 2010s decades are similar in patterns of conflicting ideological differences and subsequent large-scale social changes that differ in the context of modern perceptions and acceptance by the population.

The 1960s

The 1960s was one of the most historically profound and turbulent times in history, characterized by the complexity of racial, inter-cultural, and political trends in the United States. The country was fully engaged in the Cold War, experiencing a consistent threat of nuclear annihilation. American society was greatly divided on a number of vital issues and events. In the context of this paper which focuses on comparing social changes across the decades, the 1960s is most well-known for its large social movements and protests regarding a vast number of issues. The most prominent of which is the Civil Rights movement focused on desegregation for people of color and ethnic minorities, achieving a significant breakthrough in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed which made segregation and discrimination officially illegal.

The decade is known for giving birth to social movements as part of the counterculture revolution to the conservative, white male-dominated society. Led by the younger generations, it was an opposition to the social conformity of the previous decade and people became less tolerant of injustices that were committed against minorities. Scholarly research by Biggs and Andrews discusses places such as the deeply segregated U.S. South, protest campaigns and social movements saw increased success (416). Political environments and economic conditions which were previously extremely conservative and outright racist began to experience general change. There were many challenges as many protests turned violent with African Americans killed by police. The undesired change led to the prevalence of extremists such as white nationalists and the KKK which terrorized civilians. Nevertheless, the socio-political conditions of the decade were favorable for such massive change and protesters had the support of the liberal federal government as well as the economic leverage to achieve desegregation.

The 2010s

The 2010s decade is known to be both a celebration of a scientific and technological breakthrough as well as the degradation of the global political peace and rise of tensions. Similar to the 1960s, this decade has seen the rise of satellite military conflicts such as Syria and the rise of tensions with other nuclear-capable powers in the likes of Russia, China, and North Korea. The decade is experiencing significant ecological and environmental disasters which have begun to shake the foundation of human society. Humanity has seen significant anthropological as military conflicts and poverty in some parts of the world have led to the mass migration of refugees to wealthier countries. Socially, there has been a lot of unrest, both for political and ideology related, as resources are becoming scarce and the wealth divide between the rich and poor is exponentially increasing.

The rise of nationalistic sentiments in light of rising migrations, instances of institutionalism racism, and the uncovering of decades of hidden discrimination and abuse, both racial and gender-based in many industries, have led to the emergence of social movements meant to spread awareness and create societal change. An article by Molly Callahan of Northeastern University discusses the various movements prevalent in this decade. It is known for officially recognizing and establishing rights for the LGTBQ community. After evidence of police brutality and discrimination against African Americans has emerged, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction. Finally, a pattern of abuse and discrimination against women which has been uncovered through the MeToo movement has led to important changes in various industries. Although legislation has already existed for many of these groups, these listed movements among many others have led to changes in social identity and culture regarding awareness and acceptance.

Contrast Discussion

The 1960s and the ongoing 2010s decades are both inherently similar but also vastly different when juxtaposed. Both decades experienced a time of extreme social divide based on race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, political affiliation, and ideology. At the same time, both decades saw significant social changes in terms of legislation and public perception regarding at least one of these divisive issues, beginning a widespread conversation regarding acceptance and unity. However, as noted by a Washington Post article, the “social divides were deeper back then” (Ingraham). Protests were larger and less safe, with many more instigators of racial violence which were almost expected. Communication among different races and cultures was more difficult to establish, even in peaceful settings such as schools.

Despite similar patterns of social division, the society in the 2010s decade has a legislative and moral foundation about the wrongdoing of such aspects as racism and discrimination. The public, in general, is more educated, aware, and actively participating in the discussion via tools such as social media. These were nonexistent in the 1960s, creating significantly more challenges for social movements to make their voice heard in comparison to modern-day where movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are trending and providing a platform for the injustices. A comprehensive investigative report by Bijan Stephen for the Wired magazine examines this perspective of media and reporting of civil rights abuses, stating “any large social movement is shaped by the technology available to it and tailors its goals, tactics, and rhetoric to the media of its time” (Stephen). It inherently increases awareness and public pressure on the government to create meaningful change. However, both decades saw significant breakthroughs for women and racial minority rights, both in policy and social behavior.

In this context, it can be argued that while the ideologies continue to clash, in the 1960s, it was a minority attempting to make a difference for civil rights going against a fully conservative society. In the 2010s, such social change comes much easier, as society is more accepting and willing to identify its shortcomings. Once a social movement overcomes the initial barriers of gathering support and providing evidence. Nevertheless, it takes time and unfortunate sacrifice before the mindset of the whole society begins to change for the better.


The 1960s and 2010s were both decades of socio-political turmoil due to differences in ideology and breakthroughs in civil and social rights of minority groups such as African-Americans and women. Although the 1960s saw more violence and conservative backlash, the 2010s were more difficult in terms of solutions since there was already a legislative base, social changes had to occur at a more complex level of sociological behavior. It is difficult to compare decades from a perspective of social movements, but doing so helps to identify both, the successes and the failures that the country experienced when faced with challenges and needs to evolve. Using these lessons, society can move forward and build upon the foundations that have been created by history.

Works Cited

Biggs, Michael, and Kenneth T. Andrews. “Protest Campaigns and Movement Success: Desegregating the U.S. South in the Early 1960s.” American Sociological Review, vol. 80, no. 2, 2015, pp. 416-443, Web.

Callahan, Molly. ” #Metoo, #Blacklivesmatter, #Nobannowall: Social Movements Likely to Dominate 2018.” News @ Northeastern. 2018, Web.

Ingraham, Christopher. “How the Unrest of the 1960s Compares to Today, according to the People Who Lived Through It.” The Washington Post. 2016, Web.

Stephen, Bijan. Wired. 2015, Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The 1960s and 2010s Decades in the United States." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-1960s-and-2010s-decades-in-the-united-states/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'The 1960s and 2010s Decades in the United States'. 7 July.

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