How do you relate to "The Decades"?

As someone who has seen a few of the officially designated “decades” come and go, starting with the 40’s, I have had some trouble falling into line with the powers that be over what those decades really mean. I even argue with their timing.

Here’s my basic theory: an individual relates best to the people he or she is in high school with. That makes an age group that stretches from the seniors when you’re a freshman to the freshmen when you’re a senior, and (if my arithmetic is right) that makes seven years. I contend you don’t relate equally well to all of those, so more like five years would be closer to right.

Now, I see no magic to something like fashions, arts, entertainment, government, products, or whatever you name, falling neatly into those ten-year lumps. By design, the politicians have either 2, 4, or 6 year terms, not 10, so only the 2-year folks even have a shot at neat 10-year slices of their lives.

And when you get to the specific decade at issue, it’s rare that it fall neatly into the x0-x9 (or better yet the x1-x0) year grouping.

Take “The 60’s” as a for instance. The 60’s were almost done when the hippies started having their biggest influence. Until then the 60’s were more like what people think the 50’s were. And the 60’s stretched well into the 70’s as far as that social upheaval stuff went.

Now, some of you may only have two or three (maybe four, possibly even five) decades to have to evaluate. But how do those neat packages of ten-year patterns strike you?

I think you’re right about people’s conception of a decade not lining up with the actually years. I came to the same conclusion when I realized how much of what I think of as the 80’s took place between 1986 and 1992.

Well, I agree with you that the cultural evolution associated with a decade often seems to be really descriptive of the last half of the named decade and the first half of the next (half beiing used arbitrarily). While Jack Kerouac was on the road in the '50s, and the UC Berkely Free Love demonstrators were hosed off the library steps in 1959, it wasn’t until the mid-'60s that a lot of what we associate with that decade started getting big media play.

But not all follow the pattern. The, IMHO, rather misnamed “Me” decade of the '80s garnered its appellation from the first part of the decade.

And some decades stick out more than others. We’ve had the Gay '90s, the Roaring '20s and the (what?) '60s, but I don’t even know if there’s a common nickname for the 1990s.

I (born in 1959) remember “Swingin’ '60’s” as a contemporary description of the decade. I’ve also heard of the “Fabulous Fifties” and “Dirty Thirties” (the latter a Dust Bowl reference, as well as a near-rhyme).

Here’s my “unofficial” USA-centric breakdown of the twentieth century (I’d be interested in British, Australian, and other perspectives):

First decade (the “aughts”?): Coincides with the Theodore Roosevelt administration – Sept. 14, 1901 to March 4, 1909

The “teens”: Ended with World War I armistice (Nov. 11, 1918)

Roaring Twenties: Brought to abrupt halt with stock market crash of Oct. 29, 1929

Thirties: Dominated by Great Depression, ended when Pearl Harbor attacked Dec. 7, 1941

Forties: Bookended by World War II and Korean War, came to close with armistice signing in Panmunjom on July 27, 1953

Fifties: Eisenhower era and Kennedy administration

Sixties: Began with JFK assassination and LBJ assumption of presidency (Nov. 22, 1963)

Seventies: Ushered in on Aug. 9, 1974, when Watergate scandal caused President Nixon to resign

Eighties: Dawned on Jan. 20, 1981 – Reagan succeeded Carter in White House just before hostages released in Iran

Nineties: Began once Reagan and Bush Cold War policies led to Eastern Bloc upheaval, culminating in the December 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union

First decade of third millennium: Arrived with terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001

Some people may not realize that “the Gay '90’s” refer to the 1890’s.

I pretty much agree with the OP. The '60s are the best proof that decades don’t fit into neat little time frames.

Thanks, folks, for the input.

Do any of you care to address that notion of the age-group you consider your “peer group” and how that may relate to your concept of decades or other convenient “time slices”?

I do admit that our base-10 number system leads us to see 10’s and groups of 10’s with some prejudice. And it does make for easy labeling of segments of time. It’s good code for ideas, notions, feelings, stages, whatever.

And on this very issue, are any of you familiar with the book by Strauss and Howe, called Generations? If so, it might be fun to compare some of their theories/findings with other notions we may have among ourselves.

(If you don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the Howe and Strauss book, this site shows some of the main points from the book.)

Sternvogel, I like your decade divisions and I agree with most of them, but I have slight quibbles with two:

For me, the seventies began when American military involvement in Vietnam ended, which seemed to be March 1973 according to a quick Google search. The 70s were well underway when Watergate happened, at least as I remember it.

The Eighties didn’t start as soon as Reagan took office, but when the economy turned around in late 1982.

The 90s and the 00s I agree completely.

All IMHO, of course.

A few thoughts: The 50s began with the election of Eisenhower and the beginning of that decade’s economic prosperity. I think those two things more or less coincided.

The 60s ended with the end of the draft.

The 80s ended when the Challenger blew up…the decade died young.

The 90s ended on September 11, 2001.

Sorry, I have to disagree with this one. The Challenger explosion, while undoubtedly sad, did not really affect millions of peoples lives and rearrange the global political situation the way the collapse of the Soviet Union did.

That would be like saying the 90s ended not on Sept. 11, 2001 but instead when Princess Diana died. Again, sad, but not epochal. When historians look back on our times they are going to be studying the end of the USSR, not the explosion of the Challenger.

oh yeah, we had a van. In some ways the 60’s ended the day we sold it, December 31st, 1969.