Family values of the 80's and 90's were considerably different than those of the previous decades, and to a great extent, this was the intention of the generations that came of age during those years. As children of the "free love" movement of the 1960's, these children were often unplanned, and more often than not, products of broken homes. The reality is, as children of the 1960's came of age in the 80's and 90's, they purposefully diverged from their parents' behaviors that they saw as dysfunctional.
Since nothing happens overnight in reference to societal change, one must look to the previous decades to evaluate the causes driving societal change in the 80's and 90's. Women's liberation movements, oil shortages, high divorce rates, the need for mothers to enter the workforce, and really bad fashion all played into the hands of those starting families in the latter decades of the 20th century. All of these influences directly impacted the family they grew up in, and most had a profound impact on how the next generation would be raised. Looking at education, marriage, and work, one can gather a pretty fair understanding of the values shift that took place.
No more was the nuclear family of the 1950's the dominant memory from childhood. The 1960's saw a rebellion against conformity to the norm, and the concept of premarital sex came to the forefront. Choices were made for the moment, life was lived in the "now," and the vestiges of marriage out of responsibility for a pregnancy drove many to wed, despite a lack of profound respect and mutual love for each other. This is evidenced in the divorce rates of the 1970's, and in an overall rejection of the idea that marriage lasts "'till death do us part." Young people who suffered through these broken contracts became known as "Generation X" and demonstrated a lack of belonging, a fear of commitment, and started looking out for themselves, rather than creating a union with another. Video games started taking the place of organized sports, and the success of the individual overshadowed the happy marriage, kids, and white picket fence as markers of a satisfying lifestyle. A well-paying job, sporty BMW, and embrace of the self embodied the 1980's, leaving the traditional family at the wayside.
It used to be that working in the trades, earning a respectable living serving others, was the major track of the man. A select few had what it took to go on to the university, and those with college degrees were the people who earned the most money, and had the most advanced positions. It didn't matter so much what your degree was in, but that you were college educated. As a social species, humans naturally gravitate towards each other. The lack of solid family unit left many fearing the "real world" outside of school, driving many more to the ivory towers of higher learning. Instead of succeeding with a high school diploma, people without a college education were viewed more and more as "less than" educated, and the advent of the information superhighway opened the door for tens of thousands of degreed entrepreneurs, engineers, programmers, and sales professionals to make their individual livings. Consider these career fields. Most financially successful people in these areas work one-on-one with their computers, further eroding the interactive nature with other humans. Engineers designed communications tools that further eliminated the need to communicate in person, employing instead voice messaging, e-mail, and mobile phones. Quickly, interpersonal communications were no longer personal. People became lists of information, telephone numbers, or contacts. Money no longer exchanged hands, but rather resided in computers as numbers on a screen. ATM's replaced humans at the bank, and plastic was no longer indicative of credit, but the preferred method of payment. Direct deposit replaced a paycheck, further separating the worker from the pay, and the effort from the reward.
Marriage, all the while, made a remarkable comeback during these two decades. Children of broken homes became partners who didn't want to be like their parents. The disparity of roles in the home became partnerships for survival. No longer could a family make ends meet with one income. Women felt not only empowered, but expected to enter the workforce. Marriages were something that happened during breakfast, and then again after work and until bed. AIDS put a stop, or a serious slow-down, upon cavalier sexual activity, making monogamy more in vogue. The raising of children was not so much about bringing on the next generation, but more of a financial burden and imposition on lifestyles. People changed their ideas about how to raise children, too. Reacting to their own upbringings, children became "friends" of their parents, and were extended more adult status, rather than being "just kids." Discipline became a mental and emotional endeavor, rather than the barbaric spanking and physical torture these parents endured at the hands of their less-enlightened parents.
Thus, during the 1980's and 90's we created a new generation of monsters. Kids who communicate non-stop, but not in person. We raised children who view themselves as equals to adults, and who lack respect for the older generations that toiled for their survival. We sit them in front of televisions, computers, or video game consoles rather than books or human caregivers. Money has become something that is given, not earned, and is spent on wants, not needs. Teachers lost respect because they don't earn enough money to command the respect of those they teach. They don't drive the right cars, or live in big homes. Designer labels outweigh functionality, and are modeled by people who, in the minds of our children, are truly successful.
What happened to family values during the 1980's and 90's? We replaced them with societal values that cannot sustain the individual. Time will tell if the economic collapse forces a return to that which is truly priceless. Whether conservative values stage a comeback depends on how far down the progressive path we travel, and whether or not we, as a society, can re-embrace the family as the root of our society.