There is no single reason for the development of culture; rather, it came about as a result of the number of different social changes occurring at the same time. These developments included the increasing economic power of young people, the influence of the USA and globalisation, social changes at the end of World War 2, development of the media, demographic change in the numbers of young people and the transition to adulthood. Defining youth culture can be difficult because different cultures and interruptions in employment status’s can affect the perspective of what “youth” is.
Culture is the way we live within our culture and youth culture is the way youth lives within it but because of the difficulties youth culture could mean different things to different cultures. Youth culture developed in the early 1950’s, although the idea of youth as a phase in life has a longer history. Youth culture was first developed in America after World War 2, which then Britain decided to follow due to media and other influences from America.
In my opinion the most important factor that developed youth culture was the economic changes in society.
Due to the demand in workers after the Second World War there was an economic growth. The first person to realise the impact this was having on young people was Abram’s (1959) who analysed the increased economic power of the ‘teenage consumer’. There was a noticeable pattern in what was getting most money spent on, because young people were the age group spending the highest proportion of their income on leisure activities and music, clothes and cosmetics.
This increase in economic power created the conditions for the emerging youth culture to develop.
For the first time, young people had significant amounts of money to spend. Another extremely important factor for the development was the social change at the end of World War 2. There was much more opportunities for young people and possibilities at this time. Before the war, Britain was characterized by a class structure. By the time it came to the 1950s, we started to see a change in the economy and this opened up oppurtunities and individual expression. Judging on conventional standards, opportunities were becoming bigger.
Cinema, art, literature and theatre began to explore new ideas. Amongst many new ideas was that young people were a distinctive group with new values and ideas about their place in society. The next important development for youth culture in my opinion was the influence of the USA and globalisation. With the changing culture and the growth in affluence of the 1950s, there was a ready market for American goods and culture, which included rock and roll music and other products aimed at the new ‘teenage market’.
A quote from Leech (’76) saying ‘youthquake’ explained how a change in the new youth was such a sudden change it was like an earthquake. Globalisation recognised what young people wanted and advertised it more. I think the next development of the youth culture which was important was the growth and specialization of media. Media was becoming a lot more popular and so was advertisement. The media started to advertise the products that young people during that time wanted and this was a massive boost for the economics and spread quickly across the world. The 1950’s saw an explosion of different sorts of media.
This was only possible because of the growth in social diversity and an increase in spending power that persuaded companies to spend large amounts of money advertising the new media. As a high-spending and newly discovered group, young people became the target for advertisers and hence the commercial media competed to attract this market. Another social condition that made the development of youth culture possible was transition to adulthood. Transition refers to the movement from being economically and socially dependent on parents, towards independence.
The length of transition increased over the 20th century as the average period in education. Due to the longer age of being in education, it meant that typical adult responsibilities were taken on increasingly later in life, leaving young people with a number of years where they were physically mature but without the responsibilities of adulthood. This caused young people to want their own place in society. The last social condition that helped youth culture become possible was the demographic change in numbers of young people.
After the war because couple had been split for so long because of hundreds of men being sent abroad, many sexual experiences had been delayed for years. The result was that when the men were released from the armed forces in 1945/46, there was a huge increase in birth rate. Although many of the children born at this time were not ‘teenagers’ until the end of 1950’s, they did ensure that youth culture continued and grew as a cultural form. Around 50 to 60 years ago, for the first time, a youth culture appeared to be emerging – young people appeared to be developing their own values, customs, tastes, clothes, music and language.
After studying and discussing all the different social conditions that developed youth culture I have discovered that youth culture wasn’t made overnight. It took all these 6 main factors to create this culture and carry it on until this day. Economics was the most important condition in my opinion due to the fact that it all started because of the economic boost after World War 2. America was the country that started this youth culture and Britain followed it after the war ended. Abercrombie et al. (2000) has suggested that youth culture has three distinguishing features: leisure, style and peer group.