1983 was marked by geopolitical upheaval and technological invention alike. President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire, inflaming already tense U.S./USSR relations. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, tracked and shot down a South Korean 747 that had strayed into its airspace, killing all aboard. The falling of the Berlin Wall reunited East and West Germany for the first time since 1945. A terrorist attack in Lebanon carried out by a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 220 U.S. Marines and 21 other service personnel. The space shuttle Challenger made a successful first voyage, featuring both the first U.S. female astronaut, the late Dr. Sally Ride, and the first U.S. space walk in nine years. (Challenger tragically exploded after liftoff in 1986.)
Other upheavals occurred in arts and music. Compact discs were introduced and began to shoulder vinyl records to the side. Singer Karen Carpenter died from anorexia-related complications, bringing eating disorders into the public spotlight for the first time. M*A*S*H’s final episode aired and still holds the record for most-watched TV series finale. The ABC TV-movie The Day After, a controversial apocalyptic depiction of the aftermath of a U.S.-Russia nuclear exchange , was shot at and around the University of Kansas to make the point that nowhere—not even part of what many considered the quintessential American heartland—was safe from nuclear war.
College freshmen taking The Freshman Survey in 1983 were also concerned about less overwhelming environmental issues. When asked their opinion of “The Federal government is not doing enough to control environmental pollution,” 81.4% overall agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat,” with 30.9% agreeing “strongly.” The survey also measured respondents’ level of agreement with the statement “The Federal government should do more to discourage energy consumption.” Overall, 77.5% agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly” with this statement, with 59.5% agreeing “somewhat.”
When breaking down responses to “The Federal government is not doing enough to control environmental pollution” by gender, male and female students’ answers were extremely similar in the “agree strongly” category (respectively 31% and 30.7%); of the few who disagreed “strongly,” 3.1% were male and 1.4% female. The same pattern held true when analyzing responses to “The Federal government should do more to discourage energy consumption” by gender. A total of 15.6% of males and 18.5% of females agreed “strongly”; 3.8% of males and 2.3% of females disagreed “strongly.”
Opinions differed somewhat along self-identified political affiliation. A total of 84.3% of students identifying as far left politically agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” that the government was not doing enough to control environmental pollution; on the opposite end of the political spectrum, 58.8% of students identifying as far right also agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” with the statement. When asked whether the federal government should do more to discourage energy consumption, 76.2% of students identifying as far left politically agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat.” This was also true for 61.3% of students identifying as far right.
Opinions that the federal government was not doing enough to protect the environment also held true across geographic regions. For instance, 83.2% of students in the East, 79.9% of students in the Midwest, 79.5% of students in the South, and 80.8% of students in the West agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” that the government was not doing enough to control environmental pollution.
This convergence of opinion regarding the need for the federal government to do more work on controlling environmental pollution and discouraging energy consumption is striking because it cuts across gender, political, and regional differences between students at a time when President Ronald Reagan and many other politicians advocated strongly for a limited government and less federal regulation. Yet TFS freshmen respondents in 1983, according to the data, were looking for the federal government to do more to protect the environment they shared with those limited-government advocates.
Did you know?: Only 8.1% of 1983 freshmen respondents rated themselves as “above average” when asked about their “popularity with the opposite sex”; 52.4% rated themselves as “below average” and 35% rated themselves “average.”
34.5% of freshmen students in 1983 planned to earn a master’s degree as their highest academic degree.
36.8% of responding freshmen in 1983 considered going to college to “make me a more cultured person” a “very important” reason to attend.