Y is for Youth Culture (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - Youth Culture - The 1920s were the first time in history where a youth culture as an indipendent manifestation of society ever showed up

YWhen we think to the youth culture of the Twenties, we tend to have this romantic idea that suddenly, Youth were born and young people took awareness of themselves and changed the world with that awareness.
Well, as it’s often the case, actual history isn’t neither that easy, that clean or that simple.

In the 1920s a change that had been happening since the Victorian Era came to its completion. Upper class and upper-middle class parents changed their attitude towards their children. Because contraception methods had become more accepted and effective, this class could do what their parents had aspire to but couldn’t attain: deciding how many children to have and dedicate more time and resources to the few they chose to have.
This lead to a longer childhood for these children, a longer period in which youths could pursue their own aspirations and express themselves in a freer way before taking up adult’s responsibilities.

WWI also had an impact on this generation. Men went out to war and many never returned. Women took up the jobs men had vacated and they often worked jobs previously barred to women.
When the war ended, nothing went back to what it used to be.
Even when women did go back to their previous occupations, they still had the experience and the notion they could do as good as men. Men that came back had their Victorian ideals shuttered by the crude experience of Europe’s trenches.


So, this new generation who had a lot of time on their hands, who was better educated, who had this idea that personal fulfilment was important because you can never know when your life will change forever and who thought difference between sexes wasn’t as sharp as their parents thought, exploded in the post-war years.
The same contraception methods that had allowed their parents to decide about their parental life, allowed these youths to explore sexuality in a freer way. They started dating, which assumed people didn’t need to be engaged in order to have a relation. This made looks a lot more important, because now everyone could choose their partners. Which was what led to maybe the most shocking part of Twenties youth culture, freer ways of acting and presenting themselves, especially on the part of women (because the change was more apparent on their part, but it was of course accepted on both side of a relation).
The idea that one could choose their partner brought about a more companionship attitude, because people looked for a companion in the partner, not only a mate.
And besides, these young people also thought personal fulfilment was key to anyone’s life. They went to college, so their future wasn’t linked to that of their parents in terms of opportunities and education. They knew life didn’t last forever and so it was right to pursue your dreams when you could. In a lot of ways, these youths were shrewder than their elders.

6aaf6a76e386603e4b094a41afbc1ce5But when it came to stop the party and get down to business, meaning getting a real life, their ideals weren’t all that different from their parents’. They wanted to choose their partner, they wanted to be attractive for them, they wanted to have a more companionship relation, but ultimately what these youths were after was very similar to their parents: a family, a house, women wanted a good possibly wealthy husband, men wanted a good wife and mother for their children.

And besides, what young people did, in spite of all the shock they seem to rise, did filter through to other section of population. Not all women were flappers, but many women took up flapper’s way of thinking and dressing. The ideal of a more companionship couple life became acceptable for these youths’ parents too and sometime reshaped their own relations. The ideal of personal fulfilment clearly came from their parents, who of course accepted it as a good thing.

It’s easy to stress the way these young people seem to have broken away from the past toward a completely reshaped future, but in fact they were the result of ideals started long before them and that would come to full fruition long after them.

Nothing in history is cleanly cut.



Modern Youth (pdf)

Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002
Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992

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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

18 Comments on "Y is for Youth Culture (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. Fascinating perspective. Never realized so much was going and and what a dramatic shift in society then.

    –Mee (The Chinese Quest)
    Mee Magnum recently posted…“X” is for Xièxie 谢谢 (Thank You) #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  2. This makes a lot of sense and it’s interesting that when it came time to settle down they adopted the ideals of their parents. It makes me wonder what historians will say about our current culture in America. So many young couples choose not to marry, preferring to live out of wedlock, even those with children.
    Sharon Marie Himsl recently posted…X is for X-rays on Wheels: Inventions by Women A-ZMy Profile

    • Looking at things from a distance is always easier. Yes, it would be intereting to know what people one hundred of years from now will think of us. There are probably lots of things happening now we really don’t see.

  3. Sounds like the best of two worlds actually. Forward thinking and pursuing personal happiness while still holding on to valuable ideals of their parents. Good stuff. 🙂
    Sara C. Snider recently posted…XanthocerasMy Profile

  4. Nothing is clean cut, but it seems like you have a really great grasp on the logic behind it 🙂 I appreciate the culture history lesson! Might end up needing it in my exam next fall…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
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    Tarkabarka recently posted…Y is for the lost epic of Yi (Epics from A to Z)My Profile

    • If you’re interested in this subject,. I’d suggest reading Fass’s book, that I’ve mentioned in the resources. It was illuminating!

  5. A really interesting perspective. On a personal note, my grannies got married in the 20s and the wedding photo in your post reminded me so much of their outfits – neither being as glamorous as that bride of course! Which leads me to think about them being part of this generation – yet to me, they were always old and staid.
    Anabel Marsh recently posted…Gallus Glasgow Y: YorkhillMy Profile

    • My grandparents were theather actors. I have quite a few photos of them. One of my granddad really looks like these people io these photos.
      Cool 🙂

  6. So many changes in society and the family happened when youth culture developed, and courtship moved away from the watchful eyes of chaperones. Even if many of these young people ultimately took similar life trajectories to those of their parents, they still weren’t exactly the same, and that set in motion the gradual changes in their children’s generation, which in turn influenced the youth of the Sixties and Seventies.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…Yiorgos and Magdalini MitzeliotisMy Profile

  7. The roaring twenties are the new 60-ties! Reading this I think about my grandparents living very traditionally in in North Sweden at the time and how this new culture must have affected them when they moved closer to the city life. Your writing gives me a fascinating perspective of this time in history!
    Lene Fogelberg recently posted…Author PhotographsMy Profile

    • It would be the same for my grandparents. Here in Italy, change started happening during the twenty years of Fascism (in some areas of life) and then at full speed after WWII.
      In the Twenties, it was still XIX centuries in many parts of Italy.

  8. You make such a good point, it’s so easy to look back and assume that there was a period of great revolution and change, but as you say the change has in fact inched forward little by little, and we’re still going through that change now!
    Celine Jeanjean recently posted…U is for… UnauthorizedMy Profile

    • One of the reasons I wanted to do this theme for the challenge is that I see a lot of stereotypes about the Twenties out there. People only thinks to flappers and gangsters and assume a lot of things that weren’t.
      And honestly, I don’t think we need to make up things about this era, it is already so interesting as it was 😉

  9. It’s always fascinating to see how things build behind the perception. Thank you for this insight.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…AtoZChallenge2015 – Z is for ZuulMy Profile

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