When we look back at 1960s-1970s, many times we come across the term 'Hippie movement' or 'Counter-Culture'. Hippies were described as people who made themselves stand out from the rest of the world. For example, they wore non-mainstream clothes, had weird hairstyles, did not follow conventional religion, and did drugs. However, I would prefer to have a more specific definition around this culture?

What particular events during the 1960s in the Western World led to the establishment of the Hippie Movement and culture? What were the causes behind its rise in popularity during the counter-culture era of the 1960s and 1970s? What events/factors led to their decline? What effect did it have on sociopolitical landscape of Western culture afterwards?

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    If your parents are hippies, becoming a hippie to anger them doesn't work.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 24, 2014 at 19:19
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    I wonder were there similar counter-culture trends in other cultures over the course of history?
    – kubanczyk
    Jul 24, 2014 at 20:10
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    @kubanczyk I think you could make a case that there were many smaller scale countercultures over the years. Religious ones like Essenes, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Anchorites. Socialist ones like the Owenians. Hedonist ones like Nudists and Libertines. There is some Western bias to my list, but I would think someone else could come up with Indian or East Asian examples. What all these diverse groups have in common is the protest "We don't want to be part of the mainstream, we want to do it our way.".
    – Mike
    Jul 24, 2014 at 23:53
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    There is even a story of Julius Caesar wearing a long fringe sleeved tunic to piss off the older Senators.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25, 2014 at 0:23
  • 4
    Decline? Who says we declines? Us hippies resent the suggestion that we have declined. Jul 25, 2014 at 9:40

6 Answers 6


According to William Strauss and Neil Howe's book, Generations, the generations born immediately after a major war are "Idealist" generations that reject their parents' values and lifestyles, and form a "counterculture" that (temporarily) rejects convention and social order.

A reason this happened was that the society of the 1950s and 1960s was run by the soldiers who fought and won World War II (and their wives), and who therefore created a military-like society that was "too orderly" by historical standards.

Most of the "hippies" were members of the Baby Boom generation, born during and after World War II. Their rebellion against their parents was the manifestation of a "generation gap" that was unusually large between children born into a "new age" after a major war, and parents that were members of a "prewar" and World War II ethos.

The "hippies" style fell into disfavor as the Boom generation matured, became "Yuppies" and joined the Establishment. In essence, it was the "bridge" to the "changing of the guard" between the World War II generation and the Baby Boomers. Its main effect on the world was that it spawned similar, but temporary, movements abroad, most notably in 1968.

  • Didn't seem to happen after the American Civil War.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 13, 2015 at 0:29
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    @Oldcat: It happened in the 1880s with Labor unrest spawned by the "Missionary" generation en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missionary_Generation born during the 1860s, who grew their hair longer than previous generations, and produced "muckrakers." What IS true is that the Boomers were extreme, even by the standards of other "idealist" generations (e.g. the Great Awakeners)
    – Tom Au
    Feb 13, 2015 at 0:48

I'll try to say something about the question of why the counterculture declined. The nature of the question is such that probably nobody can give a definitive answer, just guesses and impressions. My answer is about the US, which was a leader in the movement. Other things were going on in other places, e.g., May 1968 in Paris.

Two big things that the beatniks and then the hippies were reacting to were institutionalized racism and the Vietnam War. After the war ended and the most glaring racial issues were mitigated, many people probably saw less reason to rebel.

Certain extreme elements of the counterculture went too far, showed scary tendencies toward violence, or became cults of personality. Examples were the Manson Gang, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and arguably the Black Panthers. Although these groups were small numerically and not representative of the counterculture in general, people were fascinated and repelled by media coverage of them.

Some of the influential early leaders of the drug culture were extremely naive. In some cases, the logic seemed to be, "If they lied when they told us pot was bad, they must have been lying about all the other drugs, too!" As time went on, the damage that drugs did to them became obvious. As an example, John Lennon became a heroin addict, then eventually went cold turkey and wrote a song about the experience.

Jimmy Carter was an unpopular president because of inflation, a crisis related to imported petroleum, and the Iran hostage crisis. As part of the reaction against him, Ronald Reagan was elected president. This set a reactionary tone in American society.

There was a trend toward disco and vacuous pop music. It's hard to say whether this was a cause or an effect, but anyway the ethos of disco was all about hedonism, which was different from the values of the hippie counterculture.

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    I agree with several of the points you made, but I think it is difficult to talk about the "ethos" of the counter-culture movement. Various strands of the hippie movement embraced different values, especially as time went on. The attitude toward government pre-1968 could be, "let's protest and get their attention", after 1968 "let's withdraw to our own gardens" (whether communes or urban ghettos for black radicals). As far as hedonism (pursuit of pleasure), plenty of people took drugs for the same reason as in the discos (because it is fun) but others really believed in spiritual benefits.
    – Mike
    Jul 24, 2014 at 22:41
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    In "A Rolling Stone History of Rack and Roll" there is a great quote about "rock's ability to unite poets and finger-poppers, proto-feminists and men who thought 'the woman's place in the movement' was mainly prone." They made a comparison to the 1964 "Democratic wave" election. "If you win too big, your coalition falls apart." They were comparing the relative unity of 1960's music to the strictly segmented formats of the 1970's (hard rock, disco, funk, reggae, singer-songwriters), but I think a similar fragmentation happened politically and socially too, where former allies drifted apart.
    – Mike
    Jul 24, 2014 at 22:50
  • The 1978 murder-suicide in Jonestown of 918 people, including a U.S. Senator, was a major event that solidified disillusionment with counterculture & communal living.
    – Kelseydh
    Nov 18, 2016 at 4:29

I'll start by divvying Hippy culture up into two baskets: Fashion and Cultural Attitudes. The Fashion changed, because that's what fashions do. The attitudes, well some changed because the world around them changed, but some stay with us today.

Fashion is thing like clothing, art, music styles, hair styles. These are things that have a natural churn to them. Part of what makes fashion cool is its novelty. If something is not new and exciting, it really can't be fashionable. Pretty much by definition, anything your parents enjoy and/or are comfortable with is unfashionable.

So it makes perfect sense that Hippie fashions, whatever they ended up being, would be a reaction to 50's Eisenhower-era fashions. The best words there are "drab" and "conservative". We are talking very subdued colors, or pastels if you want to be racy. Short buzz-cuts for men, along with fairly well-fitted suits designed to not draw attention to the wearer. Long dresses and shortish hair on women. Popular music came from large band and orchestras.

So it makes perfect sense that their kids fashions would go against all of this. Bright colors. Long hair for everyone. Loose clothing for men, short skirts for women (or going the other way, clothing identical to men's). Music from small (5 or less member) bands.

And being fashion, it went the same way it came. By the 80's, simple long hair and loose unisex clothing became something your parents were into, not something cool and cutting edge. Music built around simple arrangements (particularly the simplest - folk music) became boring stuff kids would never buy.

Cultural Attitudes - This is a bit more complex. Hippies tended to believe in racial and sexual equality more than their parents, but it could be argued this is just a part of a larger ongoing movement that started in the postwar era and continues today. There were some things that came and went though, particularly their accepting attitudes towards sexual promiscuity and illegal drug use.

The sexual revolution I would argue was actually started by two developments: The birth control pill and legalized abortion. These gave women the ability to have sexual relationships nearly as risk-free as men. It also allowed them to compete on the job market and in cultural society at large, without the likelihood of being taken out of the action in the middle of things by an unexpected pregnancy.

The general perception with drugs among hippies was that if you don't get caught by the authorities, then no harm done. So if it feels good, do it. Why not?

What killed both of these attitudes in the 80's were the rise of really dangerous drugs and sexually transmitted diseases. Cocaine (and its little brother Crack) was the drug that turned "drugs" into scary things. Not only did they destroy a lot of lives (I know several cases personally), but they completely tore up the inner-cities.

For the diseases, we had Herpes and then AIDS. Herpes, had been around for centuries, but spread freely during the free love 70's (and got a nice hyping hand in the late 70's from a pharma company that had developed a treatment) It was pretty scary because its persistent and there's no cure for it. When AIDS came along it was far worse because not only did it not have a cure, but it didn't even have a treatment and it killed people. At first, a lot of people. This turned sex back into something you had to be careful about.

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    As someone who was a kid during the Hippy era, and grew up during the 80's. I personally think my generation got royally ripped off. If I ever meet Cocaine or AIDS in a dark alley, I am so kicking their asses.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 2, 2014 at 16:52
  • Herpes is mostly harmless (youtube.com/watch?v=aU4VcOQzQm0), but I can understand what you mean about increased awareness about STD's, and especially AIDs, striking fear into many people about unprotected sex.
    – Kelseydh
    Nov 18, 2016 at 4:35

Based purely on my experience as a human-being, I don't think the 'hippie' movement has actually declined, it's instead just taken on other incarnations and names.

'Hippie Movement' is nothing but a label of a phenomena that happened during a current period of time, but there is nothing to say that the same phenomena is not still happening in other forms in other places with new labels. In universities around the world students still do drugs, they still protest, they still form clique's, they still consider themselves counter-culturists, and some might even still describe themselves as a 'hippie'. Just instead of calling it a 'hippie movement' we call it things like 'feminist movement' 'anarchist movement' and so on.

In sum, the label is arbitrary, the spirit of hippie-dom lives on, and I don't see much evidence that the spirit of the hippie period has actually declined.

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    But then the question would be how you define "the spirit of hippie-dom" without broadening it so much that you make it meaningless.
    – user2848
    Aug 2, 2014 at 23:59
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    I guess "the spirit of hippie-dom" could be more broadly defined as being held by counter-culturists: people who reject, or who are at least acutely aware of global systems and who don't define their values based on the values of those systems. The 60's movement may have been more pronounced for different reasons, likely because the 'system' looked a little more evil at the time.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Aug 3, 2014 at 23:19

What was the hippie movement?

Every generation finds a way to define themselves. As young people grow, many seek ways to do two things

  • conform with their peers; find a group to fit into / identify with.

  • be "different"; to rebel in some way.

Not everyone fits the extreme case that gets publicized, but they like to think they do.

Not to completely inclusive, before the Hippies, there were Beatniks. Before that the war disrupted society (although people could join up or be objectors). During the depression was the gang culture, and in the US the prohibition experiment. The Roaring Twenties saw the flappers, and the list goes on.

We have less perspective on later generations, but you can see labels such as Gen-X, Gen-Y, etc. Each group likes to think they invented rebellion, along with words like cool.

The drivers of the hippie movement were firstly that they were the first of the Baby Boomers, people born in the immediate post-war period. Their parent were conservative, having just lived through a major war, and were becoming affluent. Music was changing, as it always does, and then the Vietnam war came, with all the usual half-truths and injustices that war brings. Many of the generation were at College or University, where the hot-house atmosphere pushed the development of the movement along rapidly. Television helped publicize major events such as anti-war demonstrations (there's no such thing as bad publicity), and the over-reactions of police and National Guards.

The deaths during demonstrations at Jackson State College and Kent State University were the reality shock that were the start of the end of the movement. Janis Joplin's heroin overdose death later the same year continued the reality treatment.

Why did it decline?

Mostly, these movements die out as the bulk of the group grows to maturity and become parents. Often, people will try to continue life as it was before, but the second kid, dealing with their own teenagers and mortgages, and other life pressures gradually push those behaviours into the background. Eventually, there is an OMG moment where they discover they are just like their parents, as described by the Harry Chapin hit Cat's in the cradle.

Not everyone leaves though. The seriously committed individuals (rather than those who were just "hangers on") continue to live according their ideals.

  • Just one correction, Cat's in the Cradle is not a Cat Stevens song. It is by Harry Chapin. Whoever uploaded that video is in error.
    – Legion600
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:58
  • @Legion600 Thanks for the correction.
    – andy256
    Jul 26, 2014 at 7:50
  • I should have been more clear. That is also not Cat Stevens singing. It is Harry Chapin. There is no evidence that Cat Stevens ever sang this song.
    – Legion600
    Jul 26, 2014 at 22:48
  • Wow. I always thought that Cat Stevens sang it. Now I'll have to investigate thoroughly. Sometimes you don't know what you think you do :-(
    – andy256
    Jul 27, 2014 at 8:09

According to Source AQA Specification A textbook, the American hippie movement was that generation's differentiation from the norm. It stemmed mainly from the Vietnam war and the great injustice that it was seen to be. The movement then spread to more than just peace protesters, attracting many young people from that generation, as it was seen as a defiance and something cool.

Thus, as a crowd grew around it, negative influences also arose such as the drugs and some of the more violent protests. The hippie movement then spread around the world due to America's cultural influences over countries such as the UK. This influence came over in things like music, fashion, literature and film among other things which made the hippie movement accessible to youths around the world.

  • This answer would benefit from citations.
    – MCW
    Nov 23, 2016 at 15:02
  • Aqa history specification A textbook Nov 23, 2016 at 15:08
  • Aqa history specification A textbook and it doesn't go into the decline of hippieism in enough detail for my to confidently answer for this question Nov 23, 2016 at 15:10
  • Welcome to History.SE. This isn't a discussion forum, it is a Q&A site. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how SE Q&A sites work. Opinions are not considered valid answers, so starting off "in my opinion" is a dead giveaway. As Marc C Wallace noted, your answer would benefit from sources. If you have a source, please edit that source into your answer; the way your provided it is unclear. As someone who lived through the hippie movement in the 60's and 70's, I also find your conclusions dubious, at best. Nov 23, 2016 at 16:30
  • Cleaned the grammar and formatting up a bit. I'm personally a bit leery about using school textbooks as sources, but perhaps textbooks in the UK are much better than here in the US. Other than those two things, an unusually good first post.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 23, 2016 at 16:51

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