The decade saw great socioeconomic change due to advances in technology and a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez-faire capitalism. Many economists agree at the very least that the rise of economic inequity, accumulating damage to public institutions based on the consequences of deregulation, and increasing boom-bust investment cycles, as well as the United States' deepest recession and largest stock market lost since the Great Depression can be attributed to these fundamental economic shifts.
economic deconstruction increased in the developed world, multiple
multinational corporations associated with the manufacturing industry relocated into
West Germany saw large economic growth during this decade. The
AIDS epidemic became recognized in the 1980s and has since killed an estimated 39 million people (as of 2013).
Global warming became well known to the scientific and political community in the 1980s.
United Kingdom and the
United States moved closer to
supply-side economic policies beginning a trend towards global instability of international trade that would pick up more steam in the
following decade as the fall of the USSR made
right wing economic policy more powerful.
The final decade of the Cold War opened with the US-Soviet confrontation continuing largely without any interruption. Superpower tensions escalated rapidly as President Reagan scrapped the policy of détente and adopted a new, much more aggressive stance on the Soviet Union. The world came perilously close to nuclear war for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis 20 years earlier, but the second half of the decade saw a dramatic easing of superpower tensions and ultimately the total collapse of Soviet communism.
Developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises in the 1980s, requiring many of these countries to apply for financial assistance from the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
widespread famine in the mid-1980s during the corrupt rule of
Mengistu Haile Mariam, resulting in the country having to depend on foreign aid to provide food to its population and worldwide efforts to address and raise money to help Ethiopians, such as the
Live Aid concert in 1985.
The world map of military alliances in 1980:
& Western allies,
& other Soviet allies,
China and Albania (communist countries, but not aligned with USSR), ×××
Major civil discontent and violence occurred in the Middle East, including the
Iran–Iraq War, the
Soviet–Afghan War, the
1982 Lebanon War, the
Nagorno-Karabakh War, the
Bombing of Libya in 1986, and the
First Intifada in the
Gaza Strip and the
Islamism became a powerful political force in the 1980s and many terrorist organizations, including
Al Qaeda started.
By 1986, nationalism was making a comeback in the Eastern Bloc and desire for democracy in communist-led socialist states combined with economic recession resulted in
perestroika, which reduced Communist Party power, legalized dissent and sanctioned limited forms of capitalism such as
joint ventures with Western firms. After newly heated tension for most of the decade, by 1988 relations between the West and East had improved significantly
 and the Soviet Union was increasingly unwilling to defend its governments in satellite states.
1989 saw the overthrow and attempted overthrow of a number of governments led by communist parties, such as in
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the
Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution",
Erich Honecker's East German regime, Poland's Soviet-backed government, and
the violent overthrow of the
Nicolae Ceauşescu regime in
Cold War ended in the early 1990s with the successful
Reunification of Germany and the
USSR's demise after the
August Coup of 1991.
The 1980s saw great advances in genetic and digital technology. After years of animal experimentation since 1985 the first genetic modification of 10 adult human beings took place in May 1989, a
gene tagging experiment
 which led to the first true gene therapy implementation in September 1990. The first "designer babies", a pair of female twins were created in a laboratory in late 1989 and born in July 1990 after being sex-selected via the controversial
assisted reproductive technology procedure
preimplantation genetic diagnosis.
Gestational surrogacy was first performed in 1985 with the first birth in 1986, making it possible for a woman to become a biological mother without experiencing pregnancy for the first time in history.
The 1980s was also an era of tremendous population growth around the world, surpassing even the 1970s and 1990s, thus arguably being the largest in human history. Population growth was particularly rapid in a number of African, Middle Eastern, and
South Asian countries during this decade, with rates of natural increase close to or exceeding 4% annually.
The 1980s saw the advent of the ongoing practice of
sex-selective abortion in China and India as
ultrasound technology permitted parents to selectively abort baby girls.
Internet took shape in academia by the second half of the 1980s as well as many other
computer networks of both academic and commercial use such as
Fidonet and the
Bulletin Board System. By 1989 the Internet and the networks linked to it were a global system with extensive transoceanic satellite links and nodes in most rich countries.
 Based on earlier work from 1980 onwards
Tim Berners Lee formalized the concept of the
World Wide Web by 1989 and performed its earliest demonstrations in December 1990 and 1991.
Television viewing became commonplace in the
Third World, with the number of TV sets in China and India increasing by 15 and 10 times respectively.