Ever since the economic crash of 2008, nostalgia has been a key trend for the established economies in the west. Half the planet wishes that their country was ‘the way it used to be’. However, those living in emerging markets in east Asia are less likely to feel this way (China, 27%, South Korea, 36% and Indonesia, 43%), where the past is often less attractive – there were famines in living memory in some of these countries, for example.
This can perhaps be put down to what Gideon Rachman coined as ‘Easternisation’ – a widespread feeling in the west that things used to be better, and at the same time, a rise in prosperity (at least for influential sets of society) in the east. It is also a feature of the ‘loss of the future’ that we have seen across western Europe and the US. In the UK, 45% now think their children will be poorer than them – before the crash of 2008 that figure was just 12%. As a result, we find both values within this trend clustered close to a variety of other pessimistic values on the Global Values Map (see page 28), including overwhelmed, fear of the future, technophobia, and – most pertinently for democracies – populist revolution.
Nostalgia differs by age; younger people (aged 44 and younger) are far more likely to have personal nostalgia – wishing to grow up at a time when their parents were born – while older people (aged 45+) are more likely to desire societal nostalgia, wanting the country they live in to be the way it used to be. This may well reflect the fact that young people are less well-off in relative terms than their parents, while older people feel the world is evolving too fast.
Of course, our memories of the past are almost certainly not accurate. Nor – as we have examined in our ‘Perils of Perception’ series – are we accurate in our perceptions of the present. For example, Italians believe that 48% of their population is over 65, when it’s actually just 22%.
Psychologists show that the ‘rosy retrospection’ effect is at play – people remember things differently each time they retrieve past memories, editing out the bad points over time. More recent events and new ideas can often alter how people remember feeling about the past. So, it’s worth remembering that people don’t literally want to go back in time or have the exact past, they want a comfortable version of it – the best bits to counteract how they are feeling about today’s society. Given continuing uncertainty, and an ageing population, much of the world will spend the 2020s thinking that the past is better than the future. Reassuring citizens will matter for both brands and politicians.