The postwar American society witnessed a mixed occurrence of events that ranged from rapid economic growth, industrial and technological advancement, increased the birth rate, population growth, and life expectancy. America transformed into a consumer society in the 1950s.
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The economic explosion witnessed during the period fuelled consumerism habits. For example, the gross national product “grew solidly at an average of 3.2 percent a year” (Oakes et al. 816). Increased federal spending on defense and foreign aid, the demand for goods, the availability of money, colossal capital expenditures by businesses helped to lift economic growth.
The expansion of the oldest manufacturing companies and the emergence of new ones, especially computer firms, were other factors that contributed to the boom as they directly created job opportunities or indirectly through the service industry. The population enjoyed “high employment, low inflation, and rising incomes” (Oakes et al. 816) and a decline in poverty levels.
The Americans’ dream was being fulfilled as many had resources to spend in leisure. Also, due to organized pension and social security schemes, many could afford to plan their future after retirement from employment. The federal government provided mortgages that enabled many citizens to acquire quality but cheap homes.
Likewise, businesses allowed Americans to spend borrowed money in shopping, acquisition of luxury cars to facilitate commuting. This had a serious financial impact of tying the consumers in debt “In 1945, Americans owed $5.7 billion for consumer goods other than houses. By 1960, they owed $56.1 billion” (Oakes et al. 818).
Reduction in television set prices saw most households acquire them. The broadcasters seized the opportunity setting up more TV stations, which the businesses sponsored and censored as tools to foster the consumer society’s values.
Television played a role in modeling families as it was used to foster religion, bring together family members, but some TV programs denounced for contributing to the moral rot among youth. The society also became more responsive and receptive to sexual openness, as witnessed by studies on sexuality, use of sexual images in advertising and licensing of previously banned erotic manuscripts.
The endeavor by the people to lead a similar lifestyle and conform to the prevailing trend portrayed America as a homogeneous society. This, together with the emergence of suburbanites, helped to strengthen the bond of nationhood though it had its flaws. Erasure of social class boundaries and ethnic tolerance were evident with free mingling and intermarriages among whites of different ethnic communities being common.
Religion, another promoter of social homogeneity was encouraged with an increase in the percentage of the Americans participating in “religious organization from 45% in 1945 to 61% in 1960” (Oakes et al. 821). The postwar period also witnessed an upsurge in birth rates, survival rates, life expectancy and population growth in the USA. Child morbidity and mortality were reduced owing to medical discoveries of antibiotics and polio vaccines. Thanks to these factors, the population “grew by record 29 million people to 179 million” (Oakes et al. 822).
The youths adopted a rebellious lifestyle, engaging in juvenile crimes, premarital sex, and other moral decadences. Regarding gender and sexuality, the American culture was in support of distinction between males and females, defined roles for each gender, determined the level of success achievable by each gender and vehemently castigated homosexual relations. However, there was some advocacy for feminine recognition.
American society, composed of different races with unequal access to opportunities and success, remained heterogeneous. The influx of Mexicans and the Puerto Ricans in America in search of opportunities, though uninvited, contributed to the racial diversity of the country. Segregation of nonwhite races was rampant in post-war times.
Despite all efforts to fight it, diversity did survive with factors such as race, regional differences, and a fusion of music from various cultures contributing to its establishment. The end of the 1950s saw many Americans criticizing misplacement of power and questioning the ability of the nation to protect itself and provide democracy and prosperity for all its citizens.
Oakes, James, Michael McGerr, Jan Ellen Lewis, Nick Cullather, Jeanne Boydston, Mark Summers, and Camilla Townsend. “Chapter 26: Fighting Cold War at Home and Chapter 27: Postwar Change.” Of the People: A History of the United States, Concise, Volume II: Since 1865. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Oxford UP, 28. 804-840. Print.