Changes in 1920s demographics in the u. S. Were the 1920s the start of the “Modern Era” in America? What demographic change was most important?

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Were the 1920s the start of the “Modern Era” in America? What demographic change was most important?

  1. Growing Urbanization

    1. 1920 Census had 52% of Americans living in urban areas (2,500 or more). By 1930 that had risen to 56%.

      1. First time majority in cities.

      2. 5 cities with over 1,000,000 in population (New York, Chicago, Detroit-the fastest growing, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles) increased by 50% over the decade.

    2. Urbanization increased over the decade even as national population growth rates declined.

      1. Immigration from rural areas.

        1. From 1920-1929 13,000,000 left the farms for cities.

    3. Automobile encourages the creation of suburbs.

  1. Ethnic Distribution (TEKS 113.32.c.5.A, 10.A-B, 21.C)

    1. African Americans

      1. Factories needed workers during World War I to replace troops and started by hiring African-Americans from the South-Start of “Great Migration”.

      2. Trend of migration continued as Southern agriculture continued to decline.

      3. African-American populations doubled in New York, Chicago, and Detroit during the decade.

        1. African Americans often had to live in segregated portions of the inner city where rent prices were cheap.

        2. Start of ghettos like Harlem.

    2. Latinos

      1. Mexican Americans

        1. Over 250,000 lived in U.S. in 1910, mostly in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California

        2. Mexican Revolution led to and increase which continued throughout the 1920s.

        3. Exempt from quota legislation for immigration during the 1920s.

          1. Jobs in agricultural labor and mining in Southwest.

          2. Increasing movement to cities for industrial work, especially Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Tucson, and San Antonio.

          3. As with African Americans they were often forced into segregated communities in low rent areas referred to as barrios.

      2. Puerto Ricans

        1. Moved to eastern cities, especially New York, in search of economic opportunities.

        2. Took jobs in service trades in large cities.

    3. Overseas Immigrants

      1. New laws were created to restrict immigration, supported by labor leaders, progressive politicians, and nativist groups. These groups feared that immigrants from Asia, and Southern and Eastern Europe were unhealthy, uneducated, and culturally inferior. They were blamed for threatening American values, overtaxing social services, not assimilating quickly, and creating crime, poverty, and pollution in the cities. Past supporters of immigration, industrialists were mechanizing in a way that decreased the need for new labor.

      2. Literacy Act of 1917 placed initial restrictions on the least educated immigrants, often those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. It was based largely on social scientists findings from literacy tests given to soldiers that indicated soldiers from Southern and Eastern Europe usually scored lower than native born American or immigrants from Western Europe where education systems were stronger and English was widely spoken. The low scores were misinterpreted as a sign of low intellect rather that poor schooling or a lack of familiarity with English.

      3. Emergency Quota Act of 1921 set quotas which would discourage immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and Asia. A limit of 3% of the foreign born population in the 1910 Census which amounted to 350,000 immigrants per year. Since the 1910 Census had a smaller portion of Italian born nationals, they received a smaller quota. Chinese were completely excluded.

      4. National Origins Act of 1924 further reduced immigration, especially from Southern and Eastern Europe while eliminating it from Asia. The quota was then based on the 1890 census and the quota percentage lowered to 2%, allowing only 150,000 immigrants per year. Since the majority of Southern and Eastern immigrants arrived after 1890, this severely lowered their slots of the 150,000 and gave preference to immigrants from Northern and Western Europe.

      5. National Origins Act of 1929 changed the percentage of immigrants from any single country to the percentage of the total population in Europe. As an example Italian immigration dropped from an annual number of 160,000 to 6,000 by 1929. Most Western and Northern European countries never used their total allotment.

  1. Birth and Mortality Rates.

    1. Birth Rates declined in the 1920s as contraceptives became more common and women put off marriages or children to go to school or pursue a career.

      1. The average family size was 7 people in 1900 but only 5 people by 1930.

      2. Increasingly liberal divorce laws increased divorces from 1 out of 8 marriages in 1920 to 2 out of 7 by 1929. Divorced women had fewer children during the 1920s, an increase in the time fertile women were not having children.

      3. More women attended college and so they put off marriage. (TEKS 113.32.C.5.A)

        1. By 1929 more women went to college than men for the first time.

      4. More women were working outside of the home and that decreased the tendency to become pregnant as they chose work over childbirth.

        1. In 1920 8 million women worked outside the home, by 1929 11 million worked outside the home.

        2. Most jobs were in “women’s professions”-teaching, nurses, domestic servants, salesclerks. The biggest increase in job opportunities for women came in office/clerical work. Women lost ground in professional areas. Between 1920 and 1930 the number of women doctors dropped by half. Pay for women doing the same work as men was ½ of the pay men received. More married women were working than before.

    2. As birth rates decreased, mortality rates also decreased for a variety of reasons.

      1. Fewer women were dieing in childbirth as the number of births declined. For the first time in recorded history female mortality rates were lower than male rates.

      2. Better health care and nutrition combined with less physically demanding lives increased average life expectancy from 54 years old in 1920 to 60 by 1930.

        1. As a result, America literally became an older country.

        2. There became greater need for pensions supplied by companies or states.

        3. Many elderly moved to warmer climates in Florida or California.

        4. Creation of first old age homes.

  1. Other Generational Demographics

    1. The Rise of Young People.

      1. Young people or teenagers became a distinct group during the 1920s.

      2. High school enrollment quadrupled from 1917 to 1930.

      3. Most students attended new urban schools where most of their waking hours were spent with their peer age group.

        1. This led to an influence in distinctive styles for the young people.

        2. Creation of generation gap.

          1. Forms of rebellion included drinking, casual sexual encounters, and clothing and music styles.

    2. Rise of College

      1. 1/3 of all high school graduates entered college during the 1920s.


Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s.

Berstein, Irving. The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker, 1920-


Fass, Paula. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise.

Huggins, Nathan. Harlem Renaissance.

Perrett, Geoffrey. America in the Twenties.

Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: the Era of Excess.

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