Impact of Suburbia on American Society in the 1950s

Download 8.98 Kb.
Size8.98 Kb.
Impact of Suburbia on American Society in the 1950s
Cars made the growth of suburbs possible, and suburbs increased the demand for cars. During the 1950s, American automakers produced up to 8 million new cars each year and sales of new cars averaged about $ 6.7 million each year. From 1948 to 1958, passenger car sales increased by more than 50%. Since public transportation grew more slowly than suburbs, people in suburbs relied increasingly on their cars. The automobile became a necessity instead of a luxury. Most suburban families owned two cars – one for the husband and another, usually a station wagon, for the wife to use while chauffeuring the children and doing errands. The growth in the car industry also created a need for more and better roads. In 1956 the Federal –Aid Highway Act sometimes called the Interstate Highway Act provided $25 billion to build an interstate highway system more than 40,000 miles long. Increased demand for automobiles benefited the nations economy as well. Factories turned out steel, glass and rubber that went into building cars. The car culture inspired the development of many new businesses including gas stations, repair shops, and parts stores. Americans, especially teenagers flocked to drive-in movies and restaurants. Families, encouraged by car advertisements that urged them to “See the USA,” headed off for vacations at national parks, seaside resorts, and amusement parks.
The growth of suburbs contributed to the decline of many cities. As people moved out of cities to suburbs, fewer taxpayers remained to help pay for essential public services such as police, transportation, and schools. Those who were left behind to live in the cities often included the poor and members of minority groups = “white flight”. Life in the suburbs was far from being ideal. Critics noted that a strong pressure to conform characterized American suburban life. Often, this conformity led to discrimination or exclusion of those who seemed different. Suburban life encouraged conformity (traditional values, conventionality). First of all, the houses were similar. Then the homeowners were all about the same age. There were no unmarried adults and hardly any elderly or even middle-aged couples. Nearly all males shared the same background or wartime experiences and schooling under the GI bill. Also, houses in any development cost about the same, they attracted homeowners with similar incomes. Men were expected to go to school and then find jobs to support their wives and children. Women were expected to play the supporting role in their husbands’ lives. Keeping the house, cooking, and raising the children. In 1956, Life magazine published “Busy Housewife’s Achievements.” The article profiled a housewife who had married at the age of 16, had four children, and kept busy with the PTA, Campfire Girls, and charity causes. She served as “homemaker, mother, hostess, and useful civic worker. Her family duties and community service were typical of many middle-class women. But not all women fit the model of American middle-class life of the 1950s. Some women, single and married, worked to simply make ends meet. Most women who worked outside the home held jobs as secretaries, teachers, nurses, and sales clerks. In 1963, a lady by the name of Betty Friedan published a critique of the 1950’s ideal womanhood. In the Feminine Mystique, Friedan lashed out at the culture that made it difficult for women to choose alternative roles. She said that millions of women were frustrated with their roles in the late 1950s.

“It was unquestioned gospel (in the 1950s) that women could identify with nothing beyond the home - not politics, not art, not science, not events large or small, war or peace, in the U.S. unless it could be approached through female experiences as a wife or mother or translated into domestic detail.

Probably no one in suburbia felt a greater pressure to conform than the children, who often outnumbered the adults two to one. Some called the youth of the 1950s the “silent generation” because they seemed to have little interest in the problems and crises of the larger world. The strong economy of the 1950s allowed more young people to stay in school rather than having to leave early to find a job. Both boys and girls were encouraged to be popular and well adjusted. If boys could not get along with their peers, how would they fit into a corporate organization when they grew up? Likewise, if the girls could not get along with their peers, how would they be able to help their husbands advance in business or in government? As a result, the rising suburban middle class considered a good education an absolute necessity. Children were expected to outdo their parents in income and social status. They could achieve that goal, it was believed, only if they were better educated than their parents. Before WWI, most youths left school in their mid-teens to help support their families. In the 1920s, however, more and more children were able to complete secondary school. Because jobs were scarce during the Depression, many teenagers stayed in school. By the 1950s, most middle-class teenagers were expected to stay in school, holding only part-time jobs, if they worked at all.

Some teenagers, most of them girls, baby-sat in their spare time. By the 1950s, baby-sitting had for the first time become a job done not by a relative, but by young daughters of friends and neighbors. By the end of the decade, half of all teenage girls were employed as part-time baby sitters.

Businesses seized the opportunity to sell products to the youth market. Advertisements and movies helped to create an image of what it meant to be a teenager of the 1950s. The girls were shown in bobby socks and poodle skirts, and the boys wore letter sweaters. These images created a greater sense of conformity in style. But just as some women challenged the norms of the 1950s, so did the young people. Some young people rejected the values of their parents and felt misunderstood and alone. Young people sought a style they could call their own and they found it in Rock ‘n’ Roll. Teenagers across the nation quickly became fans of the driving beat and simple melodies that characterized rock-and-roll. They rushed to buy records of their favorite performers such as: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. While some young people turned to music to rebel, others became members of the “Beat Generation,” called beatniks – that were part of the protest movement of the 1950s that criticized middle-class conformity and the struggle for material wealth. Centered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City’s Greenwich Village, the beat movement, led by author Jack Kerouac, expressed the social and literary nonconformity of artists, poets, and writers. They tended to shun regular work and sought a higher consciousness through Zen Buddhism, music, and sometimes, drugs.

Download 8.98 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page