U.S. baby boom

The term baby boom refers to the dramatic increase in the population of certain industrialized nations in the years following the end of World War II. In the United States, the population grew from 141 million to 179 million— an increase of 27 percent between 1947 and 1960—at a time when immigration to the United States was limited by restrictive laws. By contrast, the population of the United States grew just 13 percent between 1960 and 1970. This increased birthrate generally affected all social classes and reversed a population decline that had been going on for 150 years. In Canada, the birthrate increased from 24.3 per thousand in 1945 to 28.9 in 1947, and did not return to lower rates until 1963.

The boom in the United States can be explained by demographic and ideological factors. Although the age of marriage for both men and women dropped between 1930 and 1950, Great Depression uncertainties and massive social dislocations caused by war put a damper on reproduction. Both of these concerns had lifted by the late 1940s. By 1960, 97 percent of Americans over 18 had been married at least once; this was perhaps a product of postwar affluence but possibly also a response to a fear of nonmarital sexuality that had been produced by wartime. The so-called nuclear family became a symbol of U.S. freedom.

Ideological factors also contributed to the boom. Partly to ease the reentry of men returning from the war, women who had been engaged in war work were encouraged to leave the workplace and to concentrate on making a home for their families. This was accom- panied by a preference for more than one child and a concurrent belief that childlessness demonstrated socially dysfunctional behavior. Women who married in the 1940s and 1950s generally had most of their chil- dren before they were 30 and allowed child-rearing to become their career.

The G.I. Bill and suburbanization in the late 1940s and the 1950s helped establish the nuclear family ideal. The boom influenced the form of suburbanization by making the construction of schools and playgrounds necessary and caused an expansion in college and university construction. The baby boomers were the first generation to consider television their birthright, and several of the television programs of the 1950s depicted idealized versions of their family life. The idea that the nuclear family of the 1950s, as seen on television, represented “traditional family values” persisted into the 21st century.

As baby boomers entered adolescence, many of them became associated with the Civil Rights movement, other student movements of the 1960s, and the so-called hippie counterculture. Members of the baby boom invented the slogan “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” By the 1990s baby boomers were the “establishment” in the United States. Born in 1946, Bill Clinton, who served as president from 1992 to 2000, was America’s first baby-boomer president.


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