A Comparison of Social Trends of the 1950s and 1990s

1482 Words3 Pages

We Americans have a fondness of looking back to certain times with

bouts of nostalgia, clutching closely the burred images of better off

and more secure conditions. We seek to revive those past years, hoping

to cure all of our current societal ills. Why cannot we bring them

back? The economy was good, and the family was happy, we say. We see

1950s in the United States as the golden era for the American people,

and likewise, the late 1990s was considered as a prosperous time.

However, the former decade observed the height of the nuclear family

and low divorce rates, while the latter recorded higher rates of

marriage dissolution and nonmarital births, as well as low rates of

marriage. What was happening differently in these two decades? In

order to rationalize these trends in conditions and inequalities among

U.S. household and families, it is necessary to study the development

in economy and employment and occupational structure in the United

States. (It should be noted that the following discussion of these

social developments is primarily of the general, dominant, white,

middle-class American and does not address trends related to race or


Stephanie Coontz does just this in her book, The Way We Really Are:

Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families. She addresses the

several trends that have been misguidedly converted into the

popularized images we hold of the 1950s. Indeed, begins Coontz in her

argument, the 1950s was a decade in which “greater optimism did

exist…even among many individuals and groups who were in terrible

circumstances” (Coontz, 1997: 35). The postwar economic boom was

finally the opportune moment for individuals to build a stable family

that previous decades of depression, war, and domestic conflicts had

restricted. We see that this decade began with a considerable drop in

divorce rates and rise in marriage rates, which is often assumed as

the result of changed attitudes and values.

However, this situation cannot be only just attributed to women’s

Open Document