“Leave it to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet:”
A.Conservatives say that families like the Nelsons are making a comeback and want to make public policy to protect traditional families and return 1950’s definition of family.
B.Liberals claim that fewer than 10% of all families meet this definition and believe that if they can prove this is on an irreversible slide toward extinction that they cannot justify introduce any new family policy.
C.Both sides assume that if the 1950s family existed today we would not have our contemporary social dilemmas.
D.The 1950s at first glance were a pro-family period. Many working class families moved into the suburbs and achieved the American Dream of a house and a car. Divorce and illegitimacy rates were half what they are today and the marriages were almost universally praised. Family and marriage were thought to be the center of life.
II. The Novelty of the 1950s Family
A.Families of the 1950s began marrying younger and bore children younger compared to previous generations.
B.The nuclear family was a new concept. The Great Depression and Second World War had reinforced extended family ties but this was plagued with generational conflict.
C.These new family trends for the first time in our history crossed all race and class boundaries.
D.The growing tendency for women was to find, “housework a medium of expression for…[their] feminity and individuality.” Consumer spending increased and women especially purchased more household appliances.
E.Hollywood and the media helped to reinforce these new values.
III. 1950s Poverty, Diversity, and Social Change
A.25% of American Families were poor, and much of this included the elderly. This poverty was made worse because of the absence of social welfare problems.
B.African Americans migrated from the south to the north. By 1960 a majority of all blacks lived in the north in urban areas as compared to the previous rural southern living.
C.Mexicans and Puerto Ricans immigrated in large numbers after the war. Many moved to the north to such cities as Chicago and New York.
D.The media didn’t represent minorities on TV and they faced general oppression.
IV. Repression, Anxiety, Unhappiness, and Conflict
A.Women who were the backbone of the war effort were forced out of their jobs at the end of the war. Women who didn’t want to give up the earning power and independence they had achieved were fired or demoted by management.
B.The media condemned women as unnatural if they didn’t fit the stereotypical housewife role.
C.Electric shock treatment was even used to make sure women were housewives who obeyed their husband.
D.Men who didn’t marry were seen as deviants.
E.The FBI investigated and persecuted those who did not fit the norm.
F.Many people hid behind happy family lives to hide loveless marriages, homosexuality, and anti establishment views.
G.The troubles of home life such as alcoholism, abuse, and rape were hidden to the outside world.
V.Contradictions of the 1950s Family Boom
A.Advertisers first started to target young adults and began to use sex to sell their products.
B.Women began to work in great numbers for the first time for disposable income.
C.Many of these women had their children early 20’s so after the kids were in school they could get a job.
A.Despite the myth of sexual purity, teen pregnancy was bad in the 1950’s. Nearly twice as many 15-19 year olds in 1957 had children compared to 1983.
B.Census codes in the 1950’s made it impossible to identify an unmarried mother if she lived with her parents. Illegitimacy was also disguised by having unmarried mothers putting their children up for adoption.
C.Young unmarried mothers were also encouraged to get married when they became pregnant.
D.The burden of sexual purity was put onto the women and they where expected to go into marriage as virgins.
A.When commentators lament the fall of traditional family values they often refer to women’s changing genders roles such as being a mother and breadwinner.