The Baby Boom

Following World War II, the United States experienced an increased birth rate between 1946 and 1964 called the “baby boom.”

The baby boom

Like many industrialized Western nations, in the early twentieth century the United States experienced a gradual decline in its birthrate. As Americans moved off the farm and into the city, large families were a burden to support. During the Great Depression, the American birthrate fell to its lowest point yet.

The American birth rate skyrocketed following World War II. A combination of factors produced this baby boom. Soldiers returning home from the war wanted to settle down into family life. GI Bill benefits promised the decent pay, access to good jobs, and affordable housing that made raising a family possible.

Babies, babies, and more babies

After the war, returning soldiers rushed to get married. This growth in marriages led to a record number of babies. Nine months after the war's end, the boom began in full force.

The baby boom continued for 18 years. On average, 4.24 million babies were born each year.

Postwar domesticity and its economic benefits

The World War II generation was the most marriage- and family-oriented in US history: 96.4% of women and 94.1% of men in this group got married and had more children, sooner after marriage and spaced closer together, than earlier generations.

Historians have suggested several reasons for increased family size after the war, from government propaganda to a yearning for the security offered by "normal" family life during an era when fear of the atomic bomb pervaded society. The high fertility rates closely correlate with a period of unprecedented economic prosperity, as well as optimism that the prosperity would last. Americans finally could afford to have a lot of children, so they did.

The baby boom was both a result of the healthy economy and also a major contributor to it. An enormous generation of babies became an enormous generation of children, teenagers, young adults, adults, and (more recently) seniors. As the baby boomers aged, manufacturers and advertisers targeted this demographic. As babies, the boomers stimulated the market for toys, candy, and washing machines. As children, their growth drove the construction of new schools and suburbs. As teenagers, they dominated the popular culture of the 1950s and 1960s, buying clothing and records.

Significance of the baby boom

The generation born in the twenty years following World War II has been a defining force in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the boomers were on the forefront of social change, including the later stages of the Civil Rights Movement, protesting the Vietnam War, and the second wave of the feminist movement.

As the baby boomers age, the ratio of retired Americans compared to working Americans will increase significantly, placing considerable strain on Social Security, hospitals, and other government agencies designed to aid the elderly.

Source: The Baby Boom
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