The Age of Affluence

Two of my recent posts have chronicled the travails of wealthy young women in modern times.  But where did all this affluence come from and when did it start?

Why are the 1950’s remembered as an age affluence?

It is interesting to study inflection points.  How society was before and after a major event.  Remembering of course that societal shifts are slow, with each decade seemingly reacting to the lessons of the previous one.  Author Kharrima takes us on a whirlwind tour of the 1950s.

1950s: A Prosperous Decade: The 1950’s was the most prosperous decade because of the war time economy because WWII got the U.S out of the Great Depression and the recovery of Japan and Europe allowed them to start trading with the U.S which also boosted the U.S economy.. We were continuing to build up our military and industrial complex due to the Cold War. Wages and savings accounts were at an all time high because there was nothing to spend money on before and after the war people were dying to spend money. 60% of people made it into the middle class. Era of Conformity: This decade was known as an era of conformity because everyone wore the same clothes, ate the same foods, and drove the same car. Everyone had the same shared experiences (i.e the depression and the war). There was an emphasis on nuclear family because people were concerned about security and stability; this leads to suburbia The Rise of Suburbia: The buildings of Suburbia led to a better economy. Why was it popular? Everyone who can afford a car can afford to drive to work due to the auto culture (which helps lead to the construction of the interstate by Eisenhower). Suburbia reinforced conformity; the houses all looked alike and everyone was driving the same cars, had the same appliances, same jobs, and the kids all went to the same school. Loss of feminism and emphasis on the nuclear family and mass consumerism: Women almost forgot about feminism. Women were marrying younger to prevent pre-marital sex. The ideal number of kids was 4 (which results in the baby boom). The separate sphere’s ideology was embraced. The credit card was born in the 50’s. TV helped mass consumerism as well; they portrayed images of middle class lifestyles and used commercials. Consumerism was another way to conform. The Auto industry also boomed again. McDonalds was also born due to the auto industry. Challenging Conformity: Some of those who challenged Suburbia and conformity were Alfred Kinsey, Playboy, Rock and Roll, the Beats, etc. Biologist Alfred Kinsey studied human sexuality. He discovered that ½ of all women had sex before marriage and 25% of women had affairs. 8% of his students were homosexual or had a homosexual experience at some point. Playboy appeared in 1953. Marilyn Monroe was on the cover of the first issue. Hollywood promoted dual images of women (either the housewife or the sex kitten). The 50’s were not affluent for everyone. Minority groups were not living in suburbia which aids in segregation and the ghettos continue to grow. Rock and Roll is born from rhythm and blues and country. People needed a white man to move and sing like a black man, Elvis was their answer. People often felt that Rock and Roll was a communist conspiracy. Parents feared that rock and roll would morally corrupt their children. One of the main figures of the Beats was Jack Kerouac. It came from them feeling “beat down” from the book “On the Road” he wrote while traveling. Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem “Howl” in 1955. He cursed in the poem and talked about sex, drugs, booze, music, art, etc. The government confiscated his books out of stores and tried to take them against the Supreme Court but it was overruled due to freedom of speech. The beats rejected materialism of the 1950’s and they were trying to be unique instead of conforming. They were rebels against suburbia.

“Loss of feminism”, which was actually surging in the 1920’s with the 20’s also experiencing an affluence boom.  Known as the roaring 20’s, driven by the stock market on unlimited margin borrowing.  The Great Gatsby gives you a pretty good idea of how things were back then.  However then the crash came and soon after Japan attacked America.  It’s amazing how war and poverty make men go from disposable to invaluable.

“Women almost forgot about feminism”.  By the time the 1950’s hit, society was reacting to the lessons learned from the 30’s and 40’s.  Trying to rebuild the country after the ravages of war and depression was mostly a male endeavor.  Sure women worked hard during the war, but most were happy to “opt out” once the men came back.  Two decades of poverty and hardship made women value the provider male and forget about feminism, at least temporarily.

However by the mid 50’s the stock market had recouped it’s losses and hit new all time highs.


Affluence was returning to America surprisingly quickly and it wouldn’t be long before feminism would begin to rear it’s ugly head once again

For her 15th college reunion in 1957 Friedan conducted a survey of college graduates, focusing on their education, subsequent experiences and satisfaction with their current lives. She started publishing articles about what she called “the problem that has no name,” and got passionate responses from many housewives grateful that they were not alone in experiencing this problem.

Except this time the affluence train would not be derailed by another major war or economic catastrophe.  As each decade was more prosperous than the last, each wave of feminism was more virulent than the last.

By now you have seen that affluence along with peacetime seem to be major precursors to feminism.  While war and poverty is the cure.  Unfortunately most of us (except for the black man) would prefer to live and a peaceful prosperous society.  But how to without the scourge of feminism ruining everything?  This is the ultimate question.  Whoever can successfully solve this riddle will win the first MRA Nobel prize.



One thought on “The Age of Affluence

  1. Pingback: Flappers:  A preview of modern feminism | Feminism Decoded

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