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The suburban baby boom had a particularly confining effect on women.

Advice books and magazine articles (“Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young,” “Cooking To Me Is Poetry,” “Femininity Begins At Home”) urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers.

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(In 1940, the average American woman got married when she was almost 22 years old; in 1956, the average American woman got married when she was just 20.

And just 8 percent of married women in the 1940s opted not to have children, compared to 15 percent in the 1930s.) Many people in the postwar era looked forward to having children because they were confident that the future would be one of comfort and prosperity.

In many ways, they were right: Corporations grew larger and more profitable, labor unions promised generous wages and benefits to their members, and consumer goods were more plentiful and affordable than ever before.

As a result, many Americans felt certain that they could give their families all the material things that they themselves had done without.

They bought rock and roll records, danced along with “American Bandstand” and swooned over Elvis Presley.

They collected hula hoops, Frisbees and Barbie dolls.Other baby boomers “dropped out” of political life altogether.These “hippies” grew their hair long, experimented with drugs, and–thanks to the newly-accessible birth-control pill–practiced “free love.” Some even moved to communes, as far away from Levittown as they could get.Most likely, however, the postwar baby boom happened for more quotidian reasons.Older Americans, who had postponed marriage and childbirth during the Great Depression and World War II, were joined in the nation’s maternity wards by young adults who were eager to start families.This was the beginning of the so-called “baby boom.” In 1947, another 3.8 million babies were born; 3.9 million were born in 1952; and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 until 1964, when the boom finally tapered off.


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