1950s America is often portrayed as one of the most prosperous and peaceful time periods in American history, sandwiched between the sacrifice of World War II and the unrest of the 1960s, early 1970s. How accurate is this portrayal of the 1950s?
There is, of course, some truth to this portrayal, but there is also a considerable amount of glossing over the problems that existed during this decade.
The 1950s were, without a doubt, prosperous. People were, for the first time since the 1920s, able to buy a lot of consumer goods. The GI Bill helped to move people out into suburbs where they could have their own homes for the first time. This sort of thing made America seem very prosperous. The country also seemed prosperous because it was far ahead of any other economy in the world.
However, the 1950s were not as prosperous in material terms as the later decades. It just seems this way because of the trends. In the 1950s, prosperity was new and exciting. By the 1970s, it was old hat and people didn’t feel as rich even though they had more material goods.
The 1950s seem like a time of social harmony and in some ways they were. As long as you were white and traditionally minded, it was a very good time. Essentially everyone who mattered thought like you. You had a good life and were on top of the world. However, there were other people, like racial minorities, for whom the 1950s were not so harmonious and wonderful. The same is true for people with unconventional views such as women who wanted careers and equality or the “beat” movement.
Thus, the 1950s were a golden age in some respects, but not to the degree that we tend to think that they were.