Family life in the 1950s must have been so amazing. Moms and dads raised their kids together and their kids lived happily ever after. Or did they? Had it been the perfect setup, that’s the way it would still be today and it’s obviously not.
Mothers, fathers, and children in the 1950s had front row seats to a drastic change in the American fabric. Their unique experiences lead to a shift in our way of life, so let’s take a trip in the time machine to see how much has stayed the same.
The 1950s mother
Mid-century mothers may be seen as glamorous in vintage magazines, but their lives weren’t as carefree as you think. Moms in the 1950s had to wear many hats and we’re not talking about their fashion sense. In fact, this was the decade that changed the face of the modern family forever because of shifts in social norms and civil policies.
As a result of the war-torn decade that preceded it, the 1950s saw a change in how children were raised and provided for by their mothers. Until then, men were the primary breadwinners of the family and moms stayed home. After World War I and II, however, mothers pulled triple duty to support their country while earning an income and taking care of children at the same time.
DID YOU KNOW: The social icon, Rosie the Riveter™, was created 10 years earlier but is commonly associated with the 1950s.
Meanwhile, society’s expectations of women and mothers began to reflect this change. By the turn of the decade, only about 60% of children were being cared for by a sole male earner. Instead, mothers were contributing to the family bank account and they liked it. Interestingly, they were still able to hold on to their maternal instincts and duties despite the added pressure.
Here are some fun facts you may not know about the revolutionary women and mothers from the 1950s:
- Women were expected to marry young, so many of them took the plunge at around 20 years old.
- The average age for a woman to become a first-time mom was about 21 years.
- It was considered scandalous for a couple to get a divorce, so the decade saw family breakup rates stabilize.
- The birth rate in America doubled during those years, giving rise to what’s now known as “the baby boom.”
This pivot in domestic responsibilities is now called “the democratization of family roles.” It marks the starting point of significant female influence in the economy and beyond.
The 1950s father
Dads didn’t exactly have it easy in the 1950s just because their wives were going to work. In fact, many of them were forced to eat frozen TV dinners for the first time in their lives. That’s because mom wasn’t home to cook and dad didn’t know how to work the stove (yet).
Economic growth led to better manufacturing. That ultimately led to improved household products and more innovative home designs. As a result, fathers were suddenly able to fulfill home duties more efficiently while still maintaining their day jobs. Thus, the workplace became more diverse and new rules of conduct had to be invented.
DID YOU KNOW: The 1950s was the birth of the American suburb and the fancy front lawn.
At that time, the family standard was still “a provider male, a homebound mom to care for the kids, and the kids who attended school and social functions.” However, fathers typically took their families to the suburbs to avoid city hazards. In this way, families became close-knit and social clubs began popping up all over the country.
Here are four fun facts you may not know about the family-oriented men and fathers of the 1950s:
- Men returning from war faced an intense housing shortage, so more than 13 million homes were built during this decade alone.
- Sports fans saw the merge of the All-American Football Conference with the NFL, which is what launched today’s loyal fanbase.
- Dads not only traveled for sales, but they also moved around for military duties and for work on the new International Highway System.
- Most men were focused on getting married and starting a family, so they expected women to follow suit by becoming housewives.
Overall, 1950s fathers concentrated on one central priority: family security. The previous decades made it important to establish strong ties with relatives and neighbors, so most men happily obliged.
Home life in the 1950s
Home life was especially wholesome during the 1950s era. Families sat down to eat meals together on a regular basis. Restaurants were reserved for special occasions and social outings only. Instead, the whole crew often gathered for events in the surrounding neighborhoods to visit with friends and relatives for dinner parties and cookouts.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. Discipline was extremely important back then as well. Children were carefully raised by both biological parents and were rarely exposed to live-in relationships or adult scenarios. In most cases, female children stayed at home until they got married while male children entered the workforce, college, or military right after graduation. All members of the family took an active interest in each other’s lives either way.
How society played a role in the 1950s home
Girls weren’t expected to go to college, they were expected to become wives and mothers. So, home life usually consisted of daily hands-on lessons with mom on things like:
- Caring for children
Still, 1950s girls got the chance to attend university if they wanted, but they were typically married off before graduation. Meanwhile, many women found clerical, teaching, or nursing jobs to help support the family budget and/or satisfy their curiosities.
On the other hand, boys were expected to grow up big, strong, and ready to fight or provide. So, home life for them usually consisted of daily hands-on lessons with dad or community mentors on things like:
Meanwhile, both male and female children were privy to lessons in music and art. However, 1950s parents considered the arts unimportant for anything but socialization.
Family life in the 1950s was iconic. It was the golden age of the nuclear family. We can still see the roots when we observe modern familial structures and values. So, whether we live like mid-century people or not doesn’t matter because their influences are why we have the culture we enjoy today.