The History of the affluent Society of the United States

The history of the United States from 1950 to 1960 is examined through the lens of the affluent society by talking about its economic success, the civil rights organizations, its conformity, and cultural critics. The time period covered by this history includes the impact of Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, who made significant contributions to the discussion of suburban problems. The 1950s were known as the "golden age," a time when freedom for Americans took on new significance, particularly in terms of consumer choice and consumerism. Due to the Cold War, industrial output was high while the American population and economic resources were redistributed. (Lisa). The Cold War was also a factor in shaping new roles for family and women. The blacks and the ethnic minorities did not benefit from the growth of suburbs and economic prosperity and growing suburbia as they were held in the inner cities.

During the period of the affluent society of the United States, Eisenhower administration called the adopted policies modern Republicanism and was a primary enforcer of the New Deal programs. There was growth in Labor as Eisenhower adopted the “massive retaliation” policy to fight the Cold War as a foreign policy. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was used in various developing countries to counter against the pro-Soviet nationalist movements which advocated for communist ideology. At the end of the affluent society of the United States period, the civil rights movement became evident after they had built upon decades (Brown-Nagin, Tomiko). They were encouraged by the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr Brown v. Board of Education decision and Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther mobilized the black community in Montgomery by defining freedom according to the Voices of Freedom and using his oratory abilities. It is at the end of the 1960s that the election between Nixon and John F. Kennedy were held.

Early Developments

People who lived in the United States in the 1950s can be described as the contrast of those which followed. The period could be described as the era of peace, prosperity and conformity, prosperity, and peace. In the 1960s, there began an era of rebellion, unrest, and war. Although there were positive factors, there were some problems identified with it. Various foreign and domestic policy issues were developed in the '50s which could have grappled the nation within the years. Poverty was more wide spread than reported although several Americans experienced the success of an “affluent society”. The imbalance led to the civil rights struggle especially by the minorities including the blacks became and it became a national concern. On the international fronts, the Cold War was continuing (Dudziak, Mary). Although Eisenhower had initiated some factors to counter the Cold War and as well as improve the Soviet Union relations, the United States kept abreast its ideology expansion in Southeast Asia by offering the Latin America and the Middle East pro‐Western governments both military and financial support.

The middle‐class Americans were the highest beneficiaries of the 1950s prosperity. At this era of Eisenhower, the country’s inflation remained low while the per capita income rose although it experienced three recessions. The American people accessed more flexible income which they spent on televisions, homes, cars, and various extra household appliances. This prosperity improved home ownership to about 60 percent of the American citizens by 1960 while over two-thirds of the households got television sets (Gene and Klibanoff). Consumerism was compelled by the introduction of credit through loans from banks, buying through instalments and credit cards which enabled consumer spending.

The physical well-being of the United States citizens was better as their economic health. The era marked the advance in medicine such as new antibiotics and a successful vaccine against poliomyelitis. Before then, some of these diseases had killed many children. In 1953, Dr Jonas Salk pronounced that he had discovered a polio vaccine while in 1957, Dr Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine (Lisa). These two inventions and development helped in a nationwide immunization program which cleared polio from the United States.

Suburban America.

After the Second World War, people moved to the suburbs at a high rate without controls throughout the 1950s. At the same time, there was slow population growth in cities and rural areas to a point where almost 40% of the population were in suburbia by 1960. The high growth of the suburbia communities put pressure on transportation as the people had to commute to work in town. As a result, the automobile became more important and the number of cars increased. These happenings put pressure on the gasoline and better roads as their demand increased. On the contrary, people used public transportation or drove to work, but were not ready to go shopping to the cities. As a result, shopping centres developed in the suburban areas during this period while the cities' central business districts displayed signs of decline (Margret 755).

Gender and Culture in the Affluent Society

There was evident change on the labour force composition during the affluent Society era. The period marked a decline in factory employment as productivity and technology was improved. However, there was growth in the number of white‐collar jobs in the sales, service sector and clerical. The union membership saw a major drop during the decade although the internal strife experienced by ended in 1955. Improvements were marked by the coming together of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor where workers in various industries won several settlements.

During the period of the affluent Society, the number of women working outside their homes rose considerably and y 1960, almost 40 percent of the women in America had joined the workforce. The number consisted mainly of the married women with school‐age children. The major challenge was the difference in the earning as they earned significantly low than men for doing the same job even with the same qualification. However, the occurrence that several women were working outside their homes countered the myth that emphasized on traditional gender roles which were a popular culture. Before then, adverts, television and mass circulation magazines sent a message that women were responsible for home chores and raising a family (Daniel).

The United States went through a religious revival at this period where over 60% of Americans reported to have belonged to a church or synagogue. Various religious leaders such as Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale and Evangelist Billy Graham, emerged as the representatives for the resurgence. They used televised programs. At this era, Television substituted the radio as the leading form of home entertainment as there were over 46 million television sets in American homes. Television also became a major force in shaping politics and public opinion. Teenagers were also attracted to television in large audiences especially to a Rock ‘n’ roll music program which grew out of the African‐American rhythm and blues.

Politics and Ideology in the Affluent Society

It is in the 1950s that Republicans expected Eisenhower was to end all of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. But the president found that doing that was impossible and undesirable. Instead, Eisenhower reinforced some factors of the New Deal including the Social Security which he expanded to cover the military personnel, farm workers and self‐employed citizens. Additionally, the federal minimum wage was increased to $1 an hour during his administration. However, there was a reversal on some domestic agendas of the New Deal trends. The president aimed at the reduction of the federal budget by reducing the farm subsidies, promoting private instead of public development in energy resources, keeping inflation in check and abolishing of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Major exceptions by Eisenhower's were on fiscal spending during the country’s recession in 1953, 1957, and 1958 (Grisinger, Joanna)

During Eisenhower's administration, the Republicanism embraced the interstate highway system and the St. Lawrence Seaway as their major projects. The Seaway, which was supported by Canada was completed in 1959 and enhanced ships access to the Great Lakes from the ocean. On the other hand, the Interstate Highway Act was passed in 1956 to enable the federal government finance 90 percent of the cost of building the interstate system. The act targeted the automobile tax gasoline and parts that were incorporated into the Highway Trust Fund. At the end of the 30‐year construction program, the nation’s transportation policy was skewed to favour trucks and cars which reduced railroads and urban mass transit spending (Grisinger, Joanna).

The Other America

Not every American experienced prosperity in the wake of the economic growth in the 1950s. According to Michael Harrington's “The Other America” (1962), he documented that 35 million Americans lived below the poverty level by 1960. With the existence of the expanded Social Security, elderly citizens experienced sub standard housing faced with inadequate medical care and food. To secure American's job, millions of Mexican illegal aliens were deported between 1953 and 1955 due to the recession. However, when prosperity returned in mid-19950s, more Mexican guest workers were invited.


There were high expectations of the post-war America. However, the Affluent Society faced major fundamental flaws. Although the new consumer economy helped several Americans to become middle class, it also produced high inequality. The women faced a major struggle in claiming equal rights as part of the American society. The poor Americans struggled to get a good education, better healthcare and good jobs. The black Americans also faced segregation while other minorities suffered discrimination. The suburbs hosted the middle-class Americans giving them new space although cities and major towns were left for poverty and crime. Although there was fear of nuclear war, many Americans experienced an exceptional prosperity and an increasingly proud American identity. They experienced higher standards of living. However, there were dissent, discrimination, and inequality all which brought about the growth of many civil right movements.

Works cited

Brown-Nagin, Tomiko. Courage to dissent: Atlanta and the long history of the civil rights movement. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War civil rights: Race and the image of American democracy. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Grisinger, Joanna L. The unwieldy American state: administrative politics since the New Deal. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Horowitz, Daniel. Betty Friedan and the making of The feminine mystique: the American left, the Cold War, and modern feminism. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

Marsh, Margaret. "Kenneth T. Jackson. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. 1985. Pp. x, 396. $21.95." 1986, pp. 755-756.

McGirr, Lisa. Suburban warriors: The origins of the new American right. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Roberts, Gene, and Hank Klibanoff. The race beat: The press, the civil rights struggle, and the awakening of a nation. Vintage, 2008.

Wall, Wendy. "Inventing the" American Way"." The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement 5, 2008.

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