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Post–World War II America: 1945–1959



The social and economic landscape of the United States underwent great changes in the decades following World War II. As soldiers returned home from war, they found a very different country than the one they left. Legislation under the G.I. Bill of Rights made home ownership and higher education accessible, but in a country still influenced by Jim Crow laws, these benefits were effectively denied to African Americans. The trend of women working to support the war effort was supplanted by social and economic pressure for women to leave the workforce and raise families. The rise of suburban culture contributed to conformity, and a counterculture emerged in the youth who rebelled against rigid social norms.

At A Glance

  • The G.I. Bill of Rights was passed to help veterans returning from the war reintegrate into American society with benefits such as low-cost mortgages and grants for education. However, African American veterans continued to face discrimination in the workplace.
  • Following World War II, many white Americans moved into small, mass-produced homes in the suburbs. Racial segregation continued to persist even in the suburbs, where African Americans faced discrimination based on Jim Crow laws.
  • The baby boom was a sustained spike in the birth rate in the United States in the decades following the war. The boom led to a rapid expansion of the real estate market and growing demand for services and infrastructure.
  • American consumerism flourished after World War II as manufacturing shifted away from military production to consumer production, with advertisers targeting mainly women living in the suburbs. These same women were under pressure to conform to traditional gender roles.
  • Membership in labor unions increased in the 1940s and 1950s. As unions gained political power, businesses and conservative politicians used legislation to undermine them.
  • The years after the war saw a return to traditional family values and conformity to social norms as the United States attempted to return to normal. Television reinforced these values and norms.
  • Fear of communist infiltration of American government and society spurred the rise of McCarthyism, which demonized deviance from American values.
  • A counterculture emerged after World War II, when young people in the United States rejected social norms.