Conformity in 1950s America

Galbraith said that life in America in the '50s was "the bland leading the bland". How far was he correct?


Pro-Conformity; suburbia

1950-1960 18 million people moved to the suburbs.

13 million homes were built, 11 million of which were in the suburbs.

Everything was uniform; everyone had the same as everyone else and there was little to no individuality; keeping up with the Jones'.

Life in suburbia was sold as the ideal; a city job with city pay, but a private and quiet country home.

Chafe:- Forced togetherness; everyone knew everything about everyone else

Mumford:- Same class, same age group, same pay bracket, watched the same TV programmes, ate the same foods.

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Anti-Conformity; suburbia

Keeping up with the Jone's; not fighting to be the same as everyone else, fighting to be better.

Gans and Dobriner:- diversity in lifestyle and political views

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Pro-Conformity; Women

Pressure to return to the home; 75% more lost their war-time jobs than men.

60% of women married by age 24

Accepted and embraced the prescribed role of womanhood.

Neuhaus:- Pressure to define themselves as wives and mothers.

Neuhaus:- Cookery books sold for women who hated cooking- hated it but did it anyway as it was expected of them.

Johnson:- made their husbands happier by cooking him a good meal than by being smart.

Friedan:- women dyeing of cancer refused potential cures as the results were said to be unfeminine- more value on keeping up appearances than longer life.

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Anti-Conformity; Women

Some women did enter/ stay in the workplace, and it was the combined wages that gave the family middle class status. 

Exceptions; black women and lesbians had very different experiences to white, middle class, suburban housewives.

Friedan:- repressed, opressed and miserable. Stress related illnesses.

Neuhaus:- documents discussing how women should behave don't necesserally show how they did behave- show tedium of idyllic perfection.

Neuhaus:- pop culture, e.g. TV programmes show contradictions and uncertainty about ideal gender roles.

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Pro-Conformity; other points

Cold War

McCarthy-ism. Paranoia and fear of the enemy within- you're a bit different, does that mean you're a communist? HUAC reinforced conformity.


Church attendance doubled; to be un-religious was to be un-American

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Anti-Conformity; Other

Rise of the Teenager

Young delinquency and moral panic- The Catcher in the Rye.

Teen pregnancy; 1957, aprox. 10% of 15-19 year old girls had given birth

1945-1955, 80% increase in the number of out-of-wedlock babies given up for adoption

Shotgun weddings

Increase in numbers of divorces, cases of alcoholism, and prescription medications for issues such as depression.

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