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America After World War II

            After World War II ended, many Americans were eager to have children because they were confident that the future held nothing but peace and prosperity. In many ways, they were right. Between 1945 and 1960, the gross national product more than doubled, growing from $200 billion to more than $500 billion. Much of this increase came from government spending. The construction of interstate highways and schools, the distribution of veterans' benefits, and most of all the increase in military spending – on goods like airplanes and new technologies like computers – all contributed to the decade's economic growth. Rates of unemployment and inflation were low, and wages were high. Middle-class people had more money to spend than ever and, because the variety and availability of consumer goods expanded along with the economy, they also had more things to buy.
             The baby boom and the suburban boom went hand in hand. Almost as soon as World War II ended, developers such as William Levitt (whose "Levittown's" in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania would become the most famous symbols of suburban life in the 1950s) began to buy land on the outskirts of cities and use mass production techniques to build modest, inexpensive tract houses there. The G.I. Bill subsidized low-cost mortgages for returning soldiers, which meant that it was often cheaper to buy one of these suburban houses than it was to rent an apartment in the city.
             These houses were perfect for young families – they had informal "family rooms," open floor plans and backyards – and so suburban developments earned nicknames like "Fertility Valley" and "The Rabbit Hutch." However, they were often not so perfect for the women who lived in them. In fact, the booms of the 1950s had a particularly confining effect on many American women. Advice books and magazine articles ("Don't Be Afraid to Marry Young," "Cooking To Me Is Poetry," "Femininity Begins At Home") urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers.

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