Domestic Bliss?: Consumerism & Advertising in the 1950s

The 1950s are often defined by prosperity, domestic bliss, and poodle skirts. As well as being the world’s strongest military power, the United States had a booming economy, and households were happily spending more than ever. The television became a necessity, and automobile sales skyrocketed. Thus, along with a recently restored economy came the rise of a powerful, all-consuming force that arguably drives society to this day: consumerism.

A 1950s family gathers around the TV

A 1950s family gathers around the TV

While consumerism seemed like a positive addition to society at the time–who would complain at the idea of new kitchen appliances or a new car?–it fostered another less desirable aspect of the socially conservative 1950s: the reinforcement of traditional gender roles. Now that the war was over and the economy was good, women were asked to step down from their wartime jobs as engineers, mechanics, and drivers so that men could resume their jobs in an effort to maintain the economy’s stability.

Women workers building an airplane during World War II

Women workers building an airplane during World War II

Now, women were expected to resume their labor in the household. While women were still employed, they took on “pink collar” jobs like waitressing and clerical jobs that paid far less than the average man’s. Ultimately, the disparity between these roles perpetuated the notion of men being the hardworking, money-earning gender and women being the materialistic, home-making gender who cared only about cooking and cleaning. The advertisements of the 1950s did little to hide these stereotypes.

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