Hoping and dreaming came naturally for young couples in 1960. They had begun their families in the "golden age of the American family," as historians call the 1950s. Historian Steven Mintz and anthropologist Susan Kellogg, in Domestic Revolutions, treat this decade as a reference point for measuring changes in family life. Young adults married in unprecedented numbers and at younger ages than had earlier generations. By 1960, 70 percent of all women were married by the age of 24, compared with 42 percent twenty years earlier and around 50 percent thirty years later. They bore more children at a faster rate. Between 1940 and 1957, the birthrate for third children in a family doubled and for fourth children tripled.
Families in the 1960s
Perhaps the start-early pattern of young families was a reaction to tales told by their parents, whose marriages may have been delayed or childbearing limited by separations caused by war or the hardships of the Great Depression. By the 1950s, Elaine Tyler May notes in Homeward Bound, "childlessness was considered deviant, selfish, and pitiable." Large families, on the other hand, were an indication of a man's potency and ability to provide and a woman's success as a professional homemaker. Popular magazines extolled the virtues of marriage and family life, and movies and television programs portrayed them as romantic ideals. Psychologists, educators, journalists, and religious leaders reinforced the idea that marriage was necessary for personal well-being. Failure to marry suggested some sort of personal deficiency. In the prevailing view, according to Mintz and Kellogg, women's primary responsibility was to "manage the house and care for children."1