Post-World War II baby boom

Post-World War II baby boom

As is often the case, after a major war, the end of World War II brought a baby boom to many countries, notably those in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australasia. There is some disagreement as to the precise beginning and ending dates of the post-war baby boom, but the range most commonly accepted is 1946 to 1964. In the United States alone, approximately 76 million babies were born between those years. In 1946, live births in the U.S. surged from 222,721 in January to 339,499 in October. By the end of the 1940s, about 32 million babies had been born, compared with 24 million in the 1930s. In 1954, annual births first topped four million and did not drop below that figure until 1965, when four out of ten Americans were under the age of twenty. [ Figures in Landon Y. Jones, "Swinging 60s?" in "Smithsonian Magazine", January 2006, pp 102–107.]

In May 1951, Sylvia Porter, a columnist for the "New York Post", used the term "boom" to refer to the phenomenon of increased births in post war America. She wrote:

Take the 3,548,000 babies born in 1950. Bundle them into a batch, bounce them all over the bountiful land that is America. What do you get? Boom. The biggest, boomiest boom ever known in history. [From "Babies Equal Boom, "New York Post", May 4, 1951.]


Prior to the Baby Boom, there was a period of approximately 20 years in which having children was difficult due to the effects of the Great Depression and World War II. The Baby Boom reflected the sudden removal of economic and social restraints that kept people from starting families. [cite web
title = Comparisons of 20th Century U.S. Population Growth by Decade
url =
accessdate = 2007-02-03
] While austerity and restraint were the norms during the stress of the war years, after the war, couples reunited and returned to traditional roles. Returning (mostly male) soldiers re-entered the workforce; many women left wartime work to concentrate on child-bearing and child-rearing. Marriage became again a cultural and career norm for most women, and the result was an increase in the birth rate.

The boom continued in the economic glow of the fifties, but dampened its rate as the recession of 1958 sloughed into the following recovery. One theory about the end of the baby boom is that it petered out as the biological capacity of boomer parents took its course. The key biological factor is female fertility. Women are fertile only into their mid-forties, and simple mathematics indicates that a woman married in her mid-to-late twenties after the war ended in 1945 would remain fertile for approximately another 20 years. The advent of the birth control pill in 1960 in the U.S. also contributed to the slowing birth rate, as previous contraceptive methods were less popular or reliable.

In the United States

In the years after the war, couples who could not afford families due to previous economic problems were able to start producing and people became more optimistic and looked forward to the future. In the United States, the Arsenal of Democracy significantly increased production of goods and materials for export to war-ravaged Europe. As America supplied the free world with goods to rebuild their own economies, the country experienced an unprecedented bubble of vigorous economic growth that did not slow down until 1958. Furthermore, in the U.S. the G.I. Bill enabled record numbers of people to attend college and obtain, perhaps in most cases, the first college degree in their extended families. This led to an increase in education and granted higher incomes to families allowing them the resources to produce more children, and as people got jobs, their incomes rose sharply between 1940 and 1960.

Definition of the boom years

There is little agreement as to the exact beginning and end of the baby boom. In the United States, demographers have put the generation's birth years at 1946 to 1964, although the U.S. birthrate (per 1,000 population) began to decline after 1957.

However, although there was an increase in resident population in 1946 and 1947, it produced only a modest increase making up for the loss during World War II. The end of World War II also ended the long depression for the US that started in 1929. By 1948 the US population increase was back to the pre-recession increase rate of about 1.5% per year.

Based on US census information [] :

*US Involvement in World War II (+ 5 post boomer years)

The five percent "baby boom" increase of 1946 and the trickle into 1947 barely impacted the US population growth rate between 1900 and 2004.

Marriage rates

Marriage rate exploded in the 1950s and reached all time highs in America. The median age of first marriage in 1950 was at a record low, with men at 22.8 years and women at 20.3. [cite web | url = | title = Median Age at First Marriage, 1890–2006 | publisher = Infoplease | accessdate = 2008-07-22] Getting married immediately out of high school was becoming commonplace and women were pressured to be married by the time they were in their early 20s. A common stereotype stated that women were going to college to earn their M.R.S. (Mrs.) degree. [cite web | url = | title = People & Events: Mrs. America: Women's Roles in the 1950s | publisher = PBS | accessdate = 2008-07-22]

Family size

Family size increased greatly throughout the baby boom, the average woman bore 3.09 children in 1950 which increased to 3.65 children per family in 1960, but the peak was in 1957, when the figure stood at 3.77. Most couples became pregnant with their first child within 7 months of their wedding, and many of them had very large families, three and four child families became the norm with the number of 3 child families doubling from 1940 to 1960 and the number of 4 child families quadrupling in the same time period of time.

In Canada

In Canada, the baby boom is usually defined as the generation born from 1946 to 1966. Canadian soldiers were repatriated later than American servicemen, and Canada's birthrate did not start to rise until 1947. Most Canadian demographers prefer to use the later date of 1966 as the boom's end in that country.

In the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom experienced a second "baby boom" during the 1960s, with a peak in births in 1965 and a third (smaller) one in the late 1980s. The two peaks can clearly be seen in the UK population pyramids. [ [ UK population pyramids] .]

European and South-Pacific trends

Many European countries, Australia and New Zealand also experienced a baby boom. In some cases, total fertility rate almost doubled. The American birth model, conceived by demographer Frank Notestein, was punctuated by an end to the upsurge in births and a return to pre-war levels. Prior to WWII, fertility rates in Europe and America were on a general decline due to improved nutrition and medicine, and a surge in births were previously not experienced at such a large scale. Based on this model, baby boom years for other countries regarded for having a baby boom are as follows:
*France 1946–1974
*United Kingdom 1946–1971
*Finland 1945–1950
*Germany 1955-1967
*Sweden 1946–1952
*Denmark 1946–1950
*Netherlands 1946–1972
*Ireland 1946–1982
*Iceland 1946–1969
*New Zealand 1946–1965
*Australia 1946–1965In some of these examples, an "echo boom" followed some time after as the offsping of the initial boom gave rise to a second increase, with a baby "bust" in between. The birth years of the baby boom as noted being both short and long lived, creates what many believe to be a myth to the notion of defining baby boomers as one "generation", as a unified concept is clearly not possible. Indeed, multiple generations may be present in a single country such as Ireland where the boom lasted 36 years. This overlapping effect of generations is not illuminated when considering crude fertility rates. The only common ground for the collective boom is the same approximate starting year. This example can be applied to each state in the United States on an individual basis. The states with a census in place in 1946 saw fertility rates drop to pre-war levels throughout the 1960s, with the average being in 1964.

See also

*Demographics of France
*Baby Boom
*Baby boomers
*1973 oil crisis


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