To Have and to Hold: Marriage, the Baby Boom, and Social Change

Jessica Weiss, Author
Jessica Weiss, Author University of Chicago Press $45 (307p) ISBN 978-0-226-88670-1
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 299 pages - 978-0-226-88671-8
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The words ""Hi, honey, I'm home"" haunted 1950s television shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet. Now the 1950s family is a battleground in contemporary culture wars: conservatives claim it as the cornerstone of a golden age of stability, while liberals and feminists see it as a stifling prison. Weiss, a professor of history at California State University-Hayward, argues convincingly that both of these analyses are wrong: the 1950s family, she says, was far more complex, protean and nontraditional than its current image allows, encompassing changes in marital age, spacing of pregnancies and divorce rates. What, she wonders, has been the legacy of such change? Drawing on longitudinal family histories from the Institute of Human Development at the University of California at Berkeley as well as such women's magazines as Redbook and Ladies' Home Journal, marital and child-care manuals and marriage, divorce and labor statistics, Weiss charts the ways in which families changed from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s. The American family, she finds, was radically challenged by transformations in U.S. culture over these decades: middle-class men were urged by experts to actively participate in raising their children; the focus shifted from emphasis on the ""couple"" to the ""family"" as a whole; and women became active in the workforce to the point that, in 1956, 51% of working women were married. Urging that we ""not reduce postwar gender and family history to decade- long increments,"" Weiss makes a compelling case that baby boomers really are their parents' children. (Apr.)
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