Suburban Growth and Lifestyle

By: Nina Stoneham

Back in the 1950s many people lived in suburbs or, areas that are close to the cities. They were made for people that worked in the cities but maybe didn’t want to necessarily live in the city. Suburbs were mostly outside the city limits with roads leading to the city. Once the veterans came home from war they wanted to start a life right away and get married and so forth. That included finding and buying a house for the family to live in. The suburbs became a big thing again with real-estate organizations selling lots with several different styles of houses built on them. Returning veterans received low-payment, better lending rates and long-term mortgages if they bought a home. These offers were encouraged by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration.

One of the most famous early suburbs was Levittown. This suburb was located east of New York City. It was developed by a man named William Levitt and his brother and father. They owned a firm that, by the summer of 1951, had built 17,447 homes in this so called Levittown. Levitt and sons also included schools, stores, parks and a community center in Levittown. The houses in the town were constructed very similarly to each other. The floor plans in the houses were exactly the same. The first floor of one such home would include two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a bath and a stairway leading to an attic. Every house also had a refrigerator, electric stove, washing machine and a television set. After 1949 Levitt and Sons also offered a “Cape Cod” model, which was exactly like the other houses but larger. Most of the homes bought in Levittown were occupied by young couples ready to buy a house and settle down.

In 1957, the average age of a Levittown adult was 35. Each family or home contained approximately 2.13 children. The children outnumbered the adults in the community. At first businessmen would commute to nearby cities for their jobs. Many businesses began to move from the cities, so fewer businessmen had to commute then. The wives would stay at home, in the suburbs, tending to the house, shopping for goods and taking care of the family. In fact, a lot of the roles that were commonly seen as either a woman’s role of a man’s role were switched. The wife would fix up the house and decorate it while the husband would go shopping and attend PTA meetings. The wife would also keep track of the family’s bills. Another big thing was competition. Neighbors loved to compete with each other on housekeeping. If someone had a nice lawn then others had to have a nice lawn as well. There was even a book written about suburban life called The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit written by Sloan Wilson that showed the negative side about living in the suburbs.

In addition to this sense of feeling like everyone has to belong, there was also a sense of conformity. A feeling of sameness and that everyone should be alike and fit in, rather than be different and upset things. This also was true in the workplace as well as in the home. Suburbs have really become a useful invention for many people. Suburban outgrowth also produced more cars buying which in turn led to more roads having to be built. The more cars there were on the road, the more traffic there was. Malls and fast food restaurants began to be built for people on the go. If suburbs had not been thought of, there would be some pretty congested cities by now with overcrowding and they probably wouldn’t be clean either. Thanks to Mr. Levitt and his ideas more people can continue to live in the quiet suburbs and still have a well-paying job in the city. The suburb also brought the family together after so many years of separation with the war and the Great Depression. Housing in America in the 50s may have been changing for the better.

Information From:

“Suburbia.” American Decades. Vols.  6. 2001. 276-277. Gale Group. 2005. 16 July 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com>.