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A Population History of the United States by Herbert S. Klein

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A Population History of the United States by Herbert S. Klein offers insight into demographic trends that have shaped the lives of various groups. Chapters Five and Six delve into the evolution of the modern population. Also, they cover the baby boom and changes in family values. Between the years 1914 and 1980, Americans experienced a number of major shifts. Klein thoroughly examines the issues of death, disease, birth, migration, and population growth. His observations serve as an account of the rich demographic history held by the United States. The impacts of certain events lead to new urbanization patterns, industrialization, improved lifespans, and economic highs/lows. International immigration ties into the foundation of North American society. All of the periods detailed by Klein show how this country has managed to journey into the 21st century.

The evolution of the modern population is said to have taken place from 1914 to 1945. During this time, mortality rates declined significantly. Researchers have noted that the most profound contributors to this occurrence were medical advancements and improvements in sanitation. Among these were garbage disposal, water treatments, and immunizations. Infants and children began to live longer. Additionally, the biggest diseases that caused death changed. Diarrhea, influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, and tuberculosis dropped on the list of prevalent killers. People started to place health as a priority in order to extend their lifespans. It appeared that whether living in urbanized or rural areas, being impoverished was a great predictor of mortality. By the 1960s, the mortality rates caused by infectious diseases had plummeted because of antibiotics. Mothers benefitted as well, being that their maternal death rate went down in association.

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Where gender was concerned, women had longer life expectancies than men; the figure rising steadily over the years. The life expectancy for persons of Color also increased but never quite reached that of Whites, due to socioeconomics. This extreme difference declined as African Americans ventured beyond the confines of the South and its limited opportunities. Historians have also acknowledged that during this period, there was a decline in fertility due to attitudes about reproduction. Events such as the Great Depression and wars were factors that caused people to refrain from having children. Unemployment and economic hardship meant that childbearing was placed on the back burner. Postwar, trends reflected an influx of children and marriage (baby boom). Prior to boom, it was average for people to have 2-3 children. At the peak of the boom, most families had 4-5.

The influx only lasted a decade, as economic growth prompted families to space out the time between children or to delay having children. After the men returned home from war, the economy’s tide turned. People focused more on having children and expanding the labor market. Wage increased, better education was available, and government housing credit was abundant; these all improved the lives of the young ‘baby boomers’. The age for marriage lowered in response to the overwhelming urge to start families. It was once typical for the average person to be married at 24-25 but this age dropped to 22 for men and 20 for women. By 1960, it was recorded that 70 percent of women between the ages 20 and 24 were married. In the period following the boom, called the ‘baby bust’, this percentage dropped to 33 percent. When the 70s arrived, the population went back to marrying and having children at lower rates. Perceptions about sexuality and fertility also became slightly more liberal.

More women began to have children out of wedlock and divorce became less of a taboo (rates double by the 1960s). At the core, America was undergoing a metamorphosis. As a result, family values and ideals were being reformed. There was a growing relevance towards marriage, especially if extramarital children were involved. The number of single parent households was steadily increasing, suggesting that a fresh view of family life was being formed. Naturally, the roles appointed to women were affected. They were becoming active in the workforce, taking on professions that were once elusively for men. By the 1970s, nearly half the population of women were employed. Education also was central for progressive women, causing a delay in marriage. In the 80s, more than half of college enrollees were female. Women expressed a great desire for equality and the end of patriarchal standards. They had grown weary of unfair pay, maltreatment, and victimization because of their gender.

Taking race into account, African Americans displayed gradual declines in birth rates when compared to Whites. However, the birth rates for Native Americans were slow to decline. In the early 1900s, this group had the highest figures for fertility and marriage in the nation. By 1940, the average rate for children was 4.5 children in Native families. Another monumental influence on population was immigration. From 1911-1920 alone, 5.2 million immigrants came to America. The political and economic landscape shifted, causing more restrictions on immigration. By 1945, the number of immigrants per year dropped to 38,000 from a staggering 2.1 million in 1914. In the 40s, it was common for Europeans to migrate to the United States but by the 70s, new trends emerged. Most of the immigrants were Asian and Latin American. Transformation in the American population from 1900 to 1940s yielded demographic changes that were credited to urban settlement. Industrialism and structural development reshaped the landscape.

The Great Migration was a historical event that contributed to the redistribution of the population. Appealing Northern labor markets, the cessation of slavery, and the decline of the South pushed African Americans to seek opportunities across the nation. By the 1960s, millions had relocated to the North or the West. They migrated to urbanized cities, encouraging former residents to move towards metropolitan areas. Suburbs began to form as more city dwellers constructed communities on the outskirts of congested cities. Standardized homes and malls became the hallmarks of these suburban areas. These were created to accommodate the middle class and working class suburban residents. In the 1950s, construction of major highways indicated a transition in the way that Americans traveled. These highways connected once isolated towns and cities, making it easier for business to be conducted. However, in the cities, urbanization was giving rise to ‘ghettos’.

A large percentage of Blacks found themselves in low-income, depreciating neighborhoods. They were barred from participating in the housing market, thus keeping them from entering the suburbs and more affluent areas of living. Institution and social racism prevented persons of Color from enjoying the lifestyle and liberties accessed by their White counterparts. Cities such as Detroit, Boston, and New York were home to some of the worst ghettos in the country. Restrictive policies, lackluster schools, poor housing value, and the abandonment of former city residents left African Americans in a precarious position. The opportunities that they had fled the South for had migrated to the suburbs with the Whites. High mortality rates and poverty characterized the ghettos.

African Americans seemed to be deviating from the standards and culture established by White Americans. Evidence of this can be found even in the traditional family values that had been upheld by the majority. Blacks challenged these traditions by having children out of wedlock at an unprecedented rate, indicating that they had abandoned conventional familial structures. Between the 1960s and 1970s, illegitimacy rates more than doubled. These households also showed the trend of being female-led. Martrachial familial units were thought to be the product of struggles (slavery/urbanization) as they did not conform to what had been accepted as the norm. Aside from the African American populations, immigration shaped densely populated areas. Immigrants began to fill the spaces that Whites had made by moving out of the urbanized zones. They had the tendency to relocate to these locations while avoiding the center cities that had been dominated by people of Color.

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