Both conservatives and liberals spread misinformation about life in the 1950s. For the modern liberals, 1950s are the ultimate Dark Age of patriarchal oppression, while for conservatives they are the Golden Age of the family.
In fact, they were neither, but that's not what I wanted to talk about today. I'd like to address one particular myth about this time period, which is particularly persistent among those who declare themselves anti-feminist. They will often say something about the importance of the traditional family and how in general, they think that women ought to be housewives, but unfortunately, nowadays it's impossible, unlike in that Golden Age of the family, 1950s, when all men earned enormous paychecks etc etc. Well, you know the type.
It's true that in the 1950s more married women stayed home than nowadays, but did it really happen because people were so much wealthier than now? Let's look at some of the popular TV shows of that time, like I Love Lucy, for instance. Ricky and Lucy are supposed to be an example of a typical middle class family where the wife stay home. In the beginning of the show, they are a childless couple living in an apartment which consists of a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. In Season 2 when they finally get a baby, they continue for some time to live in the same apartment, later they move to an apartment with 2 bedrooms.
It's only in the last couple of seasons when Ricky has been to Hollywood and became internationally famous, that they finally buy their dream house in the suburbs. The first three seasons they don't own a car. It's true, they have a TV set, a washing machine, a fridge (without a freezer at first) and a vacuum cleaner, and they can afford to eat out and Lucy always wastes money on clothes, but they aren't shown going on expensive vacations, unless Ricky has to travel for work. Their friends and landlords, Fred and Ethel, have even lower living standards.
Now in 1955 there was another popular TV show called Honeymooners which featured two working class couples, Ralph and Alice Kramden and Ed and Trixie Norton. Ralph is a bus driver, Ed is a sewer worker, and they both earn the same amount of money - 62 dollars a week. Both women are homemakers. When I watched a first couple of episodes, I kept wondering why they always showed Kramdens' kitchen and never their living room, like in I Love Lucy. Then I understood - their kitchen was also their living room. Their whole apartment consisted of living/kitchen + a bedroom and a bathroom. The same was true for Nortons.
It goes without saying that neither of them owned a car. Alice Kramden also had no washing machine or vacuum cleaner, and in the very first episode she insisted her husband bought them a TV set and complained about their electric bill amounting to 39 cent a month or something similar. Nortons had a better furniture and a TV set because they bought stuff on credit.
I hope by now you have guessed why I'm telling you all this: our living standards have changed dramatically and that's one of the reasons so many married women work. I knew a couple in real life who raised their four children in a 4 room flat, which was later sold as a "starter" apartment and there is a single man living in it now. A newly-wed couple naturally expects to be able to buy a semi-detached in a nice neighbourhood with a big garden. Or is it natural?
I said above the rising standards of living demand that wives keep on working after marriage and this is reason number one. Reason number two is that our whole perspective on family has changed. Nowadays a wife of a man like Ralph Kamden would be accused of "not contributing to the family income" and shamed into working. People feel they are entitled to two cars, luxurious vacations, regularly eating out, having houses much bigger than they really need and owning lots of expensive gadgets (half of which they don't use). Kamdens didn't have a phone in their apartment. Nowadays, every child in the family is supposed to have a mobile.
1950s were closer to the "Golden Age" of the family not because people were so much wealthier than now, but because they thought that family was important. We find stuff important. That's all.