The myth of 1950s as the "Golden Age" of the family persists. Of course, comparing with the present day there were relatively few married women in the workforce, about 20% vs 60% in 2009, yet what was the reason for it? I keep hearing claims that it was due to some uncommon after-war prosperity. However, in the year 1900 only 5% of all married American women worked. Was it because in the beginning of the 20th century folks were on average much wealthier than 50 years later? How comes a lower class man could afford for his wife and kids to stay home 100 years ago but he can't now?
I have noticed that a lot of people, especially Americans are basing their ideas of the times past on Hollywood productions. I've watched my fair share of vintage movies and I've noticed one thing: they nearly always feature an upper middle class household with all the problems they face. A wealthy husband having an affair with his secretary, spoiled college-attending kids mouthing off, a bored middle aged lady of the house with her fur coats whose problem is her housekeeper left her. That's not how most families lived.
Just a week ago I was talking with somebody on this very topic. The lady was telling me about her childhood. They were a family with 6 children, the father had a small business, the mother stayed home. All 8 of them lived in a house of 80 sq.m., with a small garden. It had a living room, a master bedroom and 3 small rooms where the children slept, one was so tiny it had no windows and it was pitch dark in there in the evening. Since they were with 1 boy and 5 girls, it meant that the brother had a bedroom all to himself while the sisters had to share: 3 in one room and two in the other (the dark one).
They had no TV and they had to rent a washing machine to do their weekly washing. The house still exists, though the inside walls were broken to create bigger rooms as it's been a fashion over here for some time. These types of houses are often put on sale nowadays as a "starter" or one person homes yet they had lived there with a family of 8. Something tells me that the current rate of married women in the workforce has more to do with high demands of the modern lifestyle than with any great wealth of the previous era.