Family Life Following the Second World War

Traditionally, the family was the fundamental unit of the society. However, in the course of time, family life evolved and changed consistently. In this respect, the post-World War II period was marked by a particularly rapid and striking change in family life, which influenced the life of the entire society. At the same time, the impact of changes launched in the post-World War II epoch, especially during the 1960s, produced a profound impact on the modern society and modern family life, to the extent, that, today, it is possible to speak about the radical change of the family as a social institution. In such a context, the understanding and analysis of changes concerning family life after the end of World War II and a few decades to follow is crucial for the understanding of the modern family life and current trends in human relationships at the level of family. At this point, a few key trends can be defined as determinant of the change that occurred to family life in the post-World War II era: the sexual revolution and the emergence of feminism, which have changed dramatically the relationship within the family, especially between children and parents, and the position of women in the family.

The patriarchal family

On analyzing the changes that occurred to family life after the end of World War II and the decades to follow, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon the starting point, the family life as it used to be shortly after the war since the post-war epoch was characterized by a profound re-evaluation of fundamental principles of the family life. First of all, the traditional family life was determined by social norms and traditions that persisted in the society for decades prior to World War II. At this point, the dominance of patriarchal traditions in the family life was obvious and the patriarchal family had survived after the end of World War II, but it could have not persisted for a long time because the war had changed the society forever.

At the same time, the traditional, patriarchal family life was characterized by the dominance of men, who played the determinant role in the social and family life. Traditionally, men performed the function of heads of the family and they were perceived as breadwinners who provided for their families. Basically, the dominant position of men was the result of their domination in the socioeconomic and political life at the epoch. What is meant here is the fact that men dominated in practically all spheres of social life, while women were underrepresented in business, social activities and political life of the society. In such a situation, men were really breadwinners whom the life of the entire family heavily relied on. In other words, the family could not survive or maintain the high standards of living without the financial support of men. As a result, men dominated in the family, while children and women were strictly subordinated to men as heads of the family.

In such a way, it was men who took decisions which defined the family life, while the role of women was secondary. At the same time, it was women who were entirely focused on their households and it was women who mainly brought up children, while men were mainly concerned with their professional career since they were responsible for the income of the family. On the other hand, it does not necessarily mean that fathers did not participate in bring up children. In stark contrast, often fathers were models of behavior, especially for boys, and it was fathers who established the fundamental principles of the family life, they established the family’s set of values, ethical and moral norms all the members of the family had to follow. Moreover, often men controlled the behavior of their children as well as wives that could be accompanied by the domestic violence, as an “effective argument” used by men to prove their dominant and leading position in the family (Bonvillain, 1995, p.144). In such a situation, women and children had nothing but to obey heads of the family.



The sexual revolution and family life

However, the end of World War II and the late 1940s and partially the early 1950s marked the end of the patriarchal family because the society had started to change after the war and, to a significant extent, due to the war. In fact, World War II produced a profound impact on the society, morals and ethical norms and principles which used to be fundamental at the epoch prior to the war. To put it more precisely, the traditional dominant role of men had started to change under the impact of the war. During the war, socioeconomic roles had started to change consistently since women were often forced to do jobs, which traditionally viewed as male jobs. In such a way, they proved to be able to be equal to men. At the same time, the victory in the war as well as the war itself brought an unparalleled feeling of liberty, which people had never felt before. This liberty eventually contributed to the appearance of a totally new generation of people who were consistently more independent and free in their moral principles, judgments and behavior.

At this point, both genders were affected. Men and women had an unparalleled experience, when human life and fundamental human values and principles were absolutely devaluated. Human life and traditional values meant nothing during the war because people could have died every day and every moment. In such a situation, people had learned to appreciate the life and, after the end of the war, they apparently wanted to “compensate” those years they had lost because of the war (Heintz and Folbre, 2000, p.119). This means that people were willing to enjoy the peaceful life, while their psychology had changed and their moral values and views had started to change too. People started to view their relationships from a more frivolous point of view. The conservatism of the past epoch had faded away and people attempted to enjoy every moment of their life.

In such an atmosphere a new generation had grown up in the late 1940s ”“ 1950s and by the 1960s the new generation started the socio-cultural phenomenon known as the sexual revolution (Keylor and Bannister, 2004, p.294). In fact, sexual revolution was carried out by the post-war generation which absorbed ideals of liberation and total freedom along with the appreciation of life unbounded by moral biases and restrictions. The major ideals of the sexual revolution were free love, independence of individuals of moral restrictions, and peace for all people. The sexual revolution undermined basic values of the patriarchal family and challenged moral norms and principles of the conservative part of the society.

At the same time, sexual revolution had changed the family life dramatically. In fact, the sexual revolution put the end to the patriarchal family and led to the consistent change of the relationships between parents and children as well as spouses. To put it more precisely, the younger generation was unwilling to live in accordance norms of the patriarchal family. They wanted to be independent and take decisions on their own, regardless of the opinion of their parents, including fathers. The latter had lost their authority as heads of the family because ideals of liberty promoted by the sexual revolution implied the right of all people to take decisions independently and regardless of the position of other people, whoever they were. In such a way, parents-children relationships became more liberal and democratic and this trend grew stronger in the 1960s-1970s.

Such a change contributed to the revision of views on the domestic violence. By the 1970s and during the following decades, the society had started to condemn domestic violence, while concerns with the protection of children from the violent behavior of their parents, especially fathers, grew stronger. As a result, the domestic violence was viewed as a crime and, eventually, it was totally banned on the legal basis, though it persists in some forms till present days but on a consistently smaller scale.

Furthermore, probably one of the most remarkable and significant outcomes of the sexual revolution, which affected dramatically the family life, was the liberalization of sexual relationships between men and women. This liberalization led to the devaluation of traditional family values since the creation of the family had stopped to be the ultimate goal of the relationships of men and women. Instead, the idea of free love started to substitute the family as a basic social institution which lays the foundation to the entire society. The out marital relationships became a norm within a couple of decades after World War II, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s, while the 1960s were characterized by the shift in social morals from traditional family values to new ones.

The emergence of feminism and family life

The position of women changed very significantly in the post-World War II era. In actuality, it was the epoch of the emergence of feminism, when the role of women in the society had changed completely. Shortly after World War II, women still occupied a secondary position in the society. However, they had already felt they were able to be equal to men. As it has been already mentioned above, during the war time, women often performed functions of men and did jobs, which were traditionally perceived as male jobs. In such a way, they had got an opportunity to gain a higher social status if they proved to be able to compete with men in the socioeconomic domain. What is meant here is the fact that women needed to improve their socioeconomic position to get the position equal to men in the social hierarchy.

In this respect, the emergence of the civil rights movement in the 1960s was very important to the development of feminism. But it is worth mentioning the fact that feminism strengthened its positions during and shortly after the war because women had realized their true potential and they had started to struggle for their socioeconomic and political rights and opportunities. In actuality, the development of feminism, which became particularly strong at the epoch of the civil rights movement, contributed to the destruction of the patriarchal family and stimulated the revision of relationships within the family. To put it more precisely, women were unwilling to perform secondary roles in the society as well as in the family life.

As they started to get larger job and education opportunities, they started to change their social status and their position within the family.

In such a context, the 1950s-1960s were the turning point in the history of feminism and in the total change of the traditional, patriarchal family life. Due to the emergence of feminism and civil rights movements, women had got the legal basis for taking the equal position in the society and family compared to men because anti-discrimination legislative acts were introduced which protected rights of women not only at work but also at home. The latter was supposed to put the end to the domestic violence, but this problem persists till the present days, though on a consistently lower scale.

As for the family life proper, women had got more liberties then they had ever had before. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that along with frivolous sexual relationships, resulting from the sexual revolution, women got larger opportunities to take the position equal to men in the family. At this point, the improvement of their social position, larger educational and job opportunities were particularly important because they laid the foundation to the financial independence of women from men. As a result, women could maintain their families independently from men. Eventually, this led to a considerable growth of divorce rates especially at the epoch after the 1960s (Shortt, 1998, p.91). In addition, women could plan their families equally to men since the use of contraceptives, which used to be very seldom in the past, had started to become a norm in the post-World War II era.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the family life after World War II had undergone substantial changes. In fact, the two-three decades, which followed the war, marked the end of the patriarchal family and opened the way to the totally new type of family relationships. To put it more precisely, the family life after World War II was liberalized consistently. Traditional moral values and norms had been abandoned. Instead, new values defined the family life. In this respect, the sexual revolution, the emergence of feminism and the change of socioeconomic status of women, along with the civil rights movement, proved to be crucial factors which led to the emergence of a new family life. As a result, the patriarchal family, which was totally dominated by men, who used to be heads of the family and breadwinners, was replaced by a more liberal family, where all members are equal and relationships are based on the principle of equality regardless of the age and gender.

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