Compare and Contrast Essay Sample: the 1920s and the 1930s in America

Published: 2022-06-01
Compare and Contrast Essay Sample: the 1920s and the 1930s in America
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  American history
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1265 words
11 min read

The 1920s was an era of prosperity that signified a break between the past and future of America. Before the American involvement in World War One, the country was psychologically and culturally rooted to the 19th century where the majority of citizens lived in rural areas and agriculture was the main source of income. However, the 1920s also renowned as the "Roaring Twenties" ushered in a new modern era and broke the wistful attachment to the recent past. For the first time in American history, Americans lived in cities and urban centers than on firms. Furthermore, in the period between 1920 and 1929, the country's gross domestic product (GDP) doubled implying an increased total national wealth. The growth in national wealth led to the development of a new consumer culture where people bought similar goods brought about by the growth of mass media and communication. The spread of chain stores and nationwide advertisements availed products and services to the consumer. Likewise, the "flapper" or a modern woman was a core symbol of the 1920s prosperity. Women were allowed to vote and many of them worked in white collar jobs. The women enjoyed a sense of freedom as opposed to the 19th century woman. Unfortunately, the era of prosperity and growth did not last long. A period of despair and widespread suffering emerged after the 1929 stock market crash that is attributed to the emergence of the Great Depression, a decade of intense poverty and economic hardships. Americans identified with each other in the 1920s lush culture as well as during the economic depression of the 1930s.

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The 1920s led to the birth of a new mass culture. Americans had more than enough money to spend, and the extra income was spent on consumer goods. Due to the boom in industries, the American market had home appliances like the refrigerator which was used by elite and upper-middle class in Europe. The development of installment buying meant that more Americans could access goods and services through credit purchases. By the mid-twenties, Americans bought three quarters of household items such as furniture, TVs, radios, phonographs and other electric appliances on credit. There were ready-to-wear clothes for both men and women. The emergence of new female fashion also accounted to the increase in the number of modern women dressed in short skirts and had bobbed hair. The women would smoke, drink, and were sexually free. Besides, millions of women were employed in white-collar occupations such as stenographers. Technological advanced in the 20th century particularly in the twenties helped to ease the chores of women at home. The washing machine and vacuum cleaners alleviated certain drudgery women duties in the household.

During the Roaring Twenties, Americans had the income to enjoy various amusements. One of the greatest symbols of the good economic progress was the car. The number of Americans who owned cars grew from 10-30 million especially among the young generation. Almost every household could afford the latest Ford vehicle. On the other hand, Americans had fun in dance halls, fun parks and movie theatres. The 1920s had become an era of fun where everyone had the opportunity to attain the American Dream. There was an increase in real wages in both the retail and manufacturing sector while executive salaries also grew significantly. Moreover, since most Americans wanted to grow rich quickly, a majority of them invested in the stock market that promised better returns. Indeed, the stock market grew significantly attracting both domestic and foreign investors. There was availability of credit from retail banks due to low interest rates leading to the growth of the banking sector.

However, the decade of prosperity ended and a new era of economic downturn and stagnation emerged after the 1929 stock market crash. The 1930s was a period of the Great Depression that was the worst economic recession in the industrialized world. The stock market crash wiped out millions of investors because after a panic rocked Wall Street. As opposed to the period of great economic prosperity during the twenties, the depression led to the slowdown in consumer spending and the decline in investment. Industries were harshly hit by the recession because there was an overproduction but little consumption. As a result, 15 million Americans who were wage earners became unemployed by 1933, the depression had reached its lowest point. Most significantly, the 1930s experienced the decline in wages, leading to the loss of disposable income. Along with it, the consumer culture declined because the citizens barely had money to spend on essentials such as food, clothing and shelter, leave alone impulse buying. President Herbert Hoover responded by implementing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to spark economic growth but the measures did little to solve the recession. However, when President Roosevelt attained presidency in 1932, he implemented the New Deal in 1933 that was a set of domestic policies which increased the role of the federal government in managing the Great Depression. The New Deal offered relief, recovery and reform. Besides government intervention, the 1930s was the extreme opposite of the 1920s. To effectively understand the significance differences, the next section will analyze how the American landscape impacted women in the two periods.

The First World War led to the expansion of the defense industry. As a result, the booming industry led to the shifts in the role of women. Women were no longer subject to household chores only. They became active in both white and blue-collar jobs. After the end of the First World War, the age of prosperity promoted the gradual rise in working women. However, despite the growth in the number of female workers, there was little improvement with regard to wages and the quality improvement. The males dominated the work environment with better pay than their female counterparts. Nevertheless, the contradictions of the 1920s did not deter women from their ambitions. In many families across the United States, women were supplementary wage-earners. However, single-mother households endured immense poverty without the aid of a male breadwinner. In comparison to the males, women were poorly paid, worked in menial occupations and had a low status except in the teaching and nursing professions. On the political front, women were allowed to vote just like they participated in economic development. Likewise, the social depiction of women changed in the 20s. The flapper portrayed a new modern woman who was allowed free speech. However, during the 1930s, women suffered tremendously. They earned 65 cents of a man's dollar. The depression had a strain on marriages, increase in the rate of divorce and the use of contraception to control birth rate. Moreover, there was widespread hostility against working women during the depression and the 1932 National Economic Act led to the loss of thousands of female workers.

In conclusion, the 1920s and 30s were periods of extreme opposites. The twenties was the age of economic boom, consumer culture, surplus spending and enjoyment. Women also enjoyed the age of prosperity with the growth of the modern woman who was not constrained to past societal limitations. However, the 1930s brought severe suffering and the abrupt end of economic progression. Until 1939, Americans faced intense suffering but they remained stronger as one nation under the identity forged during the Roaring Twenties.


Chapter 9: Change and Continuity: Women in Prosperity, Depression and War 1920-1945

Haugen, David M, Susan Musser, and Vickey Kalambakal. 2010. The Great Depression. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Lindop, Edmund, and Margaret J Goldstein. 2010. America in the 1920s. Minneapolis, Minn.: Twenty-First Century Books.

Keesee, Timothy, and Mark Sidwell. 2012. United States History. Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press.

Marcovitz, Hal. 2012. The Roaring Twenties. San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press.

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