Diversity & Population Growth in the United States After WWII

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will look at diversity and population growth in the United States after World War II. We will learn about the 'baby boom' and consider how the American population has changed since 1945.

America: The Great 'Melting Pot'

Maybe you have heard the United States of America being referred to as a 'melting pot.' When people say this, it means America is a land in which people of all different races, ethnicities, religions, and other differences come together and live in harmony. The term 'melting pot' is often used when discussing immigration. Immigration is a fancy word that refers to people from one country or region choosing to move to another. So for example, if someone moved from Germany to the United States, they would be called an immigrant, and their process of moving would be called immigration.

This image illustrates the American concept of the melting pot.
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Most Americans are the descendants of immigrants. Remember, the Native American tribes were here first, and were the first true 'Americans.' Throughout the 16th-18th century, the British, Spanish, French, and many other ethnic groups came to what is now America. What is an 'ethnic group,' you ask? An ethnic group is a group of people who share a common cultural or national heritage. So, people from Spain would be ethnically Spanish, while people from Russia would be ethnically Russian. Americans today may be of races, but we all belong to the same ethnic group: we are all Americans. Don't confuse race with ethnicity!

World War II and the 'Baby Boom'

World War II took place between 1939-1945. Many American men left to fight in Europe and the Pacific, leaving their wives and families behind, sometimes for years at a time. Imagine how joyful wives and families were when 'the boys came home.' Immediately after World War II there was a huge spike in marriages and childbirths. This trend continued in the coming years. Think about it: the war was over, and America's future looked pretty good. The economy was strong. This was a great time to get married and begin a family. This dramatic increase in childbirth, which took placed between 1946-1964, is called the 'baby boom'. People born during this time are commonly called 'baby boomers.' Today, baby boomers are typically in their fifties and sixties.

Diversity, Population, and Assimilation in Modern America

After World War II a growing number of people moved to western nations. Trends in immigration also shifted. Before World War II, immigrants to the U.S. came heavily from northern and western Europe. However, in the post-war years, increasing numbers of immigrants began arriving from eastern and southern Europe, as well as other continents and regions like Asia and Latin America. This led to increased diversity in the United States. With the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s, laws were passed that ensured equal protection of African-Americans and other minorities groups in America.

Diversity is a chief characteristic of American culture.
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The American population itself also rapidly expanded after World War II. In 1900 the American population was 76 million. One hundred years later it was 282 million. In the United States, population is measured every ten years in a process called a census. Typically a census is taken by households completing questionnaires, but in some cases government officials make visits to actually count households.

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