Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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The family trends that had started in the Sixties continued in the Seventies. The American birth rate continued to drop. Men and women married later and more, and more Americans did not marry at all. The average size of a family declined to only three people. The old, typical nuclear family consisting of a working father and a stay at home mother with two children declined to only 7 percent of the entire American population.

More and more unmarried women were giving birth to babies. The number of single women heading families also increased by 50 percent to over eight million in number. More and more children lived in single parent homes as the divorce rate sky-rocketed to ultimately 50 percent of all American marriages. Children in greater numbers spent more time in the care of persons outside their immediate family. Most Americans were now living longer lives, but grand-parents often lived far away from their grand-children, either in retirement homes or in other states. Americans were always constantly moving.

Americans living alone increased to the point that by the end of the Seventies, one fourth of all households consisted of just one person. The number of unmarried men and women living together, also increased by more than 50 percent by the end of the Seventies. Clearly the American family was now breaking apart. As the pace of life quickened what kind of life would American children have with both parents working whether they were married or divorced? Who would supervise these children? What was also significant was the change in popular values. The very concepts of divorce, working mothers, pre-marital sex, and out-of-wedlock births were losing much of their social stigma within all American classes and races now. The baby boomers represented a new generation with new values and they also represented a generation with huge demographic numbers. This was new to American history.

The trends in American culture even effected the Ritchie family:

Mara: " What do you mean you're getting divorced? "

Deborah: " That's exactly what I said. "

Mara: " But Why? "

Deborah: " Mara, sometimes two people who are married need to go their separate ways. It's happening more an more. "

Mara: " You still haven't explained to me why you're divorcing Dad. "

Deborah: " I just want to start my own life. I can't really explain it.

Mara: " Yes, you can. "

Deborah: " No, I can't. "

Mara: " You don't love Dad anymore? "

Deborah: " Yes, I still love your father, but we are no longer the same people. "

Mara: " What do you mean? "

Deborah: " I always wanted to be an artist and this became impossible when you and your brother were born. Your father and I were also closer. Now he spends all his time working or watching television. We no longer communicate very much. "

Mara: " Can't you go to a marriage counselor? "

Deborah: " I don't think that will help. "

Mara: " Why not ? "

Deborah: " Because we are no longer the same people. It's hard for me to explain. "

Mara: " What's Dad going to do? "

Deborah: I really don't know. Why don't you ask him? "


American television finally caught up with American culture during the 1970's. In January 1971, the television show, " All in the Family, " premiered. It became the escape valve America needed and created a revolution on American television. All the tensions that had been building between parents and children, between the sexes and between the races received a public forum. The main character was a bigoted blue-collar worker named Archie Bunker who told racial jokes and who constantly battled his hippie leaning daughter and long-haired son in law. No subject was taboo. Racial slurs, homosexuality, female menopause, the Vietnam war, student protest, and abortion were all treated with subtle humor.

Another television show, " Maude " featured an arch-liberal woman who discussed birth control, unwanted pregnancies, divorce, and manic depression. Then, " The Jeffersons, "arrived on the small screen and featured an all African American cast that discussed racial issues on national television with great humor. The main character was an African American version of Archie Bunker. The premiere of " The Jeffersons " would have been impossible in America only a few years earlier.

But more followed, the war comedy M*A*S*H, while portraying a past American war in Korea hinted about the issues that were currently at play in Vietnam. The show portrayed black humor as a form of survival and often failed to offer neat resolutions to problems encountered by the soldiers at the front. War was depicted as something unpleasant and often as something strange to all who were caught up in it.

Yet, even as American television began catching up with America culturally. Technology was changing the very face of television. The advent of cable Television meant more and more channels to choose from and the invention of the VCR meant you could see the programs you wanted, when you wanted to, without television advertising to annoy you. Soon the invention of video would allow Americans to make their own " private " television shows which they could then see on their private VCRs.


Earth Day, June 1970: The American government had spent enormous amounts in the 1960's on the war in Vietnam, on the moon race with the Soviets, and on social welfare for poor people and senior adults. But, by the Seventies, the American government began to slow down its spending. Government spending was now costing too much and the American economy was finally over-heating. But the environment became an even hotter issue as the Seventies progressed. No one could ignore the global implications of pollution anymore. On April 1st 1970, 20 million Americans celebrated a new holiday. It was called Earth Day. What was this about?

This holiday was an effort to make all people take notice of the harm human beings had done to the environment throughout their history, and to look for ways pollution could be corrected or prevented. The idea of " returning to nature " became very popular during the Seventies. Aside from influencing art and lifestyles, it had an effect on government policy. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. It was a new government agency set up to establish standards to prevent pollution from automobiles and industry, and to protect Americans from the dangers of toxic chemicals and radioactive waste.

Scientists in 1974 discovered that the ozone layer of the atmosphere that protected the earth from deadly ultra-violet radiation coming from the sun was being destroyed by human-made pollution. A scientific study predicted that this would cause serious changes in the weather of the entire planet. The warnings that Rachel Carson began with " Silent Spring " received more strength with a landmark study called " Limits to growth " in 1972. Using computer models a group of scientists argued that Earth could no longer sustain unlimited population growth, along with economic growth and pollution. The most likely outcome would be an overshoot of the carrying capacity of the Earth, a drastic population collapse, and also the collapse of the natural ecology.

This study drew sustained attacks from big business and also from many foreign governments. The idea of unending growth was a direct threat to too many vested economic interests in America and in other parts of the world. But the significance of Earth Day was clear. For the first time, many Americans realized that pollution was not just an American problem. It was a global one with no borders. By 1972, the theme of the now rapidly growing environmental movement was simply survival-the survival of all life on the planet. The romantic innocence of the Hippies of turning one's back on industrial or Second Wave life began to have wider appeal to some Americans.

In 1973 and again in 1979, the acceleration of oil prices brought on by turmoil in the Middle East, forced all Americans to look closely at the cost of their high-energy life-style. Big automobiles with poor gas mileage no longer were seen as desirable and smaller and more fuel-efficient automobiles from Japan and Europe began flooding the American market putting the American automobile companies at risk. Americans began to look at alternative forms of energy besides oil. Solar and nuclear power were examined more closely. Nuclear power was seen as too dangerous after a nuclear reactor almost broke down in the state of Pennsylvania. Radioactive waste was also seen as a serious ecological burden. It had to be buried somewhere and it would last thousands of years.

The energy crisis was destroying the Second Wave and few people knew what would replace it. The Third Wave was slowly coming into focus as computer technology was installed in more and more Second Wave factories and even in automobiles to conserve energy better. But the new digital technology also displaced more and more Second Wave workers. More and more Americans were working in the service industries which paid less well and which went through faster cycles of boom and bust.

Material insecurity was gripping all Americans as unemployment and inflation rose together even as the American government struggled to understand the new problems of the Third Wave. Problems, which were occurring quickly on many levels. The first American politician to understand the problems of the Third Wave was a governor from California named Jerry Brown who began a media campaign about limits to growth to educate a confused American public. But most Americans were in no mood to hear this message regarding limits to prosperity. It was alien to the American way of life.

Yet, for the rest of the century, for most Americans, there would be no real growth in wages compared to the good economic times of the 1950's and 1960's. Most Americans would now work more hours, for less real pay. Most families would now have two income earners. Both wife and husband, regardless of whether the wife wanted to work or not. The good easy economic times were now finished. This was the big message of the Seventies. The post-modern era would be different. Yet, many more changes were coming that would test Americans during the Seventies as they celebrated the 200th anniversary of their country .

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