Blogs > Stephanie Coontz > The Not-So-Good Old Days

Jun 17, 2013 4:43 pm

The Not-So-Good Old Days

From my latest NYT column:

MY column last month about the dangers of nostalgia inspired many readers to write to me about their family memories of the 1950s and ’60s. Some shared poignant stories about the discrimination they encountered as blacks, women, gay men or lesbians. Others described how much easier it was for their working-class fathers to support a family back then.

Manufacturing workers have reason to regret the passing of an era. Between 1945 and 1978, their real earnings almost doubled — rising by 95 percent — but then, over the next 34 years, they actually fell by 2.3 percent. Supporters of women’s reproductive rights might feel nostalgic for an era when three former presidents, the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Democrats Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, were happy to serve as honorary co-chairmen of a Planned Parenthood fund-raising committee.

But you can’t just stroll through the past, picking the things you like and skipping the ones you don’t, as if historical eras were menus, and you could pick one from column A and one from column B. They are, rather, interconnected social, economic and political systems. Whether someone would really want to return to a particular time depends on socioeconomic class, age, sex, race and health....

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