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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

World War II and Its Effect on the Postwar Era

While America's men were engaged in the war effort, women on the home front took full-time jobs in factories to meet the labor shortage created by the need by the military for their husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends. Full employment during the war restored economic prosperity. Average weekly earnings among industrial workers increased 100 percent during the 1941-1945 period, and even farm income went up temporarily due to demand. Once women began working outside the home, it became increasingly common. The female work force rose from 16.8 million in 1946 to 31.6 million in 1970, and the trend has not halted.

A sad migration during the war years was the relocation of 112,000 Japanese Americans to nine inland internment camps, often far from their residences at the time when war broke out. Many were American-born, loyal citizens, but they were feared. Because white residents along the West Coast worried about an internal threat from this population, Japanese Americans were driven from their homes to these camps and suffered a loss of dignity, their homes and land, and their freedom.

As America became involved in World War II, the West became the preferred site for a good many military training bases. Improved highways allowed rapid mobilization during wartime and promoted national defense during peacetime. By 1945 the government invested approximately $70 billion in capital projects throughout California, resulting in the creation of entirely new industries and a bountiful supply of civilian jobs.

Mass migration to the Sunbelt was a phenomena which began during World War II when soldiers and their families were ordered to new duty stations or as war workers moved to the shipyards and aircraft factories of San Diego and other cities. This shift in population extended to the entire southern rim of the country, across the Southwest and South all the way to Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.

Following World War II, Americans were more mobile than ever before. Thousands of veterans who had received military training in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas left behind the harsh winters of Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston for the appealing climate and lifestyle of the Southwest and the West.

In 1945, at war's end, the United States entered a period of long and steady growth and prosperity. A baby boom created business for builders, manufacturers, and school systems. Unionized blue collar workers reaped increases in wages and benefits.

The postwar trend to consolidate businesses extended also to agriculture, a movement which threatened the survival of the family farm. In just six years, from 1970 to 1976, the South lost almost a quarter of its farm population. The rural aged often stayed, but mostly because they were too old to leave their lifelong homes to follow their children and grandchildren to the cities.

Sunbelt cities that boomed almost immediately after war's end included Houston, Baton Rouge, Long Beach, Miami, Mobile, Phoenix, and Tucson. In the 1950s, California absorbed no less than a fifth of the nation's entire population.

Left behind were the poor in rural areas and in the inner cities. A prosperous middle class moved to the suburbs. This exodus from the cities constituted a second layer of postwar migration. By 1970 more Americans lived in suburbs than in central cities. The suburbs were quite homogeneous, usually adults between the ages of 25 and 35, with their young children.

As early as the 1960s, the combination of suburbia and highway construction was bringing about a nearly uninterrupted 600-mile metropolitan complex connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

And at about the same time, a similar development stretched along the West Coast from San Francisco to San Diego. From Pittsburgh to Chicago, there developed a band of heavy industry and dense population.

Many who were forced off their farms in the postwar years ended up in the industrial areas of the South and West. And they were often joined by young families from the industrial North and East.

When the United States Bureau of Census published its findings in 1980, it disclosed that for the first time neither the industrialized Northeast nor the agricultural Midwest were the most populous regions. Instead, it revealed that most Americans resided either west of the Mississippi River or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. This census also showed that 78 percent of westerners lived in metropolitan areas. The West by 1980 had added 39,121,000 metropolitan residents, or 1.4 times its entire regional population in 1940. During the decades 1940 to 1980 the average size of western metropolitan areas increased more rapidly than those in either the East or the South. The 1990 census confirmed that the West, which had been seen for decades as a region of sparse population, had become decidedly urban. The increase in metropolitan areas in the West clearly outpaced the remainder of the United States.

Early feedback from the 2000 federal census shows a continuation of these trends. In the last decade, there seems also to be some movement from urban to semi-rural areas, not actually to farms of any size but simply to "open spaces" and beautiful surroundings, even if it means commuting to a job in the city or a nearby town. A growing number of people are even attempting to work from out of their homes, using increasingly available technological options.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 18 September 2014, at 23:48.
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