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#198: Life Slowly Returns to Normal in US in Years after World War Two

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People move into their Levitt homes in Levittown, New York in early October 1947. Levittown served as a model for planned communities of the Baby Boom.
People move into their Levitt homes in Levittown, New York in early October 1947. Levittown served as a model for planned communities of the Baby Boom.

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

(MUSIC)

World War Two finally ended in August of nineteen forty-five. Life in the United States began to return to normal. Soldiers began to come home and find jobs. Factories stopped producing war materials and began to produce goods for peacetime.

At the same time, other changes began to take place in society. Many Americans were no longer satisfied with their old ways of life. They wanted something new and better. And many were now earning enough money to find that better life.

Millions of Americans moved out of cities and small towns. They bought newly built homes in suburban communities outside busy cities. Today, we look at the growth of suburbs and other changes in the American population in the years after World War Two.

WIFE: "And we'll have the living room right in here, and the kitchen right here so we can see the children playing in the yard."

HUSBAND: "Yeah, the children ... Children? Say, how many are you planning on? Not more than six, I hope. Maybe I better add a few more rooms back here."

A couple in a marketing film for the home building industry.

The United States counts its population every ten years. The first census took place in seventeen ninety. At that time, the country had about four million people. One hundred years later, in eighteen ninety, the population was sixty-three million.

By nineteen fifty, there were more than one hundred fifty million people living in the United States.

In the early years of America, the average mother had eight to ten children. Living conditions were hard. Many children died at an early age. Families needed a lot of help on the farm. So it was good to have many children.

But over the years birth rates fell. Families began to have fewer and fewer children. By nineteen hundred, the average woman had only three or four children. In nineteen thirty-six, during the Great Depression, the average American mother gave birth to only two children.

Things changed after World War Two.

(SOUND)

Suddenly, it seemed like every family started having babies. Parents were hopeful about the future. There were lots of jobs. People felt the need for a family and security after the long, difficult years of the war. From nineteen fifty to nineteen sixty, the number of children between the ages of five and fourteen increased by more than ten million.

The increase in births after the war produced what became known as the baby boom generation. An estimated seventy-eight million Americans were born between nineteen forty-six and nineteen sixty-four.

Many of the new parents moved to homes in the new suburbs built outside the urban environment of cities.

A photo showing part of Levittown, New York in 1948.
A photo showing part of Levittown, New York in 1948.

Usually a developer would buy land, maybe from a farmer, then clear it, level it and build houses on it. Young families would buy the houses with money that they borrowed from local banks.

(MUSIC)

Life was different in the suburbs - calmer, less crowded than life in the big city. There were all sorts of group activities. There were Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Parent-Teacher Associations at school. Outdoor cooking where families gathered in someone's backyard to eat hamburgers hot off the grill.

Historian William Manchester described life in the suburbs in this way: The new suburbs were free, open, and honestly friendly to anyone except black people, whose time had not yet come.

Manchester wrote, Families moving in found that their new friends were happy to help them get started. Children in the suburbs exchanged toys and clothing almost as though they were group property. When little Bobby outgrew his clothes, his mother gave them to little Billy across the street.

People felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked.

Parents did everything they could to make life good for their children. Between nineteen fifty and nineteen sixty, the number of boys playing on Little League baseball teams increased from less than one million to almost six million. The number of Girl Scouts increased by two million. Bicycle sales doubled.

(SOUND: Chevrolet commercial)

And it wasn't just two-wheeled transportation that experienced a post war boost.

US new car production was stopped during World War Two, to allow those factories to produce airplanes, tanks, and other military vehicles for the war effort.

With the prosperity of peacetime, many Americans visited auto dealerships for the first time in years, to replace that tired family car with something more up to date -- even luxurious.

For many years, popular singer Dinah Shore invited optimistic post-war Americans to take to the highway and see their country in a Chevrolet.

(MUSIC)

Post war prosperity also led Americans to replace outdated home appliances, buy a new refrigerator, or a television set.

ANNOUNCER: "Come closer, sweetheart. Say, I don't think that's fair, because we can't get closer."

BETTY FURNESS: "Oh, but you could, if you had one of the new Westinghouse television sets with the exclusive Electronic Magnifier that gives you a big close-up image whenever you want it. All you do is turn the Electronic Magnifier knob, and there -- you get the heart of the picture. And see? I'm close enough to say, 'Hello, good looking!'"

Actress Betty Furness was commercial spokeswoman for Westinghouse.

RONALD REAGAN: "And every Sunday night, General Electric brings you the finest motion picture stars on TV -- the great names in comedy ... mystery ... romance. Every week, a star, all summer long, on the General Electric Theater."

STEVE EMBER: Over at competitor General Electric, actor Ronald Reagan -- later the fortieth president of the United States -- and often referred to as the Great Communicator, was for many years an effective commercial spokesman every week on the GE Theater.

(MUSIC)

Parents also tried to improve their children's education. In nineteen sixty, parents bought almost three times as many educational books as they did ten years before.

Parents also bought millions of dollars' worth of pianos, violins and other musical instruments for their children.

It was true that the average number of children per family was increasing. But the total population of the United States did not increase as much during this period as one might have expected.

The reason for this was that fewer immigrants were coming to the United States. In fact, the number of immigrants had been dropping for many years. In nineteen ten, eleven immigrants were coming to America for every thousand Americans already living here. By nineteen fifty, less than two immigrants were coming for every thousand Americans.

Where immigrants were coming from also changed. In the past, most came from northern and western Europe. But now, growing numbers of people came to the United States from southern and eastern Europe and from Latin America and Asia.

Other changes in the United States population were also taking place. In the nineteen fifties, most Americans still lived in the eastern, central and southern parts of the country. But growing numbers moved west. The population of the western states increased by almost forty percent during the nineteen fifties.

Remember we said the United States population gets counted every ten years? One reason is because populations are used to decide how many members each state will have in the House of Representatives. Population changes can mean changes in the political influence of individual states in Congress.

(MUSIC)

Another population change after World War Two was in life expectancy. An American born in the early nineteen hundreds could only expect to live about forty-seven years. By the nineteen fifties, however, most Americans could expect to live well past their sixtieth birthday.

Life expectancy continued to increase with improvements in living conditions and medical care.

The United States was a changing country, a nation on the move after World War Two. Next week on our program, we look at political events that shaped the post-war period.

Our program was written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #198. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

1945年8月,第二次世界大战终于结束了。美国人的生活开始回归常态。军人从战场返回家乡,找工作上班。工厂停止生产军工产品,改为生产和平时期的民用产品。

与此同时,美国社会也发生了各种变化。很多美国人不再满足于以前的生活方式,开始追求更新更好的东西。战后很多人收入的增加,为他们提高生活质量提供了条件。

数以百万计的美国人离开繁忙拥挤的城镇,搬进郊区新盖好的大房子里,今天我们就要来谈谈二战后美国城郊的发展和美国人口的变化。

当时房屋建筑行业的一条广告片里有夫妻两人如下的对话。妻子说:"我们把这儿当客厅,这儿做厨房,这样从窗户看出去,还能看见在院子里玩儿的孩子们。"丈夫说:"等等,孩子?我们说打算生几个来着?最好别超过六个。要不,我还是在后面再加几个房间好了。"

美国每十年进行一次人口普查。第一次人口普查是1790年进行的,当时美国人口大约是400万;一百年后的1890年,美国人口6300万;到1950年,美国已经有1亿5千万人了。

美国建国初期,每个母亲平均生八到十个孩子,由于生活条件差,很多孩子没长大成人就死了,家里需要人手干农活,因此孩子当然是多多益善。但后来,出生率开始下降,到1900年时,每个母亲一般只生三、四个孩子,到1936年经济大萧条的时候,出生率已降低到两个。

二战结束后,情况发生了变化。突然之间,似乎家家户户都在生孩子。父母对未来充满希望,工作机会到处都是,经过战争磨难的人们开始寻求家庭温暖和生活的安定。

1950年到1960年,5到14岁的孩子人数增加了一千多万。战后出生的这批人被称为婴儿潮一代。1946年到1964年间,大约有7800万人出生。很多人家都搬到了城郊地区新盖的房子里。通常情况下是开发商从农民手里买地,把地清理干净,在上面盖房子,把房子卖给从银行贷款的年轻夫妇。

郊区生活跟城市有很大区别,更平静,没有那么多人,有各种各样的活动:男童子军,女童子军,学校有家长-老师联合会,几户家庭还常聚在某个人家里,在后院烧烤。

历史学家威廉.曼彻斯特曾经这样描述美国城郊的生活:新出现的城郊地区自由、开放,欢迎所有人的到来,但是黑人除外,他们享受平权的时代还没有到来。曼彻斯特继续写道:"初来乍到的人发现,他们的新朋友很乐意帮助他们安顿下来。孩子们互相交换玩具和衣物,好像这些都是集体财产。鲍比穿小的衣服,会被妈妈送给街对面的小比利,大家都觉得很安全,夜不闭户。"

曼彻斯特继续写道:父母会尽最大努力,让孩子生活得好一些。1950年到1960年间,参加棒球小联盟的男孩子的人数从不到100万,增加到了将近600万,女童子军的人数也增加了200万。自行车的销量翻了一番。

战后销量大增的不光是自行车。二战期间,美国汽车停产,生产汽车的公司改为生产飞机、大炮和其他军用车辆。和平来临后,很多美国人都跑到很多年没去过的车行,把家里的破车换成一辆更时髦,更奢侈的新车。流行歌手黛娜.肖很多年里一直鼓励战后对未来信心百倍的美国人开着雪佛兰汽车,顺着高速公路,去畅游美国。

战后的繁荣发展时期,美国人还大量更新电视、冰箱等家电产品。女演员贝蒂.弗内斯是当时西屋电器公司的广告代言人。她在一则广告中说,"如果你买一台带西屋电器独家电子放大器的西屋牌电视机,你就能随时放大图像,只要转动电子放大器的电钮,就能看到图像的细节了。"

美国第40任总统、有伟大沟通者之称的里根,当时是西屋电器竞争对手通用电气的广告代言人。他在一则广告中说:"每个星期天晚上,通用电气会把喜剧、悬疑片和爱情片里最优秀的影星请上电视屏幕,整个夏天,每个星期天都会介绍一个。"

战后,家长们设法让孩子受更多的教育。20世纪60年代,家长用在教育书籍上的开销是十年前的将近三倍。家长还购买钢琴、小提琴等乐器,也花了很多钱。

美国出生率这段时间大幅度增加,而人口总数的增长却没有大家想的那么快,这主要是因为移民美国的人少了。事实上,移民美国的人口一直在减少。1910年,相对一千个美国居民,会有11个移民,1950年已经降到不满两个了。

移民的来源地也发生了变化。过去,移民主要来自北欧和西欧;战后,从东欧、拉丁美洲和亚洲移民美国的人数不断增加。

美国国内的人口分布也发生了变化。50年代,大多数美国人还主要集中在东部、中部和南部居住,但是越来越多的人开始向西走,50年代的十年里,西部各州人口增加了将近百分之40。

美国每十年进行一次人口普查,并以此为依据决定每个州在国会有几位众议员,因此,人口分布的变化就意味着各个州在国会里影响力的调整。

战后美国人口的另外一大变化是平均寿命。20世纪初出生的美国人大约只能活到47岁,到20世纪50年代的时候,大多数美国人预计都能活到60岁了。人口寿命随着生活条件和医疗水平的提高而延长。

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