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Growth of Suburbia

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Growth of Suburbia

The growth of suburbia resulted from a combination of societal, economic, and political factors. When WWII veterans returned stateside, they started families and the need for housing exploded. The demand for housing exceeded the rental housing options available in urban areas.

This demand resulted in the development of federal programs that encouraged the construction of housing developments and home ownership. Developers saw this need as an opportunity to use the new assembly line production methods in housing.

The affordability of homes became a key issue, and home ownership became the standard for success.


a term used to describe the areas outside of an urban center that is mostly comprised of housing and few commercial buildings.

Reasons for the Growth of Suburbia

A combination of WWII veterans returning to the Homefront and the initiation of federal programs to promote home ownership provided a perfect environment for the creation of "suburbias." The creation of the Veteran's Administration, as well as the Federal Housing Administration, enabled more Americans than ever before to purchase homes in lieu of renting apartments. Advances in manufacturing made new construction affordable where previously, more than half of the cost would need to be provided upfront.

WWII Veterans & New Families

The return of WWII veterans caused a massive uptick in young families. These young families had housing needs that surpassed the housing available in urban centers. The federal government responded by passing laws that encouraged the construction of housing developments as well as guaranteed loans for Veterans. The population boom occurred when WWII veterans returned to the Homefront overstretched the available housing to the limit. Young families would double up in rented apartments in crowded city blocks.

Federal Programs

The federal government saw that home ownership was an important part of the economic growth of the United States. Many WWII veterans who returned to the Homefront started families and desperately needed housing. The newly formed VA (Veterans Administration) issued the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI bill. This act guaranteed home loans to veterans and banks could offer mortgages with little to no money down. This low or negligible down payment allowed for a large number of Americans to purchase homes. Compared to the previous average down payment of 58% of the home’s value, these terms enabled the average working American to afford purchasing a home.

Construction firms used support provided by the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and the VA (Veterans Administration). Levitt & Sons is the most notable example of a company designing its product to match newly initiated federal housing programs. The affordable and quick to build design appealed to young families who needed low monthly payments. Levitt & Sons began building suburban communities across the United States and many continue to exist today.

Developments in Architecture & Construction

Mass production allowed for the use of cheaper materials and houses were built quicker. This innovation was not missed by other sectors of business. The Levitt & Son’s construction company applied assembly line principles to construction which was a drastic improvement on efficiency. This increase in efficiency translated into affordable housing that was accessible to the standard American family.

Housing developers continue to use this method today to construct large housing communities. The Levitt method has not been surpassed in efficiency and is accepted as the standard of modern large-scale builds.

Growth of Suburbia 1950s

Levitt & Sons was a large construction firm that created the first huge suburban housing developments. In the early 1950s Levitt & Sons envisioned an extensive housing development on the outskirts of New York City and soon purchased 4000 acres of potato fields to use.

By 1959 the first “Levittown” had completed an expansive housing community marketed towards returning WII veterans. Between the start of construction in the late 1940s and the end of the 1950s the former potato fields were home to a community of 82,000 people.

Growth of Suburbia, Levittown street, studysmarterRow of houses in Levittown, NY on Long Island, NY.

This rapid growth was possible due to the assembly line production method used in constructing the Levittown homes and the availability of livable land.

Car culture began to gain popularity in the 1950s. The ability to own a car enabled the middle-class American to commute from a suburban home to an urban job.

Growth of Suburbia and Baby Boom

The baby boom increased the demand for housing beyond what was available. Newlywed couples would double up with other families in small, cramped apartments.

The Baby Boom of post-war America expanded the population and its needs. The uptick in young families surpassed the present housing options. These young families were mostly WWII veterans, their wives and children.

Population growth during the post-war baby boom was exponential. An estimated total 80,000 Americans were born at this time.

The demand for housing implored developers to quickly and cheaply produce large scale housing developments, or suburbs.

Growth of Suburbia: Post-war

In post-war America WWII veterans returned to a country of possibilities. The federal government had passed laws which guaranteed veterans home loans as well as the new availability of credit to middle class families. The post-war housing market was now an avenue to success for the plethora of young families.

Post-war America was a time to expand out of the tight quarters of the urban centers. WWII veterans had access to resources that had never before existed, and these resources rendered home ownership into an achievable dream for standard Americans. The post-war structure of the American family was also shaped by the growth of suburbia.

By the end of the 1950s almost 15 million housing units were under construction nationwide.

Effects of the Growth of Suburbia

The growth of suburbia was a sharp shift in the number of homeowners in the United States. These homeowners were part of a huge population spread from the overcrowded cities. More Americans began to commute to work from suburban areas rather than renting accommodation in close proximity to the workplace. Architecture was also deeply affected by the demand created by suburban growth. New styles of houses and methods were required to produce the amount of housing needed. The Levitt house model was created and has dominated mass housing construction even into modern day.

Population Spread

After the massive relocation to the cities due to the need for industrial workers Americans were used to living in rented housing and home ownership was far out of reach. In the following decades the image of a white picket fence and 2.5 children (the average number of children in American families) persisted as the image of American success and the possibilities of Americans. This “American Dream” had been marketed towards not only Americans since its inception; immigrant families see the “American Dream” as an example of the success possible in the United States.

Architecture: Levitt Model

The need for affordable housing could not be fulfilled without a low-cost way to build houses. Houses were constructed on site with teams of tradesmen which can be a lengthy and expensive endeavor. The advent of the assembly line and scientific applications to be more efficient proved to be applicable to housing construction.

The Levitt & Sons construction company saw an opportunity to apply the assembly line technology to housing construction. On a normal assembly line, the product moves while the workers do not. Abraham Levitt devised an assembly line-like system where the product was stationary, and the workers moved from site to site. The Levitt & Sons house model was constructed in 27 steps from pouring the foundation to interior finishes. Today this is the prevalent method for mass housing construction projects.

Abraham Levitt created the open-concept single family home design that has been copied by architects since its unveiling.

Growth of Suburbia, Levittown House, study smarterLevittown House, Levittown, NY 1958

Growth of Suburbia - Key takeaways

  • The growth of suburbia was caused by a combination of population boom and economic opportunity.
  • Federal programs allowed for more Americans to purchase homes than ever before.
  • Mass housing development would not have been possible without the construction process improvements by Abraham Levitt.
  • The growth of suburbia was also responsible for a large population shift from urban centers.
  • The idea of commuting to work versus renting accommodation close to work began to gain traction.

Frequently Asked Questions about Growth of Suburbia

The post-war baby boom, assembly line technology and federal housing programs.

Levitt & Sons construction was the first large scale construction firm for housing developments.

The Baby boom & Federal housing programs.

Suburbia evolved from the desire for home ownership and affordable housing.

The federal housing programs and the GI bill allowed for more Americans than ever before to afford owning a home.

Final Growth of Suburbia Quiz


How did suburbia grow?

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Government programs that made home ownership accessible for more Americans, the development of new methods of construction and the post-war baby boom. 

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Who created assembly line style of house construction?

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Abraham Levitt

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What was the first suburban area named?

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Levittown in New York.

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How much on average did an American have to pay as down payment for a home purchase before the VA and FHA?

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What federal program issued guaranteed home loans to veterans?

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The VA(Veterans Administration) issued home loans through the GI Bill or the Servicemen's Readjustment Act.

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How many steps were required to build a Levitt model home?

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27 steps from start to finish

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Where was the first Levitt & Sons housing community?

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Outside of New York City in the state of New York. 

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What did Levitt & Sons offer for veterans & their families?

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The Levitt & Sons company would require no downpayment for veterans.

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What changed in the attitude of working Americans with the growth of suburbia?

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The idea of commuting to work versus living in rented accommodation close to work began to become popular. 

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What did the growth of suburbia do to form the idea of the "American Dream"

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The ability to own a home and having children became the marker of success for the American family. 

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What part of popular culture grew rapidly in the 1950s?

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Car culture became mainstream

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