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The end of World War II in 1945 brought a baby boom to many countries, especially Western ones. There is some disagreement as to the precise beginning and ending dates of the post-war boom, but most agree that it began in the years immediately after the war ceased and ended more than a decade later—birth rates in the United States started to decline in 1957. In countries that suffered heavy war damage, displacement of people and post-war economic hardship—Poland and Germany, for example—the boom began some years later.
In 1946, live births in the United States surged from 222,721 in January to 339,499 in October. By the end of the 1940s, about 32 million babies had been born, compared with 24 million in the 1930s. Sylvia Porter, a columnist for the New York Post, first used the term "boom" to refer to the phenomenon of increased births in post-war America in May of 1951. Annual births first topped four million in 1954 and did not drop below that figure until 1965, by which time four out of ten Americans were under the age of 20.
There are many factors that contributed to the baby boom. When the war ended, millions of veterans returned home and were forced to reintegrate into society. To facilitate the integration process, Congress passed the G.I. Bill of Rights. This bill encouraged homeownership and investment in higher education through the distribution of loans to veterans at low or no interest rates. Benefits were available to every veteran who had been on active duty for at least 90 days during the war and who had not been dishonorably discharged. Having seen combat was not required.
By the time of the program's end in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the G.I. Bill benefits to attend college, and 6.6 million had used them for some kind of training program, which led to an increase in skills and therefore higher family incomes. Couples who could not afford to have families during the Great Depression made up for lost time; the mood was optimistic. Life was simple, jobs were plentiful, and a record number of babies were born. The country was living the American dream.
Following the end of World War II, the United States experienced vigorous economic growth that lasted until the 1970s as consumer demand fueled economic growth. The baby boom triggered booms in housing, consumption, and the labor force. Between 1940 and 1960, the nation's GDP jumped more than $300 million. The middle class grew, and the majority of America's labor force held white-collar jobs. This increase led to urbanization and increased the demand for ownership in cars and other 1950s and 1960s inventions.
An estimated 77.3 million Americans were born during this demographic boom in births. These days, baby boomers are now of late middle age and early senior years. Many are now retiring and leaving the labor force.
The following table shows the U.S. population before, during, and after World War II, based on census information. The "birth boom" of the post-war period is as much defined by the deaths that preceded and followed it as it is by an exceptionally high fertility rate. Compared to birth rates from 1946 to 1964, the birth rates prior to World War I (which began in 1914) were much lower, although they were still higher than the rates immediately preceding and following the 1946–1964 period.