Is the United States Experiencing a Second Gilded Age?

The 21st Century in the United States has seen many social and political movements such as “Black Lives Matter”, “#MeToo”, and “#NoBanNoWall” that exploded over social media. These movements exemplify the current effects of the patriarchy and socioeconomic status on the lives of those who reside in the United States. People of color are being shot in the streets, women are losing body autonomy, and immigrants are being deported, all because of the current political climate. From 1870-1920, the United States exhibited a Gilded Age, which is described as a period in time that seemed prosperous, but was actually hiding a large sum of poverty and corruption from the cultural and socioeconomic disparities that were observed.

In the 21st century, the United States is experiencing a second gilded age because of the technological revolution and the stigmatization that women of lower socioeconomic statuses are facing in the nation. Materialism is a trait that is different between the genders and socioeconomic classes due to the importance of keeping up an appearance and maintaining a certain economic status.

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The Gilded Age of the United States from 1870-1920 was a period of time that included many changes in culture and socioeconomic status. The term Gilded Age comes from a novel written by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner; the term Gilded means “to cover something with a thin layer of gold”.

Although this was a time of an Industrial Revolution in the US, this time period was also characterized by the large difference in socioeconomic status between the top 1% and the rest of the population; thus, the American civilization seemed to be thriving but there were actually many more negative effects than positive ones.

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5 The main example of this difference is seen in the comparison between 5th Avenue and the  Points in New York City. 5th Avenue home to many mansions and hotels that were the depiction of elegance. Those in the top 1% of the economy spent their money on beautiful homes, the top schools and colleges, parties, and social clubs; spending money was a way to prove status. On the other hand, the 5 Points was an area in Lower Manhattan that was one of the poorest and most crime ridden areas.

The 5 points were a microcosm of the lives of most people in the United States; about 70% of Americans belonged to the socioeconomic status that those in the 5 Points did. The living conditions were unsafe and unhealthy as tenement buildings were where people resided. These were buildings that housed up to 25 families in very small apartments that rarely had windows or ventilation. Coal was burned as a heating mechanism, toilets ran into sewers that fed into the water supply or into the streets. Diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and pneumonia were very common because of the close living quarters and pollution. The difference in the lives between the wealthy and the poor was something that tainted the Industrial Age of the United States.

Materialism is a characteristic that is not new to the 21st century.15 With the explosion of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th and 20th centuries, the wealthy spent money on parties, social clubs, and luxurious homes while the lower classes could barely afford a healthy living. Money is a tool used in today’s society to show one’s status in the world because if someone were to spend money on each of the newest iPhones or the most high end makeup, they would be able to flaunt their status in society. Having an iPhone 6 when the iPhone X was released was seen as a negative thing. When someone bought the newest iPhone, their place in society climbed, even just a little. Having the latest technology is viewed the same way as having a luxurious house in the past was viewed. In the first Gilded Age, the wealthy would clothe themselves in silks or silver jewelry; today, the rich will buy designer clothes or European sports cars. Anything that shows a person has money helps them climb the social ladder.

In schools, there is a disparity between the rich and “poor” girls; those who have money flaunt it with expensive cars and name brand purses. Socioeconomic status between girls in schools causes bullying to occur if another girl shows up in older clothing or has a knockoff of a brand. A lower socioeconomic status in some cases can cause low self esteem because of the way lower classes are viewed. Women in lower classes can be viewed as lazy because they live in a time where they can get a job; however, it is never that easy. Women in places of power, such as congress or hollywood, must keep up certain appearances in order to have positive feedback from society. When on the red carpet for movie premiers, actresses are asked repeatedly about who designed their dress or what the cost of their accessories were.

Actresses will respond with a name of a high end designer that most people in America would never be able to afford. Members of high society are viewed as better than those of lower classes because of their ability to purchase expensive clothing, cars, and/or accessories. In the Barnard University online exhibit, “NYC’s Gilded Age”, materialism is a major theme that the author delves into. Some of the objects of this theme are top hats to ties, portraits to selfies, and shawls to suits for women. The author of the exhibit used these objects from the First and Second Gilded Ages to compare the different objects that have been used to show wealth and how they have changed throughout time. Specifically for women, clothing was a way of showing power and socioeconomic status. Shawls during the first Gilded Age were used by the upper middle and upper classes.

Today, these shawls would be worth between $700 and $1000. Although the lower classes wore shawls, those worn by the upper class were large, elaborate, and made of high quality materials such as silk. While women during the first Gilded Age used clothing to showcase their wealth, women in the 21st century use clothing to show their success in their professional field. A woman’s suit is her way of showing her status in society as an independent working woman. When women’s suits were first created, they were intended to help women appear more masculine and to help them obtain careers. Now, the suit is used for the same reasons, but money also plays an important role. Using designer suits or suits from European countries helps women appear more polished than using a cheaper suit. These clothing items, on the designer side, can cost up to $5000 dollars just for a blazer and $1500 for pants.

Between the first and second Gilded Age, the role of women in society has shifted. The first Gilded Age had women showing their husband’s wealth based on her clothing. The second Gilded Age had women showing her own wealth; women who can finance their own expensive clothing are seen as more capable. In the 21st century, the United States is experiencing a second Gilded Age because of the technological revolution and the stigmatization that women of lower socioeconomic statuses are facing in the nation. From 1870-1920, the United States exhibited a Gilded Age, which was described as a period in time that seemed prosperous, but was actually hiding a large sum of poverty and corruption from the cultural and socioeconomic disparities that occurred. Materialism is a trait that is different between the genders and socioeconomic classes due to the importance of keeping up an appearance and maintaining a certain economic status.

Bibliography

  1. Barnard University, ‘NYC’s Gilded Age,’ ​Barnard.​ Accessed Dec 18, 2018.
  2. Delerth, Jessica, ‘Industrialization, the American City, and the Gilded Age’ (Powerpoint lecture, HIST 104A: Modern American Civilization, Winter 2018, Binghamton University, Vestal, NY, Module 1).

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Is the United States Experiencing a Second Gilded Age?. (2022, Jan 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/is-the-united-states-experiencing-a-second-gilded-age-essay

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