In the 1920s the Lynds found a “division into the working class and business class that constitutes the outstanding cleavage in Middletown.” They state:

The mere fact of being born upon one or the other side of the watershed roughly formed by these two groups is the most significant single cultural factor tending to influence what one does all day long throughout one’s life; whom one marries; when one gets up in the morning; whether one belongs to the Holy Roller or Presbyterian church; or drives a Ford or a Buick….[pp. 23–4]

The study found that at least 70 percent of the population belonged to the working class. However, labor unions had been driven out of town because the city’s elite saw them as anti-capitalist. Because of this, unemploymentwas seen among residents as an individual, not a social, problem.

The city government was run by the “business class,” a conservative group of individuals in high-income professions. For example, this group threw its support behind Calvin Coolidge‘s administration.

Home and family

86 percent of the residents lived in at least a nuclear family arrangement. Because of innovations such as mortgages, even working-class families were able to own their own homes. Home ownership is considered the mark of a “respectable” family.

Compared to the 19th century, family sizes were smaller, divorce rates were up. However, women still, by and large, worked as housewives. Having children is considered a “moral obligation” of all couples. However, at the age of six, the socialization of these children are taken over by secondary institutions such as schools. Also, taboos against things such as dating have been reduced.

Families tend not to spend as much time together as before. Also, new technology such as supermarketsrefrigeration, and washing machines have contributed to a downswing in traditional skills such as cooking and food preservation.


Almost a third of all children at the time of the study planned to attend collegeHigh school has become the hub of adolescent life, both social and otherwise. There has been a rise in vocational studies, strongly supported by the community. This is a major demographic shift from the 19th century, when few youth received any formal education.

While the community claims to value education, they tend to disdain academiclearning. Teachers are tolerated but not welcomed into the civic life and governance of the city.

Leisure time

Although new technology has created more leisure time for all people, most of this new time is passed in “passive” (or nonconstructive) recreation.

The introduction of the radio and automobileare considered the largest changes. Listening to radio shows and taking drives are now the most popular leisure activities. Many working-class families formerly never strayed more than a few miles from town; with the automobile, they are able to take vacations across the United States.

With the rise of these activities, interest in such institutions as book discussion groups (and reading in general), public lectures, and the fine arts is in sharp decline. The introduction of film has created another “passive leisure activity”, although the most popular films concentrate on adventure and romance, while more serious topics are less popular.

About two-thirds of Middletown families now own cars. Owning a car, and the prestige it brings, is considered so important that some working-class families are willing to bypass necessities such as food and clothing to keep up with payments. A person’s car indicates their social status, and the most “popular” teens own cars, much to the chagrin of local community leaders (one local preacher referred to the automobile as a “house of prostitution on wheels”).

Overall, due to this new technology, community and family ties are breaking down. Friendship between neighbors and church attendance are down. However, more structured community organizations, such as the Rotary Club, are growing.

Religious activities

Middletown contained 42 churches, representing 28 different denominations. The community as a whole has a strong Protestant tenancy. A person’s denomination is indicative of one’s social status: the Methodist church is considered the most prestigious in these terms.

However, strong religious beliefs (i.e., ideas about heaven and hell) are dying out. While the vast majority of citizens profess a belief in God, they are increasingly cynical about organized religion. Also, many of the clergy tend to be politically progressive, and as such, are not welcomed into the city’s governance.

The more fundamentalist Christian churches tend to be more political and down-to-earth in their approach to life and in sermons. This is in contrast to the mainline Protestantdenominations, which tend to be more aloof and other-worldly. Overall, the city is becoming more secular. Youth are less inclined to attend church, but more likely to be involved with the YMCA and YWCA.

Government and community

The city’s “business class” – and therefore most powerful class – is entirely RepublicanVoter turnout, however, is down (46 percent in 1924), even considering the recent passage of women’s suffrage.

The main reason for this appears to be increased cynicism towards politics, and politicians in general (politicians are considered by many to be no better than crooks). Moreover, the more skilled legal minds in town tend to work in the private sector, not the public sector.

Despite the good economic environment, there is always a small group of homeless. These people are considered the responsibility of churches and organizations such as the Salvation Army – charity is generally frowned upon.

Newspapers serve as the main medium of communication in town, both the morning and evening editions. Due to recent innovations such as the Associated Press, the papers are able to carry more news. Also, journalismtends to be more “objective”, in contrast with the highly partisan papers of a few decades earlier.

Overall the city is highly, but invisibly, segregated. Although the Ku Klux Klan was recently kicked out of town, whites and blacks still live separately. However, the largest divide consists of social class lines. Businessmen, in particular, are required to be highly conformist in their political and social views.

Overview of Middletown in Transition [1935]

In 1935, the Lynds returned to Middletown to research the second book, Middletown in Transition : A Study in Cultural Conflicts. They saw the Great Depression as an opportunity to see how the social structure of the town changed.

While the researchers found that there were some social changes, residents tended to go back to the way they were once economic hardship had ended. For example, the “business class”, traditionally Republican, grudgingly supported the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt and accepted the money the New Deal brought into town. However, once they felt the programs weren’t needed anymore, they withdrew their support.