Great Depression, worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. It was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world, sparking fundamental changes in economic institutions, macroeconomic policy, and economic theory. Although it originated in the United States, the Great Depression caused drastic declines in output, severe unemployment, and acute deflation in almost every country of the world. Its social and cultural effects were no less staggering, especially in the United States, where the Great Depression represented the harshest adversity faced by Americans since the Civil War.
he Great Depression challenged American families in major ways, placing great economic, social, and psychological strains and demands upon families and their members. Families of various class, ethnic, racial, and regional backgrounds, exhibiting various styles of marital and familial relationships, responded in different manners to the stresses and demands placed upon them. In 1933, the average family income had dropped to $1,500, 40 percent less than the 1929 average family income of $2,300. Millions of families lost their savings as numerous banks collapsed in the early 1930s. Unable to make mortgage or rent payments, many were deprived of their homes or were evicted from their apartments. Both working-class and middle-class families were drastically affected by the Depression.
Nine thousand banks failed during the months following the stock market crash of 1929. It is far too simplistic to view the stock market crash as the single cause of the Great Depression. A healthy economy can recover from such a contraction.
By 1932, three years after the initial crash, near thirty million Americans had lost their source of income, from unemployment or loss of a family breadwinner. This included more than a quarter of the population of Washington State. Of those lucky enough to have consistent work, more than half were reduced to part-time schedules. Though there had been devastating economic depressions before, the 1930s crisis encompassed both urban and rural regions and devastated middle-class and working-class people alike.
The Great Depression transformed American social and political institutions and the ways individual people thought about themselves and their relationship to the country and the world. Though no two people had the same understanding of the Depression, everyone felt challenged and changed by the experience.