Economic Boom Explained With Examples

How to Know Whether You're in an Economic Boom

An economic boom is the expansion and peak phases of the business cycle. It's also known as an upswing, upturn, and a growth period. During a boom, key economic indicators will rise. Gross domestic product (GDP), which measures a nation's economic output, increases. So does productivity since the same number of workers creates more goods and services. Business sales increase, driving up profits and as a result, business and family incomes.

A boom is accompanied by a bull market in stocks and a bear market in bonds. Booms also run the risk of high inflation. That happens when demand outstrips supply, allowing companies to raise prices.

The National Bureau of Economic Research determines when a boom occurs. It uses economic indicators such as employment, industrial production, and retail sales. Since 1854, there have been 33 boom-and-bust cycles. On average, each boom cycle lasts 38.7 months. 

A boom starts when economic output, as measured by GDP, turns positive. Most leading economic indicators have already turned positive before that. 

The cause of a boom is an increase in consumer spending. As the economy improves, families become more confident. They are buoyed by better jobs, rising home prices, and a good return on their investments. As a result, they no longer need to delay major purchases.

To achieve that, the U.S. Federal Reserve aims for an ideal growth rate between 2% and 3%. If the rate goes over this ideal range, the economy risks going into the peak phase of the business cycle that causes inflation, bad investments, and too much debt. To keep inflation at bay, the U.S. Federal Reserve sets a target inflation rate of 2%. The Fed uses the core inflation rate because it removes volatile food and oil prices.

A boom ends when GDP turns negative. That's the contraction phase of the business cycle. It signals the start of a recession


Wall Street traders in 1925
Curb Market traders gesture with their hands to trade stocks, on Wall Street, New York City, in 1925. The Curb Market was for stocks not listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Hulton Archives/Getty Images

During the Roaring Twenties, the U.S. economy grew by 42%. It produced almost half of the world's total output. The stock market increased in value by 20% a year. Unemployment stayed at around 4%. 

The Roaring Twenties consisted of three expansions: 

  1. July 1921 - May 1923, or 22 months
  2. July 1924 - October 1926, or 27 months
  3. November 1927 - August 1929, or 21 months

The boom was caused by the end of World War I. Returning veterans brought back new perspectives and skills. While the men were gone, women had become independent. New inventions, like the auto assembly line, made consumer goods available at reasonable prices.

An expanded banking industry made credit available. That spurred purchases of cars, washing machines, and stocks. By the end of the decade, it had shifted the United States from a traditional, farm-based economy. It became a free market, consumer products-based economy.

Post World War II

Shipbuilding during WW II.
Shipbuilding during WW II. Photo: By: Fox Photos / Getty Images

The boom after World War II lasted 37 months, from October 1945 to November 1948. During that time, Americans purchased 20 million refrigerators, 21.4 million cars, and 5.5 million stoves. 

The 1944 GI Bill of Rights helped cause the boom. It gave loans to returning veterans for education and training. It provided federal loan guarantees so they could buy homes, farms, and businesses. It created a fund to pay veterans if they were unemployed. The Employment Act of 1946 also assisted. 

For the first time, the federal government took permanent responsibility for providing jobs. As a result, 80% of the more than 20 million civilians and soldiers who returned from the war found jobs by mid-1947. 

In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference cemented America's position as a world leader. It established the U.S. dollar as the dominant global currency, replacing the gold standard. It also established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to spur global growth. 

The boom ended with the onset of the Cold War in 1947. That year, the House Un-American Committee raised the specter of Communist subversion at home with its well-publicized hearings. The 1948-1949 recession was mild and short-lived.


Shoppers listening to the Mabley Christmas Carolers in the arcade of the Mabley & Carew Department Store, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1950s. Photo by Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images

During the 1950s, the economy grew 50%. GDP went from $2 trillion to $3 trillion, adjusted for inflation. Income per person from $14,490 to $17,972. These figures are adjusted for inflation. 

It was supported by three expansions, interrupted by mild and brief contractions. They were:

  1. October 1949 - July 1953, or 45 months.
  2. May 1954 - August 1957, or 39 months.
  3. April 1958 - April 1960, or 24 months.

The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953. The nation spent $30 billion, which created the first economic boom. The contraction occurred after the war ended. 

President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act on October 22, 1956. It authorized the construction of the nation's interstate highway system. More than $1.1 billion was allocated to the first year of "the greatest public works program in the history of the world." 

Television advertising rose from $41 million to $336 million between 1950 and 1952. By the end of the decade, 90% of American homes had a television. Like the Roaring Twenties, this boom grew on the backs of new consumer products


Bill Clinton
After drawing a downward line on a chart, President Clinton unveils his budget for the year 2013 February 7, 2000. The President is sending Congress a $1.84 trillion farewell budget with surpluses that he proposes using to wipe out the government public debt, provide modest tax cuts and greatly expand government health care. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The 1990s expansion lasted from March 1991 to March 2001. GDP was positive for an unprecedented 120 months. 

One reason for the expansion's success was its healthy rate of growth compared to previous booms. A review of GDP by year shows that the economy never grew faster than 4.5%. That occurred in 1999 when it grew 4.8%. 

Another reason was that inflation was mild. Examining inflation by year reveals that price increases remained below 3% save for 1990 and 1991. Falling foreign prices kept U.S. imports affordable.

The 1990s benefited from the launch of the internet. In 1991, Congress passed the High-Performance Computing Act. It opened the internet for commercial use by establishing the National Research and Education Network. The federal government pumped $1.5 billion into internet research. As a result, companies set up websites and began to sell goods directly to customers. 

In 1992, researchers at the University of Illinois developed a user-friendly browser called Mosaic. It allowed users to see words and pictures on the same page for the first time. In 1995, the initial public offering of Netscape kicked off the dot-com bubble. Netscape was the descendant of Mosaic, and it had 90% market share. In 1995, there were 16 million online users. They had to use dial-up connections. By 1999, there were 360 million users.

Other new technologies allowed consumer products to remain affordable. As a result, companies enjoyed healthy profit margins.

Moderate growth and mild inflation allowed the Fed to keep interest rates low. The benchmark fed funds rate never exceeded 6.5%. As a result, loans were affordable. 

The Bottom Line

Recession causes
When a economic boom bursts, it causes a recession. Photo: Katie Edwards/Getty Images

Positive growth in key economic indicators, such as GDP, over a period signals a booming economy. A boom indicates an expansion phase. It can grow into a bubble, though, that ultimately bursts to create a recession.

High consumer spending in the boom phase, if overdone, can stimulate inflation. A central bank must use monetary policies to keep growth rates in check at an ideal range of 2% to 3%.

In June 2009, the United States entered its longest expansion phase ever. It ended in February 2020 and lasted a record 128 months.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How did the economic boom of the 1920s affect advertising?

The advertising industry grew significantly as a result of the 1920s' economic boom. The industry created new marketing techniques to keep up with the rapid introduction of new products and services targeting a wider range of consumer markets. At its peak in 1929, advertising spending reached $2.8 billion.

How does an economic boom in China affect U.S. GDP?

The Chinese and U.S. economies are entwined, as are most major economies. However, the link isn't simple enough to say exactly how a boom in China would impact the U.S. For example, the U.S. believes an economic slowdown in China could slow U.S. exports and sales. On the other hand, a weaker China might become more reliant on U.S. energy and commodities, which could give the U.S. geopolitical leverage. During an economic boom, one might expect the inverse to occur.

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  2. Stanford University. "The Facts of Economic Growth," Pages 5-6.

  3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. "What Are the Federal Reserve’s Objectives in Conducting Monetary Policy?"

  4. History. "When WWI, Pandemic and Slump Ended, Americans Sprung Into the Roaring Twenties."

  5. History. "What Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?"

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  7. PBS American Experience. "The Rise of American Consumerism."

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  17. Department of Transportation. "Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating the Interstate System."

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  19. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "Table 1.1.1. Percent Change From Preceding Period in Real Gross Domestic Product (1990-1999)."

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  24. Garrett Peck. "A Decade of Disruption: America in the New Millennium." Simon and Schuster, 2020.

  25. University of California, Berkeley. "Rise and Fall of Netscape Browsers."

  26. P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. "LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media," Page 39. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

  27. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Open Market Operations Archive."

  28. National Bureau of Economic Analysis. "NBER Determination of the February 2020 Peak in Economic Activity," Page 1.

  29. Library of Congress. "Consumer Advertising During the Great Depression: A Resource Guide."

  30. Congressional Research Service. "China's Economy: Current Trends and Issues."

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