Before World War II, Hungarian society was characterized by striking inequalities in economic and social status. Landownership was the principal source of wealth, because the country was still predominantly rural and agricultural. The poverty of millions of landless laborers stood in stark contrast to the wealth of a small elite of landowners, bankers, and prominent businessmen. Early efforts at industrialization provided few alternative employment opportunities for the impoverished agricultural labor force.
The destruction and turmoil of World War II greatly disrupted the traditional social structure. After the communists assumed power in 1947, society was in flux for almost two decades. The aim of the new government was to replace the old order with a new social structure that was in line with Marxist-Leninist ideology. The pace of change slowed in the early 1960s as the government reduced its efforts at social engineering. By the early 1970s, society had settled into a discernible pattern in which clear-cut social strata were beginning to reemerge. Changes that continued to affect the social system during the 1970s and 1980s resulted largely from economic growth and urbanization rather than from the efforts of communist social planners.
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