What is a Baby Boomer?
Baby boomers are the generation of people born between 1946 and 1964, the decades following the end of World War II.
Baby Boomer is the name for a demographic cohort (a group of people), born in the decades after World War II, between 1946 and 1964. The term baby boomer comes from the increase in births during these decades, called the baby boom. The birth rate in the US during this period increased from roughly 18.5 births per 1,000 people before the war to a high of 26.5 births per 1,000 people an increase of roughly 43%.
Today, a baby boomer is between the ages of 55 and 73. This includes many people who are nearing retirement or newly retired. More than 75 million Americans are baby boomers. Some famous examples of baby boomers include Hilary Clinton, Samuel L. Jackson, Melinda Gates, Billy Joel, Steve Wozniak, Arianna Huffington, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Baby boomers are like the graduating class of a high school or college…
Every baby boomer is an individual. They have widely differing interests, skills, families, and circumstances, but because they grew at the same time, they shared many experiences, like the same teachers and education plan. Just as a graduating class shares experiences, members of the same generation share the same pop culture, national events, and other cultural experiences.
A baby boomer is a person who was born between the years 1946 and 1964. People are often grouped into generational cohorts (groups) based on when they were born. People of similar ages share many cultural experiences, such as popular music and television, the political climate and personalities they are familiar with, and societal changes that they experienced.
Some US groups divide baby boomers further into two groups: leading-edge boomers and late or trailing-edge boomers. People who fall into the leading-edge boomers category were born between 1946 and 1955, while trailing-edge boomers were born between 1956 and 1964.
The name baby boomer originated from the period during which baby boomers were born. Before and during World War II, there was a dip in the number of births in the United States. At the lowest point, the United States saw fewer than 19 babies born per 1,000 residents.
When soldiers returned home after the war, the birth rate spiked, reaching almost 27 births per 1,000 residents in the late 1940s. The elevated rate of births continued for nearly two decades, only returning to pre-war levels in the mid-1960s.
The first uses of the term baby boomer appeared in newspaper articles in 1963. Over time the term became more widely used.
The first baby boomers were born just after the end of World War II — Many to families of soldiers returning from the war.
A combination of the GI Bill (which gave returning soldiers easy access to credit for education), real estate, and an economy that was mostly undamaged by the war led to a prosperous period for the United States. With so many veterans looking to start families and buy homes, planned communities and suburbs began to appear, and many families moved out of the cities.
The 1950s saw the rise of the Cold War and reactions against Communism. The Red Scare ( a period of intense fear of communism) played a significant role in politics, causing much of American politics to move toward conservative tendencies. The witch hunts and conservatism of the Red Scare impacted many aspects of American culture, with many cultural leaders blaming comic books and other media for juvenile delinquency and other social ills.
The decade also saw the Korean War. The Korean War was waged for three years and was the first of many proxy wars (wars between two nations backed by different powers who do not fight directly) that the United States fought to prevent the spread of Communism.
At home, businesses boomed, and unions became powerful forces that improved labor and economic conditions for workers. Consumerism spread throughout society as Americans constantly sought to buy newer and better goods, such as televisions and cars. As more families bought cars, the federal government passed the Interstate Highway Act, which began to connect different parts of the country in a way that they hadn’t been connected before.
The groundwork for the Civil Rights movement was laid in the 1950s with the Brown v. Board of Education decision (banning “separate, but equal” facilities for white and black citizens) coming in 1954.
Television sales boomed in the 1950s. Fewer than 4 million households owned TVs in 1950 compared to nearly 44 million households in 1959.
The 1960s saw significant cultural changes as the first Baby Boomers began to come of age. The United States entered into the Vietnam War in 1964. The war was the first to be widely covered by television news, which exposed many Americans to the horrors of combat. This, combined with animosity toward the draft, led to a massive anti-war movement, which became part of a greater counterculture movement that was a reaction against McCarthyism (political witch hunts where people were accused of treason or being communists) and the conservatism of the 1950s.
Popular culture reflected this rejection of the 1950s with the rise of drug use, the revival of folk music through musicians such as Bob Dylan, the emergence of surf rock, and the British Invasion of bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The Civil Rights Movement continued in the 1960s as activists practiced civil disobedience in the form of marches, boycotts, and sit-ins. Esteemed leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. rose to prominence during this time and landmark legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the next year showed the movement’s success. Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights groups were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement’s success and began campaigns of their own.
The Space Race played a significant role in the technological development that occurred during the 1960s as the United States and the Soviet Union raced to put a man on the moon. Their efforts pushed the development of computers and rocketry systems and culminated in the Apollo missions that placed American astronauts on the surface of the moon.
The 1970s began as late-boomers started to come of age and saw multiple economic upheavals that signified the end of the post-World War II economic boom. The decade also saw political unrest as the Watergate scandal broke, and Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency.
Internationally, the Vietnam War ended with the United States withdrawing from the region, defeated. The end of the war and cooling tensions with the Soviet Union led to a policy of détente, where the two superpowers tried to negotiate and work more closely, though proxy battles for influence over smaller countries continued.
Economically, the industrial world saw major contractions in their economies. The US inflation rate averaged 7.06% in the 1970s, compared to an average of 2.5% from 1900 through 1970. At the same time, the economy’s growth stagnated, resulting in “stagflation.”
An oil crisis that lasted through most of the decade led to oil rationing and gas lines in many western nations. It also began an ecological awareness that oil supplies were not unlimited and that sustainable energy solutions were needed, planting the seeds for the beginning of environmental movements.
The baby boomer generation experienced the United States during a time that saw an economic boom in the decades after World War II. As western European nations worked to rebuild and repair their destroyed infrastructures and economies, the United States remained mostly untouched — at least in terms of infrastructure — by the war. This gave the country a massive advantage over other developed nations.
The country’s real GDP (in 2018 dollars) increased from $2.329 trillion in 1945 to $3.916 trillion by the end of the baby boom, with the majority of that growth coming between 1950 and 1960. Baby boomers mainly came of age during this boom time as consumerism ran rampant, and new technologies like the television and cars became standard features of the American home.
Baby boomers also came of age and entered the workforce when the prevailing culture was one of lifetime employment and defined-benefit retirement plans (pensions, social security, or other plans where you received a fixed sum each month based on the terms of your plan). By 1975, more than 40 million Americans had defined-benefit pension plans that incentivized sticking with the same employer for the long-term.
Baby boomers also benefited from low housing prices. In 1975, the average home in the United States sold for between $40,000 and $45,000 (in today’s dollars). Prices consistently increased until the 2008 financial crisis, providing many boomers with an asset that constantly gained value over the term that they’d held it.
The main difference between baby boomers, generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980), millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), and generation Z (those born after 1996) is the time when they were born and came of age. The experiences shared by each generation are wildly different.
Boomers mostly came of age during good economic times and a culture marked by a reaction against the conservatism and McCarthyism of the 1950s. Despite its response against McCarthyism, American society had a clear enemy in the form of Communism and the Soviet Union and fought many proxy wars to prevent its spread.
By contrast, many gen X-ers and millennials came of age in times of financial crisis, particularly the 2008 housing crisis. They also came of age during the rise of the internet and social media, which connected different parts of the planet in new ways, making it easy to communicate with people regardless of location.
Many millennials have also never known a version of the United States that is not at war because the country’s fight against terrorism has been constant since 2001. The economic malaise and endless war millennials have faced have made many people less optimistic about the future than previous generations.
Generation Z is composed of children of generation X (the generation between baby boomers and millennials) and millennials. Generation Z is greatly influenced by the Great Recession, the War on Terror, and the Climate Crisis giving many members of generation Z a feeling of uncertainty about the future.
The relationship between baby boomers and other generations can often be tense, with many boomers seen as discounting the advantages they had compared to other generations. This can be observed in the rising popularity of the phrase “OK boomer” as a way for millennials and generation Z to dismiss the opinions or thoughts of older people.
Baby boomers and millennials also tend to clash in businesses. Millennials are now the largest cohort in the workforce, but many business leaders are older than 55, and the average age of CEOs is rising rather than falling. Politics sees a similar divide, though some areas have begun to elect younger representatives. Because of their different backgrounds, skills, and perspectives, people of every generation can benefit from working with members of other generations. Barriers such as different cultural norms and views can be barriers to this type of collaboration and need to be overcome for the generations to work and prosper together.
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