Baby boomers

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"Baby Boomer" redirects here. For the video game, see Baby Boomer (video game). For further information, see Post–World War II baby boom.
United States birth rate (births per 1,000 population). The segment for the years 1946 to 1964 is highlighted in red, with birth rates peaking in 1949 and dropping steadily around 1958 reaching pre-war depression era levels in 1963.[1]

Baby boomers are the demographic group born during the post–World War II baby boom, approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. This includes people who are between 52 and 70 years old in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.[2] The term "baby boomer" is also used in a cultural context, so it is difficult to achieve broad consensus of a precise date definition. Different people, organizations, and scholars have varying opinions on who is a baby boomer, both technically and culturally. Ascribing universal attributes to such a generation is difficult, and some believe it is inherently impossible, but many have attempted to determine their cultural similarities and historical impact, and the term has thus gained widespread popular usage.

Baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values. Many commentators, however, have disputed the extent of that rejection, noting the widespread continuity of values with older and younger generations. In Europe and North America, boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence.[3]

As a group, baby boomers were the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to the era in which they arrived, and were amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.[4] They were also the generation that received peak levels of income; they could therefore reap the benefits of abundant levels of food, apparel, retirement programs, and sometimes even "midlife crisis" products. The increased consumerism for this generation has been regularly criticized as excessive.[5]

One feature of the boomers was that they have tended to think of themselves as a special generation, very different from those that had come before. In the 1960s, as the relatively large numbers of young people became teenagers and young adults, they, and those around them, created a very specific rhetoric around their cohort, and the changes they were bringing about.[6] This rhetoric had an important impact in the self perceptions of the boomers, as well as their tendency to define the world in terms of generations, which was a relatively new phenomenon. The baby boom has been described variously as a "shockwave"[3] and as "the pig in the python."[4]

The term "Generation Jones" has sometimes been used to distinguish those born from 1956 to 1964 from the earlier baby boomers.[7][8]


The phrase baby boom refers to a noticeable increase in the birth rate. The post-war population increase was first described as a "boom" by Sylvia F. Porter in a column in the May 4, 1951, edition of the New York Post, based on the increase in the population of the U.S. of 2,357,000 in 1950.[9] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of "baby boomer" is from 1970 in an article in The Washington Post.[10] Various authors have delimited the baby boom period differently. The United States Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic birth boom between 1946 and 1964.[11] Landon Jones, in his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation (1980), defined the span of the baby-boom generation as extending from 1943 through 1960, when annual births increased over 4,000,000. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, well known for their generational theory, define the social generation of Boomers as that cohort born from 1943 through the end of 1960, who were too young to have any personal memory of World War II, but old enough to remember the postwar American High.[12]

In the U.S., the generation can be segmented into two broadly defined cohorts: The Leading-Edge Baby Boomers are individuals born between 1946 and 1955, those who came of age during the Vietnam War era. This group represents slightly more than half of the generation, or roughly 38,002,000 people of all races. The other half of the generation was born between 1956 and 1964. Called Late Boomers, or Trailing-Edge Boomers, this second cohort includes about 37,818,000 individuals, according to Live Births by Age and Mother and Race, 1933–98, published by the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics.[13]

An ongoing battle for "generational ownership" has motivated a handful of marketing mavens and cultural commentators to coin and/or promote their own terms for sub‑segments of the baby-boomer generation. These monikers include, but are not limited to, "golden boomers", "generation Jones", "alpha boomers", "hippies", "yippies", "yuppies", "zoomers", and "cuspers". Advocates of these "cultural segments" are often zealous and overstated in their attempts to redefine generational boundaries, often claiming wide adoption and sometimes advancing self-promotional agendas.[citation needed]

In Ontario, Canada, one attempt to define the boom came from David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the 21st century (1997). He defines a Canadian boomer as someone born from 1947 to 1966, the years that more than 400,000 babies were born. However, he acknowledges that is a demographic definition, and that culturally it may not be as clear-cut.[14]

Doug Owram argues that the Canadian boom took place from 1943 to 1960, but that culturally boomers everywhere were born between the late war years and about 1955 or 1956. He notes that those born in the years before the actual boom were often the most influential people among boomers; for example, musicians such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, or writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who were either slightly or vastly older than the boomer generation. Those born in the 1960s might feel disconnected from the cultural identifiers of the earlier boomers.[15]

Bernard Salt places the Australian baby boom between 1943 and 1960,[16][17] while the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines the boom as 1946 to 1964.[18]

Another definition for the baby boom is the decade after the Second World War, that is 1946 to 1955.[citation needed] This date range in the US correlates with some of the strongest cultural identifiers of the boomer generation, i.e., the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War and the draft. In 1973, the U.S. both ended its draft and moved to an all volunteer army (the other services were already volunteer only) and ended its military activity in Vietnam. Of course, males born in 1953-1955 could not have foreseen the end of the draft or the war and "came of age" fully internalizing those events.


Size and economic impact[edit]

76 million American children were born between 1946 and 1964, representing a cohort that is significant on account of its size alone. In 2004, the British baby boomers held 80% of the UK's wealth and bought 80% of all top of the range cars, 80% of cruises and 50% of skincare products.[19]

In addition to the size of the group, Steve Gillon has suggested that one thing that sets the baby boomers apart from other generational groups is the fact that "almost from the time they were conceived, Boomers were dissected, analyzed, and pitched to by modern marketers, who reinforced a sense of generational distinctiveness".[20] This is supported by the articles of the late 1940s identifying the increasing number of babies as an economic boom, such as a 1948 Newsweek article whose title proclaimed "Babies Mean Business",[21] or a 1948 Time magazine article.[22]

The age wave theory suggests an economic slowdown when the boomers started retiring during 2007–2009.[23] Projections for the aging U.S. workforce suggest that by 2020, 25% of employees will be at least 55 years old.[24]

Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending. They buy 77% of all prescription drugs, 61% of over-the-counter drugs, and 80% of all leisure travel.[citation needed]

A survey found that nearly a third of baby boomers polled in the United States would prefer to pass on their inheritance to charities rather than pass it down to their children.[25]

Cultural identity[edit]

Boomers grew up at a time of dramatic social change. In the United States, that change marked the generation with a strong cultural cleavage, between the proponents of change and the more conservative individuals. Some analysts believe this cleavage played out politically since the time of the Vietnam War to the mid‑2000s, to some extent defining the political landscape and division in the country.[26][27] Starting in the 1980s, the boomers became more conservative, many of them regretting the cultural changes they brought in their youth.[28]

In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers. Citing Wade Clark Roof, a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the articles stated that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, 33% had never strayed from church, and 25% of boomers were returning to religious practice. The boomers returning to religion were "usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality".[29]

The early and mid-boomers were coming of age at the same time across the world, so that they experienced events like Beatlemania and Woodstock, organizing against the Vietnam War, or fighting and dying in the same war. Boomers in Italy were dressing in mod clothes and "buying the world a Coke". Boomers in India were seeking new philosophical discoveries.[citation needed] Some American boomers in Canada had found a new home after escaping the draft. Canadian Boomers were organizing support for Pierre Trudeau. It is precisely because of these experiences that many believe those born in the second half of the birth boom belong to another generation, as events that defined their coming of age have little in common with leading or core boomers.[original research?]

The baby boomers found that their music, most notably rock and roll, was another expression of their generational identity. Transistor radios were personal devices that allowed teenagers to listen to The Beatles, the The Motown Sound, and other new musical directions and artists.[citation needed]

In the west, baby boomers comprised the first generation to grow up with the television; some popular Boomer-era shows included Howdy Doody, The Mickey Mouse Club, Captain Video, The Soupy Sales Show, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, The Twilight Zone, Batman, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, The Ed Sullivan Show, All in the Family and Happy Days.[citation needed]

In the 1985 study of U.S. generational cohorts by Schuman and Scott, a broad sample of adults was asked, "What world events over the past 50 years were especially important to them?"[30] For the baby boomers the results were:

There is often debate regarding the generational identity of those born from 1961 to 1964. Some demographers and researchers consider these individuals to be part of the younger demographic cohort, Generation X.[31][32][33][34]

Aging and end-of-life issues[edit]

As of 1998, it was reported that, as a generation, boomers had tended to avoid discussions and planning for their demise and avoided much long-term planning.[35] However, beginning at least as early as that year, there has been a growing dialogue on how to manage aging and end-of-life issues as the generation ages.[36] In particular, a number of commentators have argued that Baby Boomers are in a state of denial regarding their own aging and death and are leaving an undue economic burden on their children for their retirement and care. According to the 2011 Associated Press and surveys:

  • 60% lost value in investments because of the economic crisis
  • 42% are delaying retirement
  • 25% claim they will never retire (currently still working)[37][38]

In 2013, the early baby boomers (depending on birth years used) reached a common retirement age in the United States: 67 years.

Impact on history and culture[edit]

An indication of the importance put on the impact of the boomer was the selection by TIME magazine of the Baby Boom Generation as its 1966 "Man of the Year". As Claire Raines points out in Beyond Generation X, "never before in history had youth been so idealized as they were at this moment". When Generation X came along it had much to live up to in this author's opinion.[39]

Boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and the "second-wave" feminist cause of the 1970s. Conversely, many trended in moderate to conservative directions opposite to the counterculture, especially those making professional careers in the military (officer and enlisted), law enforcement, business, blue collar trades, and Republican Party politics. They are also associated with the spending trends and narcissism of the "Me" generation.

People often take it for granted that each succeeding generation will be "better off" than the one before it. When Generation X came along just after the boomers, they would be the first generation to enjoy a lesser quality of life than the generation preceding it.[40][41][42][43]

The conflict between baby boomers who were career oriented and those who still supported the traditional aspects of family were characterized in the film Baby Boom (1987),[citation needed] in which a career woman (played by Diane Keaton) inherits a six-month-old baby and comes to realize that family is more important than personal career aspirations.

Baby boomers are still having a big effect on politics, the 2016 presidential election has come down to two controversial candidates in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with a majority of Trump's support coming from the Baby Boomer generation.[44]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ CDC Bottom of this page "Vital Statistics of the United States, 2003, Volume I, Natality", Table 1-1 "Live births, birth rates, and fertility rates, by race: United States, 1909–2003."
  2. ^ "The Older Population: 2010" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. November 2011. Retrieved June 25, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Owram, Doug (1997), Born at the Right Time, Toronto: Univ Of Toronto Press, p. x, ISBN 0-8020-8086-3 
  4. ^ a b Jones, Landon (1980), Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan 
  5. ^ Pinker, Steven (2011). The Better Angels Of Our Nature. P.524: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-03464-5. 
  6. ^ Owram, Doug (1997), Born at the Right Time, Toronto: Univ Of Toronto Press, p. xi, ISBN 0-8020-8086-3 
  7. ^ FNP Interactive - (December 19, 2008). "The Frederick News-Post Online – Frederick County Maryland Daily Newspaper". Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  8. ^ Noveck, Jocelyn (2009-01-11), "In Obama, many see an end to the baby boomer era".[1].
  9. ^ Reader's Digest August 1951 pg. 5
  10. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "baby, n. and adj."
  11. ^ "Baby boomers say age gives them office cred". CBS News. 
  12. ^ Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations: The History of Americas Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow. pp. 299–316. ISBN 0-688-11912-3. 
  13. ^ Green, Brent (2006). Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers: Perceptions, Principles, Practices, Predictions. New York: Paramount Market Publishing. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0976697351. 
  14. ^ Canada (June 24, 2006). "By definition: Boom, bust, X and why". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  15. ^ Owram, Doug (1997), Born at the Right Time, Toronto: University Of Toronto Press, p. xiv, ISBN 0-8020-8086-3 
  16. ^ Salt, Bernard (2004), The Big Shift, South Yarra, Vic.: Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 978-1-74066-188-1 
  17. ^ [2] Archived March 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Statistics, c=AU; o=Commonwealth of Australia; ou=Australian Bureau of. "Main Features - About this Release". Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  19. ^ Walker, Duncan (Sept 16, 2004) "Live Fast, Die Old", BBC News site. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
  20. ^ Gillon, Steve (2004) Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever, and How It Changed America, Free Press, "Introduction", ISBN 0-7432-2947-9
  21. ^ "Population: Babies Mean Business", Newsweek, August 9, 1948. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
  22. ^ "Baby Boom", Time, February 9, 1948. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
  23. ^ Economy faces bigger bust without Boomers, Reuters, Jan 31, 2008
  24. ^ Chosewood, L. Casey (July 19, 2012). "Safer and Healthier at Any Age: Strategies for an Aging Workforce". National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  25. ^ Half of Baby Boomers to Leave Inheritance to Kids
  26. ^ Sullivan, Andrew (November 6, 2007). "Goodbye to all of that". Archived from the original on January 3, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  27. ^ Broder, John M. (January 21, 2007). "Shushing the Baby Boomers". The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  28. ^ Bowman, Karlyn (2011-09-12). "As the boomers turn". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  29. ^ Ostling, Richard N., "The Church Search", April 5, 1993 Time article retrieved 2007-01-27
  30. ^ Schuman, H. and Scott, J. (1989), Generations and collective memories, American Sociological Review, vol. 54 (3), 1989, pp. 359–81.
  31. ^ Howe, Neil (27 August 2014). "Generation X: Once Xtreme, Now Exhausted". Forbes. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  32. ^ Miller, Jon (Fall 2011). "The Generation X Report: Active, Balanced, and Happy" (PDF). Longitudinal Study of American Youth – University Of Michigan. p. 1. Retrieved 2013-05-29. 
  33. ^ "National Geographic Channel's Six-Part Limited Series "Generation X," Narrated by Christian Slater, Premieres Sunday, Feb. 14, at 10/9c". Multichannel News. 29 January 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016. 
  34. ^ "Generation X Employees Struggle the Most Financially, Most Likely to Dip into Retirement Savings, According to PwC Study". PrincewaterhouseCoopers. 18 June 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2016. 
  35. ^ Baby boomers lag in preparing funerals, estates, etc. The Business Journal of Milwaukee – December 18, 1998 by Robert Mullins. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  36. ^ Article in the New York Times, March 30, 1998
  37. ^ "Retirement? For More Baby Boomers, The Answer Is No". ThirdAge Staff. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2011. 
  38. ^ "Redefining Retirement: A Much Longer Lifespan means more to Consider". Living Better at 50. Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
  39. ^ Raines, Claire (1997). Beyond Generation X. Crisp Publications. ISBN 978-1560524496. 
  40. ^ Isabel Sawhill, Ph.D; John E. Morton (2007). "Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  41. ^ Steuerle, Eugene; Signe-Mary McKernan; Caroline Ratcliffe; Sisi Zhang (2013). "Lost Generations? Wealth Building Among Young Americans" (PDF). Urban Institute. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  42. ^ Economic Mobility Project
  43. ^ Ellis, David (2007-05-25). "Making less than dad did". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  44. ^ Beutler, Brian (2016-09-20). "Don't Blame Millennials for This Scarily Close Election. Blame Baby Boomers.". New Republic. Retrieved 2016-09-27. 

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