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Baby boomers

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Baby boomers are the demographic cohort following the Silent Generation and preceding Generation X. The generation is generally defined as people born from 1946 and 1964, during the post–World War II baby boom.[1] The baby boom has been described variously as a "shockwave"[2] and as "the pig in the python";[3] in particular, 76 million Americans were born during this timeframe.[4] By this definition and U.S. Census data, there are currently 71.6 million boomers in the United States as of 2019.[4]

In the 1960s and 1970s, as this relatively large number of young people entered their teens and young adulthood—the oldest turned 18 in 1964—they, and those around them, created a very specific rhetoric around their cohort and the changes brought about by their size in numbers, such as the counterculture of the 1960s.[5] This rhetoric had an important impact in the perceptions of the boomers, as well as society's increasingly common tendency to define the world in terms of generations, which was a relatively new phenomenon. In Europe and North America, boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many came of age in a time of increasing affluence and widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education,[2] and grew genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.[3] However, this generation also has been criticized often for its increases in consumerism[6] and narcissism[7] which others saw as excessive.


The term baby boom refers to a noticeable increase in the birth rate. The post-World War II population increase was described as a "boom" by various newspaper reporters, including Sylvia F. Porter in a column in the May 4, 1951, edition of the New York Post, based on the increase of 2,357,000 in the population of the U.S. in 1950.[8]

The first recorded use of "baby boomer" is in a January 1963 Daily Press article describing a massive surge of college enrollments approaching as the oldest boomers were coming of age.[9][10] The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern meaning of the term to a January 23, 1970, article in The Washington Post.[11]

Date range and definitions

United States birth rate (births per 1,000 population per year). The segment for the years 1946 to 1964 is highlighted in red, with birth rates peaking in 1949, dropping steadily around 1958, and reaching pre-war Depression-era levels in 1965.[12]

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "baby boomer" as "a person born during a period of time in which there is a marked rise in a population's birthrate", "usually considered to be in the years from 1946 to 1964".[13] Pew Research Center defines baby boomers as being born between 1946 and 1964.[14] The United States Census Bureau defines baby boomers as "individuals born in the United States between mid-1946 and mid-1964."[15][16] The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the "post-World War II baby-boom generation" as those born between 1946 and 1964,[17][18] as does the Federal Reserve Board which uses 1946-1964 to define baby boomers.[19] Gallup defines baby boomers as those born from 1946 through 1964.[20]

In the US, 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, called the "Late Boomers" or "Trailing-Edge Boomers", was born between 1956 and 1964. This second cohort includes about 37,818,000 individuals, according to Live Births by Age and Mother and Race, 1933–98, published by the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics.[21]

In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines baby boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964,[22] as well as the Australia's Social Research Center which defines baby boomers as born between 1946 and 1964.[23] Bernard Salt places the Australian baby boom between 1946 and 1961.[24][25]

Various authors have delimited the baby boom period differently. 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 1946 through 1964.[26] Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their 1991 book Generations, define the social generation of boomers as that cohort born from 1943 to 1960, who were too young to have any personal memory of World War II, but old enough to remember the postwar American High before John F. Kennedy's assassination.[27] In Ontario, Canada, David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the 21st century (1997), defined a Canadian boomer as someone born from 1947 to 1966, the years in which more than 400,000 babies were born. However, he acknowledges that that is a demographic definition, and that culturally, it may not be as clear-cut.[28]

Doug Owram argues that the Canadian boom took place from 1946 to 1962, 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, as well as 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.[29]

Generational cuspers

The American term "Generation Jones" is sometimes used to describe those born roughly between 1954 and 1965. The term is typically used to refer to the later years of the baby boomer cohort and the early years of Generation X.[30][31][32]


US living adult generations.png

The age wave theory suggests an economic slowdown when the boomers started retiring during 2007–2009.[33] Projections for the aging U.S. workforce suggest that by 2020, 25% of employees will be at least 55 years old.[34]


As children

In the west, baby boomers comprised the first generation to grow up with the television. Some popular boomer-era childhood shows of the 1950s and 1960s included Howdy Doody, The Mickey Mouse Club, I Love Lucy, Captain Video, Captain Kangaroo, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Bonanza, The Soupy Sales Show, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Gilligan's Island, The Addams Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Batman, and Star Trek.

As adolescents and young adults

As adolescents and young adults in the 1960s and 1970s, baby boomers found that the music they listened to and/or produced, most notably rock music (an outgrowth of Silent Generation-era rock and roll), was another expression of their generational identity. Transistor radios were personal devices that allowed boomer teenagers to listen to The Beatles, the Motown Sound, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, disco, early punk rock, and other new musical directions and artists.

Boomers grew up at a time of dramatic social change. In the U.S., that change marked the generation with a strong cultural cleavage, between the left-leaning proponents of change and the more conservative individuals. Analysts believe this cleavage has played out politically from the time of the Vietnam War to the present day,[35] to some extent defining the divided political landscape in the country.[36][37] Early boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the later years of 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.[38][39]

Early boomers experienced events of the tumultuous 1960s like Beatlemania, Woodstock, organizing against or fighting in the Vietnam War, and the Apollo 11 moon landing, while late boomers (also known as Generation Jones) came of age in the "malaise era" of the 1970s with events such as the Watergate scandal, the 1973–1975 recession, the 1973 oil crisis, the United States Bicentennial, and the Iran hostage crisis. Politically, early boomers in the United States tend to be Democrats, while later boomers tend to be Republicans.[40]

In midlife

Cohort as an economic power

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."[41]

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",[42] or a 1948 Time magazine article called "Baby Boom."[43]

Conservative uprising

Starting in the 1980s, the boomers became more conservative, many of them regretting the cultural changes they brought in their youth. The baby boomers became the largest voting demographic in the early 1980s and helped to elect Ronald Reagan as president, a period which ushered in a long-running trend of rapidly increasing income inequality.[44]

From 1979–2007, those receiving the highest 1 percentile of incomes saw their already large incomes increase by 278% while those in the middle at the 40th-60th percentiles saw a 35% increase. Since 1980, after the vast majority of baby boomer college goers graduated, the cost of college has been increased by over 600% (inflation adjusted).[45]

Attitude towards religion

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."[46]

In retirement

Aging and inheritance planning

A survey found that nearly a third of baby boomer multimillionaires polled in the US would prefer to pass on their inheritance to charities rather than pass it down to their children. Of these boomers, 57% believed it was important for each generation to earn their own money; 54% believed it was more important to invest in their children while they were growing up.[47]

As of 1998, it was reported that, as a generation, boomers had tended to avoid discussions and long-term planning for their demise.[48] However, since 1998 or earlier, there has been a growing dialogue on how to manage aging and end-of-life issues as the generation ages.[49]

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)[50][51]

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 lower quality of life than the generation preceding it.[52][53]

Aging and Medicare

The density of baby boomers can put a strain on Medicare. According to the American Medical Student Association, the population of individuals over the age of 65 will increase by 73 percent between 2010 and 2030, meaning one in five Americans will be a senior citizen.[54]

Aging and online consumption

In 2019, advertising platform Criteo conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers which showed baby boomers are less likely than millennials to purchase groceries online. Of the baby boomers surveyed, 30 percent said they used some form of online grocery delivery service. [55]

Key generation milestones

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?"[56] For the baby boomers the results were:

  • Baby Boomer cohort number one (born 1946–55), the cohort who epitomized the cultural change of the 1960s
  • Baby Boomer cohort number two (born 1956–64), the cohort who came of age in the "malaise" years of the 1970s
    • Memorable events: the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., for those born in the first couple of years of this generation, the Vietnam War, walk on the moon, Watergate and Nixon's resignation, lowered drinking age to 18 in many states 1970–1976 (followed by raising back to 21 in the mid-1980s as a result of congressional lobbying by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)), the oil embargo, raging inflation, gasoline shortages, economic recession and lack of viable career opportunities upon graduation from high school or college, Jimmy Carter's reimposition of registration for the draft, the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan, Live Aid


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 according to Raines.[57]

See also


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  2. ^ a b Owram, Doug (1997), Born at the Right Time, Toronto: Univ Of Toronto Press, p. x, ISBN 0-8020-8086-3
  3. ^ a b Jones, Landon (1980), Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan
  4. ^ a b Fry, Richard (April 28, 2020). "Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America's largest generation". Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Owram, Doug (1997), Born at the Right Time, Toronto: Univ Of Toronto Press, p. xi, ISBN 0-8020-8086-3
  6. ^ Pinker, Steven (2011). The Better Angels Of Our Nature. P.524: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-03464-5.CS1 maint: location (link)
  7. ^ Henderson, Amy (October 15, 2014). "When It Comes To the Baby Boomers, It Is Still All About "Me"". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  8. ^ Reader's Digest August 1951 pg. 5
  9. ^ "How Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials Got Their Names". May 1, 2018.
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Further reading

External links