The Baby Boomers, an introduction

Last week I briefly covered The Silent Generation, a generation that at present only covers 3% of the global workforce. This week, I will be delving into the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers consist of those born from 1946 to1964. And by 2024, about 25% of the workforce is projected to be over the age of 55.  

How the Baby Boomers got their name is quite obvious in its meaning, but for continuity I will go over its beginnings. After World War II, with The Silent Generation returning from the war and “getting back to real life,” the U.S. birthrate exploded. More than 65 million children were born between the years of 1941 and 1961. At the height of the baby boom, a child was born every seven seconds on average. Young couples who had delayed marriage and children during the war and the Depression were now able, through the government’s GI aid and popular culture celebrating families, to focus on building their homes in the suburbs as well as building their families.

They had their fair share of “shaping” events; the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, the first moon landing, and the Kent State University shootings.  They also saw the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy, followed by the aftermath of their assassinations on live television.

The Greyhound Bus Station at 219 N. Lamar St., Jackson, Mississippi, was the site of many arrests during the May 1961 Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Greyhound Bus Station at 219 N. Lamar St., Jackson, Mississippi, was the site of many arrests during the May 1961 Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the early years of the boom, schools were overcrowded, colleges didn’t have enough seats and competition for starting jobs was intense. (Kane)
As such, they tend towards being extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks, and prestige. Because of the amount of effort they put into getting to the place they are now, they expect the subsequent generations to pay their dues in much the same way. The following article lists five characteristics of Baby Boomers; they are work-centric, independent, goal-oriented, competitive and the last one that I found so interesting was self-actualization. Kane says that, “because the Baby Boomers grew up in a time of mass middle-class affluence, they had time and energy for self-actualization, and the Silent Generation values of conformity and loyalty started to fall apart. Work for the Baby Boomers shifted from a source of stability to a means of self-actualization and self-expression, moderating The Silent Generation’s love of hierarchical management with an emphasis on structural fairness and equal opportunity.” (Kane)

It seems that each generation reacts to their parents generation creating a continual pendulum of change, and this self-actualization is a great picture of that. The Baby Boomers had the time, freedom, and finances to make work be an extension of themselves and not merely one of pride and necessity. I would like to preface, again, in a strange location, that everyone is unique and these generalizations are not meant to put anyone into a box. They are merely to help us relate to one another better, no matter our ages.

The Baby Boomers as a whole, have stayed in the labor force much longer than previous generations. Boomer women have been more likely to be in the labor force than previous generations of women, meaning that 25% of women aged 65-72 are still working. Boomer men of those same ages are at 34% the highest rate of older men in the workforce since the early 1970s. (Fry) These numbers surpass the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation at the same age but is by no means a record since a similar portion of this age group were working during the Depression.

Boomers are also now more likely to have living parents, 71% of Baby Boomers have at least one living parents. In 1989 it was just 60% of people aged 41-59. (Center) Another interesting aspect of this is that Boomers are in a “sandwich phase” if you will. They are sandwiched between financially supporting their elderly parents and their young adult children. Age-wise that is a typical place to be yet, changing demographics within families have prolonged this sandwich period for them.

At a time in life when many are looking ahead to their own retirement, Boomers are likely either to have parents who are still living, children who are still young or adult children who are still in need of financial support.

The Pew Research Center

“Because of the Boomers’ vast number, the broader society has frequently found itself adjusting to the rhythms of the Boomer life cycle – for example, by going on a school construction binge in the 1950s or by adjusting to the youth-driven counterculture of the 1960s. Back then, the exuberance, idealism and self-absorption of the Boomers was famously spoofed by the 1968 rock musical “Hair” and its signature song lyric: “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” 

Nearly four decades later, with the oldest of the Boomers at the front door of old age, the sheer bulk of the generation is once again presenting society with a set of challenges: how to maintain living standards and sustain a productive economy when the number of retirees will soon be growing much faster than the number of workers.” (Center)

Another interesting and important fact to consider is that since Boomers were born over a 19 year period, different Boomers grew up differently-from the quiet 1950s, to the turbulent 1960s, to the economically-stressed 1970s. (Center) Much in the same way that the largest generation at present, the Millennials, can be broken into “new” and “old” millennials; which we will explore in coming weeks.   

Next week, we’ll take a look at the Gen X’ers, also known as the MTV generation, you know-back when MTV actually played music videos.