Name: Baby Boom Generation
Birth Years: 1943-1960
The Baby Boom Generation is named after the explosion in fertility rates from the 1940s up to the early 1960s. There were two important contributors to the boom. First, was the return home of World War II soldiers. Family formation had been slowed because of the war and a jubilant nation was ready to return to peacetime pursuits. Second, as I wrote in yesterday’s post, the Silent “Artist” Generation (born 1925-1942) young adults saw marriage and work as a way of achieving respect. Ninety-four percent of women born 1931-1935 became mothers compared to only 81% for G.I “Hero” Generation (born 1901-1925) women twenty-five years earlier.
The experience with fascism over the previous decade and the looming threat of communism led some experts to believe that the best defense against totalitarianism was a democracy of inner-directed idealistic citizens. The G.I. and Silent Generation parents took this to heart. It Dovetailed with the philosophy pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. Spock encouraged parents to raise children in a permissive affirming environment. Mothers intently focused on raising their children and fathers worked to build the economy.
Apart from these concerns, the sheer size of the Baby Boom Generation guaranteed their impact would be felt for eighty or more years. At the beginning of their lives they necessitated more pediatricians, more schools, and more teachers. At the end of their lives there will be a swelling demand for government entitlements.
What did this mean for the Baby Boom Generation as they came of age? It meant that they became one of the most pathological generations ever! The Baby Boom Generation began to reach college age in 1961 and the last group turned age 18 in 1978. SAT scores started a steady decline in 1963 until they bottomed out in the early 1980s with the first wave “Nomad” Generation X (born 1961-1981) students. William Strauss and Neil Howe observe,
“From first-wave to last-wave [Baby Boom] teenagers, death rates for every form of accidental death rose sharply – and the rates of drunk driving, suicide, illegitimate births, and teen unemployment all doubled or tripled. Crime rates also mounted with each successive cohort, giving rise after the mid-1960s to “crime waves” that seemed to worsen with each passing year. During the 1970s, the incidence of serious youth crime grew twice as fast as the number of youths.” (Generations, 305)
As the 1960s arrived, a new wave of optimism unfolded. A young idealistic G.I. Generation President was elected and the press described the state of affairs romantically as Camelot. The cautious conservative Eisenhower era was past. John Kennedy talked of a New Frontier, of helping other nations through the Peace Crops and of putting a man on the moon before 1970. However, something was not right underneath the surface.
By the early 1960s many men were questioning the stifling nature of corporate life. Women were beginning to question the gender roles they had been raised with. Birth Control pills hit the market in 1960 giving women some control over their fertility. With each passing year the US saw itself being drawn farther into a conflict in a place called Vietnam. Meanwhile, Blacks in Southern states were beginning organized resistance to racism.
The year 1963 proved to a pivotal one. Betty Friedan published her book “Feminine Mystique” challenging the roles women had played. Trailing edge Silent Generation musician Bob Dylan released his song “Blowin in the Wind” asking how long must war and oppression continue. The nation was troubled as their TVs showed the brutal assault on peaceful Black demonstrators by authorities in Alabama. In August, a visionary and charismatic Black minister from Georgia addressed 250,000 people on the mall in Washington, DC, and declared “I have a dream” of racial justice in America. Then, in November, the nation watched their televisions in horror as their idealistic president was assassinated. Camelot died with him.
Beginning with events like the free speech movement in 1964 at Berkley, the elite cultural institutions underwent a dramatic transformation in a few short years. Rioting broke out in major cities. Increasingly radical groups like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen began to emerge. Counter-culture groups like Hippies and Jesus Freaks sprang up. There was the summer of love in 1967. Anti-War protests escalated in 1968 and riots broke out at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Two more idealistic leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, were assassinated that year. Illicit drug use entered mainstream culture for the first time. There was the Woodstock Festival in August, 1969, which many considered to be the highpoint of idealistic 1960s events. Just a month earlier, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon, but many then asked if the money couldn’t have been better used to address social ills. In just a few short years the nation had gone from the placid world of “Leave it to Beaver” to violent protests and young adults calling for revolution.
The events of 1963-1964 seemed to cause a dam burst. The presidential campaign of 1964 pitted Lyndon Johnson’s liberal policies against Senator Barry Goldwater’s new conservatism. Goldwater’s policies seemed hopelessly out of touch with the national climate but it actually gave birth to a movement that would come to maturity in the Reagan Revolution sixteen years later. After the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Democrats became increasingly dominated by the cultural elites and reformist movements. During the 1970s conservative Christians began to reengage the political process. They supported centrist Evangelical Democrat candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976 but it was Ronald Reagan who linked Goldwater economic conservatism with social conservatism to build a conservative base, siphoning many socially conservative Democrats to create modern day Republicanism. Thus, from 1964 to 1984, the trajectory for political debate was set.
As the 1970s unfolded it seemed as though leaders were either corrupt or inept. The conclusion of the Vietnam War was an embarrassment to a nation who had never lost a war. President Nixon resigned in disgrace from office in 1974. The decade seemed to move from one economic crisis to another. Inflation with high unemployment (stagflation) seemed impervious to efforts to address it. The Three Mile Island nuclear plant disaster in 1979 caused people to question the wisdom of the leaders who were building the plants. Then, in November of that year, the US embassy in Iran was overrun and hostages were taken for 444 days. President Carter acknowledged in his “Malaise Speech” that for the first time in American history, a majority of Americans believed the next five years would be worse than the next five. The following year, an election year, the nation sank into its worst recession since the Great Depression.
The irony of the late 1960s and succeeding years is that, forty years earlier (late 1920s and 1930s), the G.I. Generation young adults entered a world where leaders all seemed to be in touch with their “feelings” and bitterly divided over visions. No one seemed to be able make anything work. They set to work rebuilding institutions that worked and worked like a machine. So effective were they, that two generations later when a new generation of inner-directed idealists emerged, they revolted and condemned the G.I. efforts as stifling and inhuman. The generation of Baby Boomers looked inward and declared “I gotta be me!” They rebelled against G.I. created institutions. There was little talk of sublimating the self for the common good.
But there was another cultural trend lurking below the surface during the period from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. It is common today to see bumper stickers that ask “Is it good for the children?” Not so during this era. Strauss and Howe point out that entertainment media of the times symbolically shows a powerful transition. In the early 1960s children had the cherubic characters of Opie and “the Beaver.” By 1968, the character had become the demonic character of Rosemary’s Baby and Damien of the “The Exorcist,” in 1973. Divorce rates doubled from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Abortion became legal in 1972, and fertility rates dropped. Demographers began to refer to the generation born after 1964 as the “Baby Bust.” For many, children were an obstacle to the individualistic inner-directed soul-searching common to trailing edge Silent and leading edge Baby Boomer adults.
While looking at the radical events of the 1960s and 1970s it is often forgotten that not everyone was on board with the new radical agendas. A conservative movement emerged as a counterbalance to the perceived decline of traditional values like free enterprise, family, and patriotism. The events of the 1980s and 1990s were driven every bit as much by idealistic inner-directed Baby-Boomers so were the events of the 1960s and 1970s. In the later case it was conservative idealists.
The early 1960s had the New Frontier with G.I. President Kennedy casting the vision. The early 1980s had Morning in America with G.I. President Reagan. The 1980s are often characterized as an era of pure selfishness and loss of idealism (as though the 1960s did not have its share of narcissism.) I believe that characterization is not accurate. The Regan Revolution was an idealistic revolt against the ideals of the 1960s era idealist. Kennedy sensed the restlessness of the idealist in his generation and gave it voice. So did Ronald Reagan.
As the nation entered a third turning in 1984, Baby Boomers became adults and were having families of there own. As the looked down the generational ladder (both chronologically and in terms of character), they saw the future of their children in the generation behind them. Punk Rock was the rage and just about every pathological behavior from drugs to crime to sexual behavior was at alarming levels. It was at this time that Boomer parents and leading edge “Nomad” Generation X (born 1961-1981) parents began to post “Baby on Board” signs in their cars. With the same driving idealism they had used to challenge the system, they went to work creating prosperous home environments with all the amenities they could afford (and many they couldn’t) to shelter their children from corruptive influences. Bill Clinton’s elections to the presidency in the 1990s would be credited in part to the voting of “Soccer Moms,” so named for their devotion to families and transporting children around to wholesome events like music lessons and soccer games.
The second turning, 1964-1984, saw about a 10 to 15 year period of energetic idealist change before waning. The third turning, 1984-200?, began with another energetic burst before waning the early 1990s. The nation elected Bill Clinton president in 1992. He worked hard to have a neo-Kennedy aura. Then the nation also elected conservative Republicans to control of the House of Representatives and in 1994. They promoted their “Contract with America,” touting a Reagan-like political philosophy. Two competing ideals and visions promoted by an inner-directed idealistic generation.
Most of the dysfunctional behavior of youth in the early 1980s declined over the next two decades. However, it seemed as though institutions were decaying and loosing credibility. Twenty and thirty years before, parents had viewed social institutions as allies in raising their families. By the 1990s, they were often viewed as the enemy.
It is my expectation that we will look back in a few years and identify September 11, 2001, as the beginning of the fourth turning. Writing in the mid-1990s, Strauss and Howe expected some catalyzing event to happen around 2005, give or take a few years. They now seem prophetic in retrospect
By the end of the third turning, America had elected Baby Boomer Bill Clinton twice and Baby Boomer George Bush had just been elected. The elections in 2000 and 2004 were two of the closest elections in history. Both Houses of Congress are narrowly controlled by the Republicans. The nation is now referred to as the red states and the blue states (Eerily reminiscent of the start of another fourth turning in 1860 where there were free states and slave states.) Baby Boomers are now nearly in control of all levers of power throughout the culture. They occupy the presidency and easily have the majority of seats in Congress.
If history is any lesson, there is reason for concern. The first Baby Boomers will begin to reach retirement in 2007. As a prophet generation begins to reach the end of life, there seems to emerge a growing sense that destiny has not yet been fulfilled. With the same vigor they attacked issues of their youth and the issues of midlife, they turn toward the fulfillment of their prophetic vision. Their visions are not just philosophical abstracts. They are moral imperatives based on immutable standards. But which vision and which immutable standards?
As you examine opinions of Baby Boomers about controversial events you will see a common dynamic. When measuring not only favorability, but intensity felt about a position, Baby Boomers often have the most intense feelings at both ends of the favorability question! They were the most in favor and the least in favor of the Vietnam War. They were the most in favor and least in favor of the 1991 Gulf War.
Each advance of one vision is perceived by adherents of the other vision as apocalyptic. The rancor and hyperbole ratchet ever higher as each side presses for their vision to prevail. Eventually some crisis (which they have usually had a part in creating) brings the conflict to a head. Each of the last three crisis eras climaxed in destructive wars (1940s World War II, 1860s Civil War, 1770s Revolutionary War.) Of course, the difference now is we have nuclear weapons. If history is any indicator, we had better hold on to our seats. The next 15-20 years are going to be a bumpy ride.
The Baby Boom Generation was raised during a time of placid prosperity. They were socialized to be an inner-directed idealistic generation. As they came into adulthood they rejected what they saw as a sterile and plastic world. Opportunities for women and minorities were expanded and many began to explore spirituality and inner peace. It was also a time of neglecting children and distrust of civic institutions. At the third turning, as they entered midlife, another vision emphasizing economic freedom and family emerged. They worked hard to provide prosperous environments for families but meanwhile it seemed civic institutions decayed. They now found themselves entering elderhood and becoming aware of their mortality. They are beginning to focus their energy on the unfinished agenda’s of their prophetic destiny.
Sampling of the Baby Boom Generation
Presidents: William Jefferson Clinton, George Walker Bush
William Bennett (1943- ) Author, Secretary of Education
Bill Bradley (1943- ) Senator, Presidential Candidate, NBA Player
Kay Bailey Hutchison (1943- ) Senator
Joe Namath (1943- ) NFL Quarterback
Robert De Niro (1943- ) Actor
David Geffen (1943- ) Entertainment Executive
Newt Gingrich (1943- ) Speaker of the US House
Janis Joplin (1943-1970) Singer
John Kerry (1943- ) Senator, Presidential Candidate
Jim Morrison (1943-1971) Singer
Bob Woodward (1943- ) Journalist
Michael Douglas (1944- ) Actor
Joe Frazier (1944- ) Boxer
Rudy Giuliani (1944- ) US Attorney, Mayor of New York City
Marvin Hamlisch (1944- ) Composer
Molly Ivins (1944- ) Author, Columnist
George Lucas (1944- ) Director, Producer, Screenwriter
Lawrence Ellison (1945- ) CEO Oracle
Tommy Franks (1945- ) General at US Central Command
Patricia Ireland (1945- ) Feminist Leader
Steve Martin (1945- ) Actor, Comedian
Bette Midler (1945- ) Singer, Actress
Dianna Ross (1945- ) Singer
Diane Sawyer (1945- ) TV Journalist, ABC Morning Anchor
Cher (1946- ) Singer, Actress
Sally Field (1946- ) Actress
Lew Frankfort (1946- ) CEO Coach
Richard S Fuld, Jr (1946- ) CEO Lehman Brothers Holdings
Reggie Jackson (1946- ) Baseball Player
Liza Minnelli (1946- ) Singer, Actress
Michael Ovitz (1946- ) Entertainment Executive
Dolly Parton (1946- ) Singer, Songwriter, Actress
Steven Spielberg (1946- ) Movie Director, Producer
Donald Trump (1946- ) Real Estate Executive, TV Personality
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1947- ) NBA Player
Hilary Rodham Clinton (1947- ) Senator, Former First Lady
Tom Delay (1947- ) House Majority Leader
Stephen King (1947- ) Author
David Letterman (1947- ) TV Talk Show Host
James Patterson (1947- ) Author
Rob Reiner (1947- ) Actor, Director
Nolan Ryan (1947- ) Baseball Player
O. J. Simpson (1947- ) NFL Star, Sportscaster, Actor, Murder Defendant
Howard Dean (1948- ) Vermont Governor, Presidential Candidate, Head of DNC
Al Gore, Jr. (1948- ) Senator, Vice President, Presidential Candidate
William McGuire (1948- ) CEO United Health Group
Kweisi Mfume (1948- ) Congressman, Head of NAACP
Clarence Thomas (1948- ) Supreme Court Justice
Gary Trudeau (1948- ) Cartoonist (Doonseberry)
Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948- ) Composer
John Belushi (1949-1982) Comedian, Actor
Edwin Crawford (1949- ) CEO Caremark Rx
Billy Joel (1949- ) Singer, Songwriter
Jessica Lange (1949- ) Actress
Bill O’Reilly (1949- ) TV Commentator
Meryl Streep (1949- ) Actress
John W. Thompson (1949- ) CEO Symantec Corporation
John Chambers (1950- ) CEO Cisco Systems
Jeffrey Katzenberg (1950- ) Entertainment Executive
Jay Leno (1950- ) TV Talk Show Host
Bill Murray (1950- ) Actor, Comedian
Nora Roberts (1950- ) Author
Tim Russert (1950- ) TV Journalist, “Meet the Press” Moderator
Stevie Wonder (1950- ) Singer, Songwriter
Dale Earnhardt (1951-2001) NASCAR Driver
Richard Fairbank (1951- ) CEO Capital One Financial
Rush Limbaugh (1951- ) Political Commentator
Sally K. Ride (1951- ) First Woman Astronaut in Space
Jesse Ventura (1951- ) Professional Wrestler, Governor of Minnesota
William Kristol (1952- ) Editor Columnist
Rodney Mott (1952- ) CEO International Steel Group
Paul Allen (1953- ) Entrepreneur, Billionaire
Anne Mulcahy (1953- ) CEO Xerox
David Novak (1953- ) CEO Yum Brands
Kevin Rollins (1953- ) CEO Dell Computers
Antonio Villaraigosa (1953- ) Mayor of Los Angeles
Brenda Barnes (1953- ) CEO Sara Lee
Matt Groening (1954- ) Creator of “The Simpsons”
Ron Howard (1954- ) Movie Director, Actor
Michael Moore (1954- ) Moviemaker, Political Activist
Walter Payton (1954- ) NFL Player
Condoleezza Rice (1954- ) National Security Advisor, Secretary of State
Jerry Seinfeld (1954- ) Comedian, Actor
Howard Stern (1954- ) Radio Personality
John Travolta (1954- ) Actor
Rick Warren (1954- ) Minister, Bestselling Author
Denzel Washington (1954- ) Actor
Oprah Winfrey (1954- ) TV Talk Show Host, Actress, Businesswoman
Kevin Costner (1955- ) Actor
William Gates (1955- ) Microsoft Founder and CEO
Alberto Gonzales (1955- ) First Hispanic US Attorney General
Edwin Moses (1955- ) Track and Field Athlete
John G. Roberts (1955- ) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Steven Jobs (1955- ) Apple Computer Exec., Pixar Exec.
Eric E. Schmidt (1955- ) Google Chairman and CEO
David Copperfield (1956- ) Magician
Julie Gerberding (1956- ) Director of Center for Disease Control
Mel Gibson (1956- ) Actor, Director
Tom Hanks (1956- ) Actor
Sugar Ray Leonard (1956- ) Boxer
Joe Montana (1956- ) NFL Quarterback
Meg Whitman (1956- ) Ebay President and CEO
Katie Couric (1957- ) TV Journalist, NBC Morning Editor
Spike Lee (1957- ) Film Director
Russell Simmons (1957- ) Record Producer, Def Jam Records
Steve Case (1958- ) AOL Time-Warner CEO
Ellen Degeneres (1958- ) TV Talk Show Host
Michael Jackson (1958- ) Singer
Madonna (1958- ) Singer, Actress
Prince (1958- ) Singer
John McEnroe (1959- ) Tennis Player
John Wilder (1959- ) CEO TXU
Brian Williams (1959- ) NBC News Anchor
John Elway (1960- ) NFL Quarterback
Cal Ripken, Jr. (1960- ) Baseball Player