“Okay, Boomer”. You’ve probably heard that phrase a million times, usually used to mock old people. But what exactly does Boomer – or the term it came from, Baby Boomers – mean? Are they really as out of touch with modern society as the common usage implies?
Find out more about Baby Boomers in this article! We’ll cover everything you need to know about this generation, from their origins to the historical events that shaped them.
Why Are They Called Baby Boomers?
So, why are they called the Baby Boomers, anyway? You may be curious about how the term came about and why it was used to refer to an entire generation.
The generation name came from the term “baby boom”, a period where many babies were born. The post-World War II baby boom became the generation’s name since the annual birth rate was especially high during those few years. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were 76 million Baby Boomers in America as of 2019, making them the largest generational cohort of all time, with Millennials trailing closely behind.
The massive population bump was first described as a “boom” by reporters in 1951. However, the term “Baby Boomer” was first recorded in a 1963 Daily Press article when the earliest Boomers came of age.
While Baby Boomers are mostly used to refer to America’s second-largest generational group, other countries also use the term similarly. However, the cultural and demographic context may differ from America’s Boomers.
How Long Did The Baby Boomer Generation Last?
Most of the Baby Boomer generation were Americans born shortly after WWII to either Silent Generation or Greatest Generation parents. However, different people have different birth years for this generation. There are two date ranges commonly cited to be the birth years of Baby Boomers:
- Merriam-Webster, Pew Research Center, and the United States Census Bureau used the widely-accepted range of 1946 to 1964.
- William Strauss & Neil Howe defined Baby Boomers as people born between 1943 and 1960.
Americans sometimes divide Baby Boomers into two more specific age groups:
- Leading-Edge Baby Boomers: The age range of Boomers that were born from 1946 to 1955, coming of age in time to witness the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement
- Late Boomers/Trailing-Edge Boomers: Younger Boomers born from 1956 to 1964, who came of age in post-Vietnam America and witnessed the Watergate scandal
Today, the oldest Boomers would be in their mid-70s, while the younger group of Boomers would be in their late-50s. In terms of generational relations, Baby Boomers came after Generation Silent and preceded Generation X.
Causes Of The Baby Boom
The middle of the 20th century saw a marked increase in fertility rates worldwide, especially in the West. Several factors caused people in post-World War II times to have more children. Here are four of the most commonly-cited causes for the baby boom generation.
Soldiers Wanted to Have Families
Many soldiers who fought in the war were young men who decided to hold off on marriage until they came back home. Once they did, they returned to their lovers with a renewed motivation to start families.
The increase in birth rates made it immediately clear. North American births in 1946 jumped from 222,721 in January to 339,499 in October. By the end of the 40s, 32 million babies were born – about one-third higher than the 24 million born in the 30s.
Increased Government And Healthcare Support
The United States government also had major contributions to this baby boom. Not only did they encourage people to start families and have kids, but they also provided programs that facilitated it.
For instance, Congress passed the G.I. Bill of Rights that gave military veterans more economic and educational opportunities. The increased support for homeownership and higher education encouraged veterans from previous generations to settle down and start families.
The advance in medical science also supported the baby boom. The marriage age among women went down from 22 to 20, signifying an eagerness in starting families because childbirth was much less risky than before.
After the economic uncertainty of the Great Depression and World War II, postwar America felt like a breath of fresh air for many. The economy was finally improving and hopes were high compared to just a decade ago. This hope for the future led to the increased desire in raising children.
However, this theory was called into doubt when the “baby bust” happened in the 1960s and 1970s. Boomers had fewer children compared to their parents, leading to the smaller Generation X.
Popular culture started becoming even more accessible to the public in postwar America. Since most mainstream media at the time extolled the virtues of marriage, pregnancy, and parenthood, many people were influenced to start families.
Many women at the time also decided to leave their jobs to have kids. This was likely caused by the optimism in the country’s economic state as well as the confidence that a family can be supported just by the father’s income.
Characteristics Of The Baby Boomer Generation
While it’s impossible to generalize more than 70 million people, witnessing the same events happening in the world around them may have shaped many Baby Boomers’ worldviews similarly. Here are some of the characteristics that Baby Boomers are most known for.
This generation grew up on the classic American Dream of middle-class people: A nice home away from urban areas, a loving family, and a job that can comfortably support them.
To achieve this, they knew they had to work hard. With this goal in mind, Boomers kept pushing themselves at work to finally achieve this ideal life.
Values Personal And Professional Relationships
Growing up, Boomers were usually surrounded by family members and friends. The economic prosperity, rise of labor unions, and increasing labor laws meant their parents had more free time and usually decided to spend it with their families. Many Baby Boomers lived in close-knit suburban communities and neighborhood gatherings were fairly common.
As Baby Boomers grew into adulthood, living with the company of friends and family taught them to value others. When they become parents themselves, many boomers put family first, often arranging family trips and gatherings with the neighbors. Many of them also decided to take care of their aging parents themselves instead of sending them to retirement communities.
This sense of community also extended to the workplace. As older adults, Boomers consider their jobs as a defining characteristic. If they had been with a company for a long time, they’d likely make it part of their identity – taking pride in how long they’ve been there as well as their accomplishments.
Boomers also tend to stay in the workforce longer. 53% of Baby Boomers are still actively working in 2018. Comparatively, only 44% of the Silent Generation were actively working at the same age.
Boomers came of age at the height of scientific and technological advancements. Between the proliferation of computers, Space-Age materials, and digital recording technology, the world was changing right in front of the Boomers.
With this technological boom and the improving economy, Boomers won’t settle for anything less than best – even in consumer spending. They’re more than willing to shell out more cash if it means getting the highest-quality product.
Self-Assured And Self-Sufficient
A boomer’s penchant for hard work translates into confidence in their abilities and makes them less prone to peer pressure. Moreover, seeing what humanity can achieve by working hard together only boosts this confidence even more. They often believe that hard work can solve any problem and give them a better life, leading to their go-getter attitude and independence.
Most Baby Boomers also put independence and self-sufficiency as one of the most important things to achieve. Boomers strive to gain homeownership and pay off their vehicle’s credit so they don’t have to owe money to banks anymore.
Even when they reach retirement age, many Boomers don’t really retire. Instead of making major purchases for pleasure’s sake, many used the money they saved in retirement accounts to move to small towns so they could provide employment or education opportunities to the community.
As the second-largest generation of all time, a Boomer had to compete for the best opportunities from elementary school all the way to adulthood. Whether it’s in the education system, in the workplace, or society at large, most Boomers had to fight tooth and nail to get the spots they wanted.
This culture of having to compete for everything good in life instilled the belief that they had to be first at everything – second place was never an option.
Historical Landmarks For Baby Boomers
Like older generations, Baby Boomers were shaped by the world around them. Coming of age in the 60s and 70s, Baby Boomers were witnesses to a lot of events that eventually shaped their worldviews as older adults. Here are some major events that the Boomers had front-row seats for:
The Vietnam War And The Cold War
Most Boomers were old enough to see the Cold War and the Vietnam War at their height. Some other Boomers even came of age in time to catch the tail end of the Korean War. When Vietnam rolled around, many of them even ended up being drafted to become soldiers. In total, the Vietnam draft resulted in the recruitment of over two million soldiers between 1965 and 1972.
Since this conflict was a very controversial one, some Boomers decided to participate instead in anti-war movements and protests.
The Moon Landing
One of the heights of human achievement happened when Boomers came of age. When humankind first landed on the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission, it marked a new age of technology that gave Boomers a renewed hope for the future and the generations to come.
Major Scientific And Civic Advancements
Technological development was an integral part of a Baby Boomer’s young adulthood. They were born in the era of black-and-white TVs but also witnessed the birth of color television. Some older Boomers were even old enough to use the earliest mobile devices. Technological innovators Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both born in 1955, were younger Boomers themselves.
Another great achievement came in the form of civic advancements and legal equality. Boomers were first-hand witnesses to the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the end of African-American segregation. Due to the influence of civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr and Muhammad Ali, Boomers were generally more tolerant compared to other generations that came before them.
While Boomers are usually the subject of ridicule from today’s Millennials and Generation Z, there are so many things we can learn from them. They lived through so many events that not only changed America but the entire world as a whole.
Reconnecting with your Baby Boomer relatives can be a great way to learn more about history – and maybe even find a way to combine their knowledge with those of younger generations to develop the future.
A great way to know more about your Baby Boomer relatives is by looking through their old photos. However, old photos are prone to damage, especially if they’ve been kept in an album for decades. This is where Image Restoration Center can help. Contact us today for fast and affordable photo restorations!