What Is The Silent Generation: The 1920s-1940s Kids

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Many of you may have heard the term “Silent Generation” being used in the media. Some people also call them the Forgotten Generation, because many of them were too young to fight in World War II but too old to be hippies – two major historical events that defined the preceding and succeeding generations.

However, despite their “silence” in history, there’s so much you can learn about this generation. In this article, we’ll cover everything about what it means to be part of the oldest generation alive today!

Why Is It Called The Silent Generation?

The Silent Generation gained its name from several possible sources. 

One of the most popular origins for the generation’s name came from a Time Magazine article in 1951, titled “The Younger Generation”. This article talked about how the current younger generation is much quieter, a comparatively small flame unlike their parents, the Flaming Youth of the Greatest Generation. 

Some people also posited that the Silent Generation got its name from the way the older generation raised them. Many parents from the previous generation adopted the “children should be seen and not heard” philosophy of parenting, which may have contributed to their silence in history compared to other generations.

Yet another reason for this generation’s name came from their hesitancy to speak out due to McCarthyism. Many of the Silent Generation became young adults in a time when people would throw around unfounded accusations of treason and subversion. This caused them to be afraid to voice any opinions that went against the grain or offended the previous generation, in fear of being accused of being a communist. 

Some other common names for this generation included “Radio Babies” because they were born when listening to the evening radio was a favorite family pastime, as well as the “Lucky Few” because they grew into adulthood in the relatively stable and prosperous economy of the 1950s and 1960s.

How Long Did The Silent Generation Last?

Generational lengths aren’t an exact science, so different organizations define the birth years of the Silent Generation differently. Here are three commonly-used birth years for this generation:

  • The Pew Research Center puts the Silent Generation as being born from 1928 to 1945.
  • The Resolution Foundation defined the Silent Generation as people born from 1926 to 1945 in one of their reports. 
  • Authors William Strauss & Neil Howe, founders of the Fourth Turning generational theory, used the birth years 1925 – 1942.

While the specific years may be different, it can be agreed upon that the Silent Generation consisted of people born in the late 20s until the early to mid-40s. Today, this puts most of them at being around their late 70s, while their oldest members would be in their mid-90s. 

Many Silents married and had children at a young age, which puts their children in the Baby Boomers category. However, younger Silents or those who married later in life became parents of Generation X.

Notable Characteristics Of The Silent Generation

Like older and younger generations, members of the Silent Generation grew up in roughly the same time period. Since their lives were influenced by identical events, many of them share several similar traits and worldviews. Here are six of the most notable characteristics of the Silent Generation.

Thrifty

Most of the Silent Generation were born and raised between the Great Depression and World War II. These were times of hardship and economic uncertainty – their parents had to tighten their belts to keep their families afloat. 

Growing up in a time of depression where every penny counted, the Silents are incredibly thrifty. Silents are known to maximize their property’s lifespan, not replacing things until they fully break down to “get their money’s worth”. However, this characteristic can sometimes lead to detrimental acts like hoarding and being overly stingy.

Respectful Of Authority And Leadership

Members of the Silent Generation were mostly raised in a paternalistic environment by the older generation, which taught them to respect authority and the system. Whether it’s in the workplace or at home, they highly value conformity and rarely ruffle feathers or start conflicts with other generations. 

This deep respect for the previous generation became a defining characteristic of Silents, and they expect the same from today’s younger generation – especially their children.

Loyal

Loyalty in all aspects of life is one of the key characteristics of Silents. They’re highly loyal to their family and their religious beliefs, as well as their workplace. In fact, Silents rarely leave their jobs and can keep working for the same employer for almost their entire careers, satisfied with the status quo. 

However, Silents are also forward-thinking and can be critical to their employers. One of the most common questions asked in job interviews is about pension plans. This characteristic shows that they’ll only give their loyalty to people who are in turn loyal to them and their future children.

Determined

Sandwiched between two of the most difficult times in history, most Silents have learned to survive and even thrive in adversity. Whatever their goals are, they’re more than prepared to put in the work to achieve them. Even if they’re stuck in a workplace they don’t like, they’ll still do their best to perform well and achieve success.

Hardworking

Growing up in hard times, the Silents learned that hard work and commitment bring success in life. Since many of them grew up during the Great Depression, they strived to create their financial security and comfort through hard work. 

This habit of working fairly hard resulted in them becoming the wealthiest generation of seniors ever according to Forbes, with 1.3 times the median net worth of Baby Boomers. The Silents also made up the most successful college class in history: Harvard’s MBA Class of 1949.

In the workplace, Silents also expect the same characteristics from other generations. They tend to put very high importance on their colleagues’ strong work ethic and reliability.

Traditional

Members of the Silent Generation grew up in a time where “acting out” can land a person in trouble, in stark contrast to their Boomer and Generation X children. Many of this generation believed in playing it safe. Most Silents followed every “rule” in society and lived like most Americans at the time do – working hard, marrying young, having children, and buying a nice house in the suburbs. 

However, the trend of marrying as young adults sometimes worked against the Silents. Due to the reduced social stigma of divorce and reformed marriage laws, many of the Silents who married young ended up divorcing their spouses when it was legalized.

Historical Landmarks For The Silent Generation

The Silent Generation was born too early to experience the Great Depression and World War II firsthand, but the 50s and 60s had no shortage of historical moments. Here are some major historical events that the Silent Generation witnessed and likely helped create their worldview.

The Korean War

While they were too young to witness World War II, the Silents were there to witness the Korean War firsthand. In fact, most of the soldiers who fought there were Silents. 

Even if the conflict is sometimes called “The Forgotten War”, the Silents have not forgotten it. This war was one of the things that raised tensions between America and the Soviet Union, and many soldiers lost their lives there.

McCarthyism & The Red Scare

The word “McCarthyism” originated from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who held hearings about exposing alleged communist influences in the United States government. 

The Red Scare was at its height during this time, and many people suspected that their neighbors or coworkers were secretly communist spies. McCarthy’s name then became synonymous with accusing someone without any solid evidence. 

The fear-mongering during this era led to people being forced to conform in every aspect of society. Since being accused of being communists could have landed someone in prison, the Silent Generation entering early adulthood in this era tended to say almost nothing against the system to avoid attracting attention.

The Civil Rights Movement

Not all members of this generation were silent. The Civil Rights Movement was one of the major exceptions of Silents being outspoken. This movement championed the cause of change and equality, seeking to end segregation and give equal rights to minorities. 

Many of the figureheads of this movement were Silents. For example, one of the movement’s most famous leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr was born in 1929. The Little Rock Nine students who championed school integration were also born in the early 1940s, being younger members of the Silent Generation.

The Dust Bowl

One of the events that many members of this generation experienced during their childhood is the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl was a period of massive dust storms that heavily impacted American prairies between 1934 and 1940. This drought brought many hardships, especially to Silents who grew up in farming communities.

The families in towns hit by droughts had to be frugal and make do with what they had. However, this period also saw communities banding together to help each other. From this event, we can see how the young people at the time became thrifty individuals who put their communities first and foremost.

Start Of The Space Age

Another event that left a permanent mark in the Silent Generation psyche is the Space Age. This period of competition between America and the Soviet Union began with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. From then on, both world superpowers kept trying to outdo each other in space exploration and technological innovation.

Eventually, the Silents took on a large role in this race. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the three people who landed on the moon with Apollo 11 were all part of the Silent Generation.

Closing Thoughts

While their name may say otherwise, the Silent Generation has been through a lot. From the dark times of the Red Scare to the heights of human achievement in the Space Age, many events colored the youth and adulthood of the Silent Generation. 

If you’re trying to reconnect with a Silent Generation relative, you can bring them old photos to start the conversation. However, if these photos are damaged from years of wear and tear, you need to restore them first. Contact Image Restoration Center for affordable world-class photo restorations!

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