The Rise and Fall of Baby Boomers
The stock of my generation has fallen precipitously.
Posted September 27, 2021 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- The reputation and status of baby boomers have recently fallen.
- Baby boomers are being held responsible for causing many of the world's problems.
- But baby boomers are not the bad generation many believe them to be.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, in fact, baby boomers were considered the kings of the cultural hill. Their record spoke for itself. After an adventurous youth, boomers had settled down nicely, leading the nation to become possibly the richest and most powerful civilization in history. By the turn of the century and millennium, the boomer generation was at the top of its game, deservedly recognized as the principal players in economic, social, and political circles.
But then something happened. In America, youth always wins the day, and the offspring of baby boomers—millennials—began to steal much of their parents’ thunder. Millennials usurped boomers as the largest generation in history, and the former’s sheer numbers carried much social currency. Running parallel with this demographic changing of the guard was the meteoric ascent of digital technology. Just as boomers were in the right place at the right time when the economic boom of the 1980s kicked in, so were millennials ideally positioned when the online universe changed life as we know it.
The decreasing popularity of baby boomers
Now, with baby boomers in their third act of life (they currently range in age from 57 to 75), the generation’s perceived worth has taken a major tumble. Blamed for having caused most of the world’s problems and considered generally clueless regarding contemporary thought and goings-on, boomers have become nothing less than the laughingstock of the United States and much of the world. Even the term “boomer,” which was once admired (much like “American”), is deemed toxic, making it somewhat embarrassing to be a member of the generation.
The irony in baby boomers’ recent devaluation is that we are better people than we were when we were younger. Research shows that age and experience bring humanistic values such as patience, empathy, and wisdom, and our march up Maslow’s hierarchy towards self-actualization makes us more valuable members of society than when we were in our physical prime. This makes the current downgrading and demotion of boomers all the more unfortunate.
Why the poor reputation of baby boomers may be undeserved
I have long defended baby boomers’ reputation, pointing out that we did not sabotage the future for younger generations, arguing that our own large numbers and collective wealth have made us a convenient target for the sorry state of the world. Everything from the skyrocketing cost of health care to global warming is our fault, Gen Xers and millennials have told me, and now we are being held responsible for the inability of a 30-something to buy a house. (It turns out most of us want to stay in our homes rather than move to a condo in Del Boca Vista.)
I have also pointed out the many achievements of baby boomers over the past three-quarters of a century. Growing up in the forward-looking postwar years, boomers were cast as a kind of chosen people, expected to accomplish great things in life. I think we did just that. The Greatest Generation may have survived the Great Depression and won World War II, but we led a countercultural revolution grounded in the noble ideals of peace and justice, made the country a much more equal society in terms of race and gender, and are now giving away trillions of dollars to causes in which we believe (including our children and grandchildren).
As well, I am quick to concede that, like any generation, baby boomers have much not to be proud of. After our rather brief movement to change the world for the better, many of us jumped on the career merry-go-round with haste, prioritizing the acquisition of money and the (mostly needless) things it can buy. We not just created but perfected the concept of conspicuous consumption, not realizing or caring that it is an unsustainable proposition and ultimately an unsatisfying pursuit. Today I’m deeply disappointed that my fellow boomers have not taken on the challenge of ageism in any real way. It’s a golden age of activism, and most 50-, 60-, and 70-somethings are sitting on the sidelines rather than trying to defeat what has been called “the last openly tolerated form of discrimination.”
Still, I’m proud of being an American baby boomer, and I’ll continue to be a voice of the generation. There are still 70 million of us out there (the 10 or so million who have died have been mostly replaced by immigrants who fall into the cohort), and the actuaries say that the majority of us are going to be around for the next two or three decades.
My hope is that over time, younger adults begin to view the generation born in the post-World War II years in a broad historical context and, by doing so, not hate us so much for doing the things we did. Boomers had their own “generation gap,” some might recall, and I think it’s fair to say that we eventually came to understand and even appreciate the choices our parents made in their own time.
Samuel, Lawrence R. (2017). Boomers 3.0: Marketing to Baby Boomers in Their Third Act of Life. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.