The Baby Boomer Generation
From now until 2030, 10,000 Baby Boomers each day will hit retirement age. Millions will begin to officially retire, collect social security checks and go on Medicare. Other Boomers will keep on working either out of financial necessity or out of some less tangible need like identity and self-worth.
In the several decades prior to the Boom, babies in the U.S. were born at a rate of about 2.5 million a year. Then in 1946, this rate exploded to 3.4 million and maintained this pace for the next few decades. The peak years were 1957 and 1961 with 4.3 million births a year. In all, these years produced about 76 million Baby Boomers. The official retirement age to receive a Social Security check is 62. At 65, you’ll automatically receive Medicare which covers basic health care at 80%. If you wait to retire until you’re 67, your benefit will be about 30% higher than at 62. Wait another three years to retire and you could receive a 75% bigger check. It certainly pays to wait.
Are you a Baby Boomer or do you have a loved one that is? This generation was one of the largest in American history, and it is perhaps one of the most important right now when it comes to senior living. This group of people has very unique personalities, and their life histories are vastly different than today’s younger generation. Here’s a closer look at who they are and what they stand for.
The Baby Boom
The “baby boom” period defined and gave people born in this generation the name “baby boomers.” The baby boom phenomenon in the United States was a sharp rise in birth rates soon after World War II, beginning in 1946 where a record was broken for the highest ever number of births in a calendar year in U.S. history. Around 3.4 million births were recorded during the year.
The trend was only beginning, as higher births continued to be recorded until 1964. Between three million to four million births were recorded annually during the period. The U.S. baby-boom population was about 72.5 million in 1964 and peaked at 78.5 million in 1999 by including immigrants to the U.S. born in the same period. It was the largest generational cohort before being overtaken by millennials.
- Soldiers returning from the war came back home with a zeal to start families and raise children after holding off on marriage until after the war.
- The improved economic position of the United States soon after the war encouraged raising more children.
- The U.S. government encouraged the growth of families after the war.
- The effects of the war and the Great Depression had started to subside such that people were more hopeful and optimistic of a better future for their families.
- Popular culture, which was gaining significance after the war, glorified marriage, pregnancy, and parenthood.
- The passing of the G.I. Bill of Rights by the U.S. Congress gave American veterans economic and educational opportunities, which supported them in pursuing higher education and homeownership at very low interest rates on loans.
- Soon after the war, the increased safety with childbirths was also a credible cause, as the average marriage age of women decreased from 22 to 20.
- The high urbanization rate and the low cost of living in the city and suburbs encouraged starting families after moving to these areas.
- The availability of credit spurred borrowing and enabled support for large families.
Clearly, Late Boomers are a complex species. I called another person with a December 31, 1964, birthday — Shannon Borg, a poet, author and wine writer living in the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. “I grew up as the youngest boomer,” she writes, “in a house full of them.” (Being a writer, she prefers to answer via email.) According to Shannon, boomers “took much of the promise of post-WWII Earth and frittered it away around the world.” But she also credits them for making “a totally new paradigm for what it is to be an American.”
Baby boom — good or evil? Shannon won’t play that game; she resists my efforts to pin down her generational allegiances: “What polarizes us is the labeling and categorizing into increasingly small boxes. Us against them. Right versus left. This generation versus that. It makes good journalism, but bad politics.”
My next call was to a man in the Midwest, born at 11:29 p.m. on that December 31. I’ll call him Max. He didn’t want his name used, and can’t fathom why I’m doing a story on the Last Boomers. “I don’t think it has much meaning.” I press him. “People my age don’t think about it much.” Didn’t the baby boom have any impact? He allows that he remembers a little of the “feeling of the ’60s.” Which was? “Anything goes.” Max went into the military.
In the late 1960s, there was indeed a short period of anything goes. Then everything went. Now it’s the Republicans who remember Woodstock. And yet, the world is inarguably a very different place from what it was when the Greatest Generation ran it, and the Last Boomers are part of that transformation — even if they prefer not to admit it.
Finally, I reached out to a man who has a strong claim to being the very last Last Boomer. He was born minutes before midnight in America’s westernmost time zone. But all attempts to contact him — by phone, email and social media — were met with gnomic silence.
So I stalked him on Facebook. I’ll call him Ace, after Ace Frehley, ex-guitarist in Kiss. This Ace is a heavy metal drummer, and Kiss is his favorite band. I found an album recorded by our Ace’s band in the late 1990s. It was weightily heavy and metallically metal. But Ace’s Facebook presence is modest — tributes to other bands, snapshots from his relationship with an attractive woman, pictures of cats.
A lover of loud music leading a quiet and kitty-filled life, a performer in an exhibitionist genre who skips an opportunity to exhibit himself — perhaps Ace, whoever he is, embodies the contradictions of the Last Boomers. They’re like the quiet youngest child in a big family of loudmouth older siblings. They grew up in the baby boom universe and take it for granted. They may not know that there was ever another cosmos.
No Going Back
Now imagine dropping a Last Boomer into the Greatest Generation galaxy, the one those big siblings saw. Where it’s considered innately hilarious on TV to be black (The Amos ‘n Andy Show) or gay (Percy Dovetonsils on The Ernie Kovacs Show) or a woman who doesn’t want to stay home (I Love Lucy). Where Masters and Johnson just discovered sex, cigarettes are aerobic and spanking is sanctioned at home, school and — if patting secretary derrieres counts — office. It was a veritable hellscape of inappropriate behavior and wrongheaded social norms. And the older boomers destroyed it utterly.
Let’s look at one more Last Boomer. Barack Obama, born on August 4, 1961, is among the “first of the last.” He had fun, then got serious. He had ideals and — agree with the ideals or not — still has them. He works steadily and (for a politician) quietly to achieve his goals, unlike some older boomers (me) who preferred to just make idealistic noise. He’s got that boomer charisma, but he’s a little aloof. It’s very hard to imagine him at Woodstock. But I bet he at least knows what it was.