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|Major generations of the Western world|
Timeline of major demographic cohorts since the late-nineteenth century with approximate dates and ages
Baby boomers are the demographic cohort following the Silent Generation and preceding Generation X. The generation is generally defined as people born from 1946 to 1964, during the post–World War II baby boom. The baby boom has been described variously as a "shockwave" and as "the pig in the python." Baby boomers are often parents of late Gen Xers and Millennials.
In the 1960s and 1970s, in the West, as this relatively large number of young people entered their teens and young adulthood—the oldest turned 18 in 1964—they, and those around them, created a very specific rhetoric around their cohort and the changes brought about by their size in numbers, such as the counterculture of the 1960s. In China during the same period, the baby boomers lived through the Cultural Revolution and were subject to the one-child policy as adults. This rhetoric had an important impact in the perceptions of the boomers, as well as society's increasingly common tendency to define the world in terms of generations, which was a relatively new phenomenon. In Europe and North America, many boomers came of age in a time of increasing affluence and widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and grew up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.
In the 2020s, baby boomers in developed countries, with a few exceptions, are the single biggest cohort in their societies due to sub-replacement fertility and population aging.
The term baby boom refers to a noticeable increase in the birth rate. The post-World War II population increase was described as a "boom" by various newspaper reporters, including Sylvia F. Porter in a column in the May 4, 1951, edition of the New York Post, based on the increase of 2,357,000 in the population of the U.S. in 1950.
The first recorded use of "baby boomer" is in a January 1963 Daily Press article describing a massive surge of college enrollments approaching as the oldest boomers were coming of age. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern meaning of the term to a January 23, 1970, article in The Washington Post.
Date range and definitions
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "baby boomer" as "a person born during a period of time in which there is a marked rise in a population's birthrate", "usually considered to be in the years from 1946 to 1964". Pew Research Center defines baby boomers as being born between 1946 and 1964. The United States Census Bureau defines baby boomers as "individuals born in the United States between mid-1946 and mid-1964." The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the "post-World War II baby-boom generation" as those born between 1946 and 1964, as does the Federal Reserve Board which uses 1946–1964 to define baby boomers. Gallup defines baby boomers as those born from 1946 through 1964.
In the US, the generation can be segmented into two broadly defined cohorts: the "Leading-Edge Baby Boomers" are individuals born between 1946 and 1955, those who came of age during the Vietnam War era. This group represents slightly more than half of the generation, or roughly 38,002,000 people of all races. The other half of the generation, called the "Late Boomers" or "Trailing-Edge Boomers", was born between 1956 and 1964. This second cohort includes about 37,818,000 individuals, according to Live Births by Age and Mother and Race, 1933–98, published by the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics.
In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines baby boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964, as well as the Australia's Social Research Center which defines baby boomers as born between 1946 and 1964. Bernard Salt places the Australian baby boom between 1946 and 1961.
Various authors have delimited the baby boom period differently. Landon Jones, in his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation (1980), defined the span of the baby-boom generation as extending from 1946 through 1964. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their 1991 book Generations, define the social generation of boomers as that cohort born from 1943 to 1960, who were too young to have any personal memory of World War II, but old enough to remember the postwar American High before John F. Kennedy's assassination. In Ontario, Canada, David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the 21st century (1997), defined a Canadian boomer as someone born from 1947 to 1966, the years in which more than 400,000 babies were born. However, he acknowledges that that is a demographic definition, and that culturally, it may not be as clear-cut.
Doug Owram argues that the Canadian boom took place from 1946 to 1962, but that culturally boomers everywhere were born between the late war years and about 1955 or 1956. He notes that those born in the years before the actual boom were often the most influential people among boomers: for example, musicians such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, as well as writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who were either slightly or vastly older than the boomer generation. Those born in the 1960s might feel disconnected from the cultural identifiers of the earlier boomers.
However, many people born in the 1950s and 1960s do not identify as baby boomers, but rather as Generation Jones (1954–1965), citing different experiences in life than the boomers. The American term "Generation Jones" is sometimes used to describe those born roughly between 1954 and 1965. The term is typically used to refer to the later years of the baby boomer cohort and the early years of Generation X.
China's baby boom cohort is the largest in the world. According to journalist and photographer Howard French, who spent many years in China, many Chinese neighborhoods were, by the mid-2010s, disproportionately filled with the elderly, who the Chinese themselves referred to as a "lost generation" who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when higher education was discouraged and large numbers of people were sent to the countryside for political reasons. As China's baby boomers retire in the late-2010s and onward, the people replacing in the workforce will be a much smaller cohort thanks to the one-child policy. Consequently, China's central government faces a stark economic trade-off between "cane and butter"—how much to spend on social welfare programs such as state pensions to support the elderly and how much to spend in the military to achieve the nation's geopolitical objectives.
According to the National Development Council of Taiwan (NDC), the nation's population could start shrinking by 2022 and the number of people of working age could fall 10% by 2027. About half of Taiwanese would be aged 50 or over by 2034. At the current rate, Taiwan is set to transition from an aged to super-aged society, where 21% of the population is over 65 years of age, in eight years, compared to seven years for Singapore, eight years for South Korea, 11 years for Japan, 14 for the United States, 29 for France, and 51 for the United Kingdom.
Japan at present has one of the oldest population in the world and persistently sub-replacement fertility, currently 1.4 per woman. Japan's population peaked in 2017. Forecasts suggest that the elderly will comprise 35% of Japan's population by 2040. As of 2018, Japan was already a super-aged society, with 27% of its people being older than 65 years. According to government data, Japan's total fertility rate was 1.43 in 2017. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with a median age of 47 years in 2017.
A baby boom occurred in the aftermath of the Korean War, and the government subsequently encouraged people to have no more than two children per couple. As a result, South Korea's fertility has been falling ever since.
From about 1750 to 1950, Western Europe transitioned from having both high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates. By the late 1960s or 1970s, the average woman had fewer than two children, and, although demographers at first expected a "correction," such a rebound never came. Despite a bump in the total fertility rates (TFR) of some European countries in the very late twentieth century (the 1980s and 1990s), especially France and Scandinavia, they never returned to replacement level; the bump was largely due to older women realizing their dreams of motherhood. Member states of the European Economic Community saw a steady increase in not just divorce and out-of-wedlock births between 1960 and 1985 but also falling fertility rates. In 1981, a survey of countries across the industrialized world found that while more than half of people aged 65 and over thought that women needed children to be fulfilled, only 35% of those between the ages of 15 to 24 (younger Baby Boomers and older Generation X) agreed. Falling fertility was due to urbanization and decreased infant mortality rates, which diminished the benefits and increased the costs of raising children. In other words, it became more economically sensible to invest more in fewer children, as economist Gary Becker argued. (This is the first demographic transition.) By the 1960s, people began moving from traditional and communal values towards more expressive and individualistic outlooks due to access to and aspiration of higher education, and to the spread of lifestyle values once practiced only by a tiny minority of cultural elites. (This is the second demographic transition.)
At the start of the twenty-first century, Europe suffers from an aging population. This problem is especially acute in Eastern Europe, whereas in Western Europe, it is alleviated by international immigration. Researches by the demographers and political scientists Eric Kaufmann, Roger Eatwell, and Matthew Goodwin suggest that such immigration-induced ethno-demographic change is one of the key reasons behind public backlash in the form of national populism across the rich liberal democracies, an example of which is the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum (Brexit).
In 2018, 19.70% of the population the European Union as a whole was at least 65 years old. The median age of all 28 members of the bloc, including the United Kingdom which recently decided to leave, was 43 years in 2019. It was about 29 in the 1950s, when there were just six members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Like all other inhabited continents, Europe saw significant population growth in the late twentieth century. However, Europe's growth is projected to halt by the early 2020s due to falling fertility rates and an aging population. In 2015, a woman living in the European Union had on average 1.5 children, down from 2.6 in 1960. Although the E.U. continues to experience a net influx of immigrants, this is not enough to balance out the low fertility rates. In 2017, the median age was 53.1 years in Monaco, 45 in Germany and Italy, 43 in Greece, Bulgaria, and Portugal, making them some of the oldest countries in the world besides Japan and Bermuda. They are followed by Austria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Spain, whose median age was 43.
By the mid-2010s, sub-replacement fertility and growing life expectancy mean that Canada had an aging population. Statistics Canada reported in 2015 that for the first time in Canadian history, there were more people aged 65 and over then people below the age of 15. One in six Canadians were above the age of 65 in July 2015. Projections by Statistics Canada suggest this gap will only increase in the 40 years. Economist and demographer David Foot from the University of Toronto told the CBC policymakers have ignored this trend for decades. With the massive baby boom generation entering retirement, economic growth will be slower and demand for social support will rise. This will significantly alter the Canadian economy. Nevertheless, Canada remained the second youngest G7 nation, as of 2015.
Historically, the early Anglo-Protestant settlers in the seventeenth century were the most successful group, culturally, economically, and politically, and they maintained their dominance till the early twentieth century. Commitment to the ideals of the Enlightenment meant that they sought to assimilate newcomers from outside of the British Isles, but few were interested in adopting a pan-European identity for the nation, much less turning it into a global melting pot. But in the early 1900s, liberal progressives and modernists began promoting more inclusive ideals for what the national identity of the United States should be. While the more traditionalist segments of society continued to maintain their Anglo-Protestant ethnocultural traditions, universalism and cosmopolitanism started gaining favor among the elites. These ideals became institutionalized after the Second World War, and ethnic minorities started moving towards institutional parity with the once dominant Anglo-Protestants. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Cellar Act), passed at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson, abolished national quotas for immigrants and replaced it with a system that admits a fixed number of persons per year based in qualities such as skills and the need for refuge. Immigration subsequently surged from elsewhere in North America (especially Canada and Mexico), Asia, Central America, and the West Indies. By the mid-1980s, most immigrants originated from Asia and Latin America. Some were refugees from Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and other parts of the Americas while others came illegally by crossing the long and largely undefended U.S.-Mexican border. Although Congress offered amnesty to "undocumented immigrants" who had been in the country for a long time and attempted to penalize employers who recruited them, their influx continued. At the same time, the postwar baby boom and subsequently falling fertility rate seemed to jeopardize America's social security system as the Baby Boomers retire in the early twenty-first century.
Using their own definition of baby boomers as people born between 1946 and 1964 and U.S. Census data, the Pew Research Center estimated there were 71.6 million boomers in the United States as of 2019. The age wave theory suggests an economic slowdown when the boomers started retiring during 2007–2009. Projections for the aging U.S. workforce suggest that by 2020, 25% of employees will be at least 55 years old.
In the 1980s, James R. Flynn and Richard Lynn examined psychometric data and discovered evidence that the IQ scores of Americans were increasing significantly between the early 1930s and late 1970s. On average, younger cohorts scored higher than their elders. This was confirmed by later studies and on data in other countries; the discovery became known as the Lynn-Flynn effect or simply the Flynn effect. However, the Flynn effect is not due to increases in general intelligence but rather because people were becoming more adept at specific tasks, especially in scientific or analytical thinking. This is due to having improved nutrition, higher literacy rates, better educational opportunities, and generally a more intellectually stimulating environment, all of which were made possible by rising standards of living. Put another way, the modern world forces people to put on what Flynn called "scientific spectacles" or think in more abstract ways and better prepare themselves for exams.
Flynn also discovered that back in the 1950s, the gap between the vocabulary levels of adults and children, especially "teenagers"—this word did not exist in 1950—was much smaller than it is in the early twenty-first century. He asserted that some of the reasons for this are the surge in interest in higher education and cultural changes. The number of Americans pursuing tertiary qualifications and cognitively demanding jobs has risen significantly since the 1950s. This boosted the level of vocabulary among adults. Back in the 1950s, children generally imitated their parents and adopted their vocabulary. This was no longer the case in the 2000s, when teenagers often developed their own subculture and as such were less likely to use adult-level vocabulary on their essays.
As adolescents and young adults
Education and economic prospects
After World War I, the goal primary education in the United States shifted from using schools to realize social change to employing them to promote emotional development. While it might have helped students improve their mental welfare, critics pointed to the de-emphasizing of traditional academic subjects leading to poor work habits and plain ignorance. Such a system became less and less tenable because society increasingly demanded rigorous education. In his book The American High School Today (1957), former Harvard president James B. Conant laid out his critique of the status quo. In particular, he pointed to the failure of English classes in teaching proper grammar and composition, the neglect of foreign languages, and the inability to meet the needs of gifted and slow students alike. People like Conant rose to prominence due to the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. As a matter of fact, the passages of the artificial satellite were recorded by the Boston newspapers and viewed with the naked eye from rooftops.
This surprising Soviet success demonstrated to the Americans that their education system had fallen behind. Life magazine reported that three quarters of American high-school students took no physics at all. The U.S. government realized it needed thousands of scientists and engineers to match the might of its ideological rival. On President Dwight D. Eisenhower's direct orders, science education underwent major reforms and the federal government started pouring enormous sums of money into not just education but also research and development. Private institutions, such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation provided funding for education, too. Authors felt inspired to cater to the physics textbook market, and one of the results was the Berkeley Physics Course, a series for undergraduates influenced by MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee, formed right before the launch of Sputnik. One of the most famous of textbooks from the Berkeley series is Electricity and Magnetism by Nobel laureate Edward Mills Purcell, which has gone through multiple editions and remains in print in the twenty-first century. Academic performance reclaimed its importance. At the same time, large numbers of young people desired to go to college due to population growth and the needs of society for specialized skills. Prestigious institutions were able to handpick the very best of students from massive pools of applications and consequently became the training centers for a growing class of cognitive elites. Indeed, the share of college graduates among 23-year-olds steadily rose after World War II, first due to veterans returning to civilian life and later due to people born after the war. In 1950, there were 2.6 million students in American institutions of higher learning. By 1970, that number was 8.6 million, and by 1980, it became 12 million. In the end, about a quarter of baby boomers had at least a bachelor's degree.
American physicist Herbert Callen observed that even though a survey conducted by the American Physical Society Committee on the Applications of Physics reported (in the Bulletin of the APS) in 1971 that industry leaders desired a greater emphasis on more practical subjects, such as thermodynamics as opposed to the more abstract statistical mechanics, academia subsequently went the other way. British physicist Paul Dirac, who had relocated to the United States in the 1970s, opined to his colleagues he doubted the wisdom of educating so many undergraduates in science when so many of them had neither the interest nor the aptitude. Quantitative historian Peter Turchin noted intensifying competition among graduates, whose numbers were larger than what the economy could absorb, a phenomenon he termed elite overproduction, led to political polarization, social fragmentation, and even violence as many became disgruntled with their dim prospects despite having attained a high level of education. Income inequality, stagnating or declining real wages, and growing public debt were contributory factors. Turchin argued that having a youth bulge and massive young population with university degrees were the key reasons for the instability of the 1960s and 1970s and predicted that the 2020s would see the pattern repeat itself. Having a youth bulge can be seen as one factor among many in explaining social unrest and uprisings in society.
Because the baby boomers were a huge demographic cohort, when they entered the workforce they took up all the jobs they could find, including those below their skill levels. As a result, wages were depressed and many households needed two streams of income in order to pay their bills.
In China, the baby boomers grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when institutions of higher learning were closed. As a consequence, when China introduced some elements of capitalist reforms in the late 1970s, most of this cohort found itself at a severe disadvantage as people were unable to take the various jobs that became vacant. People who experienced the Great Famine of China (1958–1961) as toddlers were noticeably shorter than those who did not. The Great Famine killed up to 30 million people and massively reduced China's economic output.
Cultural and sociopolitical views and activities
Boomers grew up at a time of dramatic social change. In the U.S., that change marked the generation with a strong cultural cleavage, between the left-leaning proponents of change and the more conservative individuals. Analysts believe this cleavage has played out politically from the time of the Vietnam War to the present day, to some extent defining the divided political landscape in the country. Early boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the later years of the civil rights movement, and the "second-wave" feminist cause of the 1970s. Conversely, many trended in moderate to conservative directions opposite to the counterculture, especially those making professional careers in the military (officer and enlisted), law enforcement, business, blue collar trades, and Republican Party politics. Early boomers also experienced events of the tumultuous 1960s like Beatlemania, Woodstock, organizing against or fighting in the Vietnam War, and the Apollo 11 moon landing, while late boomers (also known as Generation Jones) came of age in the "malaise era" of the 1970s with events such as the Watergate scandal, the 1973–1975 recession, the 1973 oil crisis, the United States Bicentennial, and the Iran hostage crisis. Politically, early boomers in the United States tend to be Democrats, while later boomers tend to be Republicans.
The youthful proponents of counterculture, known as the hippies, disapproved of the modern world so much they sought refuge from it in communes and mystical religions. During the 1960s and 1970s, large groups of them could be found any very major European or American cities. Male hippies wore long hair and grew beards while female hippies eschewed anything that women traditionally wore to make themselves attractive, such as makeup and brasseries. Hippies were iconoclasts to varying degrees and rejected the traditional work ethic. They preferred love to money, feelings to facts, and natural things to manufactured items. They engaged in casual sexual intercourse and used various hallucinogenic drugs and they were generally pacifists and pessimists. Many disliked politics and activism, though they were influenced by the political atmosphere of the time. A significant cultural event of this era was the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, which drew huge crowds despite bad weather and a general lack of facilities. Although it is commonly asserted that some half a million people attended, the actual figure is difficult to determine, even with aerial photography, as crowd experts would attest.
Political attitudes towards human sexuality altered dramatically in the late 1960s because of young people. Although the behavior of most Americans did not change overnight, the heretofore mainstream beliefs on issues such as premarital sexual intercourse, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and pornography were openly challenged and no longer considered automatically valid. Individuals no longer feared social consequences when they expressed deviant ideas. The causes of this sexual revolution were manifold. More reliable methods of contraception and antibiotics capable of curing various venereal diseases eliminated two leading arguments against extra-marital sex. Sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey's books, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1958), employed confidential interviews to proclaim that sexual behaviors previously deemed unusual were more common than people thought. Despite trigger a storm of criticisms, the Kinsey Reports earned him the nickname the "Marx of the sexual revolution" due to their revolutionary influence. Many men and women celebrated their newfound freedom and had their satisfactions, but the sexual revolution also pave the way to new problems. Many young people were under peer pressure to enter relationships they felt they were ill-prepared for, with serious psychological consequences. Illegitimate births ballooned, as did sexually transmitted diseases. Public health officials raised the alarmed on an epidemic of gonorrhea and the emergence of the lethal acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Because many had strong opinions on various subjects relating to sexuality, the sexual revolution exacerbated sociopolitical stratification.
Coupled with the sexual revolution was a new wave of feminism, as the relaxation of traditional views heightened women's awareness of what they might be able to change. Competition in the job market led many to demand equal pay for equal work and government-funded daycare services. Some groups, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) equated women's rights with civil rights and copied the tactics of black activists, demanding an amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing equal rights, changes to the divorce laws making them more favorable to women, and the legalization of abortion. But the feminist movement splintered because some became radicalized and thought that groups such as NOW were not enough. Such radical feminists believed that people should stop using gendered language, marriage should be abolished, and that the traditional family unit was "a decadent, energy-absorbing, destructive, wasteful institution," rejected heterosexuality as a matter of principle, and attacked "not just capitalism, but men." At the other extreme, staunch social conservatives launched a major backlash, for example, by starting anti-abortion movements after the Supreme Court declared it constitutional in Roe v. Wade (1973). Yet despite their best efforts, mainstream American society changed. Many women entered the workforce taking a variety of jobs and thus altered the balance of power between the sexes.
By the early 2000s, the baby boomers reached middle age and were starting to save for retirement, though not necessarily enough. Seeking to increase their income and thus savings, many started investing, pushing interest rates to the floor. Borrowing became so cheap that some investors made rather risky decisions in order to get better returns. Financial analysts call this the "seeking yield" problem. But even the United States was not enough to absorb all these investments, so the capital flowed overseas, helping to fuel the considerable economic growth of various developing countries. Steve Gillon has suggested that one thing that sets the baby boomers apart from other generational groups is the fact that "almost from the time they were conceived, boomers were dissected, analyzed, and pitched to by modern marketers, who reinforced a sense of generational distinctiveness."
This is supported by the articles of the late 1940s identifying the increasing number of babies as an economic boom, such as a 1948 Newsweek article whose title proclaimed "Babies Mean Business", or a 1948 Time magazine article called "Baby Boom."
From 1979 to 2007, those receiving the highest one percentile of incomes saw their already large incomes increase by 278% while those in the middle at the 40th–60th percentiles saw a 35% increase. Since 1980, after the vast majority of baby boomer college goers graduated, the cost of college has been increased by over 600% (inflation adjusted).
After the Chinese Communist Party opened up their nation's economy in the late 1970s, because so many baby boomers did not have access to higher education, they were simply left behind as the Chinese economy grew enormously thanks to said reforms.
According to American demographer Philip Longman, "even among baby boomers, those who wound up having children have turned out to be remarkably similar to their parents in their attitudes about 'family' values." In the postwar era, most returning servicemen looked forward to "making a home and raising a family" with their wives and lovers, and for many men, family life was a source of fulfillment and a refuge from the stress of their careers. Life in the late 1940s and 1950s was centered about the family and the family was centered around children.
Due to the one-child policy introduced in the late 1970s, one-child households have become the norm in China, leading to rapid population aging, especially in the cities where the costs of living are much higher than in the countryside.
Attitude towards religion
In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers. Citing Wade Clark Roof, a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the articles stated that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, 33% had never strayed from church, and 25% of boomers were returning to religious practice.
The boomers returning to religion were "usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality."
Around the world, people are living longer than ever before. Global life expectancy has increased from 47 years in the 1950s to over 72 years in 2016. As a result, the number of people older than 60 years of age has gone up over the decades, as has their share of the global population. However, the rate of population aging in the developing world is faster than among developed nations. Asia, South America, and the Caribbean are all aging rapidly. Globally, the ratio of the number of working-age people (15-64) to those aged 65 and over—the support ratio—has fallen from 11.75 in 1950 to 8.5 in 2012 and is on course to drop even further in the upcoming decades. These developments will fundamentally change the patterns of consumption in the global economy. The global disease burden will also change, with conditions affecting the elderly, such as dementia, becoming more common. Baby boomers started entering retirement in the mid-2000s and have already begun withdrawing their investments. Any economic activities that depend on the cheap capital courtesy of the baby boomers will cease to be. As countries around the world face the problem of population aging, they find their tax revenues and what they can spend on elderly support in decline. Some countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, have invested considerable sums of money on a variety of novel medical devices, robotics, and other gadgets to assist the elderly in their sunset years. Others, such as Austria and the Netherlands, have created specialized services for the elderly, among them dementia-friendly villages decorated with items and music from the 1950s and 1950s to help residents feel at home. Meanwhile, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and India passed legislation to incentivize people to provide more financial support for their elders.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), elders in nations where people typically retire late like Sweden and Switzerland tended to suffer from memory loss at a rate twice as slow as their counterparts from countries where people usually retire early, such as France. Evidence suggests that those who remain mentally active are more likely to maintain their faculties.
A 2020 paper by economists William G. Gale, Hilary Gelfond, Jason J. Fichtner, and Benjamin H. Harris examines the wealth accumulated by different U.S. demographic cohorts using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. They find that while the Great Recession has diminished the wealth of all age groups in the short run, a longitudinal analysis reveals that older generations, including the baby boomers, have been able to acquire more wealth whereas millennials have gotten poorer overall. A survey found that nearly a third of baby boomer multimillionaires polled in the US would prefer to pass on their inheritance to charities rather than pass it down to their children. Of these boomers, 57% believed it was important for each generation to earn their own money; 54% believed it was more important to invest in their children while they were growing up. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated in 2014 that the 'silver economy' would be worth US$15 trillion in 2020, up from US$8 trillion ten years prior. This dramatic growth is due not just to baby boomers retiring en masse, but also to their spending habits. While previous generations generally preserved their wealth and passed it onto their children, many baby boomers prefer to spend their money on their own long retirement.
In the United States, the sheer number of baby boomers can put a strain on Medicare. According to the American Medical Student Association, the population of individuals over the age of 65 will increase by 73 percent between 2010 and 2030, meaning one in five Americans will be a senior citizen.
In 2019, advertising platform Criteo conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers which showed baby boomers are less likely than millennials to purchase groceries online. Of the baby boomers surveyed, 30 percent said they used some form of online grocery delivery service.
By the mid-2010s, it has already become apparent that China was facing a serious demographic crisis as the population of retirees boomed while the number of working-age people shrank. This poses serious challenges for any attempts to implement social support for the elderly and imposes constraints on China's future economy prospects.
Political views and participation
In Europe, the period between the middle to the late twentieth century could be described as an era of 'mass politics', meaning people were generally loyal to a chosen political party. Political debates were mostly about economic questions, such as wealth redistribution, taxation, jobs, and the role of government. But as countries transitioned from having industrial economies to a post-industrial and globalized world, and as the twentieth century became the twenty-first, topics of political discourse changed to other questions and polarization due to competing values intensified.
But scholars such as Ronald Inglehart traced the roots of this new 'culture conflict' all the way back to the 1960s, which witnessed the emergence of the Baby Boomers, who were generally university-educated middle-class voters. Whereas their predecessors in the twentieth century – the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation, and the Silent Generation – had to endure severe poverty and world wars, focused on economic stability or simple survival, the Baby Boomers benefited from an economically secure, if not affluent, upbringing and as such tended to be drawn to 'post-materialist' values. Major topics for political discussion at that time were things like the sexual revolution, civil rights, nuclear weaponry, ethnocultural diversity, environmental protection, European integration, and the concept of 'global citizenship'. Some mainstream parties, especially the social democrats, moved to the left in order to accommodate these voters. In the twenty-first century, supporters of post-materialism lined up behind causes such as LGBT rights, climate change, multiculturalism, and various political campaigns on social media. Inglehart called this the "Silent Revolution." But not everyone approved, giving rise to what Piero Ignazi called the "Silent Counter-Revolution." The university-educated and non-degree holders have very different upbringing, live very different lives, and as such hold very different values. Education plays a role in this 'culture conflict' as national populism appeals most strongly to those who finished high school but did not graduate from university while the experience of higher education has been shown to be linked to having a socially liberal mindset. Degree holders tend to favor tolerance, individual rights, and group identities whereas non-degree holders lean towards conformity, and maintaining order, customs, and traditions. While the number of university-educated Western voters continues to grow, in many democracies non-degree holders still form a large share of the electorate. According to the OECD, in 2016, the average share of voters between the ages of 25 and 64 without tertiary education in the European Union was 66% of the population. In Italy, it exceeded 80%. In many major democracies, such as France, although the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the corridors of power has increased, the same cannot be said for the working-class and non-degree holders.
In the United States, especially since the 1970s, working-class voters, who had previously formed the backbone of support for the New Deal introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, have been turning away from the left-leaning Democratic Party in favor of the right-leaning Republican Party. As the Democratic Party attempted to make itself friendlier towards the university-educated and women during the 1990s, more blue-collar workers and non-degree holders left.
In both Europe and the United States, older voters are the primary support base for the rise of nationalist and populist movements, though there are pockets of support among young people as well. During the 2010s, a consistent trend in many Western countries is that older people are more likely to vote than their younger countrymen, and they tend to vote for more right-leaning (or conservative) candidates.
Key generation milestones
In the 1985 study of U.S. generational cohorts by Schuman and Scott, a broad sample of adults was asked, "What world events over the past 50 years were especially important to them?" For the baby boomers the results were:
- Baby Boomer cohort number one (born 1946–55), the cohort who epitomized the cultural change of the 1960s
- Memorable events: the Cold War (and associated Red Scare), the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., political unrest, walk on the moon, risk of the draft into the Vietnam War or actual military service during the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, drug experimentation, the Civil Rights Movement, environmental movement, women's movement, protests and riots, and Woodstock.
- Key characteristics: experimental, individualism, free spirited, social cause oriented.
- Baby Boomer cohort number two (born 1956–64), the cohort who came of age in the "malaise" years of the 1970s
- Memorable events: the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., for those born in the first couple of years of this generation, the Vietnam War, walk on the moon, Watergate and Nixon's resignation, lowered drinking age to 18 in many states 1970–1976 (followed by raising back to 21 in the mid-1980s as a result of congressional lobbying by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)), the oil embargo, raging inflation, gasoline shortages, economic recession and lack of viable career opportunities upon graduation from high school or college, Jimmy Carter's reimposition of registration for the draft, the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan, Live Aid.
An indication of the importance put on the impact of the boomer was the selection by TIME magazine of the Baby Boom Generation as its 1966 "Man of the Year." As Claire Raines points out in Beyond Generation X, "never before in history had youth been so idealized as they were at this moment." When Generation X came along it had much to live up to according to Raines.
Just as Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb (1968) hit the shelves, feminist movements were spreading all across the Western world. As access to education improved and contraception became readily available, women during the 1970s and 1980s became a lot more willing to delay or eschew marriage and to reduce the number of children, if any, they had. Because so many women during this period seized the opportunity to control their fertility, they have had a significant impact on the trajectory of human history. This intentional reduction of fertility occurred not just in Western countries, but also in places like India and Iran. Consequently, the predictions of Erlich failed to match reality. This development paved the way for the phenomenon of population aging observed in many countries around the world in the early twenty-first century. Geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan predicted that this demographic trend would result in "accelerating population falls unparalleled in speed and depth by any peacetime event in human history with the singular exception of the Black Plague." He noted, however, that baby boomers in Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Ireland, Iceland, and the United States had enough children so that their nations were not aging as rapidly as other developed and even some developing countries.
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