Generations, Part 4: Boomer Ghost Stories

Baby Boomers: Do Your Own Thing

(Born 1946-1964)

The period following World War II brought economic prosperity, medical advances, the rise of television, longer life-spans, and the longest era of relative peace in American history. So the generation that was born and came of age during this period became, in the words of Haydn Shaw, “the most optimistic generation in American history.” Their generational ghost stories reflect the magical time of their childhood.

  1. The Boom of Babies after WWII produced a huge crunch. Hospitals didn’t have enough beds, classrooms didn’t have enough desks, and colleges didn’t have enough faculty or dorm space. The sheer size of their generation made them impossible to ignore, and they became the center of attention at home and in the marketplace.

  2. Affluence became the standard of living rather than the dream which most Americans pursued. Where the Depression taught Traditionalists to save, Boomers saw little reason to save since the economy was booming and their value system changed from sacrifice to self.

  3. Television replaced radio and transformed the world in which the Boomers grew up. The Kennedy assassination was an incredibly powerful moment in large part because it was broadcast on television. Other events like the moon landing were equally powerful because everyone was seeing the same thing at the same time all across the nation. With only 3 networks, the entire generation was connected and shared a common language, because they all watched the same things.

  4. The Generation Gap between Boomer kids and their Traditionalist parents was unexpected and unprecedented as society’s values changed drastically. Daniel Yankelovich, in his study on Baby Boomers published in 1974 identified 3 significant changes:

    • Moral norms were redefined with the rise of rock and roll and the sexual revolution.

    • Social norms were redefined with the farm-to-city migration and the influence of higher education.

    • The generation’s focus shifted from sacrifice to self-fulfillment. No longer satisfied with the ideals of their parents – duty, obligations to others, and the pursuit of financial security – they were the first generation to have the money and freedom to explore themselves and search for their own interests.

How does knowing the Boomers’ ghost stories help us appreciate them as a generation? Shaw explains that we should use the word special rather than arrogant to describe them. He says, “The Boomers grew up thinking they were special – that the world was theirs for the taking if they worked hard and stayed true to their inner selves….Boomers began with magic and pixie dust and ended with cracks in the national confidence. But through it all, they have never lost their optimism and commitment to meaning, self-exploration, and self-expression. It was never about rebellion or long hair. They started their lives wishing upon a star, and they’ve never stopped. This massive generation challenged and reshaped the world we live in and will continue to do so for decades to come.”

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