What's In This Article?
World War II had ended, and soldiers were coming home. Nine months later, the United States population would increase by 20%. Born between 1946 and 1964, this generation would become known as the Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers are a unique generation that was molded during a time of radical changes in U.S. culture. This article will delve deep into baby boomers’ psychology and the forces that shaped them. If you are a baby boomer, you have a product or service targeted toward this age group, or you just want to get to know them better, continue reading.
What Caused the Baby Boomer Years?
During the Great Depression and World War II, the parents of the baby boomers lived in a time of uncertainty. This caused many of them to postpone having children in hopes of better times in the future. As a whole, they did not feel confident bringing children into this time of struggle.
When World War II broke out the uncertainty increased even more. You can find many stories among this generation where husbands, fathers, brothers, and lovers were suddenly drafted into the armed forces. It was a time of goodbyes and many who went to fight never returned. The war years were a time of darkness and struggle. Many families had been torn apart, with some never to recover due to the loss of loved ones.
The war was a time of change in family structures, too. Women were traditionally in charge of running the household and caring for children, while the husbands were the “breadwinners” and had the task of keeping a job and paying the bills. As men were called to duty, it left huge gaps in the workforce, especially in the manufacturing industries. America needed workers to build planes, tanks, consumer goods, cars, and many other products.
With the men off to war, the women were called into action to fill the gaps. They had to work out childcare arrangements, learn to pay bills, and manage the finances. They filled in the gaps in the workforce, and this gave many women of this generation new confidence and something they never had before a paycheck. The war changed family structures and values in the parents of the baby boomers, and life would never return to what it had been before the war.
The end of the war was a time of celebration like no other. Fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers who had survived returned home to begin a new life. The war created many job opportunities due to the need for increased production of goods and services. Previously marginalized groups, including women, now had new opportunities for prosperity and independence. Soldiers were welcomed home with ticker-tape parades and celebrations of all kinds.
Baby Boomer Years
Nine months after the end of the war, the sound of machine guns would be replaced by the cries of newborns. More babies were born in 1946 than ever before. The population of the United States would be 20% larger as compared to 1945 with 3.4 million new humans within its borders. This was the beginning of the era that would become known as the baby boom, and it was just getting started.
In 1947, the population would increase by another 3.8 million. This trend would continue, and in 1952 about 3.9 million more children were added to the population. This trend of between 3 and 4 million new Americans born every year would continue until 1964 when it would finally begin to taper off. By the time the baby boom ended, the 76.4 million Baby Boomers would make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population.
Baby Boomer Age Range
The most common definition of the baby boomer age range includes those born between 1946 and 1964. Most agree that the baby boom began in 1946, almost exactly nine months after soldiers returned from the war, but scholars and statisticians have a more difficult time putting an exact end date on the baby boom. The birth rate was still 4 million new babies in 1964, but in 1965, there was a significant decrease to 3.76 million. This was still significantly more than the average 2.5 million births per year among the grandparents of the baby boomers, who are often referred to as the Silent Generation.
Some consider the baby boomer age range to have ended with those born in 1960, while others extend the baby boom to extend into the early 1970s. In 1973, 3.14 million babies would be born, which was the lowest birth rate since 1945. When the baby boom age range officially ends is up to some debate. If you are talking about economics, the most commonly agreed-upon end date is 1964, but if you are talking to a sociologist or psychologist, there is no doubt that baby boomer values, likes, and dislikes have no clear cut-off date. The effects of the society that emerged during the baby boom continue to have an impact today.
Impact of the Baby Boomer Generation
The baby boom has been attributed to a desire for a return to “normalcy” after the trauma of the war years. Between the Great Depression and World War II, the nation had been in a struggle for approximately 16 years. These factors had a key impact on how baby boomer parents raised their children. They were drawn to the establishment of social norms that represented stability and peace.
Baby Boomer parents would pass these values and desires for normalcy onto their children in the early formative years. By 1964, when the baby boom is considered to have officially ended, those early baby boomers were now 18 years old and ready to enter the workforce. Many of those who had postponed childbirth until after the war were now being joined by those just entering the childbearing years.
Women were getting married earlier, with many of them having children by age 20. This is compared to the average age of marriage of 22 in the Greatest Generation, who were boomer parents. The number of women who opted to never have children dropped from 15% in the Greatest Generation to 8% in baby boomers.
Influences on the Baby Boomer Generation
The values and desires for normalcy were handed down from the boomers’ parents and instilled into them. They were the first generation raised in front of the television and being exposed to mass advertising campaigns by major corporations. These advertisers were hungry to entice baby boomer children to embrace a type of consumerism never before seen. All of this was with the hopes of getting the children to convince their parents to spend money and feed the economy.
Baby boomers were born into a world of affluence, particularly when compared to the world of their Depression Era grandparents. The television, as we know it today, developed in 1946, but the technology was under development long before that time. Until 1956, fewer than 2% of American households owned a set, and they were more of a novelty. By 1959, 85.9% of all households would have a set, and the programming would change society forever. Shows like, “Leave It to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” would dictate social norms by shaping the minds of boomer children.
During boomer childhoods, America moved to the suburbs in hopes of a more comfortable lifestyle. There was an attempt to return women to the role of wife and mother by promoting the virtues of family values. This campaign to convince women to leave the workforce and return to the kitchen only partially succeeded. This would set the stage for the societal conflicts surrounding gender roles in the late 1960s.
Baby Boomer Culture
If you could summarize baby boomer culture in one word, it might be consumerism. One of the influences of this drive for normalcy in the goods and services one consumed was an underlying fear of the Cold War. On one hand, boomers were a generation that was experiencing wealth and an influx of new gadgets like never before. On the other hand, they lived under the shadow of fear of the Cold War.
Boomers had heard the war stories of their parents sitting around the family dinner table. Their parents had seen the destruction of the nuclear bomb and now had a clear understanding of its power to destroy lives. Boomer children experienced mock air raid drills and were forced to hide under their desks so that they would know what to do in case of a nuclear attack.
The normalcy portrayed on televisions and by the mass media, along with the dream of the pink house with the white picket fence, was a reaction to the underlying social tension. This tension was ever-present, but no one talked about it openly. The conservatism of the boomer generation was a reaction to these fears and the real trauma experienced by their parents.
The 1960’s Cultural Revolution
Television and the introduction of goods and services were major influences in the early years of the Boomer generation, but they were in for some changes that no one could have ever predicted. Boomers had become embroiled in a culture that would soon receive a shock that would shake this generation forever.
On November 23, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Boomers, who were teens at the time, sat glued to their televisions witnessing the unthinkable. This event shook the security to which Boomers had grown accustomed. It went against the worldview presented on the screen of the big console TV that had become the focal point of the home. The JFK Presidency had been called “Camelot”, a reference to the dreamy fairytale land of the legends of King Arthur. The world was changed in an instant, but these were only the beginning of the changes that the next decade would hold.
The Boomers had survived a narrow escape when they thought that their worst fears might come true during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1961. America had come unnervingly close to having to use what they had learned in all of those nuclear warfare drills in school. JFK had saved them and restored order to society. Now, once again that sense of security was shattered.
The Times, They Are Changing
Boomers could see the winds of change, as the words of this famous Bob Dylan refrain indicate. Music was changing, fashion was changing, and racial tensions that had been building for centuries were beginning to come to a boiling point. The Boomers were coming of age, and they had a strong desire for more freedom of expression. They were no longer happy to live the quiet, pre-determined life that society offered.
First, there was the rebellious music from the pioneers of Rock ‘n’ Roll such as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and the scandalous gyrations of Elvis Presley. If this was not enough to make their parents’ eyes bug out, they would later have to contend with rebels coming over the airwaves like the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and James Brown.
The Boomers’ parents would blame all of the ills of society, such as the sexual revolution, drug culture, and daring miniskirts on these new musical forms. In reality, something was lurking much deeper below the surface in the minds of these young Americans. Men wore long hair as a symbol of their independence and as an expression of their ability to live life on their own terms.
Young people wanted to feel like they made a difference and mattered in the world. They wanted to feel like they were something more than just a cog in the wheels of the machine. Young people were taking to the streets, demanding equality and opportunity for all regardless of gender, race, or religion.
A World of Social Tension
The Harlem riot of 1964 was the first major riot to make the news. This was followed by the Watts riots of 1965. It would not stop until after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968, which would herald the worst year of violence yet.
Meanwhile, young Boomer men of all races were being sent to the steamy jungles of Vietnam, many never to return. If they did return, they came back to a changed country that did not welcome them back as war heroes but would call them names and treat them like a pariah. There were no ticker-tape parades like when their parents returned from war.
Against this backdrop, the United States expanded its horizons and accomplished something so unimaginable it seemed almost surreal. We sent a man to the moon. Families watched all of these events narrated by Walter Cronkite on the evening news from the comfort of their living room. The Boomers made history, but they made it in a different way than their parents and grandparents.
Inside the Mind of a Baby Boomer
More than likely, most boomer children probably never thought about why they are the way they are and why their parents are the way they are. In a boomer childhood, you did not question why things were, but instead, you simply grew up with these values. They were simply the way things were done, and you were presented with no other alternative. These values are ingrained in the boomer mindset that they are automatic for most, so what are these values and ideals?
Family values hold a high level of importance for boomers. Attention to the quality of life plays a key role in the decision-making process. Now, boomers have grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. They still hold onto the importance of family values and consider this to be the most important aspect of life. Now, boomers in their retirement continue to seek stability, and time with family is extremely important to them.
Another important characteristic of the Boomer Generation is work ethic. They were raised by parents who worked hard and who were able to create considerable wealth by holding to the principles of a decent wage for a hard day’s work. These are the values that they were raised with and carried throughout their adult lives.
How Baby Boomers Spend Their Time
Now, boomers are at an age where they can begin to reap the rewards of many years of hard work. In retirement, boomers continue to be conservative when it comes to investments and finances. They also value life balance. They understand that you should work hard and play hard. This means that they will be willing to get down to work when it is time to do so, but they also know the value of time spent with family and friends. Boomers want good value for their money, but they are willing to spend it if they feel that it will improve their quality of life.
This deep dive into what drives the boomer mind covers only the surface of the topics that could be explored. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how the boomer thought process developed. If you are a boomer, you might have a few new insights that you never considered.
If you are not a baby boomer, it might help you understand the drives and motivations of this generation a little better. As a marketer or business owner who specialized in products and services for boomers, you have a better understanding of how to reach this lucrative market. By now, everyone should have an understanding that boomer behaviors and attitudes go well below the surface.
If you have something you’d like to add, please tell us about it in the comments section. We invite you to share your own personal experiences, stories and memories about growing up as a Baby Boomer as well as any insights you can offer that would help our readers to better understand this special generation.