I started speaking on Generations in the Workplace in 2000 when Baby Boomers were at the height of their careers. Back then, Boomers were the leaders in most organizations.
Today it is a different story. The recent OK Boomer Meme has thrust Boomers into the spotlight at a time when many have either already retired or are approaching retirement.
The meme has redirected generational bashing off Millennials, and onto the Baby Boomers. Millennial and Gen Z resentment towards Boomers is at an all-time high.
So whatever your perspective on the Boomers, this post will give you an understanding of the impact Boomers have made on our lives and will answer the questions, "what is a Baby Boomer?" and "what are Baby Boomers known for?"
What is the Baby Boomer Generation?
While differences among generations have always existed throughout history, it wan't until the 20th century that generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss get credit for identifying and naming generations in the U.S. They define Generations as social groups born within a defined group of years that share similar cultural traits, values, and preferences.
Baby Boomer Years: The "Baby Boomer Generation" refers to people born between 1946-1964.
The term "baby boomer" is tied to the explosive population growth that occurred in the United States following the end of World War II. While the word "boom" had been widely used to describe this noticeable spike in birth rates as men returned from the war, it wasn't until January 1963 when the term "baby boomer" was first coined in a Daily Press article by Leslie J. Nason.
Who Are the Baby Boomers?
So, what are Boomers? Simply put, Baby Boomers are people born in the United States between the years of 1946-1964.
The birth of the boomers signaled the end of 16 years of depression and war. But now, as peace and prosperity returned, America was ready for a new start.
The post-war era brought not only babies but also a new confidence in the economy. Corporations began to grow larger and more profitable, and labor unions were in their heyday, promising higher wages, benefits, and a brighter future for their members.
Parents of this new generation wanted to give their children so many of the opportunities and things they did not have in their childhoods.
Putting all people born between 1946-1964 into one massive pot and saying all boomers are one way or another would be inaccurate, but there are a few traits attached to the Baby Boomers.
Let’s take a look at what boomers are known for.
What Are Baby Boomers Known For?
While there are many ways to describe Boomers, Baby Boomer values are very distinctive. Here are some general values and characteristics that tend to define Baby Boomers:
Baby Boomers Value Relationships
Boomers have always seen the value of family, and they took that value with them into the workplace. Baby Boomers are known for the strong business relationships they created throughout their decades of work.
Today many Boomers are reaching out to their communities. They continue to form new kinds of connections, friendships, and alliances, strengthening the role of community in their lives.
Baby Boomers Are Highly Goal Oriented
They are highly driven to attain their dreams and desires, pushing themselves to achieve their personal and professional goals. As they enter retirement, this generation continues to create lists full of plans and experiences they did not get around to completing during years of working.
Today's Boomer invests their time and money in some of the "must-do-before-I-die" experiences.
Baby Boomers Have a Strong Work Ethic
Work ethic goes hand in hand with the goal-oriented Boomer. Baby boomers grew up in a world that was full of possibilities. Owning your own home, car, or even business was there for those that worked hard.
Hard work and a strong work ethic were the stepping stones to living the Baby Boomer American Dream.
Baby Boomers Are Self Assured
Baby Boomer confidence comes from the fact that they took on their share of responsibility within their families. Many young Boomers started working at an early age and continued working their way through school. Many were drafted into the military and served their country.
Boomers have an opinion and a voice, and they are not afraid to question authority if they disagree with the status quo and freely voice their opinions if in disagreement.
Baby Boomers Are Competitive in Nature
Baby Boomers were once the largest of all the generations. At their peak, there were over 80 million Boomers in the United States. With such a significant number, the competition was prevalent.
Boomers were competitive in the classroom, in scouts, and in sports, bringing that competition into the workplace.
What Did Baby Boomers Contribute to Society?
The sixties defined the era of social change, and the Baby Boomers led the charge through activism, social change, and freedom. Baby Boomers opened our eyes to social attitudes with a decade of riots, boycotts, antiwar demonstrations, and protests for civil rights.
John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, that inspired a generation of Baby Boomers saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Later in 1961, the Peace Corps was launched, opening the door to volunteerism. Boomers followed President Kennedy's lead and created an era of service and volunteering. Today 7% of Peace core volunteers are retired Boomers.
In addition, Baby Boomers served their country. The United States began drafting Baby Boomer males into the Viet Nam war in the late 1960s. The New York Times reports that 40% of males in the baby boomer generation served in the war. It's estimated that 47,434 American fighters were killed during Vietnam.
Over the years, Baby Boomers created an era of hope and optimism by raising their children with the idea that social change is possible. Boomers encouraged their children to dream big and that they could be anything they wanted to be, and that social policies, especially in the workplace, could be changed to adapt to changing society.
Baby Boomers again opened the door for social change by fighting for women's rights, gay rights, civil rights, and social equality.
Here are several more Baby Boomers characteristics in terms of lifestyle:
Boomer's Lifestyle Changes and the Women's Movement
One of the first lifestyle changes after the war was the birth of "the burbs." Visionary developers bought land on the outskirts of the cities and built mass-produced homes (tract homes) on the ground. Low-interest rates through the G.I. Bill for vets tempted many city dwellers to move out to the burbs, while others just wanted to leave the city life and raise their families in a safer environment.
Although the flight from cities to suburbs was great for family life, many women felt isolated and trapped away from their city lifestyle. Another point to remember is that during the war, some 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces, both at home and abroad. More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, representing 65 percent of the industry's total workforce (compared to just one percent in the pre-war years). Rosie the Riveter symbolized the new-found strength of the working woman during the war years.
However, in the 1950s, a shift in thinking was on the rise, and women were told to go back into the home where their most important job was to bear and rear children, along with being a good wife who knew how to cook and keep a tidy home. For some women, this shift in lifestyle and values generated a huge dissatisfaction, and the women's liberation movement began contributing to the feminist movement of the 1960s.
Boomer's Impact on Television, Consumerism, and Credit Cards
The post-war economy was able to raise the standard of living for many families. Moving from apartment living to a home with a "family room" required more furniture! A new concept in buying with a credit card was born, and people began purchasing on credit products of the revved-up economy: televisions, hi-fi systems, new cars, and clothing.
Consumerism wasn't just for the adults as marketers begin to realize there were huge profits to be made from the boomer babies too. They began to watch the habits of the newest generation, who were now watching T.V. and, in particular, Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club.
Boomer children begged their parents to buy them mouse-ears, Davey Crocket hats, hula hoops, Frisbees, and many other toys that are now being advertised on T.V. The boomer child had buying power!
Looking back on this new affluent spending may have been the precursor to the boomers' philosophy of spend-now-and-worry-later lifestyle. A recent survey by Transamerica found nearly 70 percent of Baby Boomers expect to work past age 65 or don't plan to retire at all. More than 80 percent of them say their decision to stay in the workforce is financially motivated – they do not have enough saved for retirement.
Here are some of the retirement challenges facing the aging Boomers:
- Paying down their credit card debt
- 65% of boomers are still paying off credit card debt
- 44% use a credit card to purchases the can’t afford
- 39% have maxed out their credit card.
- Providing financial support for their adult children (Gen X and Millennials)
- 50% of Boomers use their retirement savings to help their adult children according to a survey by Bankrate
- Nationwide Retirement stats that 38% of Boomers have adult children living with them.
3. Caretakers for aging parents and relatives
- 28% of Baby Boomers are or have been caregivers to family members, according to a survey by Transamerica.
- 62% spend their own money on caregiver expenses, averaging $4,012 per year, according to a survey by the Nationwide Retirement Institute.
- 21% fear that caregiving expenses will prevent them from ever retiring
- Saving for Emergencies
- 31% of Baby Boomers do not have an emergency fund, according to a survey by Clever.
- 7% use credit cards to have a cushion for emergencies
- Saving for Retirement
- Research by the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) shows that 45% of Boomers have not retirement savings.
- 55% have some (less than 100,000)
- Half the Boomers will be living off their social security benefits.
Boomers, Counter-Culture, and College
The first Boomers entered their teens and said so long to Elvis and hello to the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changing'” as civil unrest exploded with the Vietnam War, and many Baby Boomers began to gravitate toward counter-culture.
Rejecting the status quo, student activism appeared on many college campuses. Young adults became activists protesting civil rights and the war. Other Boomers dropped out completely as hippies arrived on the scene with their long hair, Birkenstocks, tie-dye clothing, peace signs, and hallucinogenic drugs.
Today many Baby Boomers boast about working their way through college. However, back then, college was much more affordable.
Tuition has historically risen about 3% a year, according to the College Board, and during the Great Recession, declining public funds caused tuition to skyrocket even further.
At private four-year schools, average tuition and fees rose 26% over the last decade, while tuition plus fees at four-year public schools jumped 35% over the same period.
Living the American Dream Requires "Work, Work, and More Work"
When the oldest boomers entered the workforce in the late '60s and early '70s, they brought their vision of the American Dream, a competitive nature, a strong need to be seen as an individual, and a new style of leadership. They replaced their predecessors' "my way or the highway" style management with a more democratic consensus of leadership and teamwork.
Their dream was challenged early on. The 1970–1980 decade was filled with uncertainty in the U.S. workforce. The U.S. was moving from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and the transition involved downsizings, mergers, and reorganizations.
Attitudes towards work and the employer were changing. As the uncertainty grew, some boomers felt betrayed, but they continued to work longer and harder.
Boomers have thought they are hardwired for work. As boomers have aged, they have admitted that they have stayed in jobs that had no growth or future, but continued to work hard calling their work a "badge of honor."
In 1991, we signed the North American Tread Agreement, and many U.S. manufacturing companies moved to Mexico and overseas. The look and feel of work were changing, and many boomers moved into management.
Baby Boomers Today
Today, the oldest Boomers are in their 70’s. By 2030, about one in five Americans will be older than 65. The Baby Boomer generation dominated the American culture and the workplace, for over 30 years.
The Boomer has enjoyed a long period of generational dominance in an era of economic growth and expansion. Today they receive many of the benefits created by Traditionalists, such as social security, and medicare.
It's now the Boomer's time to help younger generations by supporting programs that provide economic security for their future.
Time will tell.