In 2014, the youngest of the Baby Boomers turn 50. The boom generation really has two distinct halves.
The difference between them have to do with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll...and economics and war. And it probably matters even more whether you reached adulthood before or after the early '70s, a time of head-spinning changes with long-term consequences for families, careers and even survival.
The end of the war in Vietnam makes for one especially sharp dividing line: In 1973, the cease-fire was signed, United States forces were withdrawn, and the last American draftees were inducted.
Late boomers had none of that--no war, no draft, no defining political cause, and most of their fathers were too young for World War II. In this way, late boomers have more in common with the jaded Generation X that followed: less idealism to spoil.
Older boomers may have wanted to change the world: most of younger peers just wanted to change the channel. Aids slammed the free sex window shut in the 1980s, but it was in that opening that late boomers reached adolescence and early adulthood, developed their sexual attitudes and embarked on their sex lives. Younger boomers took for granted the sexual freedom that had been revolutionary to older boomers.
But if sex got easy, then marriage, it seemed, got hard. More babies were born to single mothers, and between the late 1950s and the late '70s, the divorce rate tripled. Compared with early boomers, the younger cohort was a lot more likely to grow up with only one parent around.
When the Gallup organization asked about marijuana use in 1969, 8% of adults under 30 admitted to having tried it. A mere 8 years later, it was 56%. Late boomers, going to high school in the '70s, knew plenty of people who had tried drugs when they were in high school, including teachers and parents, and knew many more in college.
Macroeconomics form another dividing line, also in the early '70s. By then nearly all of the first-half boomers had finished school and started their working lives. People just a few years younger grew up with that kind of prosperity, but it evaporated when they reached the age to seize it. From 1973 to 1982, the U.S. suffered through three recessions, two energy crises, inflation and high unemployment--a disillusioning time to establish a career.
The boomer generation also straddies a revolution in the roles of women, with the first half more likely to fight past old assumptions, and the second more likely to reap the gains. When early boomers were children and young adults, American women were far less likely than men to go to college or hold jobs. The gaps narrowed slowly for decades, but here again, an inflection point came in the early '70s, when women's numbers began to soar.
The gap between the two halves of the baby boom may best be summed up by some of the staples of radio and TV. The classic boomers had "Mr. Sandman" and "Leave it to Beaver." The rebooted boomers: "Sympathy for the Devil" and "All in the Family."
Source: The New York Times, January 12, 2014
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