It’s time to set the record straight. While Baby Boomers are often spoken of as one large cohort, there are indeed two different types of Boomers.
Whenever we’re out giving presentations, it’s inevitable that some Boomers approach us with the complaint, “I’m not like those earlier Boomers” or “I think the later Boomers had a different outlook than we did.” They follow up with comments like, “I remember not having enough books in my classroom, but I was not old enough to be a hippie.” And they bring up a really good point. Though the Baby Boomer generation is often heralded as the group that collectively changed the US political and cultural landscape, not all Baby Boomers are the same.
The Boomer cohort is typically referred to as one group, born within the 20-year time span of 1946–1964. During the Boomer birth year, a baby was born every eight seconds. Clearly, the title baby “boom” was certainly appropriate for this big generation of 80 million. By 1964, Boomers comprised 40% of the US population. Looking at them as a whole, this generation has been incredibly influential and inspirational, creating waves of change from an early age. While we often refer to this generation as one cohort due to the significant change they effected, there is a distinct separation between two groups. When you look closer, there are some important differences between the earlier Boomers and those born later on in that 20-year time frame. Exploring the differences between the two subgroups helps paint a clearer picture of a generation that is as complex as it is large. With dramatic changes in the political, global, and social landscapes, the Baby Boomers can be divided into Early Boomers (teens in the ’60s) and Generation Jones (teens in the ’70s).
Early Boomer: teens of the ’60s
Early Boomers grew up as the world was wildly shifting. They were inspired by the changing role of women, the new economic landscape, and the rise of a counter-culture that was determined to leave a lasting impression on the world. These Early Boomers were inspired to action by the icons they were seeing stand-up for change. They idolized, followed, and fought with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Gloria Steinham, and JFK. These early Boomers were committed to reassessing the Traditionalist worldview and refocusing the world they lived in so that it reflected values inspired by their youth-driven counterculture.
While the nation adjusted to the counterculture movement, the resulting growing pains only stoked the youth desire to push the envelope and move the country closer to their idealized collective values. These growing pains can be seen most clearly in the form of the highly controversial Vietnam War and the draft that drove youth into action. The passionate demonstrations behind both the support and opposition of the war were striking and, for the first time, teens and young adults were challenging the status quo and the political decision to enter a war that raised more questions than it answered. Pair the image of hippies protesting the war with other images of youth involved in rallies for women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights, and you see a generation of born activists.
The power to make change and see that change flourish, coupled with their success in growing their careers during a booming economy, has left Early Boomers with an optimistic and idealistic set of traits that they have taken with them throughout their lives. This optimism has manifested itself into a youthful outlook on aging as they redefine retirement and continue to stay active and energetic as they enter the next phase of their lives.
KEY EVENTS + CONDITIONS
Woodstock, Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement, Moon Landing
Generation Jones: teens of the ’70s
While Early Boomers had major icons to look up to, Generation Jones was too young to remember these icons in their zenith. These Gen Jonesers were too young for Woodstock, the “I have a Dream” speech, and the assassination of the first Catholic president. The youth-driven counter-culture movement had accomplished many of its goals, and those kids that had been fighting for change were fighting for career growth by the 1970s. Instead of the idealistic and optimistic outlook of the Early Boomers, this generation was experiencing the backlash of an economy that was falling dramatically. This economic hardship and slipping post-war optimism defined the atmosphere that Gen Jonesers experienced as they were coming into their formative years.
Life at home was more different for Gen Jones than the more traditional setting that Early Boomers experienced. More homes were being forced into having two working parents due to changes in the economy and job availability. When Gen Jones went to school, there were not enough desks or books in the classroom because the school system wasn’t ready for this large cohort. They weren’t ready to put their kids in the same situation, so families were beginning to shrink in size. The pill became available so birth control and family planning were easier than in the past. With the competitive job market and economic stresses, divorce was on the rise as Gen Jones entered their formative years, causing teens to spend more time working independently and caring for themselves. While this wasn’t the generation of latch-key kids, Generation Jones was on the trailing edge of Generation X, which saw a dramatic spike in divorce rate and latch-key kids.
While the economy took a nose-dive, fuel prices spiked, the oil embargo impacted the nation, and job opportunities shrunk. Gen Jones had to become more independent and learn to fight for their future, because they quickly understood that nothing would be handed to them. With the tight job market, they knew they had to put their head down and work hard, dress for the jobs they wanted not the jobs they had, and develop methods of standing out. This was important for career growth, but at the time the main focus was on simply keeping their jobs. This period of fierce competition for job stability has stayed with the Gen Jonesers, who earned their names because they were constantly striving to “keep up with the jones” or “jonesin” for something more.
KEY EVENTS + CONDITIONS
Watergate, Stagflation, Oil Embargo, Iran Hostage Crisis, Deindustrialization
Early Boomers and Generation Jones are typically lumped under the big “Baby Boomer” umbrella, and in many ways it makes sense. Early Boomers and Gen Jones were both part of an unheard of booming birth rate, born into a post-war time of plenty, and embodied a “stick it to the man” attitude that embraced youth culture. But understanding the why behind the optimism of the Early Boomers and the competitive drive of the Gen Jonesers is the key to forming a truly robust picture of the Baby Boomer generation.