What isBoom generation?
The term "Baby Boom" is used to identify a massive increase in births following World War II. Baby boomers are those people born worldwide between 1946 and 1964, the time frame most commonly used to define them. The first baby boomers reached the standard retirement age of 65 in 2011. There are about 76 million boomers in the U.S., representing about 29 percent of the population. In Canada, they are known as "Boomies;" six million reside there. In Britain, the boomer generation is known as "the bulge."
How it got started. World War II ended in 1945. Most members of the armed forces came home en masse, numbering in the millions. To integrate millions of young veterans into the American economy, the 78th Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights on June 22, 1944. It was the most far-reaching item of veterans legislation passed in the nation`s history. VA loans for homes and farms were made available to GIs at low interest, and low or no down payment. In addition, the GI Bill made higher education a reachable goal with low-interest loans.
Preceding the war was the era of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Children of that era were a generation hardened by poverty; millions were deprived of the security of a home and job. Then they fought the greatest war in human history, World War II.
The American Dream. A pent-up demand for achieving the American Dream was partly satisfied by the GI Bill. Reconnecting with families and loved ones, a large portion of returning GIs, backed by the GI Bill, married and started families, went back to school and bought their first homes. Jobs, especially in the northeast and on the coasts, were plentiful. In 1947, the GI Bill helped more than a million veterans to enroll in college. More than half the nation`s World War II veterans, or 7,800,000 men and women, availed themselves of the GI Bill`s provisions.
The move to the suburbs. With veterans benefits, including VA loans, the 20-somethings found suitablein the new tracts sprawling on the outskirts of America`s cities. Documentaries on the topic indicate that the postwar suburban housing boom began in a suburban "planned community" called “Levittown,”* in New York and Pennsylvania. In fact, large-scale, planned communities and housing tracts were being built on the outskirts of all major American cities, especially in California.
It was common that the young wives of virtually entire suburban neighborhoods were pregnant at the same time. In short order, new schools had to be built. Farm and ranch land became seas of similar-looking homes without town centers, jobs, or city amenities. Eventually, many isolated suburban tracts, numbering in thousands of homes, did become legal communities, albeit on a different model from traditional communities with a core downtown. Interspersed throughout those new communities were "strip malls," businesses lined up in a row along roadsides, usually in common and architecturally uninspired buildings fronted by a large parking lot with little or no greenery.
Malls began to offer basic commodities, then became prime community meeting places, especially for the younger crowd. The famous quote, "There`s no there there," uttered by Gertrude Stein about her birthplace, Oakland, California (a suburb of San Francisco), applies to most of America`s suburbs — seemingly isolated, cultureless, boring tracts of sameness. Suburbs were relatively safe, and suitable for children, perhaps, but a breeding ground for discontentment and mischief among teenagers.
Years of innocence. The 1950s were, in some ways, years of innocence. The Saturday movie matinee was only 35 cents on the West Coast. The drive-in theater became part of the young-Marlon Brando. This could be considered a teen movie, but quite different from the Disney teen movies of the next decades.social , primarily owing to cheap tickets. The main movie genres were established: melodramas, westerns, horror films, comedies, and action-adventure films. Musicals and science fiction movies were popular by the 1950s. Westerns were especially popular with families, and many were created specifically for adolescents. Popular kid shows most often followed a serial format, appearing in the afternoon on Saturdays. At times, matinees played in several installments per week. Popular heros were Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, and the Lone Ranger. More "noir" films such as "The Wild Bunch" starred
Earlyof the sci-fi genre featured male protagonists fighting for law and order in outer space. These early "space westerns" included Buck Rogers (ABC 1950-51), Captain and His Video Rangers (Dumont 1949-54), Flash Gordon(Syndicated 1953), Space Patrol (ABC 1951-52), and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet(CBS/ABC/NBC 1950-52).
A generation reared with television. On April 7, 1927, Bell Telephone Labs and AT&T introduced the first public USA television demonstration. Washington, D.C., to New York City. A wireless demonstration also occurred 22 miles away, from Whippany, New Jersey, to New York City. The demonstration`s main feature was a speech by Herbert Hoover, which originated inWashington, D.C., and was received on a two- by three-inch screen. Postwar television was still new in America, west of Chicago. Most shows were either live or were movies for TV — triggering a nationwide trend of theater closures that persists into the 21st century.and sound were sent by wire from
Popular kid TV shows wereBuffalo Bob and Clarabelle,Captain Kangaroo, Lassie, andLeave it to Beaver. Other pastimes included malt shops, community swimming pools, and clubs. The most popular of the clubs were the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. By 1955, boomers were enjoying after-school sports at the junior-high level. The I Love Lucy show was unique — thecontinuously running show in television history, which continues to air daily. Now that`s entertainment!
Innocence lost. Emulating wartime mothers, postwar American moms began to find jobs outside the home. Thus began an age of discontentment. Living in seemingly sterile neighborhoods devoid of urban diversions and the traditional extended family, many children were left to fend for themselves after school. They became known as "latchkey kids." Television became a surrogate parent.
Dr. Benjamin Spock had written a runaway, bestseller “how to” book in 1946, TheCommon Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, for a mere 25 cents. During Dr. Spock`s long lifetime, his book was translated into 39 languages and sold more than 50 million copies, making it second in sales only to the Bible.
Dr. Spock also taught child development at Case-Western University and wrote additional books on the subject. The influence of those books on the parents and children of the Baby Boom Generation is difficult to overstate. Dr. Spock`s philosophy was liberal in the sense that children reared as idealistic individuals would achieve happy and productive lives. Dr. Spock had always been a part of that generation`s lives and continued to influence them in their college years, which happened to coincide with the the 1960s and 1970s.
As the Cold War heated up and American troops were sent to Vietnam, Spock became a vocal political activist, speaking out for disarmament and against the war inSoutheast Asia. To Spock, that was just another way of defending the young people to whom he was so devoted. His political views made him unpopular in some circles and hurt the sales of his baby and child care book, but he persisted, convinced that politics was an essential part of pediatrics. He participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations well into his 80s and 90s, and ran for president on a third-party ticket in 1972, speaking out on issues concerning working families, children, and minorities.
During the earthquake. That was scary as well. The suburbs were not the paradise many parents had imagined they would be.Era, many families fatalistically built bomb shelters in their backyard. Youngsters were taught in school to “duck and cover” when air-raid sirens sounded, in preparation for a nuclear blast. The boomers were the first of all human generations to be reared under the real threat of Armageddon. Sometimes sirens were tested after school when mothers were not yet home from work — that was scary. In California, many children knew how to stand clear of the chimney and go to the nearest door frame for safety, during the occasional
Accelerating change. The 1960s was the decade that defined the boomers. The music, events, and social changes left a permanent imprint. Boomers born between `46 and `51 were young teenagers. Those individuals born during the peak boomer years, `52 to `57, were in their formative years during the Sixties. The televised pseudo-realities of Lassie, Leave It to Beaver, and the Nelson Family, portrayed innocence lost, then were replaced by the sad realities of the Cold War and the civil rights struggle, all to a rock `n roll beat. So many changes occurred in the Sixties that an individual`s age during the decade greatly affected how he or she turned out. The year 1961 was a great deal different from 1969. Hair styles changed dramatically. High school yearbooks in 1960 would show girls with carefully coiffed hair, while soon the style switched to long and straight. Among blacks, the Afro came to represent a hair style distinct to their cultural heritage.
The Sixties were turbulent, owing to the unrest of civil rights marches, “free love," rock music, drug experimentation, long hair and disheveled clothes, and the winds of war in Indochina. As an celebrity antiwar protester, Dr. Spock was again in the national limelight.
California was a magnet for disenfranchised dreamers, often called "hippies." They came in droves, many having dropped out of school; they came on the bus and train; they hitch-hiked from Everytown, USA. Such seminal rock `n roll performers as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and Pink Floyd, resembled the mythical and fabled pied piper.
A Scott Mackenzie tune, sung by The Mamas and the Papas, lyrically advised: "If you`re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." Harvard professor Timothy Leary`s advice: "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out," delivered at a press conference in New York City in 1966, urged youth to create countercultural change through the use of psychedelic stimulants (especially the drug LSD), and by removing themselves from the prevailing society. The phrase was derided by conservative critics and most other adults.
And they came, idealistic, euphoric and hopeful, ragged and broke. Most were disillusioned by what they found, then returned to the communities they came from, or just moved on. A few sampled the rural life in communes or on farms, but most of those became disillusioned with the tough work. Nevertheless, the idealism of the Sixties and some alternative rural communities survive and thrive in the 21st century, thanks to aging boomers with enduring values.