The youngest boomers
What do an 18-year-old and a newborn have in common? Not much, you say? Well then, why do we insist on lumping all baby boomers into one category? Making assumptions about this generation could be bad for your personal and professional interactions and bad for business.
A baby boom indicates any period—such as the era following World War II—in which the birth rate is higher than typical. As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, members of the Baby Boom generation were born in the years 1946 to 1964. Biologically, under those parameters, the oldest boomers are aged enough to be parents to the youngest ones—certainly not evidence of harmony among group members. It’s likely that the youngest boomers have more in common with the generation that follows them, called Generation X, than with fellow boomers—and, indeed, they may have siblings in that group.
Maybe you’re one of the youngest boomers. Or maybe a child is, or your mother or father. Or a co-worker, or family members of your residents.
People are shaped by many factors in addition to their own actions—parents, family, friends and experiences as well as the times in which they grew up. Each of us is more than just an arbitrary designation bestowed by the government for demographic purposes or used by marketers to further their interests. It can be unifying to realize that we share common experiences with others, but it would do us well to try to remember the variation of formative experiences within the Baby Boom generation the next time we prepare to use the term baby boomer casually—and when we think about the generations that follow the baby boomers. Here is some perspective as a place to start.
With the words “baby boomer,” the media and many people conjure thoughts of a time associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, civil rights activities, evolving attitudes about sex and drugs, and Vietnam War protests. The very youngest baby boomers, however—so we have a common point of reference here, let’s say those born on Dec. 31, 1964—hadn’t even taken their first breaths yet when Camelot ended, the lads from Liverpool incited those televised screams or the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. They were 4 years old when the outdoor music festival known as Woodstock took place in New York, and they were 8 years old when the United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War, meaning that they most likely never protested the war and may not even have been aware of what was happening at the time.
Indeed, the youngest boomers remember the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, not President Kennedy’s death. And they are more likely to associate with the Second British Invasion of musicians of the early to mid-1980s than the first one of the 1960s, which popularized the Beatles and other bands on American airwaves.
Implications of imminent retirement also arise in many discussions of baby boomers, but most of the youngest baby boomers aren’t retiring any time soon. They turned 49 as 2013 became 2014. As it stands now, they won’t be able to collect full Social Security benefits for 18 years, at age 67.
WE ARE INDIVIDUALS
Perhaps it’s convenient for marketers and others to adopt demographic terminology for their purposes, but it’s not helpful when anyone assumes that all people in this group—or any group—are the same. Does a way exist to further subcategorize a group of people to make our assumptions more likely to be true? Perhaps. But the more useful approach might be simply to remember that people are individuals—and to treat them as such.
Do you have an idea about how to refer to the oldest, middle and youngest baby boomers? What other terminology would you like to see changed or eliminated from our vocabulary? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments section (click on the appropriate blue button below) or via email.
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Topics: Executive Leadership