“We can change the world,” Graham Nash sings in his anthem, “Chicago,” and baby boomers take that challenge to heart. They have changed “conventional American life stages, redefined inclusivity and contributed to the health of all Americans, according to a new white paper commissioned by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
“How Boomers Turned Conventional Wisdom on Its Head: A Historians View on How the Future May Judge a Transitional Generation,” written by W. Andrew Achenbaum, finds that baby boomers belong to the first generation whose impact continues well into middle age and beyond. By the time they reached age 64, boomers constituted a quarter of the U.S. population, and have been a force with which to be reckoned in politics, the job market, society, and popular culture. Time magazine in 1966 proclaimed the baby boomer generation as its “Man of the Year.”
Boomers, for starters, embrace the label. According to the Metlife study, 83 percent of those born in 1946 like being called “baby boomers.” In contrast, the “Greatest Generation,” those who came of age during the Great Depression and experienced World War II, was not tagged with this sobriquet until Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book. “Baby boomers always set themselves apart,” Achenbaum writes.
Paul McCartney’s “When I’m 64” was a prescient projection of boomer hopes and concerns about retaining their vigor in their senior years (“Will you still need me/Will you still feed me….). How have they fared in leaving their imprint on society? Here are Achenbaum’s major findings:
· Boomers rearranged the three boxes of life
Many boomers detoured from the old school route of high school-job-retirement. Instead, they went to college, entered the work force later and changed jobs several times. Retirement is no longer a fixed life event, especially following the 2008 economic collapse. Many have been forced to keep working or have re-entered the work force or pursued a so-called “encore career.
· Boomers widened the range of inclusivity
“Boomers did not necessarily instigate the various struggles for equality over the past six decades, but this generation institutionalized an ethos of inclusivity in U.S. society,” he writes.
· Boomers advanced healthfulness—structurally and personally
Medical breakthroughs as well as changed behaviors (quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthier) are credited with the advances in boomer life expectancy. “Boomers incorporated preventive care into their lifestyles with nutrition, exercise and holistic medicine, leading to multi-billion dollar industries,” Achenbaum observes.
· Spiritual quests for meaning changed many boomers’ world views
“Personal and collective searches for “meaning” reinforced values and norms that segments in this age group started to embrace in youth,” he writes. These were abetted by advances in communication and transportation that brought the boomers out into the world.
“Not content with living their parents’ lives, Boomers pursued education, a multi-faceted work-life and a robust retirement,” Achenbaum said. In the process, the report concludes, they remain relevant, engaged, and contributors.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.