We’ve arrived. Baby Boomers are retiring. In 2011, the first round of Baby Boomers—those Americans born between 1946 and 1964—turned 65. From then until 2030, 10,000 Baby Boomers each day will hit retirement age. Millions will retire, collect social security checks and go on Medicare. Other Boomers will keep on working either out of financial necessity or out of some less tangible need like identity and self-worth.
In the several decades prior to the Boom, babies in the U.S. were born at a rate of about 2.5 million a year. Then in 1946, this rate exploded to 3.4 million and maintained this pace for the next few decades. The peak years were 1957 and 1961 with 4.3 million births a year. In all, these years produced about 76 million Baby Boomers.
Understanding Baby Boomers
Are you a Baby Boomer? Do you have a loved one that’s a Boomer? This generation was one of the largest in American history, and it is perhaps one of the most important right now when it comes to senior living. This group of people has very unique personalities, and their life histories are vastly different than today’s younger generation. So, who are the Baby Boomers?
Baby Boomers were born in an era that experienced great U.S. political and social upheaval. From race riots to the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam protests, the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, and the man on the moon to free love and drug experimentation, Boomers saw a U.S. that was both financially prosperous and socially turned on its head. Consider the U.S. economy between 1940 and 1960:
- Gross National Product doubled
- Real purchasing power increased by 30%
- Four-fifths of American families owned at least one car
- Home ownership increased to 61%
Boomers are often labeled as individualist, selfish, cynical, pessimistic, narcissistic, and socially responsible. But it’s hard to label a group that came into the world over a nearly two decade stretch—so much happened so fast over those years. Many are certainly looser with social conventions than their parents.
Asking the question, who are the baby boomers can be understand by the decades in which they were born. In one survey, 44% of Baby Boomers were fine with sex outside marriage, 37% approved of casual sex, 29% approved of legalizing marijuana. Americans born in the 40s were dancing to Buddy Holly one decade and starting their careers the next. Boomers born in the 50s grew up with the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones, and protested the Vietnam War in college. The 60s Boomers caught the tail end of Vietnam, Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation and Disco.
The following Baby Boomer statistics may surprise, frighten or enlighten you:
- Baby Boomers make up 28% of the population.
- Baby Boomers are responsible for over half of consumer spending.
- Baby Boomers control 80% of personal financial assets.
- One in three Americans over 65 relies on Social Security benefits alone.
- Three out four claim benefits when they turn 62 out of financial necessity.
- In 2010 Social Security paid out more in benefits than it received in tax payments.
- In 1950, 16 workers paid for each retiree’s SS benefit; In 2010, it was 3.3 workers and by 2025 it’s projected to be two workers.
40% of Boomers plan to “work until I drop” according to an AARP survey.
After 16 long years of depression and war, Americans longed for a time of normalcy. This is what led to the incredible numbers of births in the years following the wars. And, older Americans who had previously put off getting married and having children during the rough years of the Great Depression followed by the war were not able to do so.
Characteristics of Baby Boomers
One thing that makes this group so interesting is their confidence in the future. After such long battles, this group is known for its positive, confident attitude that the future looked comfortable and prosperous. And, they were accurate for many reasons. During their lifetimes, they watched businesses grow and become profitable. They watched labor unions to help to improve working conditions for people. And, they saw wages rise. They also saw schools become more accessible.
And, perhaps one of the biggest changes to hit Americans happened during their lifetime. People moved to the suburbs. Baby Boomers were able to build their own homes using developers who were now using faster methods to building homes. It was more affordable to buy a home, build a home, and access the funds to do so through the GI Bill. Their homes changed, too. For the first time, there were spaces meant for fun such as “family rooms.”
Baby Boomers were a hard-working generation. And, they value that hard work. Yet, they also have a strong desire to enjoy a higher quality of life. Some of the key characteristics of these individuals include:
- They valued individual choice.
- They saw community involvement as necessary and essential.
- They sought health and wellness in new ways.
- They were self-actualizing.
- They wanted and worked hard to earn prosperity.
- They sought ownership of businesses and homes.
- They were confident in the tasks they had to do.
- They worked hard to avoid conflicts and sought a more pleasant way to communicate.
- They adapted easily to change.
- They also had a maintained positive attitude throughout their days.
- Most are very goal oriented, but they also worked well in teams.
This generation also began the movements towards equal rights, and they understood the pressures of failure. Yet, they continued to work hard to achieve the goals they set out.
Baby Boomers vs. Millennials
Baby Boomers are quite different from Millennials. For example, they are far more conservative and less likely to speak out than Millennials are. Millennials tend to be significantly more progressive on social issues. Whereas Baby Boomers thrived on supporting the whole family unit with a married set of parents, Millennials are less focused on getting married and more likely to support gay marriage. They are also more likely to support the legalization of marijuana and are less likely to be religious.
Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 56 to 74 in 2020)
Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 40 to 55 in 2020)
Millennials: born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020)
Generation Z: born between 1997 and 2012 (ages 8 to 23 in 2020)