If you were asked to select a song that defined your youth, what song would you pick? If you said Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" (1958) or The Beatles' "Hey Jude" (1968), you'd probably be a member of Boomers I or the Leading-Edge Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1955). Now if you picked Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" (1975) or Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" (1975), you'd probably be included in Boomers II or Trailing-Edge Baby Boomers (born 1956-1964).
Yes, the baby boomer generation is large enough to command two cohort groups. As a whole, baby boomers came of age during the early 1950s through the late 1970s. Let's take a glance at boomers' lives through a kaleidoscope of defining social moments.
The Golden Age (The 1950s)
In America, the 1950s was a period of unflagging optimism and economic robustness, following the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II. During this time, older boomers were youngsters and tweeners, most of whom were raised with traditional family values "as American as apple pie" and lived in family suburban homes with the proverbial white picket fence.
As kids, these boomers frequently congregated at a local soda fountain often housed in a drugstore like Walgreens. Going to the drive-in theater was a popular family pastime. The admission price was about one dollar per car, and popcorn sold for only 25 cents. Boomer kids were also transfixed by popular television programs of the day, such as Adventures of Superman, Lassie, and The Lone Ranger, which they watched on black-and-white TVs.
The Decade of Discontent (The 1960s)
You probably remember the 1967 movie The Graduate that captured boomers' zeitgeist of the time. In it, Dustin Hoffman played Ben, a rudderless college graduate. At Ben's graduation party, Mr. McGuire, a buttoned-down, middle-aged family friend, advises Ben on his future. Mr. McGuire said, "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics." "Plastics" was a trigger word for Ben and boomers like him: it spoke to the phoniness in American society.
Many older boomers felt the same way as Ben. "Selling out" to the military-industrial complex, a broad term to include corporations and institutions that supported America's war machine, was not a future they could comfortably envision. Still, many dyed-in-the-wool hippies traded in their tunics for oxford cloth shirts and, ultimately, took jobs in Corporate America.
The "Me" Decade (The 1970s)
As the "Me" generation, a term coined by author Tom Wolfe, boomers wanted to make something of their lives and not just do something with them. So, many boomers set high expectations and strove to exploit their full potential.
Rule-defying boomers sought instant gratification through experimentation and exploration (think sex, drugs, rock & roll, and disco!). Many boomer women burned their bras as a symbolic gesture in support for the women's liberation movement, the gay rights movement picked up steam, and a debate over women's reproductive rights ignited.
The Decade Of Greed (The 1980s)
Do you remember director Oliver Stone's Wall Street? In the film, Michael Douglas played the Gordon Gekko character, a lizardy corporate raider and greenmailer. Gekko captured the sentiment shared by ruthless Wall Street traders in this famous movie quote: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit."
But a rising tide does not lift all yachts. During this era, many boomers experienced a rough patch. The combined effects of mass layoffs, a deep recession, high federal budget deficits, and a swelling of the national debt profoundly affected the economic well-being of baby boomers. By the mid-1980s, many struggling boomers were cutting corners and economizing. In sharp contrast, affluent boomers were driving the sales of luxury products and services.
The 1980s also saw a period of technological innovation as the first personal computer was introduced by IBM in 1981. On the socio-sexual landscape, social change was afoot as a widespread response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The Best Decade Ever (The 1990s)
The economy started out wobbly but quickly picked up steam, resulting in the longest running economic expansion in American history that was owed, in part, to "Clintonomics." However, this was a jobless recovery, so not all boomers were rejoicing and benefiting from the turnaround.
By now, most Boomers had entered the workforce, and many Boomer households were led by dual-earner couples. With mounting demands on their time, many Boomers yearned for a better work-life balance. At the same time, the effects of the Gulf War led to a war-induced spike in gas prices, as well as triggered or exacerbated the American recession.
The Aughts Decade (The 2000s)
The first decade of the twenty-first century was far from rosy. Boomers were greatly affected by a globalization of the labor market, which led to diminished expectations as structural unemployment rose.
In 2008, the foreclosure crisis and the financial market meltdown dealt boomers a double whammy. On top of it all, a reduction in employer contributions to employees' 401(k) plans, a pension freeze, premium increases in health insurance, plunging home values, and skyrocketing college tuition for boomers' kids added to boomers' woes, according to a MinnPost article.
Increasingly, boomers embraced digital media, making the Internet their outpost for working, shopping, buying, dating, sharing, and learning. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have forever changed the way that we communicate with each other.
Today's boomers are adjusting to an age of austerity and resetting their future priorities. The current decade is still being written. So far, the 2010s will probably go down as leaner, meaner, and, yes, greener -- good for us, good for the planet.