What Millennials Can Learn From the Baby Boomer Legacy


Millennials have received the lion’s share of attention on PolicyMic. Yet, Baby Boomers are arguably the most influential, dynamic and productive group of people in the U.S. at this time in history. 

Baby Boomers are described as those born from 1946 to 1964; the total number of births during this period was 79 million. The Baby Boomer generation is most often affiliated with Woodstock and the Vietnam War. It is the generation that gave us our last three presidents and a huge majority of current senior government officials and business executives.

Baby Boomer Magazine posted the following facts about BB’s earlier this year.

1) They have more discretionary income than any other group in America.

2) They control 70% of the total net worth of American households, totaling $7 trillion.

3) They own 80% of all savings and loan associations.

4) They are not fanatically loyal to brands.

5) They watch more TV than any other group.

6) They read more newspapers than any other group.

7) They account for 40% of total consumer demand in the U.S.

Considering that over 20% of Americans are Baby Boomers, and most are at least 50-years-old, it is not surprising that they have accumulated the most wealth. But, how do you assess the non-economic achievements of this generation? For sure, it has been a mixed bag.

Many Baby Boomers are free thinkers and most were liberal politically when they were young. If you doubt this latter observation, watch film clips of anti-war demonstrations in the 60’s and 70’s and civil rights protests during the same period. Baby Boomers were very active in their youth and often exercised their First Amendment rights to protest inequality and demand change.

The Vietnam War had the greatest impact on Baby Boomers, as 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives and 350,000 were injured. It was a depressing time when men counted the days until their draft deferrals would expire, and they would be required to report for a physical, the precursor to being conscripted into the military. The war hardened Baby Boomer perspectives about life and death, military conflict, occupation of foreign countries and the draft. Thankfully, the U.S. has eschewed any thought of re-instituting the draft system to replenish the ranks of the military since the Vietnam War.

At about the same time, the Cold War kicked into high gear. It resulted in huge capital expenditures for military armaments and weapons of mass destruction that greatly affected economic conditions just as they have today. I can still remember the feeling of hopeless that pervaded the country during this time as Americans considered the possibility of worldwide Armageddon from a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.

The BB generation had many positive moments and accomplishments. Education, at least among certain groups, became a national priority. BB’s became one of the most schooled groups in history. Civil rights advancements, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were significant. Unfortunately, the work in this area has not yet been completed. And technically, Baby Boomers enjoyed as much advancement as any other group in history. In fact, Baby Boomers set the stage for the current high-tech era.

There were many setbacks over the past half-century that Baby Boomers are responsible for. To begin with, the values of the group are often criticized for causing many to develop unproductive attitudes and behavior patterns. For instance, the group is frequently said to be too materialistic, egotistical and self-centered and overly-anxious to assert its philosophies on others. Moreover, the group is currently split down the middle regarding social responsibility and generally helping fellow citizens. And finally, the group has attempted to spread democracy and other distinctly American values on people around the world creating a huge cultural schism between the U.S. and lesser-developed countries.

Looking back, some baby boomers have made huge missteps. Business people have disappointed America on a number of occasions driven by greed, ego and arrogance. I have been dumbfounded in several instances where, literally, billions of dollars were “invented” or stolen, and the perpetrators believed they could beat the system. In government, it is hard to ignore the terrible decisions made by our last president that led us to conflict in the Middle East. And most recently, we have been disappointed by the incompetent performance of our leaders, who are driven by power and ideology rather than a desire to make America a great place to live.

I do not believe the Baby Boomer generation will ever be lauded as the greatest group in American history, and yet, there is much to be proud of. Many of us have worked very hard and created a great life and legacy for our children. The majority of those who have been fortunate have given away huge chunks of their wealth to needy causes. In business and technology, great strides have been made. 

I have confidence in the next group, who are beginning to assert themselves. It is a more complex and more transparent world in which millennials must prove themselves. I wish them peace and prosperous times as they succeed my generation.

Photo Credit: thinkpanama