The Baby Boom

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In September of 1945 World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan.  Germany had preceded the Japanese surrender the previous May.  Multiple thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen came victoriously marching home to their own families, loved ones, and wives or girlfriends.  These war veterans were more than ready to put bloody battles, carnage, and death behind them and begin to focus on the radiant future.  The entire nation, too, was experiencing postwar economic growth that had been so long in suffering because of the sacrifices of the war effort.  Together, these two facts resulted in one of history’s biggest jumps in population growth—it became known as “The Baby Boom.

Almost exactly nine months after World War II ended, “the cry of the baby was heard across the whole land.”  More babies were born in 1946 than ever before:  3.4 million, 20 percent more than in 1945.  This was the beginning of the so-called “baby boom.”  In 1947, another 3.8 million babies were born; 3.9 million were born in 1952; and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 until 1964, when the boom finally tapered off.  By then, there were 76.4 million “baby boomers” in the United States.  They, as a conglomerate, made up almost 40 percent of the nation’s population!

There were many reasons for this population explosion.  Namely, many older Americans who had postponed marriage and childbirth during the Great Depression and World War II, were joined in the nations maternity wards by not only the returning military service personnel, but also by the young adults who were eager to start families.  It is interesting to note that in 1940, the average American woman got married when she was almost 22 years old; in 1956, the average American woman got married when she was just 20.  Interestingly, just 8 percent of married women in the 1940s opted not to have children, compared to 15 per cent in the 1930s.

Many people in the post war era optimistically looked forward to having children because they were confident that the future would be one of comfort and prosperity.  In many ways, they were right:  Corporations grew larger and more profitable, labor unions exploded with new members and promised generous wages and benefits to those members, and consumer goods were more plentiful and affordable than ever before.  As a result, many Americans felt certain that they could give their families all the material things that they themselves had not been able to have or enjoy. 

The children born during this era 1946–1964, the baby boomers, were indeed a new generation.  As they grew and matured, they openly voiced their disgust with the norm,…the previously acceptable,….the “Old Way” of doing things that their parents had lived.  This new generation definitely embraced their own values and principles, and were not to be denied living their own lives the manner and way which they themselves had chosen to live.

The baby boom and the suburban boom went hand in hand.  Almost as soon as World War II ended, developers such as  William Levitt (whose “Levittowns” in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania would become the most famous symbols of suburban life in America in the 1950s) began to buy land on the outskirts of bigger cities and use mass-production techniques to build modest, inexpensive tract houses there.  The G. I. Bill subsidized low-cost mortgages for returning soldiers, which meant that it was often cheaper to buy one of these suburban “cracker-box” houses than it was to rent an apartment in the nearby city.

These mass produced houses were perfect at that time for young families.  They had informal “family rooms,” open floor plans and fenced-in backyards.  Some even had patios.  The front porch concept in housing became a thing of the past.  Home owners stopped strolling around the block in the evening after their meals and socializing with their neighbors. They instead opted to stay at home to privately and quietly bar-b-que their supper on the grill on the backyard patio.  The entire concept of knowing one’s neighbors began to erode.

Suburban developments earned nicknames like “Fertility Valley” and “The Rabbit Hutch.”  By 1960, suburban baby boomers and their parents comprised one-third of the population of the United States.

The suburban baby boom has a particularly confining effect on women.  Advice books and magazine articles like “Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young,” “Cooking To Me Is Poetry,” and “Femininity Begins At Home” urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers.  The Biblical idea that one of a woman’s most important roles was to bear and rear children was hardly a new one.  But it took on a new and greater significance in this post war era.  First, it placed the baby boomers squarely at the center of the suburban universe.  Second, it generated a great deal of dissatisfaction among women who yearned for a more professionally fulfilling life.  This dissatisfaction, in turn, contributed to the rebirth of the feminist movement in the 1960s.

Consumer goods played an important role in middle-class life during the postwar period.  Adults eagerly participated in the consumer economy, using new fangled credit cards and other charge accounts to quickly buy things like televisions, hi-fi sound systems and even new cars.  But manufacturers and marketers had their eyes on another group of shoppers as well:  the millions of relatively affluent “boomer” children, many of whom could be easily persuaded to participate in all kinds of consumer crazes.  Baby boomers bought mouse-ear hats to wear while they watched “The Mickey Mouse Club” and coonskin frontiersman caps to wear while watched another Disney TV special about Davy Crockett.  They bought rock and roll records, danced along with TV’s “American Bandstand” and swooned and screamed over the pulsating Elvis Presley.  They collected hula hoops, Frisbees and Barbie Dolls.  A 1958 story in Life Magazine declared that kids were a “built-in recession cure.”  (“4,000,000 a Year Make Millions in Business,” was the article’s headline.) 

As they grew older, some baby boomers began to resist this consumerist ethos.  They began to fight instead for social, economic, and political equality and justice for many disadvantaged groups:  African-Americans, young people, women, gays and lesbians, American Indians, and Hispanics, for example.  Student activists took over college campuses with “sit-ins,” they organized massive demonstrations against the war in Viet Nam, and occupied parks and other public places.  Often they became, disrespectful, lewd, and uncontrollable.  These young people also participated in the wave of uprisings that shook American cities from Newark to Los Angeles in the riots of the 1960s.  Other baby boomers “dropped out” of political life altogether.  These were the group known as “Hippies.”  

The “boomers” grew up listening to the musical bands of “Woodstock,” and their related “free love” naked crowds of listeners.  These new rebels of society began openly and vigorously protesting in the era of the Viet Nam war and Civil Rights.  They all together watched on television the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy as he was campaigning for the highest office of the land.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was observed being killed on a veranda of a hotel upper floor.

The Viet Nam War was the defining issue for the generation that was characterized by its uncontrolled rebelliousness.  These “baby boomers” often totally rejected the conservatism of the previous generation and fought against issues such as discrimination of any kind and the development and use of nuclear weapons.  Illegal drug use, in its multiple forms and types, was rampant and, with the advent of the birth control pill, so was promiscuous and illicit sex.  “Make Love, Not War” was an oft repeated saying among this group.  They were many times referred to as the “Hippies.”  These “Hippies” were the ones who “dropped out” altogether from the mainstream society of America.  They grew their hair long, experimented with all kinds of illegal drugs and lived an existence of all out rebelliousness.  Some of them even moved to live in communes, as far away from the “Levittown” model as they could possible get.  Needless to say, they were at odds with the authorities at almost every turn of their life.  Such was the generation of the sixties.  These youth wielded a huge influence on popular culture, shaping everything from television shows, music, language, food, and fashion.

While the Baby Boom may seem like a population fluke, it has actually strongly affected the world as it is today. With so many extra people being born, there was a much higher demand for consumer products and services.  With population growth, there was a spike in families moving out of cities and into suburbs.  Schools opened, jobs were relocated, and the economy shifted to accommodate all of the new people.

Today, the boomers, now in their 50s, 60s, and early 70s make up roughly 27 percent of the American population.  They, because of their size and number, remain one of the most influential age groups in the country and are a major influence in elections and business and economic trends.  As time marches on and more and more baby boomers get closer to retirement age, they will have a significant impact on government programs such as social security and its paid out benefits, personal healthcare reform, retirement systems and programs outside social security, financial systems, the banking industry, the housing industry as well as all kinds of social welfare programs.  The biggest impact I believe will be through health and insurance benefits as more and more of these almost 80 million strong men and women known as baby boomers continue to live longer and longer lives as the medical industry continues to find new and better ways to increase good personal health and longevity. 

The generation immediately preceding the the Baby Boom was called the Silent Generation (those people born from 1925–1945).  The Baby Boomers produced Generation X (those people born from 1964–1979).  Some folks are now suggesting that those new people born between 1979 and today be labeled as Generation Z….What happens after that?  Well it has now happened.  There is no Generation Z, rather they are known as “Millennials”

The truth is that the Hippies produced children (Gen X) who are now running the intellectual, social, financial, energy, agricultural, and political systems of our nation.  They have produced Gen Y who are just taking over the operations of our most special, important, and sensitive departments and entities that  encompass how our country operates and sustains itself.  Those who are charged with the operations of these systems will be the ones who take us into the future….sadly, most of them have no real idea about our history, our past, our national real values, the price that has been paid by millions to get us here, and what needs to be done to secure and guarantee our rightful place in the future of mankind.  May God and His Grace help and preserve us all in the days ahead.

Learn More, Know More, and Become More…………….    

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