As I sat down this morning to write about a couple of recent funny family moments involving the history of me and my youngest brother, I happened upon this article written by the Kahn Academy–an online non-profit organization whose mission it is “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” It was such an easy read and covered in detail the background information I was searching for about my “baby boomer” post-WWII generation that I wanted to include in my post. So, with this being said, I felt compelled to share this article first as a precursor to the one I will write next. Next, full credit for this post goes to the content specialists at https://www.khanacademy.org:
Following World War II, the United States experienced a greatly elevated birth rate, adding on average 4.24 million new babies to the population every year between 1946 and 1964.
This generation of “baby boomers” was the result of a strong postwar economy, in which Americans felt confident they would be able to support a larger number of children. Boomers also influenced the economy as a core marketing demographic for products tied to their age group, from toys to records.
Constituting as much as 40% of the American population, baby boomers have exerted a strong pull on American culture at large, particularly during the social movements of the 1960s.
Today, most boomers are at or near retirement, prompting concerns for how American society will cope with an aging population.
The baby boom
Babies, babies, and more babies
Line graph showing US crude birth rates (number of births per thousand population) from 1909 to 2009. The birthrate dropped slowly from 30 births per thousand in 1909 to 18.5 births per thousand in the late 1930s. Starting in 1945 there was a sharp spike in the birth rate again, back up to 26.5 births per thousand. The high birth rate continued until the mid-1960s when the rate finally fell to pre-1945 levels. The birth rate kept falling until the late 1970s when the “baby boom” echo generation made a small increase through the 1990s. The birth rate in 2009 is 14.0 births per thousand, an all-time low.
Postwar domesticity and its economic benefits
Historians and demographers have pointed out a number of possible reasons for this increased devotion to domesticity and child-rearing after the war, from government propaganda extolling the virtues of apple-pie American life during the war to a yearning for the security offered by “normal” family life during an era when fear of the atomic bomb pervaded society. One thing is certain: these high fertility rates closely correlate with a period of unprecedented economic prosperity, as well as optimism that the prosperity would last. After years of barely getting by during the Great Depression and enduring shortages and rationing during the war, Americans finally could afford to have a lot of children, so they did.
Significance of the baby boom
The generation born in the twenty years following World War II has been a defining force in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, they were on the forefront of social change in those decades, including the later stages of the Civil Rights Movement, the protest against the Vietnam War, and the second wave of the feminist movement. It might even be said that those movements gained momentum because of the sheer size of the baby boomer generation, whose shared concerns and life experiences as an age cohort exerted an influence on American culture proportional to their numbers.
The unusual size of the baby boomer generation has not had universally positive effects. Like a “pig in a python,” as many demographers have characterized the group, the boomer generation has stretched and transformed American society as its members have moved through life. Today, the baby boomers still number about 76 million, as immigrants of approximately the same age have made up for American-born boomers who emigrated or passed away.