Baby Boomers have had a tremendous impact on 20th century history and culture. Baby Boomers are defined as anyone born between 1946 and 1964. In the United States, nearly 30% of the population constitutes Boomers. The increased birthrate in the post–World War II era also impacted Canada, where the generation is known as “boomies.” In Britain, Baby Boomers are simply referred to as “the bulge.” Baby Boomers have left an indelible mark on the modern history of the United States.
Throughout the course of human history, the optimism or pessimism of a civilization can be measured by the birthrate. An increase in birthrate usually represents a more optimistic culture, whereas a decrease may indicate pessimism. For example, a declining birthrate contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. In the modern era, a similar trend surfaced in France as the birthrate declined in the second half of the 20th century and pessimism reigned, while in the United States the rate of birth skyrocketed, signifying the rise of extreme optimism and the Baby Boomer generation. In 1940, there were about 2.5 million births in America, and by 1946 the number grew to 3.3 million births. The rate continued to rise in the United States from 1955 to 1964 as the birthrate continued to expand, and the rate never fell below 4.0 million each year.
There was good reason for optimism in the United States. Not only did the nation emerge from the Great Depression and World War II virtually unscathed, but the United States would also dominate global politics in an unprecedented fashion. In 1946, the United States constituted 6% of the world’s population, yet it controlled 63% of the world’s industry and 75% of the world’s capital. As the American economy continued to grow in the second half of the 20th century, the Boomers were uniquely positioned to contribute to the expansionism.
The outlook of the Baby Boomers was distinctly different from either of their two predecessors, the Greatest Generation (1900–1929) and the Eisenhower Generation (1930–1945). The postwar world represented tremendous hope and opportunity, and the Boomers sought to take full advantage. The generation experienced the hope and aspirations of the New Frontier of the Kennedy Administration, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, while they also encountered disillusionment in Vietnam and Watergate. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy left a permanent mark on the usually optimistic generation. The culture, music, and attitudes of the nation were directly influenced by the Boomers. More than anything else, the group contributed sweeping changes to modern America.
The Baby Boomers were also better educated than earlier generations. This was due in large measure to the G.I. Bill. American servicemen used Franklin Roosevelt’s G.I. Bill to obtain college degrees, and this benefit was also extended to Boomers. The Boomer generation was about twice as likely as their parents to be high school or college graduates and nearly 25% of the postwar group earned bachelors’ or advanced degrees. The value of higher education continued as the children and grandchildren of Boomers headed to colleges and universities throughout the United States in unprecedented numbers.
Perhaps most striking of all was the impact that Baby Boomers had and continue to have on the national economy. The Boomers have the highest labor force participation of any generation in American history. Nearly 90% of the postwar generation works—over half of the entire workforce in the nation. Nearly 80% of female Boomers worked, which opened the door for tremendous opportunities. The economic prosperity of the 1990s was due in large measure to Boomers reaching their peak in both earning and spending. Baby Boomers are also less apt to marry, more apt to divorce, and have fewer children than earlier generations.
Baby Boomers have had an enormous influence on modern America. The sudden population growth impacted the nation politically, culturally, and economically. Baby Boomers have left a significant mark on the history of the United States.
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