Boomers : Good Company to be In

By Joan Trezek

If you’re reading this, you probably consider yourself a Baby Boomer or a very close relative—perhaps born a few years before or after the official dates. The 19-year interval between 1946 and 1964, essentially the post-World War II years and the rise of suburban living are considered the Boomer years. Curiosity led me to do some online research after reading that the last of the Boomers turned 50 this year. Much has been written about the significant influence of this generation on America in the last 50 years. As this year closes, it seemed appropriate to do some reflecting.   Who were some of the well-known figures (yes, Bill Clinton and Meryl Streep among them) and what characteristics are associated with them. Some findings may surprise!

Documentary “The Boomer List,” offers insights

One who did this reflecting in a most engaging way was filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield Sanders who produced a documentary for American Masters on PBS which premiered in September and is now available to view online. Called “The Boomer List”, Sanders profiled 19 celebrity types, one born during each of the Boomer years to show viewers the various influences that shaped these people and contributed to their success.   Most on the list are household names. For example, singer-songwriter Billy Joel; computer pioneer, Steve Wozniak; actor Samuel Jackson, environmental activist Erin Brokovich, comedian, John Leguizamo; physician/shaman Deepak Chopra to name a few. The PBS special ran about 90 minutes and there are many compelling moments —there are touches of pathos as when Dr. Chopra, just starting to work in a American hospital ER, is summoned to an “expiration”—a term he had not encountered previously. He learned from a nurse that he was to pronounce the death of a patient; he thought it strange that a physician had to make death “official”. The passion for doing the right thing for the environment, for shaping policy honestly and openly from Erin Brokovich is unmistakable as is the candor Samuel Jackson expresses as a child of segregation.

You may experience flashbacks of the civil rights era, the Viet Nam years, the Cold War, the start of space travel, the sexual revolution/Feminism. This documentary will lead you comfortably through those historic events right on your computer screen. As a portrait photographer, Sanders has a photo exhibit of these 19 Boomers at the Newseum in Washington , DC , through July 2015.

A trip down memory lane often sparks the need for more information. Where the Boomer Generation is concerned, there is no lack. Between the onset of the boomer years and the official end, more than 76 million babies were born in the U.S., constituting 40% of the 1964 population. More recently, the Boomers comprise almost 25% of the country’s population. Interestingly, boomers make up 25-30% of California’s population too.

Where are they? What are they doing?

Wonder where the other folks are today? According to an AARP study, the highest concentration of boomers, 36.8%, live in Maine with West Virginia in second place; the most affluent with annual income of $94,000 were in Maryland with Hawaii second on the income ladder at $84,000. The highest concentrations of Spanish-speaking boomers lived in New Mexico (33.4%), Texas (27%), and California (23.6%). And, the highest levels of education (not necessarily college grads, but those with some college education) were found in Colorado, almost 70% and Alaska, nearly 69%. Finally, it is in North Dakota and New Hampshire that the highest percentages of boomers are still at work—68.4% and 63.7% respectively.

What more do we know about Boomers?

  • They have a strong desire to be active and maintain good health into retirement. The popularity of Zumba, yoga, walking/hiking programs is evident. The travel program, formerly known as Elderhostel, and now called Road Scholar offers lifelong learning for individuals, couples, and intergenerational families. International trips, domestic travel, and shipboard adventures, many with a volunteer component, have been well received. Fitness club memberships, offered with some Medicare plans, are also attractive to this active group.
  • Many are college grads or have had some higher education. They are knowledgeable, skilled and capable of channeling those strengths into second careers, part-time jobs, and volunteer activities. These are people for whom personal growth and making a difference is important.
  • Boomers in large measure have more discretionary income than previous generations. As full-time workers they used their credit cards for what might be considered luxury goods—second homes, timeshares, high-end cars, travel out of the country.
  • In terms of values, Boomers have been described as anti-war, anti-government (think 60’s, Viet Nam, UC Berkeley campus). And, not afraid to question, or challenge assumptions.
  • In terms of work/career, the verdict is mixed. They have been called “workaholics”, deriving a great deal of pleasure from their jobs. However, they have been a little slow to recognize the value of maintaining balance in life. That may explain too why Boomers sparked the highest divorce rate, followed by second marriages in the history of the U.S.

If you think of yourself as a Boomer, you have a lot of company. And, like the 19 profiled in “The Boomer List” much of the company is very good indeed.