08 January 2009

The Boomer Divide: 1954

Demographers, sociologists, and, perhaps most important, marketers don't fall into the trap of assuming everyone born between 1946 and 1964 can be defined neatly as baby boomer. One category for an entire generation? That only works for distant history. When the people are still alive—and visible for observation—a single category is too broad.

Enter the year 1954. At least for now, it's the dividing line between early boomers and late boomers and speaks more to the childhood experiences of the sub-groups than to any actual event of 1954. Early boomers know VietNam. Late boomers know Charlie's Angels.

You might call that having your outlook shaped by socio-historical context. Or more colloquially, you are who you were when. Me? I like to refer to Judy Harris's theory of group socialization: the child's peer group in ages 6 to 12 is the greatest influence on personality development. Whatever is influencing the group and however the group responds to the influence will drive a lot of that development. I know, I know, that always sparks debate. But even after we debate it, I will still stick with Harris.

Current affairs application of 1954 as the boomer divide:
The LA Times used the idea of early versus late boomers to help explain President-elect Obama's approach to politics and governing (and the approach of his cabinet picks, too).

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.


BaltimoreBonnie said...

How do you write a blog entry about this and not even mention "Generation Jones", the term which is now widely used to describe exactly the people you bring up?

Google Generation Jones, and you'll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (New York Times, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) are specifically referring to Obama, born in 1961, as part of Generation Jones.

Even the LATimes piece you refer to uses the GenJones term throughout. I like your blog generally, but his is na unfortunate omission.

Mary Bold said...

To BaltimoreBonnie:
Point taken.
I have shied away from the Jones reference because while it has been coined, it is not established in the literature with firm endpoints. But you are right that if I am writing in the blogosphere, I could have included a term that is common there. It will be interesting to see if the Jones title withstands the test of time. I fear it may slide into the territory of "greedy geezer," which was coined (similarly making a values reference, not just identifying a birth cohort) decades ago and requires far too many operational definitions to make it useful. And don't you think it's interesting that we humans care about naming our cohorts?
Anyway, thanks for keeping me honest here!
~ M. Bold