Baby Boomers Greet Another Year

It’s a new year, and time for boomers to review who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. There were nearly 79 million of us born between the years 1946 and 1964, and we’ve made our presence felt. See if you find these facts as fascinating as Mister Boomer does:

We’re a diverse group. The Boomer Generation is often talked about as having three sets of experiences based on birth year. Many can’t equate the perspectives of those born before 1950 to those who came after, let alone those born after 1960. The peak year for boomer births was 1957, when 4.3 million were born.

We’re aging. In 2014, the last of the baby boomers will turn 50 years old. That means the earliest boomers born in 1946 will be 68 this year.

We’re still hard-working. In a survey by AARP, most boomer respondents said they plan on working as long as they can, well past traditional retirement age. One in four say they will never retire.

We’ve got a few bucks. According to the U.S. Government Consumer Expenditure Survey, the median household income for boomers is 55% greater than post-boomers and 61% more than pre-boomers. The same survey says we’re big spenders, too. We outspend other generations on consumer goods and services by an estimated $400 billion each year. That’s economic power that helps drive our national economy from a generation that voiced never trusting anyone over 30.

We’re homeowners. Over 90% of boomers own a home. Take a look at U.S. Census records for your parents and their parents and you’ll see that wasn’t always the case. Many families rented their entire lives.

We’re online. An estimated one third of all Internet users are over the age of 50. In fact, in 2012 boomers spent an average of 2 hours more per week online than members of the Millennial Generation (27 hours vs. 25). We invented the Internet, dammit, and we’re going to use it!

We’re grandparents. Metlife says there were 65 million grandparents in 2010, and that number will jump to 80 million by 2020. Nearly 77% of the oldest boomers report having grandchildren. They have on average, four grandchildren.

We’d rather burn out than fade away. Boomers are living longer and are an active generation. In fact, many social historians are crediting baby boomers with the widespread acceptance and expansion of jogging, aerobics classes and neighborhood gyms.

We’re divorcing more often. By the age of 46, 87% of baby boomers had been married at least once. Over the past 20 years, the divorce rate has dropped among the population as a whole, but among baby boomers it has increased more than 50 percent. Researchers attribute this to our lifelong independent spirit and changing social mores. We grew up during the Sexual Revolution and don’t feel as obligated to stay married as our parents did. As a result, our children — and their children — aren’t marrying as often or as young as we did.

We’re still interested in sex. Boomers generally have had more sexual partners than previous generations. We were the first generation to take full advantage of the Pill, and now we’re the first to take full advantage of Viagra. Medical innovations and pharmaceutical breakthroughs are enabling us to have and enjoy sex well beyond earlier generations. Surveys suggest boomers — married or not — are still having sex … just not as often as we used to.

We’ve got our share of movers and shakers. Bill Clinton was the first boomer president (born 1946). George W. Bush and Steven Spielberg were also “leading edge” boomers, as were Cher, Diane von Furstenberg and Dolly Parton, among others. Hillary Clinton, Farrah Fawcett, Arnold Swarzenegger, Elton John, Rob Reiner, Stephen King and many others were born just a year later (1947). Think about the mark these folks have left on history and culture; and they’re just a fraction of people born the first two years of the Baby Boom, let alone the next sixteen!

We’ve defined and shaped the values for America and the world. People returned home after the War to the same levels of social problems they faced in the decades preceding: racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance; environmental indifference and blind obedience to government and authority. It was baby boomers who stood against these injustices, and we’ve made progress. In the 1950s, smokestacks belching soot was a sign of progress. Now it’s just not going to be tolerated and is judged a health risk to families and future generations. Half of all teens report they would date interracially, a statistic no one would have believed fifty years ago. Our president, himself a baby boomer, would never have been considered for higher office in the Eisenhower era. Eighteen states have passed marriage equality statutes. None of these expanded American values would have been possible without the direct involvement of baby boomers.

Yes, we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. Good or bad, baby boomers have helped shape this modern world. Imagine that.

Boomer Notables Who Passed On in 2013

There were many notable figures whose passing in 2013 stirred memories of the halcyon days of baby boomers. Some entertained us, others were inextricably connected with the history of the times. In each case, they became more than a footnote in the lives of boomers, whether their celebrity was recognized at the time or not.

Abigail Van Buren (July 4, 1918 – January 16, 2013)
Boomers knew Paulene Philips — Abigail Van Buren — as the newspaper advice columnist, Dear Abby. Beginning in 1956, and for decades following, she offered advice to young and old, all the while struggling to maintain her take on standards of decorum, manners and decency in an age when everything was changing.

Tony Sheridan (May 21, 1940 – February 16, 2013)
An English singer, guitarist and songwriter, Tony Sheridan was an accomplished rock ‘n roll musician, having toured with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. He met The Beatles (with Pete Best) in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960s. For a time, The Beatles were his backing band there, which led to Sheridan collaborating with The Beatles on several records. My Bonnie (1962) was a hit for him, listing The Beatles as The Beat Brothers. Sheridan in return played on the Hamburg recordings of The Beatles.

Annette Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013)
Certainly a leader of the club that was made for you and me, Annette Funicello went on from her early years on The Mickey Mouse Club to star in the fun and influential beach movies of the 1960s. Her wholesome image landed her the job of spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter in the 1970s. (Read Mister Boomer’s remembrances at Why? Because We Liked Her.)

Jonathan Winters (November 11, 1925 – April 11, 2013)
Boomers watched comedian Jonathan Winters perform on variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace, but it was his star turn in the movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), that sealed the deal for many boomers, including Mister B. We laughed along, marveled at his improvisational skills on The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (1972-74) and followed his career for six decades.

Richie Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013)
A consummate musician, singer and songwriter, most boomers learned of Richie Havens’ talents watching Woodstock, the 1970 movie about the most culturally significant rock concert of our boomer years. (Read Mister Boomer’s remembrances at Boomers Get Themselves Back to the Garden.)

Jean Stapleton (January 19, 1923 – May 31, 2013)
An accomplished actress on stage, screen and TV for decades, Jean Stapleton became a boomer favorite for her portrayal of Edith Bunker, Archie’s “dingbat” yet wise and patient wife on All In the Family (1971-79). (See Mister Boomer’s remembrances at G’night, Edith — Boomers Say Goodbye to Another Icon.)

Helen Thomas (August 4, 1920 – July 20, 2013)
Any boomer who ever watched a presidential press conference since the Kennedy presidency would recognize Helen Thomas. A feisty yet affable reporter, she covered presidential politics as a White House reporter for five decades. Ms. Thomas made a name for herself not only as a pioneer in women’s journalism in a time when few women were seen covering national news, but also as a keen observer and questioner unafraid to ask tough questions of even the president of the United States. In a 2006 interview, Ms. Thomas is quoted as saying, “I respect the office of the presidency, but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”

Virginia Johnson (February 11, 1925 – July 24, 2013)
With a name as common as Virginia Johnson, boomers can be excused for not recognizing the writer and sex therapist immediately. When connected to her famous work with her husband, Dr. William Masters, the picture is clearer. Together, Masters and Johnson were destined to turn the world on its ear with their study of human sexuality in the 1960s, paving the way for sex to be talked about openly. Ironically, a TV series about Ms. Johnson and her husband began in 2013 (Masters of Sex).

Karen Black (July 1, 1939 – August 6, 2013)
Boomers knew Karen Black for her portrayal of memorable characters on TV and in some of the most iconic movies of the 1960s and ’70s, including Easy Rider (1969) with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Five Easy Pieces (1970) with Jack Nicholson and Nashville (1975) with Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine and many others.

Sid Bernstein (August 12, 1918 – August 21, 2013)
A music promoter, Sid Bernstein brought The Beatles to the United States, which escalated the pace of the British Invasion to our shores. He was responsible for booking The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and brought them to Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium. He also promoted Judy Garland, and booked some shows for Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rascals, Melanie, Sly & the Family Stone and many others. A behind-the-scenes guy, Sid Bernstein surely left his mark on the Boomer Generation.

David Frost ( April 7, 1939 – August 31, 2013)
A British journalist and talk show host, David Frost became known to baby boomers on the satirical comedy program That Was the Week That Was (1962-63). A decade later he became an important historical figure for baby boomers when, in 1977, he conducted a series of seven interviews with a post-presidential resignation Richard Nixon. Frost was able to get the disgraced president to admit “mistakes were made” and that he expressed regret for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Ray Dolby (January 18, 1933 – September 12, 2013)
The 1960s were a time when music was as much a part of our lives as breathing. Along with the expansion of rock music during that era, music technology also advanced. Ray Dolby, an engineer, helped develop the video tape recorder while he worked at Ampex. In 1968 he invented the Dolby Noise Reduction System, and the name Dolby was forever linked to crisper sound coming out of our radios, tape players and records from then on.

Marcia Wallace (November 1, 1942 – October 25, 2013)
Boomers watched The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) and became acquainted with Marcia Wallace from then on. Her portrayal of Mr. Newhart’s funny receptionist earned her legions of fans who followed her throughout her career, from appearances on stage (The Odd Couple, Same Time Next Year, Prisoner of Second Avenue, and more) to prolific TV work, including Hollywood Squares, Alf and many others; to her voice work for The Simpsons as teacher, Edna Crabapple (1990 until her death).

Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013)
Baby boomers first learned about the singing, songwriting and musicianship of Lou Reed from his work with the über-influential rock group, The Velvet Underground. The band’s one album — indelibly etched into our minds with a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s banana silkscreen print on its cover — was a commercial failure in its day, but went on to become the inspiration and influence for a myriad of baby boomer musicians who followed. Mr. Reed continued to record for the next four decades, scoring hits with A Walk on the Wild Side (1972), among others.

Of course, there were many more who touched our lives. Not one of these people listed here were baby boomers themselves, but their influence on our culture and world stage has forever left an indelible mark on the Boomer Generation, and all who followed.