Boomers Went to College More Often Than Their Parents

Changes happened fast in just about all aspects of life during the Boomer Generation. One area where boomers exceeded what their parents achieved was in getting a college degree. In fact, at the start of the Boomer Generation in 1946, according the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half of the adult U.S. population did not complete high school, let alone attend college.

In 1952, seven percent of the population over the age of 25 had a college degree. Since most people enter college at age 18, by 1964, when the first boomers were entering as freshmen, the percentage jumped to nearly nine percent; In 1972, 12 perent of the adult population over the age of 25 had achieved a college degree; and by 1982, the final year the oldest boomers could begin entering college, the number had grown to almost 18 percent.

There were, of course, massive differences between then and now, in who was able to go to college — the majority were Caucasian males. Women were being accepted into colleges more than pre-war days, but the ratio of men to women in college in 1960 was 54 percent to 38 percent despite more females than males graduating from high school (source: National Center for Education Studies). The ratio of women to men in college would not flip until 1980. Blacks were restricted from many places of higher education until the 1970s.

However, couples were married at younger ages in the boomer decades. In 1960, for example, the average age for a male to get married was 23. That meant the groom may have graduated college that very year, or the year before. Women, on the other hand, were married at age 20, on average. More than likely, that meant a women in college may have dropped out before graduating if the couple wanted children right away. MorĂ©s of the time precipitated the phrase, “a woman went to college to get her Mrs. degree.” Mister Boomer would like to state that he found no evidence women attending college during the boomer years got married during those years any more or less than those who did not. The only difference is men not attending college did tend to marry at an earlier age than their college counterparts.

In Mister Boomer’s case, the majority of his high school classmates did in fact go on to get college degrees. In his particular blue collar neighborhood, though, the opposite was true. Manufacturing jobs that paid a living wage in the 1960s and ’70s offered opportunities for men and women to enter the workforce immediately after high school.

While women and minorities had their struggles with getting accepted into colleges, and having the ability to pay for it, young men had another avenue to navigate: the military. Men were required to register for compulsory service in the military — The Draft — at age 18. The Draft was an annual lottery based on birthdate; each day of the year was issued a random number from one to 365. For example, in 1970, men born on January 1, 1951 were issued number 133, while those unlucky enough to have been born on January 5 were number 33. Men whose birthdate matched a number in the mid-200s and above would probably not be called for service. Men in college could, however, get a student deferment to delay military service until after their graduation. This was an especially big deal since a good many college men were not keen on being sent to Vietnam. It was revealed early on that students from wealthier families found ways to postpone or even eliminate their responsibility to serve by going to college. In 1971, Congress acted to eliminate the student deferment, with the goal of leveling out the inequities of college vs. non-college, wealthy vs. poor. The legislation allowed a male student to finish the current semester before entering the military, when called. Mister Boomer was one of those college males who saw their student deferment disappear. However, in 1973 the Draft was ended and replaced by the all-volunteer armed services we have today. Having not been called before the Draft ended, Mister B finished his college degree.

Today the percentage of people receiving college degrees — male and female — has been raised to around 35 percent. In the 60-plus years since the first boomers began graduating from college, the percentage of college graduates has nearly doubled.

College attendance was booming in the boomer years, but statistics show the majority did not go. How about you, boomers? Did you get a college degree, or did you go directly into the workforce?

Boomers Remember and Debate the Taste of Candy Bars

In two recent, separate conversations about candy bars — not initiated by Mister Boomer — the prevailing thought by the persons involved was that chocolate candy bars tasted better in the boomer years. They pointed the finger at high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) being the culprit, continuing the now decades-old debate of fructose/glucose versus sucrose; corn syrup versus sugar. Those conversations gave Mister B the notion that this was a topic that needed to be explored. Does chocolate candy taste different now?

When it comes to candy, or anything else that is packaged these days, the topic of HFCS is bound to appear. There are, actually, a variety of different corn syrups with differing levels of sweetness associated with them that are used in a vast array of pre-packaged foods. HFCS 55 is most often used in beverages and packaged foods, while HFCS 42 is more often used in baked goods and the like. The number is associated with the percentage of fructose that is present in the product. In Mister B’s exploration, HFCS 55 is said to taste 25 percent sweeter than sugar. However, manufacturers are quick to point out that the same level of product is not necessarily used in each food application. That is, if it’s known to taste sweeter, less can be used than would have been used if sugar was the ingredient. There are other studies that suggest that sugar-based sweeteners do not produce the same level of craving that HFCS does. Mister Boomer is not a food scientist and makes no claims whatsoever as to the validity of any claims. As a boomer, Mister B is only interested in what happened in our formative years, and what the taste buds of other boomers are saying on the subject.

The use of corn syrup derivatives in candy predates the boomer years, going back to the turn of the century and the dawn of the U.S. confectionery industry. There are certain kinds of candy that have always used types of corn syrup, like candy corn; its very nature is based on it. Other candies, through the years, made partial or complete moves to HFCS most often because sugar was more expensive or harder to get, like during war time. There is evidence of the industry experimenting with HFCS replacing sugar in the 1950s since corn was a commodity that was less expensive and easier to obtain. That resulted in some lessening of the use of cane or beet sugar, but not necessarily in chocolate candy bars.

In Mister Boomer’s investigation, he found plenty of anecdotal evidence that people think products made with HFCS tasted sweeter than those made with sugar. Many people claim to be able to taste the difference, and Mister B counts himself among them. However, industry spokespeople say that sugar vs. corn syrup is a non-issue and the taste is fundamentally the same. In 2010, the HFCS industry filed a request with the Food and Drug Administration to change the product name. The goal was to have high fructose corn syrup referred to as “corn sugar.” The FDA turned down their request.

Meanwhile, back to the taste of chocolate bars. Contrary to what prompted Mister Boomer’s initial exploration, he discovered most of the standard chocolate bars that boomers consumed back then continue to be made entirely or mostly with sugar. That includes Snickers, Milky Way, 100 Grand bars, Butterfingers, Heath Bars, Kit Kat, Hershey’s Classic chocolate bar, and more. Hershey’s recently admitted to experimenting with replacing sugar with HFCS, but at this point, sugar remains the sweetener of choice in chocolate bars, or a mix with corn syrup, which is different than HFCS. There are a few exceptions that did crop up on Mister B’s radar as being made with all or partial HFCS: York Peppermint Patties, Almond Joy, Baby Ruth and Take 5.

It’s easy to see why boomers, or anyone else, can perceive things differently since a quick scan of dozens of packages will show the pervasive use of high fructose corn syrup in today’s food industry. Perhaps the place where the largest switch has happened (and arguably, the biggest taste difference) is soft drinks. In boomer days, all soda pops were made with sugar. As the years went on, the companies mixed percentages of sugar and HFCS until finally, in 1984, Coke switched entirely to HFCS. (The story of New Coke need not be mentioned here, other than it was the first version of Coke to be sweetened entirely with HFCS.) Others, like Pepsi, soon followed.

A few years ago, Pepsi released Pepsi Throwback, which was meant to evoke the taste of the boomer years with a sugar sweetener. However, the drink was available only for a limited time. Mister Boomer did pick it up to sample it, noting it was less sweet and more like the “boomer-era” taste he remembered. These sugar forays may prove meaningless as time goes on since non-sugar drinks now command a bigger percentage of the market.

The original question still remains, though: Do chocolate bars actually taste different now than they did 50-60 years ago? Is there any ingredient change other than HFCS that could account for this perception if not actuality? Or is nostalgia at work here, a misremembering conjured up for the sake of pleasant memories? And most importantly, what do you think, boomers?