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What was/is the baby boom?

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It’s interesting to me to contemplate the evolving cultural concept of baby boomers. This is a thread to discuss that topic.

Definition: The baby boom started out as a crude demographic concept, based on the fact that fertility rates in the US were above three for every year between 1946 and 1964 inclusive — still the formal definition of the baby boom — and have never hit that level in the nearly 60 years since.

It is startling to look at birth totals and see that a lot more children — more than four million per year — were being born between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s than are being born in the US today, even though the country”s population is twice as large now than it was then.

Culturally speaking, however, the baby boom concept has always involved a fallacy, which is that baby boomers make up the youth movement of the second half the 1960s. This is a fallacy in the sense the large majority of boomers — those born from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s — weren’t old enough to be part of that movement. Culturally, the baby boom is really at least two or three generational waves, since it should be obvious that a person born in the late 1940s has practically nothing in common, in terms of childhood and teenage cultural references/experiences, with someone born in the early 1960s. The former people make up the generation celebrated in ridiculous period pieces like Charles Reich’s The Greening of America. The latter — I’m one of them — don’t remember the 1960s at all, really, or rather have a sense of having grown up in the echo of all of that, rather than of having lived through it in any conscious way.

Still, the baby boom lives on now is a kind of talisman for the idea that there are too many old people whose cultural references/preferences are still too dominant (I confess to a certain sympathy with this view every time I hear “Start Me Up,” which is objectively speaking the worst Rolling Stones song ever, for approximately the ten millionth time.) BTW “Start Me Up” was used to sell Windows 95 in, um, 1995, and is now being used in Applebee’s commercials, which says something about something.

Anyway, discuss.

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