Millennials & Boomers vs GenXers & The Greatest Generation

When I was pregnant with my daughter 15 years ago, I was on the eternal hunt for a good parenting book. Dr. Spock and the rest of the child-rearing industry just weren’t cutting it for me, resistant as I have always been to formulaic solutions. I knew my own upbringing had not provided me with nearly enough of a foundation to raise my daughter in the way I wanted to, so I was in pursuit of information to fill the gaps I was sure existed in my parenting skills. I found that book in Rudolph Dreikurs’ Children: The Challenge. Dreikurs’ work is built upon that of Adolph Adler, a Freud protégé who was kicked out of Freud’s inner circle for having better ideas. To quote from the wiki on Adler:

Adler emphasized the importance of social equality in preventing various forms of psychopathology, and espoused the development of social interest and democratic family structures as the ideal ethos for raising children.

Here was a parenting style I could get on board with. If I understood anything about life at the age of 22, it was how my life was shaped by the justice system, operated under the auspices of government. And I knew how government worked. For the four years I was a ward of the state, I was constantly reminded of my rights, and they were rarely violated within the system. Of course it made sense that I would utilize those ideas first before reaching for newer, often pop cultural solutions or new age trends. I later found out this approach is the essence of something called Republican Motherhood, which has nothing to do with Republicans, and everything to do with inculcating the up-and-coming generation of Americans with constitutional values. This was important work post-colonial period, and many mothers took this responsibility seriously.

That this obscure, out-of-print parenting book appealed to me in 1993 (it was published in 1964) should give you some insight into my character and my values. I’ve shared a lot about my past with readers because my experiences have shaped my admittedly odd word view. Yet another aspect of my development as a human being involved the public education system of the 1970s. It was, even in conservative Houston where I attended grades K-4, a liberal paradise. Literally. During the 1970s hundreds of thousands of radicalized boomers, mostly women, graduated from colleges and took up careers as teachers. And they brought a lot of those radical ideas with them. This phenomenon, by the way, is the root-ball of the low opinion conservatives hold for both professors and teachers. It continues to blossom like some gnarly, fearsome rosebush.

So enter hundreds of thousands of formerly screaming Beatles fans who were by then blissed out and beaming, talking about history and current events. Rainbows and flags and chains of cartoon people of many different colors were all the rage in classrooms. Instead of pronoun drills, we passively learned via posters with fantastic art that a pronoun is “anyplace that you can go.” I admit it was a paradise, and I soaked it up, especially the parts about stories: language arts, social studies, and history. I sailed through elementary school to a chorus of voices that instilled a sense of pride in my state, my country, and myself as a human. Opportunity was the constant refrain.

A lot of people of my generation, Generation X, had that experience. Not all, of course, but I think that personal story pretty accurately reflects dynamic changes that were occurring in public education in the 1970s. I don’t think it’s an accident that those years seemed to be the last high mark either. Mulling over this topic has prompted me to consider a rather unusual thesis, however. Bear with me while I try to flesh this one out.

I suspect that Generation Xers have more in common with Depression era children, aka The Greatest Generation (I do hate that title, ftr), than they do with baby boomers, who are their parents. My girlfriend Beth and I have been discussing this theory for years. If that is true, then is it also true that Millennials, aka Generation Y, are more like baby boomers than like Gen Xers? Imagine my surprise when I googled the term “Millennials” and the early returns showed the term “echo boomers.” Apparently I’m not the first to stumble down this particular path. Not that there’s anything new under the sun anymore.

Obviously it has occurred to someone that there is an “echo” of the boomer in the millennial. Is there also an echo of the depression in us xers? If so, what accounts for this leapfrogging of values and norms? That exploration is way too big for one post. I just thought I’d throw those ideas out there for fodder as I figure out how to articulate the rest of it. I have ideas, but I need support. That means research. More on this topic later.

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10 comments on “Millennials & Boomers vs GenXers & The Greatest Generation

  1. Valhalla says:

    While the 70s were ideologically exciting as a time to grow up, they were also economically a rather depressing and uncertain one.

    It sounds like I may be just a few years older than you. I remember the oil crisis, turning the heat down in winter to barely (it seemed, although probably was not) above freezing, huge layoffs in my community, and being asked constantly if I thought electricity grew on trees. When my family moved into a new house, which my father had built himself, it had two seriously well-burning woodstoves, long before it became a Green trend.

    Neither the Millenials nor the younger half of Gen X have memories of what it’s like to live in a nationally failed economy, and most don’t have the experience of watching a whole community out of work, at least not a community where most of it has not-easily-transferred skills and no college degree.

    Not that it was anything like the Great Depression, I’m sure, but a great deal of the bloggerboyz crap I’m reading these days about how fabulous Obama’s economic plan (what plan?) will be have no freakin’ clue how little idealism and hopey change keeps you warm in the winter.

  2. Anna Belle says:

    Oh, I remember, Valhalla, but those times started to happen around 3rd grade or so and really picked up steam as I went into fifth grade. The 80s was horrible for us, as it was for many working class families.

    But you are already headed down the same road I’m exploring myself. How much of this has to do with privilege during a person’s coming of age? That is how we define generations, basically, by how people act as they come of age, right? How much do paradigm shifts in education (which happened during our childhoods and during depression era childhoods) play a part? Does privilege play a part for boomers and echo boomers, who grew up under enormous privilege compared to the other two generations? See what I mean? It’s a whole new can of worms!

  3. kenoshaMarge says:

    It’s a can of worms I don’t much like. I’m a “Boomer” and the thought that I have anything in common, let alone “privilege” with Millenials is ludicrous. And insulting. Enormous privilege?

    If you are a “Boomer” with an education you worked for that education. You didn’t get prizes and praise for just showing up. Those are just two of the things I can think of off the top of my head that differentiate us.

  4. Anna Belle says:

    Kenosha, by enormous privilege I mean the economic boon that rode roughshod throughout your childhood. The two biggest boon periods in recent memory were the 1950 to midway through the the 1960s, and the 1990s.

    During the former period, the boomer generation came of age during the largest manufacturing expansion our country has ever known. The Millenials came of age during the largest stock expansion the country has ever known (and which was fueled, as I understand it, by a mass injection of boomer money). Both of those times are times of nostalgia for a lot of people because they were economically satisfying to large groups of people.

    Not so much for TGG and Xers–we got the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic bust of the Reagan Revolution. Does that articulate better for you what I mean? I don’t mean to imply that you ended up in the same place as Millenials emotionally or behaviorally, though there are some areas of overlap. But I wonder if the political approaches of the two groups are also aligned, you know?

    Also, I’d like to state for the record that I am comparing generalities. I realize that none of the aforementioned groups are monolithic.

  5. Valhalla says:

    Yes it’s a tricky thing, trying to qualify or quantify generational ‘markers’. But I think the question starts with the bulk of the group and major shared experiences that may have had an influence. Definitely not everyone in the group will have had the same experiences or share the dominant attitudes (if there are any). I’m definitely voting against my demographic in the GE, for instance.

    Because we’re talking about trends, it’s easy to generalize badly, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real trends. It’s all rather fascinating.

  6. […] Peacocks and Lilies: Millennials & Boomers vs GenXers & The Greatest Generation […]

  7. sister of ye says:

    Well, I’m trying to figure out where the privilege was when I grew up. It was called the baby boom for nothing – even a good paycheck has to really stretch when you’re one of 10 kids. One pair of (cheap) sneakers a summer – you put a hole in them, you wore them that way. A new item of clothes was an exciting from sister’s/cousins’/neighbors’ hand-me-downs. And I’ve probably consumed every variation on a casserole you can conceive of.

    My older sibs (war babies and early boomers) got goodies when they were young, then a reasonable tuition and a good job market. My younger sibs found college beyond their means, but got better clothes and more “toys” of all kinds once the older kids were out and the budget loosened.

    I, in the middle of the pack, managed to work my way thru college, but came out in the abysmal liberal arts job market of the late 1970s. I never made to my folks’ living standard, and doubt my retirement, should I live that long, will merit the description “golden years.” Maybe “ramen noodle years.”

    I’m not disputing your thesis overall, just pointing out that what might be true for upper income boomers whose parents weren’t so fertile isn’t true for us all.

  8. roofingbird says:

    I have been thinking that your blog here required a bigger response than a comment. Sister of ye touched on one of my reasons. It has to do with how the boomer designation got somehow smooged into something larger in the 80’s. I think there are great differences in the what we might think of as the second half, and parallels to be found with characteristics and life experiences of younger siblings.

  9. Ciardha says:

    My parents were that middle generation between “greatest” and “boomers” Depression babies- dad born 1933, mom 1936. The generation who actually put the Civil Rights and Second Wave Women’s Rights movements into motion, the generation that created the divorce boom- as women of that generation realized they didn’t have to stay with abusive husbands, etc… That generation has some similarities to ours- except only experienced a brief economic rise in adulthoods- during the Clinton adminstration. For my mom it was childhood- great depression and WWII, teen years- 1950’s, and finally economic rise to upper middle class 1960-1977 (during her marriage) then crashing down to below poverty from 1978-1998 (when I became full time, and gave her half my paycheck, bringing both her and I back to the lower middle class level she grew up in. My Dad, no surprise has stayed upper middle class, and like many people of any generation- lost touch with populist liberalism- something the middle class to wealthy Boomer Hillary never did.

  10. Anna Belle says:

    Yes, I agree RB, sister’s comment does shed some light on an unidentified division.

    As I read your comment, sister, I was reminded of my uncle. He was the youngest of my mother’s five siblings. The first sibling was a pre-war baby, but all the rest where boomers. But, let’s call him Frank, was born pretty late comparatively. Frank definitely had a different childhood than his older siblings, and that fact is evident in the events of their lives. While everyone else (save the pre-war baby) eventually got some sort of professional training, whether it was college or whatever, Frank never finished, if he ever went. He’s spent his his life pinballing from one service managerial job to the next, sometimes encountering legal problems, always drinking or using drugs. Not that I’m implying that’s your life, sister, that’s just how he dealt with it.

    Part of it was that their father died when Frank was just 13. Part of it was increasing financial uncertainty, and other uncertainties that were beginning to emerge at that time. The events of poor Frank’s life conspired with the events of the larger culture to somehow rob him of that umbrella of innocent under which his siblings grew up.

    Wonderful, thoughtful stuff, sister. I knew this topic was too big, that I was approaching it from an unfocused thesis. That’s kind of why I’ve been blogging it in intro-mode, trying to flesh it out. One thing I am certain of is that educational paradigm shifts and economic paradigm shifts are related somehow. I just need to identify all the players and events.

    Ciardha, thanks for sharing that story. It’s amazing the commitment to family, isn’t it? I remember as a child I only had dreams of getting away. Now I wouldn’t leave if begged (though we are doing WAY better than we were when I was a child).

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