While 'OK, Boomer' is used as a blasé retort to the older generations’ neverending criticism of the youth, it also represents the United State’s worsening multi-generational divide. Now more than ever, people’s identities are dependent on the time period they were born in, and, as a result, people are trying to figure out what makes each social group tick.
So, what is a boomer?
A baby boomer, which is often shortened to 'boomer,' is someone born around 1946-1964, when the post-World War II baby boom happened. A 'baby boom' refers to a significant increase in birth rates, which occurred immediately after the second world war. There were plenty of contributing factors to the uptick of birth rates in the West, but troops returning home from the war and economic optimism were both very high on the list. In the United States alone, 76 million babies were born.
As the longest living generation, boomers have experienced a lot of major historical events, but are mostly defined by the United States’ post-WWII optimism and hippie movement. Even though boomers are associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, a good portion of the generation veered towards moderate-conservative lifestyles—early boomers are generally regarded as more liberal than their later counterparts. Currently, boomers are anywhere from 57-75 years in age and are usually parents to late Gen Xers and Millenials.
The first recorded use of the term was in a Daily Press article from 1963. In the article, Leslie J. Nason describes how college enrollment numbers were spiking because the oldest boomers were finally reaching adulthood. Even though this was 1963, the Oxford English Dictionary credits the modern meaning to a 1970 article in The Washington Post.
Baby boomers were born to parents who felt hopeful for the future—and rightly so, since the end of the Great Depression and World War II meant normalcy was on the horizon. Suburbia became the standard for one-third of the population of the United States, which pushed many women out of the workforce and back into wife/mother roles. This type of lifestyle consequentially sparked the rebirth of the feminist movement in the 1960s after it left many women feeling unfulfilled.
Some of the defining life events for early boomers include Beatlemania, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Apollo 11 moon landing. Contrarily, late boomers came of age during events like the Watergate scandal, the recession, the oil crisis, and the Iran hostage crisis.
Where we are now
Presently, boomers are in their late fifties to mid-seventies. Even though the 'OK, Boomer' meme has caused a lot of controversy since it hit the Internet in 2019, it has also posited a lot of necessary discussions on ageism and the generational divide. In January 2020, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts was hearing a case on ageism when he asked 'Is ‘OK, Boomer’ ageist?' Though he indicated the term itself wasn’t, it did hint at the overarching societal issue of age-based bias.
The truth is, each generation is comprised of diverse individuals from all kinds of backgrounds and it makes no sense to lump everyone into one group. To put it in perspective, the early boomers were already young adults when the late boomers were born. Likewise, the oldest millennials are almost forty, while the youngest millennials are in their early twenties.
In Western culture, the most influential people to the boomers were those born just before the generation—Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jack Kerouac, and Betty Friedan to name a few. These names dominated the culture of the 1960s and 1970s, influencing the youth to be more individualistic than their parent’s generation and to break from the societal norms of yesterday.
How do we overcome our generational divide?
- Stop buying into stereotypes. No one likes being boxed in, especially when the box is based on age. Each generation comes with its share of blessings and hardships, so it’s impossible to accurately sum up everyone’s story in just a few quick sentences.
- Open up your dialogue. People are uncomfortable with these types of discussions because they force everyone to confront their ageism and bias. Having a frank and honest discussion about these biases and how they affect your perception of other age groups is crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and each other. It never hurts to expand your viewpoint!
- Don’t shame people. This one should go without saying, but generational gaps can bring out the worst in people. Shaming people for growing up in certain circumstances is futile—our lived experiences are generally dictated by the world we live in, not the people we are. To be clear, this is moreso about boomers having trouble with technology or Gen Zers not being taught cursive in school, not about people’s 'opinions' on human rights.