Rating the generations: Baby Boomers had more fun

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: February 28, 2007

Americans agree that the baby boom _ the folks who flamboyantly celebrated sex, drugs and rock-n-roll _ is the nation's fun generation.

A national survey of 1,008 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University also found that boomers are not regarded as the most generous, self-sacrificing or hardworking generation.

But baby boomers are credited for enjoying life and for producing the best music of any recent generation.

"Our music had the most eclectic roots. We listened to everything," said Bob Weir, 59-year-old founding member and a lead vocalist for The Grateful Dead. "The stuff that gets played today is heavily produced and formulaic. The melodies are all almost identical. Selling records today is only about business. Back in our day, it was a marriage of business and art."

Boomers also get credit for pushing back the boundaries of old age. Most of the "forever young" generation say people today don't become elderly until their 70's or 80's.

The poll asked Americans to rate the three major generations: the so-called silent generation born from 1925 to 1942, the baby boom born 1946 to 1964 and Generation X born in 1965 or later. (The war years 1943 through 1945 had a very low birthrate and generally are not counted as part of any generation group.)

Participants in the poll were asked if each generation had "a positive impact" on America and whether each was generous in contributing to society.

The silent generation _ so named by demographers because it was quietly wedged between the "greatest generation" that waged and won World War II and raucous baby boomers out to change the world _ received high marks. Seventy-seven percent in the poll said the silent generation had a positive impact on the nation.

"That was the generation that laid the groundwork for the economic base, the growth and prosperity of this country," said Paul Hodge, director of Harvard University's Generations Policy Program and an expert on the baby boom. "The silent generation made the sacrifices that were necessary."

But the sacrifices of baby boomers _ the generation that fought the Vietnam War, protested against that war, and waged a generally successful civil rights campaign for Southern blacks _ are also recognized. Sixty-six percent said this generation had a positive impact on America.

Getting the lowest marks is Generation X, a term popularized by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland to describe a nameless generation born in the shadow of the vast baby boom. Only 48 percent of the people in the survey said Gen X'ers had a positive impact on the nation.

When asked which generation was "the most generous in contributing to society, 41 percent named the silent generation, 32 percent picked the baby boom and 15 percent picked generation X. Twelve percent were undecided.

"The other generations went through sacrifices. The boomers went through the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement," said Hodge. "But a lot of people see Generation X as semi-spoiled. They've had everything handed to them. So they are experiencing this kind of push back."

When asked "which generation had the most fun in life," boomers led with 44 percent, followed by Generation X at 35 percent and the silent generation at 10 percent. Eleven percent were undecided.

"We were just more footloose and intoxicated with all of the possibilities of life," said Weir.

Forty-three percent also thought boomers "had the best music," significantly more than the other two generations, a finding that surprised Weir.

"After all, the generation before the baby boom produced Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett _ pretty cool stuff," Weir said. "Really they were the ones who produced rock and roll. We inherited it. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were not of the boomer generation."

Finally, boomers have figured how to make Bob Dylan's famous benedictory song "Forever Young" true in their own lives. They are redefining the meaning of old age.

Baby boomers, more than other generations, are most likely to say old age doesn't begin until 70 or even 80. Three-quarters of boomers say old age happens sometime after age 69, compared to less than two-thirds of the silent generation (most of whom have passed that age mark) and only about half of members of Generation X.

"We say now that the 70s are the new 60s," said Hodge. "Not only are they in better shape physiologically, but mentally they have a whole different attitude about age. It's a whole different world."

The survey was conducted Jan. 21 through Feb. 5 by the Scripps Research Center at Ohio University. The survey was sponsored through a grant by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.