economic, social, and moral changes in America since the end of World War II
Since the end of World War II, the American people have seen an extraordinary change in the economic, social and moral priorities of the nation and its people. Three generations have grown up since the war, each positively and negatively influenced by their parents and social change.
Who They Are
The WWII generation represents the most affluent elderly generation that the United States will see in a long time. This generation benefited from an expanding economy and skyrocketing real estate prices. Its members were the beneficiaries of generous government programs, from the GI Bill to government aid in buying their first home. (Wilkinson) high school education was sufficient to get well paying, secure jobs in their adult years. The lower level of education is one reason why members of this generation tend to see things differently than younger Americans. Like previous generations, this generation by and large trusts people in authority, easily accepts organizational structures, and enjoys traditional church hymnody skillfully played on the organ. This generation is fiercely reliable and values honor. Having lived through the Depression, they value the art of living frugally. This generation is based on life stability and faithfulness.
The Depression, World War II, and the Industrial Revolution have shaped many people in this generation. They tend to come from multi-generational families with clearly differentiated gender roles. They are characterized by stability, loyalty, and conservation of economic resources. The members of this generation are rooted tradition and value hard work. Born during the advent of radio, they are oriented toward auditory information. (Wilkinson, Chicowitz)
They are comfortable with traditional music, thee-point sermons, and a contemplative attitude in church services. Storytelling is a part of the experience of this generation, who grew up listening to stories on the radio. This generation by and large trusts authority figures and institutions, accepts organizational hierarchies and structures, and is faithful and reliable. This generation’s word is worth everything; you can depend on them to do what they say they will do.
The WWII generation gave birth to the Baby Boomers. The political upheaval of Baby Boomers’ formative years has shaped this generation to be highly suspicious of institutions, authority figures, and hierarchical chains of command.
Baby boomers were raised in a time of economic boom in America. In the post-World War II years suburbs were being planted, and isolated nuclear families became a new model of family life. At the same time, the coming of age of this generation marked a clash of values between young adults and their parents. This generation gap continues to define a huge clash of values between adults currently under 50 and older adults. As adults, this generation has experienced a high divorce rate, corporate downsizing, and scaled down dreams. Forever shaped by TV, rock music, and computers, the baby boomers value high quality, highly visual entertainment. They focus on achievement, fitness, individual fulfillment, a variety of choices, and immediate gratification. Boomers live to work and play. Whether they say it or not, they are seeking congregation that help them teach values to their children, are rooted meeting their needs, and are dedicated to high-energy, dynamic worship. Baby boomers are creative and eager to be involved when congregation have simple, nonhierarchical decision-making processes. They want to make a difference in the world by being involved in a congregation, whether or not they are members. (Chicowitz, Peppard)
The Generation X group, born between 1960-1980, is slightly smaller than the Baby Boomers with 70 million people. Referred to as Gen-X’ers, members of this generation often see the “X” as a derogatory term and feel they were raised in the shadow of Baby Boomers.
The Baby Boomers gave birth to Gen-X’ers. This generation, like the boomers, has experienced many cultural firsts that have shaped and continue to shape their attitudes and search for meaning. The Challenger explosion, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, the AIDS crisis, and disintegrating families all have impacted the first post-modern generation. Each of these events has reinforced the feeling that nothing is quite secure and everything is relative. Members of this generation are technologically proficient, environmentally conscious, and value their leisure time. (Wilkinson, Chicowitz, Peppard)
They expect and love high-quality entertainment and are extremely visually programmed to “see” the world. They have rejected the failed experiment of the Enlightenment and its elevation of scientific reason. Instead, they value personal experience and feelings; relationships are very important to them. They are by and large accepting of ethnic diversity and balanced power between the genders. Although this generation is cynical about the ability of institutions to change the world, its members are community-minded and willing to be involved in local projects to better the lives of others and the environment.
This generation responds well to congregations that have opportunities for small-group intimacy, local social service projects, and visually engaging worship services. Their motto “just do it” serves them well for their leadership in congregational life. Grounded in reality, this generation values stories, authenticity, and congregations that connect with reality.
Raising Kids Differently Than The Generation Before Many researchers say that the majority of Baby Boomers have completely rejected the core values and traditional ways of their parents in favor of rebellion and excessive ways. The Baby Boomers have been stereotyped as a wild, careless group with little time for their kids and a need for faster, quicker, better ways to do things.
On the other hand, 1960s revolution may have been exaggerated over the years. Many studies show, for example, that while a large vocal minority of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class college students challenged traditional institutions and mores, many of their peers remained as committed to old-time moral and religious values as ever. The Baby Boomers tried to pass on the traditional values of their parents to their children in a modern way. (Peppard)
The seventies and eighties, during which Baby Boomers were adults and Gen-X’ers were growing up, were a fast-paced time when everything changed constantly. One of the greatest changes seen between the sixties and the eighties was the shift in television and role models. Most of the television shows in the sixties had strong, parental role models, while the eighties’ shows lacked respect for parenting. The Brady Bunch and Mary Tyler Moore influenced the Baby Boomers while Al Bundy and Madonna influenced Gen-X’ers.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer. (Chicowitz)
During the nineties, Baby Boomers ridiculed opponents of television shows that were destructive to the minds of children, saying that it was no big deal. Today, Americans are back to the “violently opposed” stage.
The parents of Baby Boomers complained that their music was too loud but had little to say about the content of the music of the sixties, by artists such as Paul Simon and Carole King, until the Beatles began singing songs with lyrics like “Happiness is a warm gun.” And then Paul Simon wrote “Me and Julio down by the school yard.” Still, parents did not have to worry about warning labels on music albums, as seen in stores today. (Chicowitz, Peppard)
During the times when the WWII generation was raising the Baby Boomers, condoms were a hush-hush issue and a student could be suspended for having a condom in school. Today, schools are handing them out. WWII parents said that cars were for transportation only. Bill Clinton’s U.S. Surgeon General said parents today should be teaching children what to do in the back seat of a car.
The difference can be clearly seen in this scenario. A student is caught smoking in the bathroom and calls the teacher a ***** when confronted. The teacher slaps the student. Here’s the difference: If the student had WWII parents, he/she would have been punished at school and at home. If the student had Baby Boomer parents, the teacher would be suspended for slapping the student.
Educational standards during Baby Boomer’s adolescence were stricter. There were set curriculums and students who did not fill all the requirements were held back. Students were faced with real tests and real grades, as opposed to today’s “social promotion” policy, which allows students to advance to the next grade regardless of achievement if they meet the time requirements.
These differences in time and social norms are as much of a factor in analyzing the difference between child-rearing ways of WWII parents and Baby Boomer parents. While it is easy to point a finger and say that one method is superior to another, the fact remains that times and circumstances constantly change and while parenting is very important, we must look at who these generations are to see how their parents have influenced them.
Influences of Baby Boomers
Sociologists and the media have defined baby boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964, which means that most baby boomers today are between 38 and 56 years old. Baby boomers make up about 29% of the United States population with a population of approximately 76 million. Famous baby boomers include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Madonna, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Jordon.
Baby boomers were most influenced by the music, events and social changes of the 1960’s. The music represented revolution; sports heroes included Mickey Mantle and Muhammed Ali; and Americans enjoyed what baby boomers describe as a “good childhood.”
Up until the early twentieth century, children had to work the farm with their parents. Children who were born after World War II – the baby boomers – were the first group that were free of that responsibility and the first group to enjoy general affluence and great amounts of free time.
But the parents of baby boomers tended to encourage their children to occupy their free time by doing constructive things. Baby boomers were an extracurricular group in school, participating in many activities, including band, track, basketball, choir and dance. Children were also encouraged to get after school jobs, like paper routes or baby-sitting.
By the 1980’s most afternoon papers had disappeared. While many children continued to get after school jobs, less did. Interest in after school activities declined during this time, as well, and malls and parking lots became popular after school hangouts.
Today, statistics show that most adolescent crime occurs between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. Perhaps this is because children get out of school at 1 or 2 p.m. And typically have parents who work until 5 or 6 p.m. The kids are bored and bound to get into mischief.
Since one’s tastes and preferences are formed during one’s upbringing, as the Baby Boomer cohort entered the workforce, they desired to achieve the material aspirations they were accustomed to.
While baby boomers were passionate about WWII, many did not understand it. They were lied to and misled by the government and lost thousands of peers in the war. Their open-eyed trust quickly led to mistrust and rebellion. After the war, their passion was directed toward making money and “keeping up with the Joneses.”
The result of which is best described by Gen-X writer Marcos, “Yes, our generation is teen violence, Marilyn Manson, Columbine, but we are the ones left alone at home while our two Baby Boomer parents have forgotten their 60’s idealism and only want more wealth, power and prestige.”
The Children of Baby Boomers
During the sixties, about five percent of children were born to single parents. Gen-X’ers were taught that freedom meant living together without the commitment of marriage. When Gen-X’ers were teenagers, the number was about 25%. (U.S. Boomers, Wilkinson)
WWII parents were adamant about working to achieve success and taught their children that everything had a price tag and could be achieved through hard work. As a result, most baby boomers saved for years to buy a brand-new sports car. But their Gen-X children simply lease new cars as soon as they want them. Somehow, Baby Boomers gave their children the idea that credit should be used to live beyond their means.
Parents who lived through the Great Depression and whose independence and freedom had been threatened by a war that required sacrifices by everyone raised baby boomers. They did so without complaining that they had been victimized. Parenting was a simple concept to them. Many mothers sacrificed their careers to raise their children. Most parents wanted a better life for their children and did not look to the government to take responsibility for raising their children.
Baby boomers were more interested in themselves. Often, their careers came first and they expected the government to provide for and monitor day care centers so they could accomplish other things.
Baby boomers as a whole took a new approach to parenting than their own parents. They thought that by befriending their children that it would open communication and allow them to talk openly about anything. Basically, they just wanted them to grow up safely and turn eighteen so they could be free. (Easterlin)
However, the children of Baby Boomers were taught less about respect through this type of parenting. By not discipline their children and allowing them to be friends with them, the parents lost the stature of authority. This traveled to the school system as well, with certain schools allowing students to call their teachers Nancy or Tom instead of Mrs. Norse or Mr. Smith. (Wilkinson)
The Gen-X concepts of free love, condoms, and calling teachers by their first names are the result of the Baby Boomers social experiments. The Baby Boomer generation is often referred to as the “me” generation, and was the first generation to question authority and obedience.
As a result, their children have respect for only people, things, and ideas that can demonstrate they are worthy of respect. “Because I’m your father” is no longer enough to command deference. “Because it’s in the Bible” is no longer enough to command obedience. Grey hair is no longer a badge of honor, and it no longer grants automatic authority over younger men and women.
The children of Baby Boomers learned to cooperate but not compromise; to respect but not blindly follow; and to question what they are told. The Baby Boomers rejected the core values of the WWII generation in raising their children. Instead, they married these values with modernized techniques and taught their children many new things.
A recent study shows that Baby Boomers raised their children with the following rules:
If you want it, get it, but try to get it on sale.
If you charge it, pay your bills on time.
Save, but enjoy yourself.
When you buy, buy the best — it lasts longer.
Work hard, but don’t forget to play hard.
If you have the chance to travel — go!!
Plan for retirement — but if you can withdraw the money to buy a house, do it. Otherwise you may not have one for a long time.
Regardless of your age, you can have anything you want – you just have to try. (Easterlin)
The Values Passed On By WWII Parents
The oldest group of American workers is referred to as the veteran generation. This generation comprises the smallest working cohort in this country and is estimated to be approximately 52 million. Many in this group were largely influenced by World War II and several general characteristics can be attributed to those growing up during that time period. (Easum)
Baby boomers were born to parents who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. The WWII generation of parents struggled through hardships that few people today face. The parents of Boomers knew no guarantees and as a result, were frugal, hardened and grateful for a job.
The mindset of WWII parents was “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” They were grateful for their jobs and repaid their employers with lifelong loyalty. (Easterlin)
The WWII parents were very family-oriented. Most families, regardless of generation, lived near one another, and families took care of each other. Many WWII parents were born, raised, worked and died in the same house and neighborhood. They considered entertainment, communication, travel and transportation a luxury.
These values and work ethics were absorbed by the Baby Boomers. They worked hard and as time progresses, the economy flourished. Their incomes were larger than their parents and luxuries became affordable to many. They were able to raise their children in a favorable environment and in many cases, spoiled their children with the luxuries they never had.
Many of the Baby Boomers’ children did not have to earn what they got. While the Baby Boomers grew up mowing lawns and collecting bottles to earn money, their children were not taught these things. The Gen-X’ers became accustomed to air conditioning and food delivery at an early age. They were sent to college, given spending money and cars, and had lots of free time in the summers. (Celek)
At the same time, they lost sight of their parents’ strong family ties. They developed a high divorce rate, which split many families in half. Travel and transportation were common and inexpensive; so many Baby Boomers would travel to other cities for better jobs.
The Gen-X’ers were taught differently about big business and company loyalty. They saw that many big companies were downsizing and learned that company loyalty should not be a priority. They also saw that their parents spend more hours working and less in taking care of their children. (Celek)
The Baby Boomers are often categorized as being egocentric. Still, the Baby Boomers are known for being passionate about their work. They are hard workers like their parents and have been known to consider work as giving life meaning, as opposed to the next and final generation currently working, Generation X
Many Baby Boomers continue to hold the top management positions at companies, while times are rough for Gen-X’ers, despite their good educations. The Gen-X’ers are also the first group that practices a balanced approach to work. They are seen as the generation that lives to work, rather than works to live. Generation Xers often value self-reliance and also tend to be informal, which may conflict with the other generations’ values of formality, conformity and structure. (William)
The Baby Boomers grew up under the threat of the Cold War and felt the tensions of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs. Their parents built bomb shelters in their suburban backyards. They witnessed the death of a President, two civil rights leaders, and a Senator all within the same decade as they sat in their family room watching the details being recounted over and over on a black and white television. (Chicowitz)
The Baby Boomers ate the first fast food, TV dinners and made McDonald’s famous. While their parents raised them to eat at the dinner table, baby boomers preferred television to family conversation. Their parents encouraged strong family ties but the Baby Boomers had a mind of their own.
After their rebellious adolescence, their lives took on another form of rebellion. They questioned everything that hinted as being traditional part of the establishment. Many Boomers rebelled against the call of the government to enlist in the military and to the horror of their parents, burned the American flag and criticized the government. Others took off to Vietnam to do what they considered was the right thing. Some participated in drug abuse and others looked for new ways to participate in antisocial behavior.
Baby boomers constantly pursued “causes,” tearing apart and refining any institution they could find, including the definition of family. Their generation was the start of an age of self-help books, confessional television and psychologists. Baby boomers ushered in the age of blame, victims and avoidance. This is the generation that gave us the language of deception: friendly fire, planned obsolescence, politically correct, the power lunch, disinformation, re-engineered, downsized, right-sized, and serial monogamy. (Wilkinson)
As time progressed, the baby boomers, who were encouraged by their parents to volunteer and contribute to the community, tossed aside this mentality in favor of making deals over power lunches. As divorce rates climbed and the number of unmarried mothers increased, it became apparent that rampant uninhibited sex was “in.” The Baby Boomers parents would find this notion unconceivable.
Basically, Baby Boomers came to treat everything, including people, as if they were disposable and easily replaced. Boomers are known to downsize corporations at the expense of workers, invest in grossly over-valued technology stocks that represent completely intangible products, divorce families, and simply ignore the immature behaviors of politicians.
The Outcome of Baby Boomer Child-Rearing Methods
The name Generation X says a lot about the next generation was raised. Doug Copeland, a Gen-X’er gave this name to the group because he felt that the Baby Boomers didn’t pay much attention to this generation and no one had taken the time to designate a label for this overshadowed generation. So he branded them with an X. (Peppard)
When Gen-X’ers were growing up, many of the traditions, values, ritual and standards that their grandparents had raised their parents with had been destroyed. They grew up with many shortages – shortages of gas, of work, of honesty and of the availability of their parents. The traditional family now included gay parents, single parents, stepparents and foster parents.
Family stability was shaky for Gen-X’ers, mainly because of their parents’ behavior. Families became disconnected for a number of reasons. Often, they were geographically and relationally disconnected from one or both parents and their grandparents. Laws for custody and grandparents’ rights were constantly being reevaluated in the legal system. This shows an immaturity in the parents.
The children of Baby Boomers turned elsewhere for love. For the most part, they value their relationships with their peers more than those with their parents or family members. They place these friendships above all else, including work, which is a concept the “me” generation could never grasp. (Thau)
Contrary to media images, the vast majority of Generation X are not “slackers” any more than the majority of Baby Boomers were hippies. These images are simply a media device to position, sensationalize and pigeonhole groups. Instead, Generation X values intimacy in a way that no other generation has. Not intimacy in a sexual sense. The introduction of AIDS by Baby Boomers in the early 1980s radically altered the whole concept of “free love.” Rather, the X’er concept of intimacy is of accepting one’s self openly and honestly and accepting others at a level that most older generations fear. (Thau, Peppard))
Gen-X’er’s also prefer multi-tasking to spotlight grabbing, and work hard on both the result and the process to getting the result. This could be the result of a generation that was raised in the shadows of their eccentric parents, regularly negotiating between their warring parents, stepparents, and the significant others in their parent’s lives. Negotiation skills and getting the job done well are second nature to them.
Gen-X’ers, many of who are the products of a single parent home or dual career overachievers, tend to reject workaholism and materialism. They seek a more balanced life and do not want to follow in the footsteps of their overachieving parents. Generation X Job Seekers appreciate casual dress, training, collegial vs. hierarchical management, visual stimulation, varied and interesting work, and frequent feedback. The best recruitment venues include the Internet, on-campus publicity, gyms, health clubs, and coffee shops. (Horowitz)
Baby Boomers inherited optimism and respect for the power of work from their parents, but took it to a whole new level. They challenge authority and always looking for a better, smarter and faster way of doing things. Baby Boom Job Seekers appreciate continuing education, stress management programs, work at home privileges, enhanced health benefits, comfortable office facilities and flexible hours. Newspapers, Internet and staffing services are some of the best ways to reach the Baby Boomers.
WWII traditionalists are loyal, dedicated and value authority. They are self-sacrificing and comfortable with hierarchy. This group places little emphasis on the individual and acts respectfully toward the corporation and those who hold positions of power within it.
Parents of the WWII generation taught their children to think for and of themselves. These parents were not afforded that option as they grew up, often having to work during their spare time. Studies of child-rearing practices show that parents of the 1950s and 1960s consistently ranked “to think for themselves” as the number-one trait they wanted to nurture in their children. But the methods of childrearing used by WWII would not hold up in today’s society. The world has evolved and values have evolved, as well. (Thau, Horowitz)
Baby Boomers were taught by the parents but also influenced by many other things that affected how they would raise their children. The post-war affluence allowed parents to indulge their children in a way that was unlike any other generation. Their children were taught to succeed in a job market that rewarded competitive drive more than cooperative spirit, and individual skills more than teamwork.
Boomers learned to distrust institutions, which made them very independent and also control freaks. Most boomers do not trust their peers either and feel that most people are out for themselves.
Boomers’ children are the first generation to be reared by this “adult teenager” population. From the youngest to the oldest, these children basically have the same lifestyles. They have traveled more with their Boomer parents for leisure than the past three generations together. (Celek, Easterlin)
While the Baby Boomers have seemingly traded their children for material wealth, it must be recognized that they made these decisions in order to achieve material aspirations that were formed during their upbringing. Faced with poor labor market conditions, the Boomers made demographic choices that lead to higher earnings in comparison to their parents. These choices have lead to many social problems, such as divorce, as well as a decrease in total welfare for the baby boomers. (Easterlin)
While Baby Boomers may not have instilled in their kids the hardworking, honest approaches to life that their parents taught them, they have given their children the gift of self-love and questioning the world and how it works. Each generation is bound to be different that the previous ones and it cannot be blamed on the parents as a whole.
Wilkinson, Ron. Boomers vs. Gen X Cooperation Clash. BCFM Human Resources Committee, 2002.
Chicowitz, Hershel. Defining G-X’ers. BBHQ, 2002.
Peppard, Nancy. Ties that Blind: Social Disconnects And The Shifting Generational Profiles That Cause Them.College of Law Practice Management, 2001.
International Association of Baby Boomers
Easum, William. How to Reach Baby Boomers. Abingdon, 1991.
Celek, Tim, and Zander, Dieter. Inside the Soul of a New Generation. Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Dunn, William. The Baby Bust. American Demographic Books, 1993.
Easterlin, Richard A., Christine M. Schaeffer and Diane J. Macunovich. Will the Baby Boomers Be Less Well Off Than Their Parents? Income Wealth and Family Circumstances Over the Life Cycle in the United States. Population and Development Review, 1993.
Horowitz, Mark. Buller’s Arms. IUniverse, 2000.
Thau, Richard. Generations Apart: Xers vs. Boomers vs. The Elderly. Promotheus, 1997.
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