Monday, December 20, 2010

What about the Silent Generation?

In discussing a new Pew Research Center study finding that Baby Boomers are feeling gloomier than other generations, CNN makes a glaring error:
"Most Americans are pretty glum three years into a Great Recession and a jobless recovery, but even in that context, the baby boomers stand out," said Paul Taylor, co-author of the study and vice president of the center.

In contrast, the study found only 60% of millennials — individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 — had a bleak view of the way things are going today.

And about 76% of respondents older than baby boomers, also called the "greatest generation," were dissatisfied with the status quo.
The "greatest generation" is not the generation that came right before the baby boomers.

The baby boomers are the generation of Americans born after World War II. What Tom Brokaw called the "greatest generation" is the generation that was in early adulthood during the Great Depression and World War II, and participated in the war effort. In between not being born and adulthood is an period called "childhood."

Americans who experienced childhood during the Great Depression or World War II are known as the "silent generation." They are too old to be baby boomers and too young to have participated in World War II. The silent generation is what makes up most of today's senior citizens, since the greatest generation has been gradually dying off for a while now.

This error was made by CNN, not the Pew Research Center.

Of course, I should point out that what we call a generation in societal terms is generally somewhat shorter than a generation in biological terms. A true generation should be about 25 years, because that's roughly the age that people in developed countries have children. But in cultural and societal terms, generations are defined by the common experiences of people within a certain age range. These common experiences are generally delineated by external events that don't neatly map to 25-year intervals.

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