Baby Boomers and Millennials don’t exist

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Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Some say Millennials are really two generations – younger Millennials had different experiences growing up.

And P.J. O’Rourke claims Baby Boomers are made up of four classes.

I know what he means. My father was born in 1946. His youngest brother was born in 1964. Both are Baby Boomers, but they’re not from the same generation.

In today’s fast moving world, people born sixteen to eighteen years apart grew up in different cultural contexts.

Maybe it’s better to talk about cultural cohorts rather than generations. The world of your tween years to early 20s has a far bigger impact on your worldview than any other time in your life.

You’re likely to share a similar cultural context with someone born three or four years before and after you. That’s a six to eight year span. Anymore than that and your cultural context drifts farther apart.

Pop culture makes an early impact. And while politics comes later, pop culture recedes as you get older.

But there’s a big overlap. I didn’t list specific years in the chart below because you might have been ahead or behind the times.

The first column lists when different cohorts were born, when they came of age and formed their worldviews, and the important political and pop culture events of that time. I’m sure I’ve missed many things, but you get the picture.

Born Early/Mid 1920s

Came of Age Before 1945

Great Depression & World War II, Glenn Miller Band, big band
Born Late 1920s to Mid 1930s

Came of Age Mid 1940s to Early 1950s

Early Cold War, nuclear fears, 1950s conformity, TV introduced, Frank Sinatra, I Love Lucy
Born Late 1930s to Mid 1940s

Came of Age Mid 1950s to Early 1960s

Beginning of the Civil Rights movement, early rock n roll, Elvis
Born Late 1940s to Mid 1950s

Came of Age Mid 1960s to Early 1970s

Countercultural revolution, Civil Rights, Vietnam, second wave feminism, early gay rights movement, the Beatles, acid rock, hard rock, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Born Late 1950s to Mid 1960s

Came of Age Mid 1970s to Early 1980s

Post-Nixon malaise, stagflation, disco, All in the Family
Born Late 1960s to Early 1970s

Came of Age Mid to Late 1980s

Reagan Revolution, culture wars 1.0, AIDS crisis, MTV & HBO, Madonna, Cold War ends
Born Mid 1970s to Early 1980s

Came of Age Early to Mid 1990s

Neoliberalism, third wave feminism, Internet 1.0, grunge rock & hip hop, Seinfeld
Born Mid to Late 1980s

Came of Age Late 1990s to Early 2000s

Tech bubble bursts, 9-11 & fighting 2 wars, Internet 2.0, American Idol & reality TV
Born Early to Mid 1990s

Came of Age Mid 2000s to Early 20-Teens

Continued war, first smartphones, Great Recession, first black president, social media, gay marriage gains ground, Lady Gaga & Katy Perry, Internet TV
Born Late 1990s to Early 2000s

Will come of Age Mid 20-Teens to Early 2020s

TBA: The Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton presidential race will set the stage

What does this tell us about Americans today?

Look at how the world has changed for people born in the early to mid 20th century! Not just technologically, but culturally as well. Who in 1945 would have believed that gay marriage would be a nationwide thing by 2015?

Older Baby Boomers came of age just before the countercultural revolution. Some of them stuck with the old ways. But younger Baby Boomers were more likely to embrace this shift.

Older members of Generation X developed their political consciousness in the late ’80s after the Reagan Revolution had taken hold. But younger GenXers were more informed by Bill Clinton’s neoliberalism.

Older Millennials distinctly remember 9-11 and graduated from college just as the Great Recession hit. Younger Millennials barely remember 9-11 but do remember how scared adults were. In their experience, the US has always been at war and the economy has always been terrible. That creates a sense of unease and uncertainty.

And what about people born in the first decade of the 21st century?

They’re just starting to come of age. Their first political memories are of a loud and opinionated man who wants to be president, and who promises to bring back the past. (They must be thinking, “What was the past like?”)

His opponent looks like grandma. But adults say they don’t trust her even though she doesn’t say mean things like the other guy does. And most adults seem really mad about the whole thing.

How will their worldview develop and mature? I don’t know. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election will have a lot to do with it.

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Maine’s Demographic Crunch

Maine’s population has peaked at 1.33 million and is expected to stay there through 2030.

But could Maine eventually see a population decrease?

The Portland Press Herald reported recently that between 2010 and 2013, 97,233 Mainers left the state while 95,223 moved into Maine – a net loss of 2,000 people.

This wouldn’t matter if Maine had a high enough birthrate. But the Census Bureau says Maine’s population was flat during the same time frame.

Even though states like Florida have a higher percentage of senior citizens, Maine’s lack of young people makes it the oldest state in the nation with a median age of 43.5 years old.

And the loss of young adults means the loss of two generations because their children will be born somewhere else.

This is a problem because the proportion of workers to retirees will be cut in half when Baby Boomers retire. With only two workers for every retiree, Maine is going to see an increased need for government funded services while fewer young people to start businesses tightens tax revenues.

Maine is a Baby Boomer state. Right now the population bubble is people in their 50s. But the Census Bureau’s graph comparing 2000 to 2030 shows the baby bust known as Generation X (who in 2030 will be in their 50s) looking like a dent between Boomers and Millennials. Meanwhile, the population of 20-something Mainers in 2030 (people who are now in elementary school) will be smaller than even Generation X.

This makes me wonder what will happen to Maine’s population in the mid to late 21st century when Baby Boomers are no longer with us and the number of young adults isn’t even close to replacement level.

Especially for northern Maine. The long standing migration pattern to southern Maine means that even if Maine’s overall population doesn’t decrease significantly, the population of northern Maine could still plummet.

The state’s projections anticipate continued growth in southern Maine, as well as some parts of mid-coast and central Maine. But the growth isn’t expected to happen in cities like Portland or Lewiston/Auburn. Instead, growth will be in the suburbs.

Meanwhile, some northern and eastern counties are expected to see double digit population decreases.

The Demographic Times They Are A-Changin’

I’ve heard it said that by mid-century whites will be a minority in the United States. But strictly speaking this isn’t true.

The Center for American Progress, in collaboration with the liberal Brookings Institution and the conservative American Enterprise Institute, released a report about America’s future. States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974–2060 looks at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

And the demographics, they are a-changin’. The report describes the emerging American racial mix using the phrase “majority-minority” to describe whites being less than half of the population but larger than any other group.

I prefer the word plurality. Semantics aside, whites will not be a minority by mid-century because being the largest group, though less than half of the population, is not comparable to the place African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and others have held in American society.

Regional Differences

Also interesting are the expected regional differences. My home state of Maine is 94% white (non-Hispanic). By 2060 this is expected to drop to 88%. Yet, Asian-Americans today are the largest group in Hawaii at 37.7% while whites are 23%.

Northern states from New England to the Pacific Northwest are projected to remain majority white in 2060, but Latinos are anticipated to outnumber whites in the Southwest – including California and Texas. And this could significantly alter politics in Texas, with national ramifications. Whites and Latinos will be roughly equal in mid-century Florida.

Although the African-American share of the demographic pie is expected to remain constant, notable shifts could happen in the Deep South. Will blacks one day outnumber whites in Georgia?

The Asian-American population is likely to increase significantly, and California will notice this most, as will every major American city.

Immigration Is Good

Immigration is going to be a major driver of these shifts. The United States has always followed a predictable pattern with immigration: heavy immigration from certain parts of the globe results in xenophobia and racism among Americans whose ancestors immigrated a few generations earlier. The newcomers are often poor but within a couple generations are as well educated as anyone else and have added invaluably to American culture. And then they lament that today’s immigrants aren’t like their grandparents.

In the nineteenth century the Irish began showing up in droves, and Americans put signs in shop windows saying “Irish need not apply.” The Irish were drunks, lazy, always on the dole (welfare), and practiced a pagan religion (Catholicism). Then in 1960 the great-grandson of Irish immigrants got elected president, and on March 17 every American claims Irish ancestry. But Americans of Irish descent are counted among those who want to close the door to Latinos.

But Latinos are a different group. Italian-Americans were geographically separated from Italy, so the Italian language in America faded away. But the Americas are mostly Spanish speaking, and the Southwest United States was once northern Mexico. Thus, Hispanics will be the only major ethnic group to retain bilingualism. And that’s okay. Canada does it just fine. Switzerland is trilingual.

Generations

Let’s take a look at the 2016 presidential election, and what that might mean down the line.

States of Change tells us that the Greatest Generation (think World War II) is only 1% of the US population, so not a group politicians will be courting. Members of the Silent Generation (think Elvis Presley) are now in their 70s and 80s. They’re less than a tenth of the population.

Baby Boomers and Millennials are each about a quarter of the population, and they are the ones politicians must focus on. But Boomers are key (for this election cycle) because people are more likely to vote when they’re older. And politically, they’re very polarized. Bill O’Reilly and Michael Moore are both Boomers.

Did I forget someone? Oh yeah, Generation X. My generation. Demographically, we are a baby bust. We’re a fifth of the American population. Like the Silent Generation, we will be forgotten. Reality Bites. Our best strategy is to ride Millennial’s coattails.

As the older generations pass away, Republicans will have to become more socially progressive to survive. Fiscally conservative young people are much more socially progressive than their elders. Fifty-eight percent of Millennial Republicans support gay marriage, and almost two-thirds would legalize marijuana.

The Millennial Future

Talkin’ ’bout my generation. It’s an American tradition. The Greatest Generation trashed Baby Boomers in the ’60s, and Boomers trashed GenX in the ’90s. Now it’s Millennials turn to be trashed. But they’re in their 20s. They will grow up, they will take the reins of leadership, and it will be fine. Expect an unprecedented number of women leaders from this generation.

Today, Millennials are 27% of the population. By 2060 they’ll be 21% (the same percentage GenX is today).

Not bad.

By comparison, GenX will be 8% in 2060. Those born after 2000 (a generation still being born) will be a quarter of the population, and folks born circa 2020 through the 2030s will be an equal score. The generation starting to be born around 2040 is, by 2060, expected to be slightly smaller.

Big picture: In the 2020s Millennials will start to fill the void left by Baby Boomers’ setting sun, and they will maintain this position until the 2060s.