I finished reading my latest book titled The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America. I thoroughly enjoyed the book – and not just because I am a boomer. The baby boom began in the middle of 1946 and ended in 1964. The generation drove a rapid expansion of the population – over the 19-year period, 76 million babies were born.
From 1941 to 1945, the country averaged 2.9 million births a year, up from 2.4 million over the prior decade. From 1946 to 1964 – the baby boom – the annual average was just shy of 4 million. The number of kids born during the baby boom was equal to more than half of the entire population of the United States in 1945.Philip Bump – The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America
The generation redefined the U.S. in ways that earlier generations did not. It occurred during a period of convergence across multiple disciplines – like what the world is currently experiencing. For example, music helped shape the generation. The rise in the 1950s of rock and roll music converged with radio and automobiles. Baby boomers as teens were driving around and listening to music – a nostalgic phenomenon that continues to this day.
The changes driven by this massive generation rippled across society. Baby-related businesses exploded. According to the author, from 1947 to 1957, the number of teachers in the United States increased from 861,000 to 1.2 million. By 1967, the figure was 1.8 million. Ten years after that, it was 2.2 million. As the author describes, education was the first institution strained. California alone was opening one school a week in the 50’s. In many ways, the baby boom drove a sudden scramble. It also witnessed the birth of a unique market: the teenage market. Alongside this new emerging market was another area of convergence – the Television.
In 1946, the first year of the boom, an estimated 8,000 households in the United States had television sets, according to Census Bureau data. By 1964, 51.6 million did—92 percent of the households in the country. Not only was there a massive emerging market with money to spend, there was a new way to reach it.Philip Bump – The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America
The book takes the reader on a fascinating journey, describing the building blocks that shaped the boomer generation, and in turn, how the generation redefined the world. That journey to the past is illuminating, contributing a great deal to the shift the author takes towards the future. As he mentions, the number of residents of the United States born during the baby boom has declined over the past 20 years, dropping by nearly 10 percent since 2000. However, a 2017 Census Bureau estimate expects there to be about 2.5 million boomers still alive in the United States in 2060 – albeit less than 1 percent of the country’s population. Much like birth during the boom created new industries, the death of baby boomers may do the same. For example, the author poses this question: will there be as robust a surge in demand for cemetery space as there was for kindergarten classrooms in the 1950s?
There were about 74 million boomers in 2020, meaning that, if only boomers died each year, it would take 23 years for every boomer to die even at the exceptional rate seen in the first year of the pandemic.Philip Bump – The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America
Now the story shifts to the future. That future includes the aging of society and the continued decline in fertility rates. Per the author, in 1900, there were about 10 times as many people under 18 as aged 65 and over. A century later, the ratio was a bit over 3 to 1. By the mid-2030s, the two groups will be about the same size, and, 25 years later, there will be almost 1.2 people over the age of 64 for every one under 18. The number of Americans aged 85 or older will more than double over the period from 2020 to 2060.
These demographic shifts play out in a period of growing tension between the boomer generation and younger generations. It is that tension and how it evolves that plays a major role in shaping the future. Major generational turns have always been transformative – and this one will be no different.
The author describes how America is visibly changing (I think this phenomenon applies globally), as it had visibly changed when the boomers were kids. He goes on to describe how we’ve seen generational tensions before, as when the boom emerged, but we’re now living through something exceptional. As older Americans were pushing against the changes driven by younger Americans, younger Americans were banding together and pushing back, shouting through newly invented megaphones. Another profound area of convergence. Much like TV, radio, music, and automobiles shaped the lives of boomers, building blocks like the Internet, mobile phones, social media, and world events have shaped the lives of younger generations. While intergenerational tensions are likely to take center stage, there’s no dearth of tension within the massive boomer generation itself.
This generational turn plays a major role shaping our future. Any look ahead must consider this significant piece of the story. The book and the author – like so many before – blends a look at history with a look forward. I highly recommend the book and have added it my library. The Amazon abstract is included below.
t’s a reporter as adept with a graph as with a paragraph, is popular for his ability to distill vast amounts of data into accessible stories. THE AFTERMATH is a sweeping assessment of how the baby boom created modern America, and where power, wealth, and politics will shift as the boom ends. How much longer than we’d expected will Boomers control wealth? Will millennials get shortchanged for jobs and capital as Gen Z rises? What kind of pressure will Boomers exert on the health care system? How do generations and parties overlap? When will regional identity trump age or ethnic or racial identity? Who will the future GOP voter be, and how does that affect Democratic strategies? What does the Census get right, and terribly wrong? The questions are myriad, and Bump is here to fight speculation with fact
Writing with a light hand and deft humor, Bump helps us navigate the flood of data in which our sense of the country now drowns. He fits numbers into a narrative about who we are (including what “we” really means), how we vote, where we live, what we buy—and what predictions we can make with any confidence. We know what will happen eventually to the baby boomers. What we don’t know is how the boomer legacies might reshape the country one final time.