Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Entitled Generation

My generation, the Baby Boomers, officially began turning 65 today, according to whoever determines these things.  At any rate, it seems to be a milestone for our society.
In keeping with a generation’s fascination with itself, the time has come to note the passing of another milestone: On New Year’s Day, the oldest members of the Baby Boom Generation will turn 65, the age once linked to retirement, early bird specials and gray Velcro shoes that go with everything.

Though other generations, from the Greatest to the Millennial, may mutter that it’s time to get over yourselves, this birthday actually matters. According to the Pew Research Center, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 people “will cross that threshold” every day — and many of them, whether through exercise or Botox, have no intention of ceding to others what they consider rightfully theirs: youth.

This means that the 79 million baby boomers, about 26 percent of this country’s population, will be redefining what it means to be older, and placing greater demands on the social safety net. They are living longer, working longer and, researchers say, nursing some disappointment about how their lives have turned out. The self-aware, or self-absorbed, feel less self-fulfilled, and thus are racked with self-pity.

Steven M. Gillon, the author of “Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America” (Simon & Shuster, 2004), warns against generalizing about baby boomers, especially when it concerns politics. Still, he says, the boomer generation, of which he is a member, clearly changed our world. Here’s a simple generalization — that is, explanation — of how:

Previous generations were raised to speak only when spoken to, and to endure in self-denying silence. But baby boomers were raised on the more nurturing, child-as-individual teachings of Dr. Benjamin Spock, and then placed under the spell of television, whose advertisers marketed their wares directly to children. Parents were cut out of the sale — except, of course, for the actual purchase of that coonskin cap or Barbie doll.

“It created a sense of entitlement that had not existed before,” Mr. Gillon said. “We became more concerned with our own emotional well-being, whereas to older generations that was considered soft and fluffy.”

The boomers may not have created rock ’n’ roll, but they certainly capitalized on its potential to revolt against parents. And they may not have led the civil rights movement, but they embraced it — at least, many of them did — and applied its principles to fighting for the rights of women and gay men and lesbians. They came to expect, even demand, freedom of choice; options in life.

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