Academic journal article Generations

Baby Boomer Friendships

Academic journal article Generations

Baby Boomer Friendships

Article excerpt

More than a little help from their large networks of friends? Two researchers speculate about their own cohort in old age.

I get by with a little help from my friends. I get high with a little help from my friends. Pm gonna try with a little help from my friends.

-The Beatles, 1967

Baby boomers will begin entering old age in 2011. They will be the largest and most diverse cohort ever to experience this life-course transition. The sheer number of baby boomers has challenged institutions time after time (Dychtwald, 1990). Despite extensive speculation regarding the political, economic, and social impact that the aging of baby boomers will have on American society, no one has yet hypothesized the nature of their friendships during old age. Given the absence of scientific studies specifically focused on baby boomer friendships, our purpose is to reflect on this topic based on our knowledge of the literature on friendship across the life course (see Blieszner and Adams, 1992) and our own experience as baby boomers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the friendships of baby boomer youths were different from those of the adolescents who preceded them. Hanging out with friends and partying in groups all but supplanted dating as a weekend activity. In the midst of the sexual revolution, young men and women also developed platonic friendships, some of which have now lasted as long as three decades. Baby boomers experienced school integration, and manv were the first in their families to bring a friend of a different race home for dinner. Youth traveled together to rock concerts and antiwar protests or fought together in Vietnam. Parents of baby boomers worried more than their predecessors did about who their children's friends were and how their peers were influencing them. Some youthful baby boomers formed communes, living with friends rather than starting adult life by forming traditional families. They knew they were different from the older generation; the "generation gap" created solidarity among them. The question remains whether baby boomers' friendships during old age will represent as radical a departure from those of the older cohort as their youthful friendships did. Have the experiences of their youth continued to shape their friendships throughout adulthood, and will they continue to do so in old age, or are they mere memories after all?


Baby boomers, like other aggregates of people born during the same time interval and therefore experiencing historical events at the same age, constitute a cohort (Mannheim, 1952). (When Karl Mannheim wrote his classic essay, "Problem of Generations;' he used the term generation rather than the term cohort. We follow more recent scholars by reserving the term generation for discussions of lineage [Ryder, 1965J.) Although scholars have designated various years as marking the beginning and ending of the baby boom cohort, we consider all people born between 1946 and 1964 as members, with 1955 as the mid-point. Our rationale is demographic. In 1965, the rate of population growth was 1.21 percent, the lowest it had been since 1945 (Carruth, 1993). Baby boomers are thus those born during the period of rapid population growth that followed World War II.

Baby boomers share what Mannheim (1952, p. 291) referred to as a "common location in the social and historical process" and are thereby limited to "a specific range of potential experience, predisposing them for a certain characteristic mode of thought and experience, and a characteristic type of historically relevant action" Their common location primes them for what he called "certain definite modes of behaviour, feeling, and thought" Understanding what these modes of behavior, feeling, and thought might be is interesting to us for a variety of reasons. First,like other members of our self-absorbed cohort, we are fascinated with our own lives and those of our age-mates. …

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