Ever since Americans began nesting big-time after World War II,
welcoming a new baby every eight seconds, baby boomers have
commanded headlines and spotlights.
Yet who could have imagined then, except in the most theoretical
way, what a profound influence these 76 million offspring, born
between 1946 and 1964, would have on society? Historian Steven
Gillon calls it "the single greatest demographic event in American
As he explains in his fascinating "Boomer Nation," Americans have
"grossly misunderstood" the ways in which baby boomers have changed
the tone and character of modern life. Today, he notes, "boomer
culture is American culture."
Baby boomers specialized in firsts: They were the first
generation to spend their formative years in front of television.
The first to grow up in the suburbs. And the first to go to college
in large numbers, becoming the best-educated and wealthiest group
Unlike their parents, whose lives revolved around sacrifice and
self-denial, boomers honed an ethic of self-fulfillment and personal
freedom. Gillon, a host on the History Channel, calls them "the most
self-involved, self-aware generation" ever.
As boomers made their energetic, sometimes raucous way through
the 1960s - all that sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll - they revamped
relationships and rewrote the rules of marriage.
By the end of the 1970s, Gillon explains, three-quarters of the
group said they preferred an "equal marriage." Only 10 percent
wanted a traditional marriage, with clearly defined male and female
But all that freedom and change brought sobering consequences.
Boomers are five times as likely to be divorced as their parents.
Their struggles with parenthood also inspired a national debate
about "family values." Once famously liberal, they turned
conservative when it was time to worry about their own children.
They also returned to religion, though often on their own terms.
As Gillon writes, "Many congregations multiplied their membership by
going light on theology and offering worshipers a steady diet of
sermons and support groups that emphasized personal fulfillment."
Boomers rewrote the script in Hollywood, too, as young directors
replaced the old guard and produced films and TV shows appealing to
younger audiences. From "Laugh-In" to"Saturday Night Live," they
spurred seismic shifts in popular culture.
With Bill Clinton's election to the most powerful office in the
world, the boomers won the ultimate prize. …