baby boom

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

baby boom

baby boom, a period in which the birthrate is significantly higher than in other periods, especially the post–World War II period in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In the United States, the postwar baby boom was the largest demographic spike in the nation's history; more than 78 million Americans were born. Experts differ about the span of the U.S. baby boom, which the Census Bureau defines as 1946 to 1964; the number of births peaked in 1957. Some break the period into two sections: "Leading-edge Boomers" (1946–54) and "Generation Jones" (1955–65). Marriage and pregnancy were delayed during the 16 years that spanned the Great Depression and World War II. After the war, births went up precipitously as the average ages at which people got married and began having children both went down. The baby-boom years were also marked by an expanding economy, increased educational opportunities, and population shifts to the growing suburbs. The baby boom ended in the late 1960s and by the 1970s America's birthrate had declined to 1930s levels.

Baby boomers are the largest generation in U.S. history, and have had a profound effect on many of the country's political, economic, and cultural trends. Many boomers reached young adulthood during the 1960s and contributed to and were affected by the period's antiauthoritarian and alternative hallmarks, such as political and social activism and rock music. Boomers also are united by such factors as television (they were the first generation to grow up with the medium) and consumerism (they have tended to be voracious commercial consumers). Many baby boomers have struggled to achieve the standard of living enjoyed by their parents because the large size of their cohort has tended to diminish economic opportunity, but the generation as a whole is the richest in American history. In the 21st cent. aging baby boomers are expected to present a significant challenge to the U.S. healthcare industry, Medicare, and social security.

See P. C. Light, Baby Boomers (1990), N. A. Hamilton et al., Atlas of the Baby Boom Generation (2000), S. Gillon, Boomer Nation (2004); J. Goldsmith, The Long Baby Boom (2008)

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