Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) are rather famous for their outspoken and contreversial manner. In their youth they expressed a great deal of anger at “The Man” (aka their GI Generation parents) and used that anger to stop the Vietnam War and break down the shallow society that surrounded them. Even as a Gen X’er (born 1961-1981) I have respect and admiration for the changes that they instigated (I am not really a fan of the idealized American Dream) but times have changed, and I wonder if Boomers are ready to adapt.
I came upon a site that was truly troubling: “Angriest Generation” which has a call to action for the Baby Boomers to “Get Angry”. The author is looking for stories about what angers Boomers and why we need to listen to them rage about it. My response: sorry Boomers, you had your chance at protest, and now it is time to grow up and help the younger generations put this society back together. Enough of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” already. If Boomers really want to be productive, they should follow the advice of Neil Howe and William Strausss from their book “The Fourth Turning“:
“The continued maturation of Boomers is vital for the Crisis to end in triumph. These one-time worshipers of youth must relinquish it entirely before they can demand from Millennials the civic virtue they themselves did not display during the Awakening.”
[See Howe and Strauss’ full script for Boomers]
So we don’t need anymore anger or outrage from Boomers, we need forbearance and wisdom. If you are a Boomer and you are ready to put your idealistic rhertoric aside, we need you in leadership. But if not, then it is time to let Generation X lead the way. In fact, an article from the Harvard Business Review Blogs a few days ago, makes this point very well:
Why Generation X Has the Leaders We Need Now
We already have a Gen X’er in the White House. Time for other Gen X’ers to step up and heed the call of pragmatic leadership at all levels. And Boomers we need your help! Just don’t think we are going to be interested in hearing what you are angry about, or that it will help solve the monumental problems our world is facing today.
The generational makeup of our legislature is shifting, and it will definitely affect our future as we move further into the crisis.
Our leadership is constantly changing, not just in their political party, but also in the generation they represent. If you look at this chart from the Strauss and Howe website, Lifecourse.com, you can see the shift in the generations over the last 100 years:
This covers only up until 2005 (you can also download a spreadsheet with their source data – very cool!) so I captured the information for 2007 and 2009 from the Congressional Biographical Directory and created a couple charts showing the recent trends.
The first is the number of congressmen (including both house and senate) from each generation in the last three congresses:
You can see that the Boomer (born 1943-1960) numbers hold quite steady (there are more in 2007 than in 2009) and the GI generation (born 1901-1924) is almost non-existent (there are just two or three in congress, so they don’t really show up on the chart). The shift that is beginning to happen is that the Silent (born 1925-1942) are giving up ground to Generation X (born 1961-1981). The chart below isolates these two generations:
Generation X now equals the Silent Generation in Congress, up from around only 35% just four years ago. The shift from Boomer to Generation X will likely take many more years.
The significance of this shift is important. The Silent generational leaders are very knowledgeable, but are not known for decisive action. Generation X, on the other hand, is very practical and won’t get caught in “analysis paralysis”. Gen X leaders often go with their gut and are willing to try things out and evaluate as they go along. This will probably make for faster decisions in congress, but might also mean that those decisions are not as well thought out. You may also notice that there are not any Millennial generation (born 1982~2005) leaders in the Legislature yet, but I expect there will be several in the next congress.