[sixties-l] Boomers reshape culture, again

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 20:38:19 EDT

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    TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2001

    Boomers reshape culture, again


    The group, once labeled self-absorbed, is behind a rising average age in US
    - and may redefine aging.

    By Laurent Belsie (belsiel@csps.com)
    Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

    America is growing older - and perhaps kinder and gentler, too.
    New figures released today from the Census Bureau show that the median age
    of the US population has reached the highest point ever recorded. It now
    sits at 35.3 years - up from 32.9 years in 1990.
    The implications are huge. As the front half of the baby-boom generation
    reaches middle age - the real reason behind the increase - policymakers are
    focused on the effect on such things as Social Security and Medicare. But
    sociologists and market researchers find equally profound effects on
    American culture and politics.
    Baby boomers, who once turned in their antiwar signs for Lexuses and
    3,500-square-foot homes, are leaving behind "me generation"
    attitudes. Instead, they're searching for balance, lasting relationships,
    and spiritual values, sociologists say. More important, they're poised to
    explode several myths about aging.
    Boomers "will have more effect on the images of aging than any generation
    in history," says David Wolfe, author and consumer-behavior specialist in
    Reston, Va.
    The statistics reveal several different trends. Over the past 10 years, the
    number of 18- to 34-year-olds actually declined 4 percent. The number of
    people 65 and older increased at a slower rate than the overall population
    for the first time in history. But the number of 45-to-54-years-olds -
    encompassing the front half of the baby boom generation - jumped a whopping
    49 percent.
    Because of the aging of boomers, some observers foresee a less volatile
    electorate with more traditional family values.
    "As people grow older, their attitudes...tend to become less changeable,"
    says Norval Glenn, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at
    Austin. "The baby boomers are more liberal and the subsequent cohorts that
    have matured in adulthood ... have changed in a conservative direction.
    [Thus] unless something really major happens to shift the tide toward
    liberalism, the prospects for the liberal point of view are not very bright."
    But other researchers suggest that boomers, like the rest of Americans, are
    moving in both directions politically, depending on the issue. On the one
    hand, since the 1970s, they've become more conservative fiscally and "tend
    to do less wild and crazy things," says Tom Smith, director of the general
    social survey of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the
    University of Chicago.
    On the other, boomers (encompassing the generation born from 1946 to 1964)
    have become more liberal on certain social issues, such as race relations
    and accepting euthanasia.
    In fact, some researchers argue that baby boomers are set to change the
    preconceived notion that aging means growing conservative. If anything,
    says Stephen Cutler, a sociologist at the University of Vermont, the
    experience of the last three decades suggests seniors have become more
    liberal on several fronts.
    In a not-yet-published study coauthored with Nicholas Danigelis, professor
    Cutler found that on 39 measures of cultural and political attitudes, NORC
    surveys showed an overall liberal shift on 24 of them between 1972 and
    1998. In 18 of those 24 measures, the oldest age group (50 and over) moved
    to more liberal stances as rapidly as younger age groups. That doesn't mean
    seniors have become as liberal as younger people on all questions. It just
    means their shift in opinions has been as dramatic.
    The same pattern showed up in areas where society became more conservative,
    such as questioning the legality of abortion and wanting to limit the role
    of government. In fact, the youngest group of adults has made the most
    dramatic shift in terms of identifying themselves as conservatives, Cutler
    points out.
    Because of their numbers and assertive style, boomers may explode several
    other myths about aging. Among them:

    --Aging means rigidity. Nonsense, Cutler says. In a few categories, the
    50-and-over crowd moved to liberal positions more quickly than younger
    groups. "There have been so many concerns expressed: Are we going to become
    a socially stagnant society? Are we going to become stodgy, resistant to
    change?" he says. "The answer is very clear. Those assumptions are wrong."
    --The "me generation" label will persist. Ever since the leading edge of
    baby boomers stepped onto streets to protest the Vietnam war, they've been
    mischaracterized, argues Wolfe. First seen as altruistic for their antiwar
    stance, boomers later got tagged as the self-absorbed generation. In
    reality, boomers are going through the same development stages their
    parents and grandparents went through, he argues.

    As young people, their antiwar protests were acts of rebellion rather than
    altruism. The self-absorption of the yuppie years are common to all
    generations, Wolfe says. But as people reach middle age, they become less
    egocentric and more altruistic, more interested in relationships and
    spiritual values.
    "In the second half of life, you begin to rely increasingly on your
    internal counsel and less on the influences of the external world," Wolfe
    says. "This is driving consumer researchers up the wall."
    For example, when Coca-Cola aired edgy ads last year featuring people
    throwing tantrums when they learned there was no Coke available, consumers
    complained and the ads were pulled. As boomers mellow, Wolfe says, the "me
    generation" ads won't work anymore. On the other hand, running-shoe
    manufacturer New Balance has boosted sales with its tag line: "Connect with
    yourself. Achieve New Balance."

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