Man, I never knew there was this much data in the world. Or that it could be organized into that many graphs, or that there were that many different kinds of graphs.
As to the story Bump tells–it turns out that I am part of a gigantic pig that has been swallowed whole by a python. (ICYMI, the pig is the Baby Boomers and the python is the US.) By way of data, statistics, innumerable studies, a comparatively (and mercifully) small amount of polling, and a lot of conversations with many, many experts, Bump spends the first 146 pages on “The Boom” and it’s effect on American culture, industry, and politics. It has and continues to be considerable, and I was disheartened to see that Bump has proved with numbers that it will continue to be at least until 2060. I won’t live that long and I find cause in his book to be grateful for that because a generational war is coming that is going to make the “Generation Gap” of the 60s look like a food fight in a grade school cafeteria.
Because now of course those pesky kids, the Millenials and the GenZers are coming up from behind, and they’re just a tad peeved at the generation that has engineered the nation to suit themselves, with no thought or much care for who comes after them so long as we get our Social Security checks every month. (See Chart 113.) OK, Boomer. (Yes, he writes about that song, too.)
There is much of interest in this book, beginning with an introduction to the first Boomer, one Kathleen Casey Kirschling, born just after midnight on January 1, 1946.
From 1941 to 1945, the country averaged 2.9 million births a year, up from 2.4 million over the prior decade. From 1946 to 1964–the baby boom–the annual average was just shy of 4 million. The number of kids born during the baby boom was equal to more than half of the entire population of the United States in 1945.
Kirschling now lives in The Villages in Florida, of which Bump’s description reads like a Jordan Peele script, but Kirschling seems to like it. From cradles to schools to culture and now to retirement communities, the Baby Boomer tail is what wags the American dog.
Television has a lot to answer for, too, as Boomers became the single most important target for ads specifically geared for products marketed first to their teenage selves and now to their elder selves. There’s a good chapter on music and why it was so important to us, although Bump never quite answers that satisfactorily and it may be that no one can. Instead he quotes journalist Jeff Greenfield:
“Nothing we see in the Counterculture, not the clothes, the hair, the ssexuality, the drugs, the rejection of reason, the resort to symbols and magic…none of it is separable from the coming to power in the 1950s of rock and roll music.”
[Also, our music is better. On that I agree with Kirschling. Go ahead, M’s and Z’s, let me have it, and then go listen to “For What It’s Worth.”]
The second half of the book, the eponymous “Aftermath,” is given over to scrying the future with the divining rod of data, or trying to. Race, immigration, and politics come front and center. Most of his conclusions are speculation–well-informed speculation to be sure–and he’s very careful to stay away from predictive absolutes. One thing is certain and one thing only: the tension between the generations is bad and getting worse. (See “OK Boomer” above. Old ladies suck, evidently. You heard it there first.)
Younger Americans consistently and accurately see how America’s political structure is weighted to a group, still heavily composed of baby boomers, that doesn’t look like them or reflect their concerns. It’s a system that gives primacy to homeowners and disproportionate weight to residents of rural areas.
The majority of M’s and Z’s live in urban areas. They’re also the lockdown generation, the generation that grew up during the Great Recession, who believe that the climate is indeed changing, and (Bump’s book must have been written before Dobbs because he makes no mention of it) who grew up in a world where they had bodily autonomy. No wonder they’re pissed.
And Kirschling? Bump gives her the last word,
She understood clearly that she and many in her generation had lived lives that were not only blessed, in her description, but perhaps irreplicable…”Never have I felt so upset about the future,” she said…Kirschling would later slot the riot at the Capitol just behind the Kennedy assassination as the darkest day in the country’s history.
I read this book because I subscribe to Bump’s weekly newsletter, “How to Read This Chart.” You should, too. The book isn’t as easy or brief a read as a column but it is worth the effort if you like assessments of the future that are informed by actual facts. I do.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.