Monday, June 27, 2016

Baby Boomers: Choices, Legacy, and My Story

This morning I was browsing through blogs on retirement as I am wont to do lately (yes, I am a planner), and I came across this interesting blog, Sightings Over Sixty, written by Tom Sightings. I read through the blogger's most recent post, Let's Pick a President, and then I started reading some of his most popular posts. I did his handy quiz to determine whether I am ready for retirement, and discovered that no, I am woefully uninformed and therefore not ready for retirement. Hmm.

Then I read another one of his most popular posts, Baby Boomers are the Most Selfish... and it really got me thinking. He starts the post with the following:
    I recently received this anonymous response to one of my blog posts, and it seemed to come out of nowhere:

     "You Baby Boomers are the most selfish generation to ever exist. You destroyed your own children's and grandchildren's future with your short-sighted selfishness and immaturity. And then you expect them to pay for your retirement???? Can you baby boomers just hurry up and drop dead, please!"
Then Tom goes on to imagine how he would feel about the Baby Boomer generation if he were a Gen X'er or Millennial. What was especially interesting about this post were the comments that he received -- 57 of them -- from both Boomers and younger generations. I was surprised by the level of vitriol and blame directed toward the Boomer generation by Gen X'ers and Millennials, who expressed the beliefs that the Baby Boomer generation were horrible parents; that they have made the world a worse place; that they have sold their children down the river economically; and that they have an unpleasant sense of entitlement.

Many of the Boomers writing comments told their personal stories of struggle and hardship that contrasted with the rosy generalizations about Boomers' lives claimed by the younger folks. As I read the 57 comments, I thought about my own life and choices as a middle-of-the pack Boomer, and those of other Boomers I know, and the challenges faced by my kids, all of whom are Millennials.

I'd like to say some things about choices, my own story, and the legacy of the Baby Boomers. Some of these thoughts might have to wait for a separate post on the matter. I am writing, of course, with a Canadian perspective on the topic, which is a little different perhaps than those of the blogger and commenters.

First of all, I remember that when I was a young person, I was very unhappy with the state of the world that had been created by my parents' generation and the generation that preceded them. Perhaps this attitude is typical for young people with critical minds and a desire to make the world a better place. I grew up during the Cold War, with the threat of nuclear annihilation always at the back of our minds. We did bomb drills in school when I was in primary school. Information about the horrors of the Holocaust was being released in dribs and drabs, and it was fresh and raw, and disturbing beyond belief. The northern rural part of Canada where I lived saw many American back-to-the-landers moving in to escape the Viet Nam war, as well as a number of wealthy Americans buying a second property in our remote location, just in case a Third World War did occur.

In the world in which I came of age, there was rampant racism, and in our area it was mostly directed toward Aboriginal people. There were limited opportunities for women, and although the feminist movement had begun elsewhere, everything in our little town was ten years behind the times. I was lucky that my parents believed in education and encouraged me in my aspiration to go to university, even though neither of them had been able to attend university themselves.

In the the world of my youth, the environment was under assault. I lived in a world of DDT, and PCBs, huge dam projects, and clear cut forests. Before I was out of my teens, I was already an environmental activist. I also argued for women's rights, and civil rights, and ending poverty by distributing wealth more equitably. I believed that big money and corporations were a source of many of the world's problems (a belief that I still hold).

As a woman, I fought for the right to have a career. I was among the first generation of of women to "have it all" -- a career, a marriage, and children. It was hard. When I look back now, I don't know where I found the energy.

There were some Baby Boomers who easily slid into well-paying jobs and amassed considerable material wealth. This particularly was the case for leading edge Boomers, those born just after the war, who had many job opportunities.  The economy grew after the war and as many men were lost in the war and women were back in the homes raising families, young Boomers (mostly men) filled the job openings. By the time I had finished my Bachelor's degree at the end of the seventies, jobs were scarce. My two youngest brothers born in 1960 and 1962 were at the tail end of the boom, and had an even greater struggle to find jobs.

My hard-working parents lost their business and almost lost their house during the inflationary spiral of 1981-82. They lived a very frugal life when they were in their sixties as they tried to pay back their debts. I and my siblings helped them financially during those tough years. They both ended up working into their seventies because they had to.

I worked my way through university, living below the poverty line for seven years as I completed a Bachelor's degree and then a graduate degree. I made the pragmatic choice to study a professional field in which I knew that there were many job opportunities. I landed a job in a city far from home, and slowly began to pay back my student loans and save for a down payment on a house. Our first house was an inexpensive old two-bedroom house in a shabby inner city neighbourhood.

Later, I went back to school again and completed another graduate degree. My first husband passed away at a young age, when my children ranged in age from 8 to not quite 2. I was in the probationary phase of a new job at the time. I raised my children as a single mom while working full time. I was fortunate to have a good job that I loved. However, just about every penny that I earned went to child care, the mortgage, and other expenses for quite a few years. Also, the pension plan was not very good. So I scrimped and saved, putting money away into an RRSP (the Canadian equivalent of a 401), and also into education savings accounts for each of my kids so that they would be able to pursue a post secondary education. All three of them have attended university and completed degrees.

As a Baby Boomer, I did not have an easy life, nor did money and jobs come easily. I have always worked very hard and also worked long hours. I realize that this is just my story, and it does not necessarily reflect the whole generational cohort.

I am concerned about the world that we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. My bright, capable, hard-working children have struggled to find meaningful work that pays a living wage. We Boomers might have helped to improve some things (for example: opportunities for women, more recognition of racism and the development of policies and programs that foster inclusive approaches, more supportive perspectives about sexual orientation, bans of DDT and PCBs, the requirement of consultation and environmental review for large scale projects like dams and pipelines), but we are leaving other things in a mess.

The corporations and the very wealthy still have an inordinate amount of control, and their approaches are dominated by profit, not by civic duty or social justice. We are on the brink of a global climate change disaster that is resulting in extreme weather events that impact the poor disproportionately, and that will make the world uninhabitable for humans and many animals if we don't act decisively and soon. Animal species are becoming extinct and the oceans are filling with plastics and pollution. Politically, across the world, we seem to be moving toward an group mentality of anti-intellectualism that discounts reason and expert analysis, and favours fear-mongering and finger-pointing instead.

I am worried. I am putting tremendous hope in the Gen X'ers, Millennials, and Gen Z's to make the world a better place. Many of us Baby Boomers who are still around will be there helping.


  1. Hi, Jude -
    This is a very powerful post. Thank you for sharing details of your personal story. I agree that it is easy to cast blame in any one direction, without seeing the fuller picture.
    BTW - I am a huge fan of Sightings Over Sixty. Tom hits on very relevant issues and sets them up for great discussion.

  2. Thank-you Donna. Until recently, I had no idea that there were so many great retirement blogs out there, and yours is one of them. People take the time to write such thoughtful, interesting posts, and and I also appreciate the level of engagement of the readers.

  3. What a wonderful post! I, too, am aware of the hostility aimed at BabyBoomers by many Millenials and I'm somewhat puzzled by it. Boomers worked so hard to bring equality and recognition to segments of the population who were suffering and shut out (blacks, women, etc.) that it seems a shame to heap blame for the world's problems upon them. But perhaps my viewpoint as a Boomer is exactly the problem: feeling innocent, that is. Perhaps we Boomers are too used to getting our own way simply because there were/are so many of us that our culture did, indeed, make way for us through all stages of our lives. It's hard to ignore the 9,000 pound gorilla generation as it moves through the years. But is it our fault there are so many of us? Perhaps better to join with the Millenials and keep on making the world a better place for all.

  4. Thanks Kathleen for your comments. I asked my son who is a Millennial to read through this post. I was curious about his thoughts, as he has sometimes expressed frustration about the raw deal that his generation has experienced. He commented that he was surprised that my generation had struggled to find work as young people, just like he and his friends are struggling now. The common belief among his cohort is that all Baby Boomers had it easy. Also, he was surprised that we had faced worries about the environment and the fate of humanity, and tried to address it. A common belief amongst Millennials is that we mindlessly messed things up for future generations. He said, "I guess every generation has its challenges."