For decades, a baby boomer age has had the largest single-year population in the United States. No more. Now boomers have lost the title to their millennial children, with 22-year-olds claiming first place, according to the U.S. Census.
Coming in second are 23-year-olds, with 53-year-old boomers in third place. This represents a major demographic shift, considering that from 1947, a year after the baby boom began, until 2010, a boomer age group always held the top spot.
The Census Bureau attributes the change to immigration. Most age groups up to about 40 get larger every year, while older groups experience attrition.
What does this mean for 76 million boomers and 80 million millennials? Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center offers one vision in “The Next America: Boomers, Millenials and the Looming Generation Showdown.” He writes, “Demographically, politically, economically, socially and technologically, the generations are more different from each other than any time in living memory.”
The biggest differences Taylor delineates are between millennials (born after 1980) and the two oldest generations, boomers (1946-1964) and silents (1928-1945). As usual, Gen X (1965-1980) gets left out in the cold. The millennial differences include:
- Racial and ethnic makeup: almost 40 percent are nonwhite, compared with 25 percent of boomers.
- Voting habits: they tend to vote more for Democrats than do boomers.
- Economic fortunes: their net worth is significantly less than previous generations at the same age.
- Families: 20 percent are married, compared with 60 percent of twenty-somethings in 1960. About 41 percent of children are born to single mothers, as compared with 5 percent in 1960.
- Gender roles: 40 percent of children have a mother who is the sole or primary breadwinner, up from 11 percent in 1960. Women comprise 60 percent of college students and nearly half the workforce.
- Religion: a third are unaffiliated with any religious group compared with 9 percent of silents and 15 percent of boomers.
Does this add up to generational warfare? Taylor thinks not, although he does predict “a showdown” about how to pay for Social Security and Medicare because millennials increasingly will bear the costs. “What’s so fascinating is there isn’t any tension at the moment,” he told NPR. “You have a generation coming in that isn’t wagging its finger with blame at mom or grandma, in fact, they’re living with mom and grandma. … There’s a lot of generational interdependence and maybe that is the best basis upon which to go forward and rebalance our books on Social Security and Medicare.”
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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