Friday, July 13, 2012

Chasing the Older Boomers

Photo by Renato Pequito
I have recently learned that as one of the youngest members of the Baby Boomer generation, I can be described as a Generation Jones-er, (b. 1954 - 1964).

The name implies that I am constantly trying to catch up with those spear-heading our Boomer cohort.  

The term Generation Jones-er comes from the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.”   This well describes my vantage point within the Baby Boomer generation.

The Baby Boomers are defined as those born between 1946 and 1964.  

However, the tail end of this group—those born 1954 to 1964--missed some key events of this generation. 

We were too young to be drafted into fighting the Vietnam War, too young to drive a VW to Woodstock, and too young to participate in the Summer of Love. 

I have been chasing the older Boomers my entire life. 

They were hippies; I was a kid. When I was in elementary school , I remember listening to the Watergate tapes at my orthodontist's office while he was working on my braces. And I remember watching my friends' older siblings protest the Vietnam War.  I was intrigued by the world of politics, but I was too young to really understand what was at stake or how to participate.  I found it interesting that more and more young people were voicing their opinions.  

They were yuppies; I was a hippie. Then in the early 1980s I became a legal adult, ready to explore youth culture.  But I discovered that the Baby Boomers had shelved their idealism and found their ambition. The era of the hippies faded and gave way to the era of the yuppies.    

After I finished my bachelor degree in English, I moved to Washington, DC and tried moving up the ladder of success. I was able to double my salary in two years in the field of technical publications and purchase a Saab turbo.  I ate in fancy restaurants and took weekend trips to NYC.  Many of my friends were entering grad school in hopes of becoming doctors, lawyers and business executives.   People talked about resumes, networking, and promotions.

They were born-again hippies; I was a yuppie. After attending graduate school and establishing myself in a career in higher education, I began to watch the older Boomers redefine aging more actively in many ways--physically, socially and vocationally--than the Silent Generation above them. 

They are redefining aging; I'm a gerontologist. I then decided that rather than being late again for the next trend, I would quit my job and study gerontology. This way I can help the older Boomers redefine late adulthood and I can better manage my own aging process.   

If I run as fast as I can in my study of gerontology, maybe I can catch up with my older peers.  I have felt like the pesky younger sibling tugging on their pant legs, “Can I come, too?”

By acknowledging the political power and market power of the older Boomers and how they shape society, maybe I can finally be the cool kid, despite being younger, the kid with some inside information on active aging. 

Update:  Richard Perez-Pena draws a sharp distinction between older boomers and younger boomers in this 1/6/14 opinion piece from the New York Times. 



  1. Hi Karen,
    Interesting perspective. Most of the world is trying to run in the other direction away from the realities of aging and not wanting to catch up with it in any form. I got a real kick out of this post and am with you on trying to figure out how we can better manage our own aging process while assisting those who are in the throes of it. I too am a "Joneser."
    Thanks for a great post.

  2. I love this perspective, Karen. Of course, any attempt to classify people--or oneself--solely by birth cohort is bound to be kind of silly, but it's still sometimes revealing, and I do it to myself all the time. For example, I'm a Generation X guy, and that's pretty obvious from the pop and political events I orient my understanding of my growing up around--MTV, Reagan, the end of the Cold War. Yet it often seems that the majority of those who went though those formative experiences with me skew younger than I; they were babies in the 70s, rather than children. So find myself often looking back rather than forward, thinking about how my generation has constructed goals and a worldview which misses out on my contribution. (I once thought about this as those whose parents were the older brothers and sisters of the baby boomers, born during World War II rather than after it.) So I guess while you've found a way to get ahead of those you've been following all your life, I want to hold onto that which, between the boomers and the Xers, might be forgotten about.

  3. Laura and Russell: I didn't even know about Gens Joneser until a twitter follower commented on my bio: (Karen D. Austin--blogger, Nursing home/Medicare volunteer & Aging Studies grad student. A young Boomer, working to catch up again w/older boomers' trends). He pointed out that I had a Gens-Joneser viewpoint there. He works in marketing to Boomers, so he studies cohort trends. Yes, people often defy stereotypes, but advertisers focus on how people act as a group. Russell, hang in there. I know what it's like to be between generations, but it looks as though you get pulled towards the Gen X-ers, but because I'm 5 years older than you, I get pulled towards the Boomers--but we don't squarely fit in our cohort in part because we're on the edges (and also because we are individuals).

  4. PS: @CreatingResults is the boomer marketing twitter account that led me to the concept of Gens Jones-ers.

    Their bio: "Full-service marketing agency. Specialists in motivating 50+ consumers. How can we help you create results with Baby Boomers & beyond? Washington DC ·"