The downturn of the pandemic economy has hit many groups hard. But for many millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — and Generation Z, who follow them, that pain — plus a number of other factors — are creating questions about who is responsible. Over the next few nights, economics correspondent Paul Solman is going to examine this. He begins tonight from the perspective of some millennials.
Breaking Down the ‘Boomer’ Mentality
Students debate generational stereotypes and whether boomers really are OK.
Editor’s note: This Future View is about the baby boomers—who they are, and what stereotypes about them capture and leave out. Next week we’ll ask, “The 2010s are almost over. What defined the decade for you? For society as a whole?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Jan. 7. The best responses will be published that night.
‘Sacrifice’ Isn’t in the Boomer Vocabulary
“Boomer” best describes not a particular generational cohort, but people who feel they deserve the entitlements promised to them decades ago, regardless of the consequences for younger generations. And the consequences of Social Security’s ever-expanding budget will be dire—its costs are expected to exceed its income in 2020, forcing it to draw from its trust fund. By 2035, both Social Security and Medicare are predicted to exhaust their trust funds entirely.
Anyone who understands basic accounting can see that the projected explosion in federal expenditure and debt these entitlements are driving will cripple my generation’s ability to deal with the myriad challenges before us. We need those funds to
- combat a rising China,
- climate change and
- the unforeseen consequences of nuclear waste, just to name a few.
The boomer mentality is understandable. Many people have planned their lives around these entitlements. However, their inability to sacrifice for the good of posterity is shameful.
When the Gauls sacked Rome, the old men who could no longer bear arms stayed to defend the city itself while the Senate and younger men withdrew to a more fortified position in the citadel with their families. They sacrificed themselves for their descendants and found it an honor. I don’t think many boomers would do the same.
— Benjamin Koby, Cambridge University, physics
Respect Your Elders
Clearly, “OK boomer” is an attempt to dismiss the knowledge and opinions of older Americans, based on the assumption that their wisdom isn’t relevant to today’s world. While our country has changed significantly since the birth of the first baby boomers in 1946, it’s incredibly foolish to suggest the lessons they’ve learned and values they’ve accrued are outdated.
Of course, it’s natural for young people to roll their eyes at their elders’ advice—“You just wouldn’t get it, Mom!” And in a way, they’re right. Boomers didn’t grow up worrying about school shootings or cyber bullying. Young people today live very different lives than the young people of the ’50s.
But to suggest that the knowledge boomers have accrued over their many years has no value is shameful and laughable. We have a lot to learn from them, because they’ve seen a heck of a lot more than we have. Not to mention, someday we’ll be the “old generation.” And I can’t imagine the 20-somethings of today will like being told that their opinions are outdated by the 20-somethings of tomorrow.
— Joey Reda, Boston College, finance
The Truth Behind the Joke
To my knowledge, the joke “OK boomer” began as a response to older relatives or co-workers who refuse to acknowledge problems staring them in the face.
- Social Security is fine the way it is, despite the fact that I will never see a penny of it? OK boomer.
- I should get a summer job to pay off my student loans? OK boomer. The term is a condescending retort to a group that frequently misrepresents or ignores concerns my generation raises.
This, coupled with the feeling that many problems were created by boomers—climate change, high housing costs, the massive federal deficit—makes the term a succinct criticism that rings true for many.
Of course, not all baby boomers are racist “back in my day” climate-change deniers. My parents and teachers are boomers, and they are thoughtful, intelligent people. However the boomer stereotype taps into a real frustration many young Americans feel. I know that this discontent can be interpreted as evidence of our penchant for self-pity, but so long as baby boomers ignore the issues of the present, you can bet you’ll hear a lot of “OK boomer.”