The many faces of the baby boomers
Often pictured as a huge monolith, the baby-boom generation is actually quite diverse.
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For example, some differences exist in how boomers of various ethnic and racial backgrounds care for their aging parents. Many prefer to do so at home and may want Medicare to provide for in-home services, rather than just reimbursing people for nursing-home care, says Ms. Zapolsky.Skip to next paragraph
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The Duke professors found that racial inequality persists for baby boomers, in terms of education and wealth. Incomes of blacks are higher than in earlier generations, and more of them have moved into the middle class, says Hughes, "but on the whole, black boomers really did not improve their condition, relative to whites, compared to the generation immediately preceding them."
The reason boomer diversity is not talked about more often is that it's not as important as the other characteristics that define boomers, say some who track them. "These are definitely little important points," notes Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing, "but they don't achieve a level of prominence to qualify in my mind as 'Oh my goodness, we've been wrong about this generation.' "
Societal perceptions persist, however. At the Baby Boomer Generation website (www.aginghipsters.com), boomers discuss whether people born in the early 1960s are really boomers if they don't feel they fit in the generation. FoundersJan Reisen and Pete Kooiker field comments from 20- and 30-somethings who suggest that the boomers are a mass of greedy people who are taking all the jobs.
"There are so many of us ... that we'rebound, as a spending group and a bloc, to have more effect than the 30- or 20-somethings," says Ms. Reisen.
That's one way boomers are similar, but she is quick to point out that the group is plenty diverse. "I know as many Republican boomers as I do people who still think of themselves as socialists. I know plenty of millionaire boomers, and plenty of people who've been downsized out of work and are living on savings.
"I don't think there is any homogeneity," she adds, "except in the fact that we all experienced the same things in terms of what was going on in the world. But like any other generation, what we chose to do with that information is hugely diverse."
• Twelve percent of baby boomers are black, 9 percent are Hispanic, 4 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent are American Indian or native Alaskan.
• Average number of people in households of younger boomers (those born from 1956 to 1964): 3.3
• Average number of people in households of older boomers (born between 1946 and 1956): 2.7
• Average number of children under 18 in younger boomer households: 1.3
• Average number of children under 18 in older boomer households: 0.6
• Younger boomers spend 11 percent more than average (among the population as a whole) on pets, toys, and playground equipment. Mortgage payments consume 38 percent more than average of younger boomers' budgets, and they spend 10 percent less than average on life and other personal insurance.
• Older boomers spend 11 percent less than average on children's items, but 50 percent more on china and silver, to upgrade their homes. They also spend 13 percent more than average on women's apparel and 11 percent more on men's apparel. In addition, older boomers spend 23 percent more than average on hotels and vacation homes and 20 percent more than average on life insurance and personal insurance.
• In the 2000 presidential election, older boomers were more likely to vote (69 percent) than younger boomers (56 percent).
• Baby boomers represent more than 30 percent of the populations of 17 states: Alaska, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, Wyoming, Washington, New Jersey, Montana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Source: MetLife profile of American baby boomers