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Baby Boomers

What Caused The Baby Boom?, The Boomer Lifestyle, Boomers In Retirement

Baby boomers are all those born in the United States between 1946 and 1964. As illustrated in Figure 1, in the post–World War II period the General Fertility Rate (GFR) in the United States rose from what had been an all-time low in 1936 of 75.8 children per 1,000 women of childbearing age to a high of 122.7 in 1957—and then fell to a new all-time low of 65.0 in 1976. All races, religions, and ethnic groups participated in the boom. Total births per year during that period grew from 2.3 million to 4.3 million and then fell to 3.2 million. The baby boom is defined as having occurred during the peak years of this roller coaster ride: its legacy was a population bulge destined to leave its imprint on each phase of the life cycle. That imprint included the creation of an "echo boom" of births during the 1980s and 1990s.

Because the baby boom lasted nearly twenty years, many have objected to treating the baby boomers as a single cohort, associating younger baby boomers more with "Generation X" than with older baby boomers—but the original appellation has held through the years, and tends still to refer to the entire population bulge produced during the boom.

Similar baby booms occurred during the same period in many other western industrialized nations, with peak fertility rates in Canada, New Zealand, and Iceland even higher than those in the United States. However, the term "baby boomer" has tended to be used most commonly in reference to those born in the United States—and they are the focus of this entry. Figure 2 compares the baby booms in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Iceland, nations that experienced the most pronounced and prolonged booms.

There are approximately seventy-nine million baby boomers in the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century: about 29 percent of the total population. (The population estimates and medium projections are taken from the 2000 U.S. Census.) Following the boom in 1965, 38 percent of the total population were baby boomers, but by 2050 their share is projected to drop to only 5 percent, with eighteen million surviving at age eighty-five or older in that year. As they retire their numbers will grow relative to the size of the working-age population, until in 2030 there will be three retired baby boomers for every ten workers (and about four retirees in total for every ten workers—a ratio projected to remain fairly constant thereafter). Nevertheless, despite their declining share in total population, they do and will remain a characteristic bulge in the age structure throughout their lifetime.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1