17 Ways Baby Boomers Changed the World
Turns out, the "worst generation" isn't so bad after all!
The baby boomer generation—the 76.4 million of us born between 1946 and 1964—don't always get the respect we deserve. Especially in recent years, we've become the generational scapegoat for just about every cultural problem on the planet. Major magazines claim we "broke America" and are "the worst generation." But it's high time to set the record straight. Baby boomers may not have created a utopian society, but we haven't left the world in worse shape than we found it. In fact, we're responsible for some pretty remarkable developments that subsequent generations have largely taken for granted. Here are some of those things that wouldn't exist without baby boomers, proving we've made the world a better place.
We made driving safer.
Though seat belts were invented all the way back in 1885, most baby boomers remember youths in which nobody wore them. But all that changed when boomers started coming of age—first in 1968, with a new law requiring that all vehicles come equipped with working seat belts, and then in 1984, when boomer lawmakers made wearing a seat belt a legal requirement. It's estimated that seat belts saved more than 255,000 lives between 1975 and 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We immortalized road trips and travel in general.
Boomers were the first to over-romanticize road travel. From the family trips of our youth—nothing makes us more nostalgic than the memory of dad studying a Rand McNally atlas—to road trip poets like Jack Kerouac, we were the first generation to prove that it really was the journey, not the destination. In fact, a 2012 AARP study found that boomers in general travel more miles per day than people in other age groups.
We pioneered rock 'n' roll.
Rock pioneers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry weren't technically boomers, but the audiences who embraced them and turned their music into a cultural revolution absolutely were. We took a very simple genre of pop music and elevated it to an art form. Going to see a boomer artist like Bruce Springsteen in concert isn't just about the excitement of live music; for us, it's akin to a spiritual experience.
We invented the internet.
The internet didn't happen overnight. It began as the world wide web, a system to organize, link, and browse internet pages. And it came about thanks to a boomer. No, we're not talking about Al Gore. We mean computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, born in 1955, who created the software language that made web pages possible in 1989. Younger generations may sneer when their boomer parents or grandparents try to use social media, but without us, they wouldn't even have Twitter!
We created personal computers.
Computers have become so ubiquitous that it's now considered strange if somebody doesn't own one. But you probably didn't realize that every computer you've ever owned or will own is thanks to boomers like Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and the "father of the personal computer," Ed Roberts, who introduced the very first computer marketed for home use, the Altair 8800, in 1975.
We ushered in the era of screen time.
You think millennials are addicted to their phones? Ha, boomers invented screen addiction! During our youth, we were hypnotized by everything that popped up on the small screen, making us feel more connected with the outside world. According to Newsweek, it's estimated that boomers watched an average of 12,000 hours of TV before they turned 16 years old.
We launched Saturday Night Live.
When Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975—starring comedy legends (and boomers) like John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner—it was the hippest thing on TV. And still, 44 years later, it's one of the most talked-about comedy shows in the world. Thinking about the fact that boomer audiences watched (and debated) SNL's early sketches about President Richard Nixon the same way we watch (and debate) Alec Baldwin's impressions of Donald Trump today is actually pretty amazing.
We turned movies into cultural events.
Before filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg—two boomers—movies were just movies. Ticket lines that snaked around the street to get into an opening night screening were unthinkable in the '50s and '60s. But then came the first legitimate "event" film: Spielberg's 1975 epic, Jaws. It made an entire nation terrified to go into the water (and eventually brought in a staggering $470 million at the international box office). And it wasn't just a fun weekend diversion, either; movies like Jaws and Star Wars became true cultural events.
We took volunteering to new heights.
Boomers are often criticized for being the "me" generation, but we aren't nearly as selfish as our reputations would suggest. When President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, creating opportunities for everyday U.S. citizens to go overseas and help "break the bonds of mass misery," thousands of letters "poured into Washington from young Americans hoping to volunteer," according to the History Channel. It's a commitment to help others that continues to this day. "Americans of all ages express their desire to perform some sort of service to their communities and nation. But those who came of age in the 1960s lead the charge," notes the Harvard Business Review.
We stood up for LGBTQIA+ rights.
The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in many ways began in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where boomer patrons, tired of being harassed by the police, starting fighting back. The next year, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, boomers marched through the streets of New York, in what's considered to be the country's first gay pride march. Today, towns and cities all over the country and the world at large host their own pride celebrations, and younger generations barely realize that they're following in the footsteps of boomers.
We fought for gender equality.
Boomers hardly invented feminism, but we definitely spearheaded it into popular culture with the women's liberation movement that began in the late 1960s. Female boomers "were the first group to have mostly earned their own money for most of their lives—that's never happened before," Jane Caro, author of the book Accidental Feminists, told The Daily Edition. "Prior to that, poorer women had to work for a living, but they were pitied for having to do that. For my generation, it became an aspiration."
We protested war.
You can't think of the Vietnam War without remembering the protests and the draft-card burnings. The boomers popularized the idea that you could be a patriot and also disagree with how your government is waging war. Protesting Vietnam "didn't make us feckless, selfish, unpatriotic bums," wrote New York Post opinion columnist Steve Cuozzo. "Legally avoiding the draft was a rational, morally defensible rebuke to the government's hypocritical way of making war."
We kickstarted environmental activism.
Boomers have been called "the original Earth Day generation" for good reason. People like to criticize boomers for not doing enough, and it's true, we could've taken bigger strides to save the planet. But we absolutely cared. We were the first generation to come out in full force, demanding we stop polluting the world. And there's science to prove it: A 2012 study out of San Diego State University found that boomers in their youth were considerably more committed to environmental activism than Gen Xers or millennials.
We made waves in forensic analysis.
Boomers lived in a world where serial killers like Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and John Wayne Gacy were a horrifying reality. But then, a British boomer named Sir Alec Jeffreys, a professor of genetics at the University of Leicester, discovered sequences within strands of DNA that were as distinct and unique as fingerprints. "We could immediately see the potential for forensic investigations," Jeffreys recalled in a 2012 interview. Needless to say, the discovery had a huge effect on murder investigations. The Radford Serial Killer Database Project found that the 1980s were an all-time high for serial killers in United States, with 235 separate serial killers operating each year on average during the decade. In the current decade, there have only been 65 identified serial killers in the U.S. annually on average, which is largely thanks to these advancements in forensic investigations.
We ended the Cold War.
Though political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev tend to get all the credit for ending the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, in reality, it was the boomer generation who pushed the hardest for thawing relations between these two global superpowers. As boomer humorist P.J. O'Rourke simply stated in an article for AARP Magazine: "We brought down the Berlin Wall."
We reduced the stigma around divorce.
For a long time, divorce came with a social stigma that made it seem like an unthinkable option. But the boomers changed all that. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of boomers believe that marriage should be about mutual happiness and fulfillment, not just raising a child together. In other words, staying in a marriage for the kids is not their plan. "Asked to choose between divorce and an unhappy marriage, baby boomers are more likely than millennials to say divorce is preferable," the researchers note.
We increased life expectancy.
Life expectancy in the United States jumped by nearly 30 years during the last century, and boomers are expected to live much longer than their parents. But it's not just about quantity; it's the quality of those years that really matters. "Boomers are the first generation on the planet to get to age 60 and still see a long runway ahead," Matt Thornhill, president of the think tank Generations Matter, told The Atlantic. They're "still wanting to accomplish something," he added, noting they're concerned with things like "what your legacy is and how will you have left the world a better place?" And if you want to live to see 100, here are 100 Ways to Live to 100.
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