The question oftens comes to me: "What are the differences between Leading-Edge and Trailing-Edge Baby Boomers?" I became motivated to explore the diffrences (and, more importantly, the similarities) after reading an editorial in the Palm Beach Post.
Leading-Edge Boomers (1946 to 1955) are impassioned idealists and social activists. Their younger siblings share idealism in many areas, but they are more pragmatic – some would say, realistic.
Nevertheless, both cohorts share many common meta-values. Both famously distrust large institutions and government. Both value personal freedom and individual self-expression over received authority. Trailing-Edge Boomers (Jonathan Pontell’s Generation Jones) may have been too young to recall much about the sixties, but they were old enough to be molded by the detritus left from civil rights, Vietnam and Watergate.
Further, because of the long-term impact of many social movements that dominated the sixties, both groups firmly respect racial and cultural diversity, believe in safeguarding the environment, insist upon equality between the sexes, and seek personal expression and individual liberty as central to the American experience.
Both Boomer cohorts have more in common than differences between Boomers and younger or older generations. These common values include personal development, psychological growth, health & wellness, environmental sustainability, social responsibility, egalitarian principles, and making a difference or creating a legacy.
Pontell uses demographic slight-of-hand to make his Gen. Jones cohort appear larger, more economically viable than the Leading-Edge group. Demographers and sociologists have for decades agreed that the Leading-Edge Boomers were born between 1946 and 1955, and include 38,002,000 Americans, according the National Center for Health Statistics. Trailing-Edge Boomers, born between 1956 and 1964, include 37,818,000 Americans.
A critical factor delineating a Leading-Edge from a Trailing-Edge boomer is to determine when an individual reached adolescence. Leading-Edge Boomers all came of age during the Vietnam War era, which ended in April 1975. Thus, those born in 1955 had celebrated their 19th or 20th birthdays by the end of the war.
This war was the single most influential factor in the Leading-Edge Boomer coming-of-age zeitgeist. Pontell makes many excellent points in helping us understand historical nuances and the influence of pop culture on cohort characteristics. But he also casts these differences in an “us” vs. “them” framework. In the future, we must bring generations together if we’re going to become less divisive as a society and more capable of honoring the unique contributions of each generation.