Who’s Jonesin’ For A New Identity?
Classic Boomers born between 1946 and 1954 have always dominated the Baby Boomers — a generation defined more by their sheer numbers than by true generational characteristics — while Late Boomers were ignored as a Lost Generation.
In 1999, Jonathan Pontell designated Boomers born between 1955 and 1964 as Generation Jones. The term came from two concepts: the competitiveness that Late Boomers had to endure — keeping up with the Joneses — and the idea of yearning or craving for the previous prosperity they had grown up with and felt they were entitled to have; they were jonesin’ for a better life.
Classic Boomers and Late Boomers have little in common.
Both groups of Boomers were born during a time of post-war economic prosperity, but by the time that Late Boomers came of age the economic situation had deteriorated.
Classic Boomers have always stolen the spotlight from their younger siblings. They experienced the deaths of their heroes: JFK, RFK, and MLK. They led the protests against the Vietnam War and in favor of Civil Rights and Women’s Rights. They had the Summer of Love and the Moon Landing.
Late Boomers missed the hippie era. Some remember Watergate, and all were victims of the oil crisis of the early 1970s and the deindustrialization that led to economic stagflation. They witnessed the Iran Hostage Crisis, followed by U.S. interference in Latin-American civil wars.
The July 1979 speech by Jimmy Carter that came to define the times is referred to as the Malaise Speech, where Carter criticized American consumerism, materialism, and individualism, all of which he defined as a “crisis of confidence.” Most Americans accepted Carter’s vision of the times, but soon voted in a change of mentality. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan failed to bring significant economic relief to the masses — nothing much ever trickled down — but his move to Conservative values attracted many who were over the progressive mentality of the previous two decades. The Swinging 60s gave way to the “Me Decade” of the 70s — as labeled by writer Tom Wolfe — and devolved into the truly materialistic 1980s.
Classic Boomers vs. Genjonesers
Ultimately, Late Boomers experienced unfulfilled expectations. They struggled with massive unemployment and interest rates so high that home ownership was commonly delayed for decades. The Classic Boomers secured all the good jobs, while Late Boomers had to fight over the scraps. Hence, Classic Boomers remained idealists, while Late Boomers became cynics and pessimists. In present times, as Classic Boomers decline in numbers, Genjonesers — numerically always a larger group — are a key demographic for marketing gurus and are pivotal swing voters who tend to lean Conservative.
Celebrating my Gen Jones Status
Born in 1961, the same year as Barack Obama, I have always felt a disconnect from the Baby Boom label that focused on the hippie contingent and ignored the latter born. I watched my cousins go off to fight in Vietnam and come home with serious drug problems. I was enchanted by the hippies who lived in a Victorian-era house at the corner of our street in an affluent section of Anaheim, California, walking distance from Disneyland — the Magic Kingdom. I later dated guys who survived Vietnam and married a guy born in 1951 — a Classic Boomer.
It was the best of times!
Coming of age in Southern California in the late 1970s was an awesome experience. Sure, we missed the excitement of the swinging 60s, but we had freedom that no other generation will ever know. The Classic Boomers had destroyed past expectations and limitations. They broke down walls that we casually walked through. Us Late Boomers were free to party in the open, getting high in public and answering to virtually no one. There were no cell phones (or even pagers) to keep us answerable to our parents. Society was exhausted, and our antics were ignored. We were the last sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll generation, where AIDS had not yet materialized, drug use was prevalent, and the best bands filled major stadiums. In many ways, being ignored was not so bad. We had the time of our lives.