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It’s a phrase that has been popping up all over social media in recent days, sparking responses ranging from playful comebacks to outright anger. The term “OK Boomer” first gained popularity on TikTok, a video app popular with members of Gen Z. It has since spread to broader popular culture. There’s even a mini economy that has emerged featuring products emblazoned with the expression.
“OK Boomer” is an efficient way for members of younger generations to dismiss the attitudes of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964. For those who use it, “OK Boomer” represents a rejection of the attitudes of an older generation they see as having made life harder for their children and grandchildren through a combination of selfishness and complacency.
Why there’s debate
Whether these criticisms are warranted is the source of intense intergenerational debate. A popular view among their detractors is that baby boomers came into adulthood at a time of relative prosperity and opportunity when college was cheap, housing was affordable and the country had a robust social safety net.
Boomers capitalized on these advantages, critics say, without maintaining them for future generations. As a result, younger people have been burdened with low wages, prohibitively expensive education, underfunded government programs, growing inequality and a rapidly deteriorating climate.
Boomers and their defenders argue that these criticisms ignore the generation’s many accomplishments, such as social progress made in recent generations, the fight to stop the Vietnam War and the modern technological revolution. They also argue that it’s unfair to place the blame entirely on one demographic, saying generations that preceded and followed them are also partly responsible for decades-long trends that boomers are also experiencing.
Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are projected to overtake boomers soon as the largest generation. Recent elections have also marked a tipping point in the voting power of younger generations. These trends will inevitably continue for boomers, as they do with all generations over time.
The case against boomers
Criticism of boomers is fair
“The grievances that young people have with their elders are fully justified, as the baby-boomer generation has screwed us over in innumerable ways.” — Brad Polumbo, Washington Examiner
Not involved in ’60s activism
“There are many canards about that generation, but the most persistent is that the boomers were central to the social and cultural events of the nineteen-sixties. Apart from being alive, baby boomers had almost nothing to do with the nineteen-sixties.” — Louis Menand, New Yorker
Boomers gutted the economy that allowed them to flourish
“The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrowed money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.” — Bruce Gibney, Vox
Boomers oversaw a deterioration of the news media
“Along with politics, their influence over media has been profound, turning a once-sober news landscape into a wrestling arena filled with ideologically driven commentary.” — Joe Ferullo, the Hill
It’s harder to succeed because of the decisions boomers made
“I looked at issues including housing, work rules, higher education, law enforcement, and public budgeting, and found a consistent pattern: The political ascendancy of the boomers brought with it tightening control and stricter regulation, making it harder to succeed in America.” — Lyman Stone, the Atlantic
Boomers are responsible for decades of inaction on climate change
“Not every issue so clearly implicates such big questions, in part because not every issue offers such a clear distinction between right and wrong, responsible and irresponsible, reality and reality denial. But climate change, the greatest self-imposed long-term threat facing humanity, offers that clarity. Today’s youths will curse their forebears for failing to accept the truth.” — Stephen Stromberg, Washington Post
In defense of boomers
Criticism ignores the progress boomers made
“Too many millennials whine that their complacent elders bequeathed them a rotten America and a rotten world. … But if they spent more time studying actual history, which can’t easily be found on iPhones, they’d know that boomers were, and remain, the most socially and environmentally conscious generation America ever has ever known.” — Steve Cuozzo, New York Post
Most of what the boomers are criticized for started before they took power
“If you’re going to blame anyone for ‘pulling up the ladder,’ it’s the two generations before the baby boomers.” — Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
Boomers are also struggling
“The massive Baby Boomer generation which brought America the happiness of rock & roll and the Ford Mustang en masse is poised to trigger a surge in a scourge: Senior hunger. The number of Americans turning 65 each day has doubled since 2000. At the same time, seniors afflicted with very low food security has soared nearly 250 percent.” — Ted Knutson, Forbes
The critique of boomers as takers from public programs is untrue
“Instead of causing problems for Social Security, baby boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — will actually have paid more into Social Security than they are set to receive.” — Ann Schmidt, Fox Business
Boomers have overcome a long list of challenges
“Please consider this: There is a great deal to admire about the Baby Boomer generation. Perhaps most notably is our perseverance. After all, we are the generation that survived the Cold War and the great culling of Vietnam, drugs and AIDS.” — Ken Croken, Quad City Times
Younger generations will see great benefit from the gains boomers made
“Baby boomers are set to pass to their children a mind-boggling $68 trillion — the biggest generational wealth transfer ever.” — David Robinson, CNBC
Fighting between generations is silly
Defining generations through broad stereotypes is foolish
“Your key to the ‘OK, Boomer’ hullabaloo is to remember that the idea of twenty-year cultural cohorts is moronic sociological astrology.” — Will Wilkinson, social and economic policy expert
Generations will need to work together to overcome challenges that affect everyone
“And older generations need younger ones to reconnect them with their idealism. But younger generations need older ones to turn that idealism into more than pretty words. They need the moral authority reserved for people who’ve done so much loving, so much losing and so much figuring out how to press on.” — Frank Bruni, New York Times
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images