Whether its through fantastic offspring, a genre-shifting piece of work or a successful business, the idea of leaving behind a lasting legacy is a preoccupation for some post 50. But how will the generation as a whole be remembered? And what will its biggest contributions to society be? We may have an answer for you. “Our example -- even if we don’t quite make the mark -- will be important for others to build on,” said Dr. W. Andrew Achenbaum who wrote “How Boomers Turned Conventional Wisdom on Its Head.”
Achenbaum’s new paper -- commissioned by the MetLife Mature Market Institute -- looks at demographic shifts and landmark social changes of the past and present to determine what boomers' ultimate impact will be. Based on factors including increases in educational opportunity and the civil rights movement, Achenbaum has made predictions on the ways the Post 50 set will affect yet-to-be-named future generations. Here we list the top five ways future denizens will remember boomers.
It may sound like something on the back of a yuppie's bumper sticker, Achenbaum joked, but boomers have moved beyond self-absorption to understand the duality of living in today's increasingly global world. "That tension between realizing that I'm part of this large world that is very fragile and on the other hand feeling very fine-tuned to [everyday life] is a gift that the boomers have shared among themselves," he said.
The rise of adult education classes and community college courses, along with increased educational opportunities for women, changed what is referred to in the paper as "the three boxes of life": employment, work, and retirement. "Boomers were not acting in lockstep in going through life as our parents were and as we were programmed to be in adolescence," Achenbaum said.
Many boomers cut their teeth on the social change movements spearheaded in the '60s and '70s, ushering in new eras of inclusiveness, diversity and understanding. "While boomers have not succeeded fully in eliminating racism or sexism or ageism or homophobia, we have made more of an effort than previous generations did. I don't see how any subsequent generation [could reverse those efforts]." Achenbaum said.
Boomers were the first generation to separate religion -- which had been seen as a public, performative act central to one's identity -- from spirituality, a more private experience, Achenbaum said. They were also the first to travel for enlightenment, folding their experiences abroad into their existence. "There have been spiritual traditions ever since people were in caves, but our cohort were the ones that went to the East and said 'I could be Jewish and Buddhist at the same time,'" he said.
Despite a number of incurable diseases and legislative roadblocks, medical advances, lifestyle changes and federal programs have helped baby boomers live longer and healthier lives, according to the paper. The value of "wellness" will be left in boomers' wake, potentially altering the way we view "the golden years." "My hope is that as we grow older, people will see how different we look and act [and] stereotypes of older people being obsolete, stupid and [prone to] Alzheimer's will begin to fall apart," Achenbaum said.