The baby boomer generation, people between 1946 and 1964, grew up in an environment different from the one in which their parents came of age. The Vietnam War played a huge role in shaping how boomers view the world in which they live. Many members of the boomer generation were asked to “pay any price” by their own president. Boomers have worked hard during their lifetimes, and they expect a retirement that reflects that hard work and sacrifice. To understand this generation and what retirement means for them, we must look at their history and the environment in which they lived, both then and now.
The Baby Boomers’ War
For many members of the boomer generation, the lasting effects of the Vietnam War are still carried with them. Older boomers can recall being children of the 1950’s and experiencing the collective fear that the United States had of a deadly conflict with Communist China and the Soviet Union. Schools across the country performed “duck and cover” drills, in the event that hostile powers ever dared drop bombs on our soil. These were the children of World War II veterans, and they were proud of their country and of their parents’ service.
By the late 1960’s, a majority of the American troops in the Vietnam War were in the boomer generation. Though much of the country would eventually turn against the war, 40 percent of the men in the boomer generation did serve. The US Department of Defense (DoD) estimates that the United States spent about $168 billion on the Vietnam War (the equivalent of about $950 billion today). To this day, 75,000 Vietnam veterans are disabled due to injuries received during the war, and many live with lasting injuries that cannot be seen.
A Different Retirement
Baby boomers are experiencing a much different type of retirement than that of their parents. The reasons for this are:
- Increase in longevity
- Savings instead of pensions
- More expensive retirement goals
Due to higher life expectancy today than ever before, people who retire in their 60’s now may be retired for several decades, whereas their parents’ average lifespans meant they were usually in retirement for only about 15 years. Expecting to be retired for twice as long or longer than their parents means baby boomers need to have access to or have more money saved than the previous generation had.
While baby boomers’ parents had lower per capita incomes than the boomer generation, many of their parents had corporate pensions provided by their employers. The boomer generation demanded higher salaries and did not always stick with just one job, as their parents had done. Because of these changes in the working environment, pensions became the retirement savings plans known as 401(k)s. While a 401(k) can help you put away earnings toward retirement, many boomers do not have enough saved in their retirement plans to cover 30+ years of retirement. Since corporate pensions are not the norm these days, it can be hard for boomers to find the money to cover basic needs during retirement.
Being babies of the Depression-era, boomers’ parents had less expensive retirement goals than their children. Boomers often look for their retirement savings to cover more expensive things, like travel and long vacations to exotic new places. These goals are possible if boomers are careful with their savings and use the benefits that are available to them.