The Silent Generation, whose members were born in the eventful years of 1925 to 1942, is a small age cohort because many couples delayed having children during the Depression (1929 to 1939). The upheaval of World War II also contributed to the extremely low number of births in this period.
A young man born in the first year of the Silent Generation was the right age for service in the armed forces in the war’s last year. Some completed basic training only to see the war end. Yet this generation produced its share of veterans. About 30% of Silent Generation men were Korean War veterans (1950 to 1953).
Most of the Silent Generation were too old to fight in Vietnam, but there were some Silent Generation commanders in Vietnam, directing the Baby Boomer soldiers. Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf, as well as General Wesley Clark were Silent Generation members.
The Lucky Few
Author Elmwood Carlson says that the Silent Generation should more properly be called “The Lucky Few.” Acknowledging the generation’s small numbers, Carlson says these people were born at a historic time that primed them for success. Children and teenagers during the upheavals of the Depression and World War II, they became adults during the greatest period of sustained economic boom that America has ever known. They contributed enormously to the burgeoning prosperity too.
It wasn’t just luck that made this generation successful, though. They were quiet and hardworking with solid virtues.
They grew up with the adage: “Children should be seen and not heard.” Due to this and the cataclysmic events surrounding their childhoods and adolescences, members of this generation were quiet but conscientious.
Defining the “Silents”
They were a traditional generation. More men than women held a college degree (which is the opposite among Millennials) and 60% of women did not work outside the home. Indeed, 85% of these women considered “housework” their major occupation. The vast majority were religious, conservative, and married.
Some “Silents” object to the name. The Silent Generation was anything but silent when it came to transforming society. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gloria Steinem were members of the Silent Generation. The writings, speeches and leadership of these two Silent Generation members brought about vast social revolutions.
Carlson notes that eleven of the twelve astronauts who have walked on the moon were members of the Silent Generation. Major influencers such as Warren Buffett, Liz Claiborne, Ted Turner, Calvin Klein, and Michael Eisner are also members.
Blazing A New Path For Future Generations
They were the generation that won the peace after their predecessors won the war. The Silent Generation transformed their WWII enemies, Germany and Japan, into allies and friends. They made America more inclusive. They managed the specter of nuclear war, living and thriving under MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction. This was the tacit agreement between the superpowers that if one moved to strike the other, there would be instant retaliation. This quiet deterrent, made while keeping one’s head down and going about one’s business, was typical of the Silent Generation. They grew up keeping quiet and doing their duty while economic and geopolitical events swirled around them.
Musically, the Silent Generation preferred the “Kings of Swing” like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie to the musicians of their own generation, like Elvis Presley (born in 1935) and Jimi Hendrix (born in 1942).
Their children, the Baby Boomers, were fans of the Beatles, three of whom were Silent Generation members. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr were among the birth cohort of “The Lucky Few.”
Anyone currently between the ages of 74 and 91 is a member of the Silent Generation; one of the “Lucky Few.”
One Of The Most Accomplished Generations
The accomplishments of this generation are legion, but its members are not ones to blow their horns. Raised between two of the most cataclysmic events of the twentieth century, they do not draw attention to themselves. They are, as author John Updike (himself a Silent Generation member) characterized them: quietly grateful.
Maybe keeping one’s head down and silently going about one’s duties is a recipe for peace, prosperity, and eventual victory. It was for the Silent Generation.
Carlson, Elmwood. (2008). The Lucky Few: Between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom. Springer Science and Business Media, BV.
Patton, Eileen and Fry, Richard. (March 19, 2015). How the Millennials Compare with their Grandparents 50 years ago. Pew Research Center. Available at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/19/how-millennials-compare-with-their-grandparents/. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
Pew Research Center. (September 3, 2015.) The Whys and Hows of Generations Research.
http://www.people-press.org/2015/09/03/the-whys-and-hows-of-generations-research/. Retrieved March 10, 2016.