Water Lilies by Jim Harris



The Myth of the Baby Boomers

Gavin Weightman

I might as well inaugurate my Blog with a bee in my bonnet.  There has been an awful lot written in the past year about the "baby boom" generation born after the end of the war in 1945. Two books began a journalistic frenzy in which I, and few million others, are accused of indulging in a kind of unwitting exploitation of the nation's resources. Born in 1945 I am, according to the popular accounts currently in circulation, a "baby boomer". My contention is that I am not. The year I was born was not a bumper year for babies. Nor was 1948, or 49, or 50, or 51, or 52, or 53, or 54, or 55 or 56. Yet David Willetts author of The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers took their Childrens Future ( Atlantic 2010) and Francis Beckett who wrote What did the baby boomers ever do for us? ( Biteback 2010) believe they are baby boomers: Willetts was born in 1956 and Beckett in the same year as me. Whatever else the "baby boomer" debate is about it is predicated on the notion that there was, after the end of the last war, a sustained rise in births which produced a population bulge. This is certainly what happened in North America between 1945 and 1964. But it did not happen here.

I am going to demonstrate this with figures for England and Wales as it is simpler than totting up the totals for the UK. But if you add in Scotland and North Ireland the pattern is exactly the same. In fact it is quite remarkable how the rise and fall in annual births goes in tandem in all three registration areas. So here are some basic facts about live births, year by year, in England and Wales beginning with 1943 to illustrate that there were more births in that war year and 1944 than there were in 1945. I have put the two post-war boom years in bold.

Year                  Total of live births in England and Wales


1943                   684,334

1944                   751,478

1945                   679,937 ( Birth Year of  Francis Beckett)

1946                   820,719

1947                   881,026

1948                   775,306

1949                   730,518

1950                   697,097

1951                   677,529

1952                   673,735

1953                   684,372

1954                   673,651

1955                   667,811

1956                   700,335 ( Birth year of David Willetts )

1957                   723,381

1958                   740,715

1959                   748,501

1960                   785,005

1961                   811,281

1962                   838,736

1963                   854,055

1964                   875,972

A glance at the sequence of annual births will tell you that, with the exception of 1946 and 1947, there was no baby boom in the immediate post war years. If there is a boom at all it begins in 1956 and peaks in 1964. So the classic " baby boomer" from a bumper year was born in the early 1960s. And yet nearly every piece written about the boom generation has them as teenagers in the 1960s. Tony Blair, we are told, is a baby boomer. He was born in the Coronation Year 1953. Have a look at the figures: not a bumper year. Many fewer babies in fact than were born in the latter part of the 1960s. Some more figures:

Year                  Live births in England and Wales


1965                  862,725

1966                  849,823

1967                  832,164

1968                  819,272

1969                  797,538

1970                  784,486

1971                  783,155

1972                  725,440

1973                  675,953

Of course the "baby boomer" thesis is not just about numbers: it is argued that those born during the first twenty years after the war were favoured in many ways with full employment and so on. Perhaps there is some truth in that, though our standard of living in terms of domestic comfort would nowadays be considered primitive. But if we were favoured it was because we were, in terms of births, a relatively compact generation. With the exception of 1946 and 1947, when the soldiers returned to the arms of their wives and lovers, the parents of the imaginary baby boom generation showed remarkable restraint. 

David Pearson

August 8, 2013
4:58 pm
I am a boaby boomer being born in 1946. However I do not regard myself as a drain on society now that I am drawing my State Pension. First the State has had 65 years o plan for providing me with my pension; that it chose not to invest part of my National Insurance contributions to save towards my pension but used them as general taxation is its own fault at best, and might even be called criminal theft.

Second there is so much talk about an "aging population" and its drain on a diminishing number of people of working age. Yes there are a few more of us boomers but if we are a problem it will go away very soon when we die.

Barry Pearson

January 10, 2013
12:51 pm
For interest, I have posted a lot about baby boom myths on my blog:
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