What and Who is the Silent Generation?

Updated

You know all about Gen-Z, Millenials, and Baby Boomers, but what about the Silent Generation? As their name suggests, members of the Silent Generation often get overlooked. 

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But chances are, you know or have known someone who falls within this demographic. Your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents might just be part of the Silent Generation. And knowing more about this essential age group can help you better understand your elderly relatives.

What is the Silent Generation?

The Silent Generation is the group of people born in between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation. The Silent Generation is also known as the Lucky Few. 

The term originally only applied to people born in the United States and Canada, but it has since expanded to include Australia, New Zealand, and South America. 

The Silent Generation is a relatively small cohort compared to other age groups, but it’s still had a significant impact on the United States and the world. 

Birth years included in the generation

Opinions sometimes vary on which birth years, exactly, make up the Silent Generation. 

But Pew Research Center states that the Silent Generation includes individuals born between 1928 and 1945. 

Here’s how the Silent Generation fits in amongst the most recent age groups: 

  • Lost Generation (1883-1900)
  • Greatest Generation (1901-1927) 
  • Silent Generation (1928-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Millennials (1981-1996) 
  • Generation Z (1997-2012) 
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Why is it Called the Silent Generation?

Time Magazine first used the term “Silent Generation” in its November 5, 1951 cover story. Around the same time, historian William Manchester characterized the generation as “withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous, and silent.” 

But the Silent Generation spearheaded new technical advances, initiated cultural changes, and brought attention to social causes of all types. In many ways, the Silent Generation is a cohort of cultural and social pioneers, however quietly they’ve gone about it.

They never protested

The primary reason they’re known as the Silent Generation is that many believe its members never came together in protest as a unified political entity. 

While the generations before and after them had joined together as unified political units in protest of world events, the Silent Generation did not. For example, the Baby Boomer generation formed the Counterculture movement of the 1960s.

However, members of the Silent Generation acted as leaders for crucial political and social movements. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of this generation.

They were quiet by comparison

The Silent Generation likely earned its name partly because of where it sits in the generational timeline: sandwiched between the “G.I.” Greatest Generation and the boisterous Baby Boomers. 

By comparison to these two larger and “louder” generations, the Silent Generation is a small cohort. And it’s one that tends to go about its business in relative peace and quiet. 

They were silenced by world events

Another reason many believe members of the Silent Generation tend to speak out less than other age groups is because of key world events. 

The Silent Generation came of age during the McCarthy Era, and many of them were hardworking children of the Great Depression. We’ll go over these events below. 

Silent Generation Experiences and Events

Looking at how the Silent Generation experienced and handled events throughout their lives can help us understand members of this age group even better. 

If your parent or grandparent is a member of the Silent Generation, you might be able to gain insight into their life by looking at the events they witnessed. 

Great Depression

The Great Depression spanned from 1929 to 1933, covering many of the birth years included in the Silent Generation. Those who were children or teens during the Great Depression would have seen their parents struggle to make ends meet. 

Those who were born just after the Great Depression would have felt the effects of the economic downturn. Their parents likely taught frugalism, a strong work ethic, and reserve in everyday life.

World War II 

World War II began in 1939, when the oldest member of the Silent Generation was just 11 years old. Many members of the cohort lost their fathers or older siblings in the war. 

Additionally, members of the Silent Generation witnessed the rise and fall of Nazism during this time, as well as the first devastations caused by nuclear bombs. 

World War II ended in 1945, when the oldest members of the Silent Generation were 17 years old. Some of them would have lied about their age to enter the war, while others were forced to sit by the sidelines. 

McCarthyism

The phenomenon known as McCarthyism began just after World War II, when the fear of communism in the United States was at an all-time high. 

“McCarthyism” refers to the practice of accusing U.S. citizens of political subversion and treason, usually without any regard for evidence. The term encompasses a period known as the Second Red Scare, and it represents heightened repression and fear in the United States. 

The Silent Generation, who were becoming adults during this period of tension, would have understandably avoided speaking out. They may have feared being accused of communist ideology or even espionage. 

Baby boom and economic rebound

After World War II, the U.S. economy experienced a rebound. At the same time, there was a marked increase in the birth rate, which is common after a major war. 

The Silent Generation would have seen new economic growth as they came of age, and their parents or older siblings might have been having babies. Silent Generation members whose parents and older siblings were having new babies might have felt more overlooked or unimportant with the new boom in population.

Korean War and Vietnam War

Born between 1928 and 1945, the Silent Generation makes up most of the cohort who fought in the Korean War. The Korean War spanned from 1950 to 1953, when the oldest members of the Silent Generation were 22 years old. 

Many members of the Silent Generation also would have fought in the Vietnam War, too, which lasted from 1955 to 1975. 

At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the oldest members of the Silent Generation were 27, and the youngest members were 10 years old. By the end of the war, the Silent Generation was aged 30 to 47.

What is the Silent Generation Like?

Now that you know the basic history of the Silent Generation and what many of them experienced, you might be wondering what members of the Silent Generation are like. 

If you know a member of the Silent Generation, you might find similarities between them and the descriptions below. 

An adaptive generation

According to a model of generational differences provided by researchers, the Silent Generation is an “Adaptive” generation. This compares to other generational types such as “Civic,” “Reactive,” and “Idealist.” 

The Baby Boomer generation, which came after the Silent Generation, is considered “Idealist.” The Greatest Generation, which precedes the Silent Generation, is considered “Civic.” 

Adaptive generations, like the Silent Generation, tend to be overprotected as children. As children of the Great Depression, the Silent Generation’s parents faced over three decades of loss, unemployment, and war. As a result, their children often became risk-averse. 

Some of the values and traits of adaptive generation include: 

  • Fairness
  • Due process
  • Kindness
  • Consideration
  • Nonjudgmental
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Accepting

Examples of Silent Generation

Some of the greatest advocates for change and social consciousness come from the Silent Generation. Additionally, you might recognize some of your favorite musicians or other stars on the list.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Gloria Steinem
  • John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison 
  • Elvis Presley
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Hugh Hefner
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Johnny Cash
  • Pope Francis
  • Sean Connery
  • Anne Frank

Marriage, children, and divorce

The Silent Generation tended to marry and have children at a young age. Most members of this generation gave birth to Baby Boomers, while others gave birth to members of Generation X.

However, a new trend arrived in the U.S. as the Silent Generation moved through its adult years: divorce. Whereas divorce was considered a sin in the eyes of the Greatest Generation and earlier, the Silent Generation didn’t see it that way. 

The Silent Generation is the cohort that reshaped marriage laws and developed options for divorce. They created an environment with less stigma surrounding divorce, leading to a wave of marriage separation in the United States. 

Caring for the Silent Generation

Today, the Silent Generation makes up a large proportion of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. 

They’re the elderly members of our family trees who are transitioning or who have recently transitioned to retirement. Additionally, they’re one of the generations that can benefit from end-of-life planning the most. 

If you know a member of the Silent Generation, you can help them find greater peace of mind by creating an end-of-life plan

If you want to learn more about generations, read our guides on sandwich generations and Gen Z.


Sources

  1. “Generations and age.” Pew Research Center. www.pewresearch.org/topics/generations-and-age/
  2. “People: The younger generation.” Time Magazine. 5 November 1951. content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,856950,00.html
  3. Stech, Ernie. “The silent generation.” Emeritus College. emerituscollege.asu.edu/sites/default/files/ecdw/EVoice6/silent.html
  4. Barnes, Michael. “The cold war on the home front: McCarthyism.” Authentic History Center. www.historyonthenet.com/authentichistory/1946-1960/4-cwhomefront/1-mccarthyism
  5. “Famous people from the Silent Generation.” On This Day. www.onthisday.com/people/generation/silent-generation/

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