Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


To add to RbR's post below regarding generational voting, here is a chart that shows the U.S. birth rate over the past sixty years, and indicates approximately where the "generations" lie. I lifted the graph from the National Center for Health Statistics final 2005 report (their most recent full report available online) but the coloring and labeling of generations is mine.

The Baby Boom and Baby Bust (Generation X) are the clearest demographic features, most evident in the absolute number of births. Generation "Jones" appears to be something of a refinement, capturing the era of declining birthrate between the boom and the bust.

The more recent echo-boom is evident in the absolute number of births, but it is worth noting that the birth rate is nearly flat, and the echo comes closer to thirty years after the boom than twenty. The CDC gives the mean age of the mother for her first birth to be 25 (the mean age for all births being a few years higher).

My main complaint about this scheme of "generations" is that they are long. Sometimes speaking in terms of decades is better. One last note, we are due for a new generation, the children of Generation X... Shall we call it Generation Z? The Echo-Xers? The post-9/11 generation? Maybe the Obama Years will replace the Reagan Years?

UPDATE #1: I made up a graph of Presidential "generations" and added some suggestive colored ovals of my own. The strongest feature I see is the most recent: the "Greatest" Generation (about 1901-1924) that accepted the torch in 1960 and held onto it until 1992. Note that picking either Obama (blue dot) or McCain (red dot) could represent a significant shift backward or forward.

UPDATE #2: I fixed the Presidential graph so the Blue<->Red dots are now correct.

UPDATE #3: I have adjusted the color bands on the generations graph slightly, in response to some comments.


The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not comfortable with a "Jones" generation being so short (I don't quite get the name, but that's because it's not my generation, I guess). Either the other generations should be shorter, or it should be longer.

I have often thought the "baby boom" generation is much too long. The real baby boom was in the aftermath of WWII, and you see the spike. Extending it to 1964 is bizarre. The "boomers" are really those people who had childhoods in the 1950s and participated in the wildness of the 1960s and 1970s, then went "straight" and Republican in the 1980s. So I would put a stop to the boomers at about 1956. After that, you have a different generational experience. These are the Yuppies.

As a supposed GenXer, I have always objected to that designation. It is a designation based on not knowing what we are all about ("X" for the unknown). This was a generation shaped by the materialism, anti-intellectualism, and Reaganite calm of the 1980s. Our generation was never told about culture wars of the 1960s. We got the Disney version of it all. Most of my generation never tuned into politics.

USwest said...

I agree with LTG on the Boomers. Their "generation" is much too long.

This whole generation thing is something of an odd idea. It has been written about extensively. Scientificually, a generation is the children born to a single mother. But in this case, we use a social science definitition that is somewhat arbitrary. If you poke around the internet with these terms, you will see that different writers define them differently and they are different from country to country.

This article from Time is sort of fun and topical.

Raised By Republicans said...

I like thinking of generations in terms of the events they grew up with rather than a fixed number of years for each or even looking at demographic trends. That's where the Jones thing comes from...they are post Vietnam but pre-Reagan. They are the kids from "That 70s Show." They are the older siblings of Gen Xers.

I disagree with LTG's view of the Reagan years as being "calm." I guess that's because he spent them outside of the Midwest. For us the Reagan years, especially the first term, were characterized by double digit unemployment, dramatic declines in the populations of our cities and even entire states. In 1980 Ohio had 25 electoral votes but by 1992 that had dropped to 21 votes (it now has 20). Michigan dropped from 21 votes to 18 between 1980 and 1992. The population of Cleveland fell by almost 25% between 1970 and 1980 and fell by another 12% between 1980 and 1990. I had parents with good jobs and we spent most of the late 70s living on hot dogs, mac and cheese and shit on a shingle.

But LTG is right, Gen Xers have never really been into politics. Possibly because so many of us grew up in a world where the government pretty explicitly said, "you're on your own sucker."

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. Great post. But unless I misread the second graph, shouldn't the Obama dot be higher on the Y axis than the McCain dot?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Oops! I reversed the colors of the Red/Blue dots. Obama = Red and McCain = Blue on this little graph.

USWest said...

I spent my childhood hoping for another FDR. But, I grew up in California's version of the Mid-West, the Central Valley. My county still has some of the state's highest poverty rates and highest unemployment. Yet it's very Republican. Farmers. Church goers, Rotarians.

My earliest political memory? Iran Hostage Crisis. Had nightmares of troops (Nazi's mind you) marching down my street and taking my dad off to war.

My young take on Reagan, was entirely influenced by my parents. He was an incompetent jerk who broke unions, followed horoscopes, and was hell bent on doing deals with Iran to fight wars in South America. I agree with RBR. Things were not calm in the 1980s.

And yes, we've been suckers from the start. I graduated with my MA just in time for the bust. And now that I was finally stable and getting a tiny bit ahead, the latest crash. Great. Just great.

But then I listen to the tales of my Depression era, rationing era mother. And I realize that we still have it pretty good and no one gets out with an easy ride. Every generation has their struggle. It makes me feel better.

USwest said...

BTW: it is no accident that so many of us seem to identify more with our grandparents than our parents.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The difference between Gen Y and Gen X is rather stunning, I admit. The 20-somethings I see running around are so much more enthusiastic about, well, everything, than GenXers ever were. Basically, nobody cared about politics when I was in college.

Maybe the problem with AmericanGenX is that our our first lesson in foreign policy and immigration was Space Invaders. The message: aliens are weird and different from you, and they are all brainlessly moving in lockstep with a goal to kill you (which they can do just by touching you). Your job is to kill them. Kill them all.

We learned about feminism from Ms. Pac-Man and learned from the Gulf War that "war is like Nintendo."

Watching my normally disinterested and cynical GenX cohort come alive on the Obama train has been one of the most satisfying parts of this past year. So many of my friends just never cared about politics before. Now it's all different.

Boy is the crash going to be hard.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The largely stable, lower birthrate is nicely correlated with the growing availability of contraception and abortion from 1960-1975, the whole sexual revolution thang.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Note on demographics: I tried at first to align the "generation" color bars with the peaks and troughs of the absolute birth rate. It did not work well. After the comments above, I re-aligned the bars to their current position... To the slopes.

Baby Boomer: rising
Gen-X: falling
Millennial: rising

It is interesting that the progressive generations (Boomers/60s, Millennials/now?) coincide with growth in the youth population, while Gen-X coincided with decay in the population rate.

Dr. Strangelove said...

The preceding generations were the "Silent Generation" around 1924-1944 and before that the "Greatest Generation" 1901-1924. It is worth noting that the Silent Generation has yet to produce a President: they seem to have been skipped. (McCain would be the first--likely the only one.)