Reeling From the Losses of the Silent Generation (2023)

The six-decade love story between Eleanor and Peter Baker began when they spotted each other at the candy counter at Woolworth’s in Rutherford, N.J.

Reeling From the Losses of the Silent Generation (1)

They went on to be prom dates, bride and groom, parents, grandparents and great grandparents. They were living their retirement dream, traveling between the Poconos in Pennsylvania and their winter home in Florida when they attended a March 10 reunion with Peter’s fellow retired New Jersey State troopers and their wives who were also spending their sunset years in the Sunshine State.

It was there that the couple was exposed to the coronavirus.

In April, Eleanor, 84, with her husband at her side in a Florida hospital room, died of COVID-19; Peter, 85, passed away from the virus within 24 hours.

“We’re reeling. It’s like the floor dropped out from under us,” said Patty Wolfe, 61, the eldest of their five children. “We didn't expect people who were relatively healthy to be brought down by a virus. They were the nucleus of our family.”

A Toll on the Silent Generation

The Bakers were members of what demographers have called Traditionalists, Matures and, most commonly, the Silent Generation. Wedged between two larger and more well-known groups — the Greatest Generation and the boomers — members of the Silent Generation were born between 1929 and 1945, marked by the start of the Great Depression and the end of World War II.

Now the coronavirus is taking a cruel and disproportionate toll on these resilient Americans, born into hard times and raised to do their duty for the greater good.

"We didn't expect people who were relatively healthy to be brought down by a virus. They were the nucleus of our family."

“Many of them should still be with us. They had not reached the natural end of their lives. The sheer number of these deaths in such a compressed amount of time is hard to fathom,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services.

As casualties accumulate at an alarming pace, there’s been no fond valedictory for this group that helped lift their country to its postwar prosperity.

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“These are the people who built our communities and our country. As a generation, they sacrificed so much. We are losing their wisdom and life experiences when we still have so much to learn from them,” Sloan said.

Marked and Shaped by Momentous Events

Now between the ages of 75 and 91, the Census Bureau counts 23 million members of the Silent Generation. There are but 2.5 million survivors of the Greatest Generation, who are 92 and older, and 76 million boomers, between 53 and 74.

Like every generation, the members of the Silent Generation were marked and shaped by the momentous events of their coming-of-age years.

“The Silent Generation grew up to be responsible and not put their own needs first. When they were kids, they were expected to do as they were told and stay out of the way of adults,” said Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing.

Many of the Silent Generation remember listening to the attack on Pearl Harbor as children, in the same the way that their youthful millennial grandchildren watched the searing scenes of 9/11.

Their fathers and older brothers marched off to war and their mothers went to work in aircraft factories while they did their part for the war effort, tending Victory gardens and using ration coupons for necessities.

A far smaller percentage of Silent Generation men were drafted and served during the Korean Conflict, but the culture of the military, so prominent in their childhood, shaped them to respect authority. As parents and workers, they understood a top-down, command-and-control hierarchy.

“Their role models were people larger than life — Patton, Eisenhower. You didn’t challenge them. They were rewarded for playing by the rules,” Fishman said.

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The Lucky Few

The ‘Silent Generation’ term was coined by Time magazine, in a 1951 cover story about the post- World War II generation.

Elwood Carlson prefers to call them the Lucky Few, which is the title of the 2008 book he wrote about them.

“They were the first American generation that was smaller than the previous one. The birth rate went really low and stayed low in the Great Depression. A lot of people hit the hardest did not have families. Many men were not with their families, they were unemployed and roaming, looking for work. Couples postponed having children,” said Carlson, who is the Charles Nam Professor in Sociology of Population at Florida State University.

That explains the few. But why does he consider them lucky?

“It was tough when they were born, but by the time they got out of school, they got on the gravy train. They became adults during the longest continuous economic boom in U.S. history,” Carlson said. “They founded, or were on the ground floor of, many new corporations. As the economy was going crazy, there was a shortage of people because of that low birth rate, so they got jobs, promotions and raises. Their unemployment rate was half what it was for the boomers a generation later.”

Carlson notes that African Americans of the Silent Generation did not benefit from the nation’s economic success in the same way their white counterparts did, but the rising tide also lifted many people of color. Often, they were children in the era of the so-called Great Migration, when African Americans left the rural south to relocate to better opportunities in the urban northeast, midwest and west.

“They were subjected to racist institutions, but they didn't lag as much as the generations before them in terms of employment and income,” Carlson said.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, Carlson wonders if the good luck of the Lucky Few has run out.

“They’ve finally rolled snake eyes. Some people are saying they should be sacrificed to the economy when they built the economy,” he said. “They are now perceived as collateral damage. It’s a shame.”

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A Silent President?

Members of the Silent Generation have left large footprints across every sector of society and many of them continue to exert a powerful influence even today.

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, born in 1933 and 1938, are of the generation, as are Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

All of The Beatles and three of the four surviving Rolling Stones (Ron Wood is just barely a boomer) are Silents, as are Dr. Anthony Fauci, Pope Francis, Gloria Steinem, Tina Turner, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Andrews and Warren Buffett. Now deceased generational influencers include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Elvis Presley.

But there has never been a U.S. President from the cohort. The nation skipped from Greatest Generation chief executives — Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush — to boomers, including Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and Trump.

Should Joe Biden, born in 1942, move into The White House, he will be the first, and logically, the only, Silent Generation member to assume the highest office.

“Unlike the G.I. Generation, they could only imagine the feeling of saving the world. They never experienced that. They are the helpers, not the decision-makers,” explained Fishman.

“Their role has been to humanize their world. They started the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. They are problem solvers, mediators, commentators. Every president since Kennedy has had one of them as their chief of staff or vice president,” she added.

Throughout their long lives, they have retained their power over the purse strings. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans over 70 (mostly Silent Generation members) still control 28% of the nation’s household wealth.

“They are financially stable and wise,” Fishman said. “As children of the Depression, they have never been wild spenders, so they have money. They’ve always made the best and the most of what they have and now they like to help their families.”

Gone Too Soon

Eleanor and Peter Baker personified many of the characteristics associated with their generation. They married young, devoted their efforts to their family and embodied the values embedded in their youth.

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“My parents were extremely frugal. They never cut corners and they did things right. Dad was a tinkerer and the best bargainer out there. He kept user manuals, records and receipts. When a blade broke off their ceiling fan, he found a receipt from eighteen years ago and took it back,” recalled his daughter Patty Wolfe.

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"I'm glad they were together at the end; maybe that brings us solace."

Peter rose to be a captain in the New Jersey State Police while Eleanor was, in Wolfe’s words, a “legendary homemaker” who drove a school bus for some years around raising her children.

The loss of “Gammy and Pop-pop,” as their great-grandchildren called them, was particularly poignant over the Fourth of July, when the couple traditionally hosted an intergenerational family get-together of 65 or so.

Reeling From the Losses of the Silent Generation (3)

“Our family is spread all over the place, but they always brought us together,” Wolfe said.

In recent years, Peter had slowed down because of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, but Eleanor had recently undergone knee replacement surgery to keep active and traveled to Europe with another daughter within the past year.

“I’m glad they were together at the end; maybe that brings us solace,” Wolfe said. “But they weren’t ready to go. They had plans. Next year is the hundredth anniversary of the State Police and they were planning to be with the group recognized at the Army-Navy game at Giants Stadium. They had a lot of living yet to do. The virus took them from us.”

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Kevyn Burgeris a freelance feature writer and broadcast producer. She was named a 2018 Journalist in Aging Fellow and a2020 Continuing Fellow by the Gerontological Society of America. Based in Minneapolis,Kevyn is the mother of three young adults and one rescue terrier.Read More

FAQs

What generation is known as the Silent Generation? ›

The Silent Generation, also known as "Radio Babies" or "Traditionalists," includes people who were born between 1928 and 1945 and lived through World War II and the Great Depression, according to FamilySearch . These challenging experiences shaped many of the generation's attitudes toward the workplace.

What are 3 characteristics of the Silent Generation? ›

Members of this generation are not only loyal to their careers but also to their religious beliefs, their relationships, and their families. They value stability and likewise are stable and dependable.

How many Silent Generation are still alive? ›

By this definition and U.S. Census data, there were 23 million Silents in the United States as of 2019.

Why is Gen Z called the New Silent Generation? ›

Due to the cyclical nature of generational characteristics, “the New Silent Generation” may be the most descriptive name, because its members will likely mimic many of the traits of the Silent Generation (born 1923-1944).

Is the Silent Generation still working? ›

The Silent Generation make up the oldest – and smallest – age demographic in the workforce. While most members of this generation have already retired, there are still a few that continue to work professionally.

How do you communicate with the Silent Generation? ›

Also known as the silent generation, traditionalists are individuals who were born before 1946. They generally keep their thoughts to themselves and only speak when spoken to. Therefore, a one-on-one communication approach works well with this generation, says Billie Blair, PhD, president/CEO, Change Strategists Inc.

What is the Silent Generation interested in? ›

The Silent Generation are very traditional in their values. Growing up just before and during the Second World War and the national economic downturn in the 1930s, this generation has grown up with an emphasis on the values of hard work, loyalty, and thriftiness.

What can we learn from the Silent Generation? ›

3 Things You Can Do to Learn from the Silent Generation
  • Seek out stories and opinions from those in other generations whether they be written, video or in-person.
  • Practice listening to understand and not listening to respond.
  • Practice empathy and encourage it to others.
28 Feb 2017

What kind of parents were the Silent Generation? ›

Parenting Style:

The Silent Generation was known for working within the system rather than fighting the system. They parented quietly and without doing anything that called attention to them. They kept their heads down and did what they had to do.

What is the most forgotten generation? ›

If you haven't heard much about Gen X, it's because they're known as "the forgotten generation." Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen X has fallen to the wayside of the media darlings they're bookended by — millennials and baby boomers.

What is the greatest generation of all time? ›

Members of the Greatest Generation were born in the 1900s to the 1920s. There's no universal cut-off date, but some sources have defined the Greatest Generation as people born from 1901 to 1927 or 1901 to 1924. Their parents were likely part of the Lost Generation. Many also had children in the Baby Boomer generation.

What age range is the Silent Generation? ›

The Silent Generation, born between roughly 1925 and 1945, now range in age from 75 to 95 years old. It is the generation that is most physically in danger from the current pandemic, but it is also the one with the most extended history of navigating adversity.

Why Gen Z is burned out? ›

Yousef said some of the burnout Gen Z is experiencing is likely from poor “digital hygiene,” meaning they don't know how to log off—including from work. She says that employers can have a major role to play in helping Gen Z workers have a healthy relationship with work and technology.

What percent of Gen Z is depressed? ›

Gen Z (42%) is about twice as likely as Americans over 25 (23%) to battle depression and feelings of hopelessness. Gen Z is three times as likely (18% to 5%) as Americans over 25 to say their challenges are so severe that they thought they might be better off dead.

Is the Silent Generation the same as the Greatest Generation? ›

Generally speaking, the Greatest Generation are the parents of the "Baby Boomers" and are the children of the "Lost Generation" (those who grew up during or came of age during World War I). They preceded what is known as the "Silent Generation," a cohort born between the mid-1920s to the early-to-mid 1940s.

How many children did the Silent Generation have? ›

The Silent Generation is made of about 50 million children born between 1925 and 1945. Children from this group were plagued with war and economic instability as a result of the Great Depression.

Why is the Silent Generation called the lucky few? ›

Unlike the G.I.s, the Silent didn't have to wait for a depression or war to end. A new “booming” economy was ready to join right out of school. Demographer Richard Easterlin, in his 1980 book Birth and Fortune, called them the “Lucky” or “Fortunate” generation for their great timing.

What is the work ethic of the Silent Generation? ›

Members of the Silent Generation are usually willing to work as a team for the greater good of an organization. Because they are self-reliant and competent, however, they may find it more difficult to reach out for help. They place great importance on accomplishing tasks by themselves.

Why is it important to learn from other generations? ›

It is an important part of Lifelong Learning, where the generations work together to gain skills, values and knowledge. Beyond the transfer of knowledge, it fosters reciprocal learning relationships between different generations and helps develop social capital and social cohesion in our ageing societies.

What is the moral of the story the three generations? ›

Theme. Even though how much we try to change ourselves, not to be the worst person in our lives – parents, siblings, or other persons, we can't in our own. Celo realizes how he has become the father he has hated for so long and there realizes further that the slap has been his.

What influenced the Silent Generation? ›

Typically born between 1928-1945, their suffering through the Great Depression and World War II taught them to survive hunger, homelessness, fear, loss, and death. Often referred to as "Traditionalists" or "Radio Babies," they were born between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

What is the least parented generation? ›

Gen Xers would come to be known as one of the “least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history,” with parents divorcing at historic rates as both mom and dad worked in pursuit of an American Dream.

Which generation is the laziest? ›

With all of this, how on earth did Gen Z get the reputation as the laziest generation? Many members of older generations have deemed Gen Z as lazy, apathetic, and internet-addicted.

What is the unhealthiest generation? ›

Researchers found that, compared to previous generations, members of Generation X and Generation Y showed poorer physical health, higher levels of unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol use and smoking, and more depression and anxiety.

What generation is the smartest generation? ›

Gen Z is also the smartest and best educated generation. Having an unlimited wealth of information at our disposal has not gone to waste. In America, 57 percent of Gen Z is reported to have enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 52 percent of Millenials and 43 percent of Gen X.

Which generation is best in human? ›

Greatest Generation (Born 1901-27).

Pros: Survived the Depression, fought and won World War II, rebuilt Europe and led the U.S. economy to the top of the world after the war.

What generation has had it the easiest? ›

According to many baby boomers (those born in the early 1940's to the mid 1960's) millennials have it the easiest!

Why is it called Lost Generation? ›

The term is also used more generally to refer to the post-World War I generation. The generation was “lost” in the sense that its inherited values were no longer relevant in the postwar world and because of its spiritual alienation from a United States that, basking under Pres. Warren G.

What is this generation called 2022? ›

Gen Alpha – born 2013 – 2025.

Is Gen Z the most misunderstood generation? ›

Gen Z may be the most misunderstood generation

Just like every generation, Gen Z has its own unique set of values and priorities. But unlike the millennials before them, they lack the same opportunities to establish their place in the world. They're also facing more challenges than any other generation before them.

Is Gen Z the hardest working generation? ›

Generation Z Characteristics and Work Ethics Put to the Test

People often disregard Gen Zers as lazy and laid back due to their desire to achieve a good work-life balance. However, this is a misconception. Gen Z employees focus on their careers and extremely hard working.

What problems do Gen Z face? ›

While inflation and addiction to technology ranked as their top two biggest problems, the pandemic / COVID-19 and racism are still massive concerns for Gen Z and Millennials. Despite the fact that many young people are forging a new normal during the pandemic, their worries about COVID still remain.

What is the most stressful age? ›

A new study finds the average American feels the most stressed at 36 years-old. Despite this — fear not — a recent survey of 2,000 Americans over the age of 30 reveals the average respondent is better at managing stress now than they were a decade ago.

What is Gen Z mentality? ›

They are pragmatic and financially-minded

Financial mindedness is another core characteristic of Generation Z. Many Gen Z‑ers grew up watching their parents take huge financial hits during the Great Recession. Having witnessed their parents' struggles, this generation is driven by pragmatism and security.

Which generation is the most anxious? ›

So it's no surprise recent studies have declared millennials, especially women, the most anxious generation in history. Anxiety comes in many forms, but the simplest way to describe it is feeling worried or nervous about the future or uncertain situations.

What age is the Silent Generation? ›

The Silent Generation, born between roughly 1925 and 1945, now range in age from 75 to 95 years old. It is the generation that is most physically in danger from the current pandemic, but it is also the one with the most extended history of navigating adversity.

What year is the Silent Generation? ›

What are the 7 living generations? ›

By the numbers
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964. ...
  • Generation Jones: born 1955 to 1965. ...
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1980. ...
  • Xennials: born 1977 to 1983. ...
  • Millennials: born 1981 to 1996. ...
  • Generation Z: born 1997 or after. ...
  • Generation Alpha: born 2010 or after.
22 Jul 2020

How would you describe the Silent Generation? ›

The Silent Generation refers to people who were born between 1925 and 1945. There are several theories as to where the label 'Silent Generation' originated. The children who grew up during this time worked very hard and kept quiet. It was commonly understood that children should be seen and not heard.

What was the best generation to live in? ›

Greatest Generation (Born 1901-27).

Pros: Survived the Depression, fought and won World War II, rebuilt Europe and led the U.S. economy to the top of the world after the war.

What is the 7th generation prophecy? ›

The prophecy says: “After 7 generations in close contact with the white people, whose behavior has caused all this, the Indians will rise up at last and, together again in tribes, they will ask the white oppressors to be heard and that the earth is respected and protected as the Great Spirit teaches.”

How many generations can be alive at once? ›

While 6 generations is rare, the Guinness Book of World Records states the most generations alive in a single family is seven. Maxson says her huge family has always been a blessing. "Anytime I need advice , I'm able to get you know from 107 year old generation down to my grandmother and my father," said Janeva Maxson.

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