Memo to baby boomers, from millennials: Everything’s your fault

Charlotte Alter

Approximately one million years ago, in 2019, the long-simmering generational tension between the baby boomers and the millennials exploded into meme combat: The Internet was alight with cries of “OK boomer,” as younger generations issued a collective eye roll to their boomer parents. In her new book, OK Boomer, Let’s Talk, author Jill Filopovic explains what she sees as the root of the tension: Millennials are leading different – and often worse – lives than their parents did, and boomers are to blame.

“A true reckoning with the consequences of Boomer policies and decisions casts a harsh light on the children of the Greatest Generation,” she writes, adding that this book is that needed reckoning and, as she puts it, “a peace offering to those Boomers who are worried about the world they’re leaving their children.”

The reckoning is long overdue. America is in the midst of a generational turnover, one that has the power to reshape our economy, our family structures and the fundamental social contract we make with our government. And in a time of massive income inequality, social unrest and political upheaval, it’s hard not to blame the generation that has been at the steering wheel for the past 30 years. It can sometimes feel as if Mom and Dad bought a wood house, decorated everything with paper, dismantled the sprinkler systems, lit a match and now wonder why their kids are screaming that the house is on fire.

We already know that millennials are more socially tolerant than their parents, more likely to support big government action on climate change and healthcare, and less likely to own homes and start families than boomers were at their age. This book explains the data behind those trends, laying out how, as Filipovic puts it, “life at thirty for your average Millennial looks close to nothing like life at thirty did for you.” OK Boomer is structured according to topic – jobs, housing, climate, family, etc – and each section includes exhaustive research on how millennials have experienced each corner of adult life differently than their parents did. If you’re getting ready for generational combat on your family Zoom calls, consider this book your handy arsenal of easily weaponised facts.

Filipovic is particularly smart on issues of gender, relationships and the inequality of labour at home, and the sections of OK Boomer that interrogate how millennials are having renegotiating marriage and children, and re-creating the nuclear family are especially sharp. And her research into how Fox News has poisoned the minds of many TV-addicted boomers is particularly relevant in an election year when the president is relying on support from aging white baby boomers. This book is full of data – on the economy, technology and more – that will help millennials articulate their generational rage and help boomers understand where they’re coming from.

But Filipovic doesn’t quite successfully prosecute the case against boomers, nor does she offer a fresh analysis of millennials’ generational destiny. Instead, she presents research to prove what has by now become common knowledge: That millennials are more indebted, more financially precarious, more concerned about climate change, and less personally and professionally secure than their parents were. And while Filipovic is right that many of our most pressing national issues can be viewed through a generational lens, she too often slips into tangents about other cultural issues, from wellness trends to Roman Polanski, that seem only thinly connected to the central generational conflict. Some problems that she presents as uniquely millennial – like moving to a cheaper area to raise a family or sacrificing passions for job security – are simply the sour trade-offs of adulthood, which boomers and Gen Xers have grappled with as well. At times, OK Boomer feels less about the divide between boomers and millennials, and more about everything that is wrong with everything.

That may be the point. Filipovic argues that nearly every systemic problem in America – from unaffordable housing to a broken health-care system to the difficulty of raising a family – is the fault of the baby boomers. While boomers often take credit for the social movements of the 1960s, she points out, those movements were largely led by non-boomers born in the 1920s and 1930s. But on the whole, Filipovic is right that boomers have fumbled the generational football: They didn’t address climate change when they could, gutted public investment in social programs that would have benefited their children and grandchildren, and ushered in a new era of economic precarity that left their descendants poorer and more anxious.

But while it’s true that boomers have largely failed to create a better world, Filipovic risks overstating the exact scope and nature of that failure and ends up laying the entirety of American social injustice at their feet. At times, she oversimplifies the argument, as when she writes in the introduction that “overall, the Boomer generation brought us a rapid national shift away from the ideals of gender equality, racial justice, and pacifism.” It’s true that boomers haven’t lived up to their self-professed ‘60s ideals, that they could have done more to achieve racial justice and gender equality, and that significant gaps still remain. But America is significantly less racist and sexist in 2020 than it was when the first boomers were born in 1946, when they joined the social movements of the 1960s and ‘70s, or even when they reached political maturity in the 1980s. Throughout this book, Filipovic falls into the particularly millennial habit of equating inadequate progress with total failure: True, boomers didn’t create a perfect world for their children – but they didn’t inherit a perfect world from their parents, either.

Millennials have grown up in a world shaped by boomer priorities, boomer attitudes and boomer policies – but that world is slowly crumbling. This book should help boomers understand millennials a little better, and they might as well: The winds are shifting in our direction.