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While the baby boomer generation of more than 77 million includes those born from 1946 to 1964, Gen X begins with those born in 1965 and includes those born up until the end of the 1970's or the beginning of the 1980's and numbers about 51 million. Both generations are the products of the significant and memorable events of their time.
While the two generations called baby boomers and Gen X'ers sit side by side in historical time, they have many radical differences some of which resulted from the continuing progress of an increasingly technological and interconnected world.
To identify the baby boomers as a generation in the United States, it is generally accepted to include all of those born of the post World War II baby boom stretching from 1946 until 1964. While this pegs the beginning of generation X, usually shortened to just Gen X, to 1965, there is a great deal of debate about when this group ends and the next generation of “millennials” or Generation Y begins. The most commonly cited endpoint is 1976 but some have placed it as far as 1982.
The baby boomers saw the beginnings of the Cold War while those in Gen X witnessed its end along with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those in Gen X were too young to have much direct experience with the Vietnam War or the protests that swirled around it, but they experienced the first Gulf War live every night on the televised news.
Most baby boomers either can pinpoint where they were and what they were doing when news broke of the assassination of President Kennedy or can at least recall their parents discussing it. For the members of Gen X, most have a distinct memory of the tragedy of the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion on take off. Indeed, many of them saw it happen since a teacher was being sent into space and many schools provided live coverage.
Those in the baby boomer generation saw common disease begin to be controlled by widespread vaccination programs and transitioned from a very real fear of polio to an understanding that with immunization it was preventable. For them iron lungs were a reality before the Salk and Sabin vaccines, but for Gen X, they were only historical oddities. Gen X members no longer even needed smallpox vaccinations because the disease became the first to be eradicated in the wild. For them, virtually the only “common childhood disease” that was still common was chicken pox and that too was preventable by the next generation.
Finally, a significant difference in baby boomers and Gen X is in their numbers. While estimates of the baby boomers vary from 77 to 79 million individuals, Gen X is estimated to contain only 51 million people. One reason that this is important is that systems such as Social Security and Medicare depend on those actively working to pay into the fund as those who have retired or are disabled draw from it. A smaller workforce means a smaller contribution.