HOW BOOM RESHAPED LANDSCAPE

Published on .

Most Popular
From Landon Y. Jones' groundbreaking "Great Expectations: America & the Baby Boom Generation," some excerpts and statistics that attest to the magnitude of the postwar demographic phenomenon and its symbiotic relationship with the ad world:

"All these various threads in American life-the flush of military victory, the staggering prosperity, the renewed faith in the future-combined in the postwar years to create what can be called the Procreation ethic . . . For 15 long years, fertility and dreams alike had been bottled up by the Depression and World War II. Yet all during that time the image of the American family had been held up like a chalice . . . When [the GIs] returned, the Procreation Ethic was rooted more firmly than ever and preparing for its greatest flowering."

"American mothers had created the biggest market in history. Now technology had produced the tool to move it: television . . . a marketing consultant named Eugene Gilbert stumbled on a galvanizing truth: `An advertiser who touches a responsive chord in youth can generally count on the parent to succumb finally to purchasing the product.' It was the Relativity Theorem of television: a law that changed everything. Money for commercials flowed like a river as TV went about the business of turning toddlers into consumer trainees."

Marriage: More than 2.2 million couples-twice as many as in any year before the war-said their vows in 1946 and set a nuptial record that was not equaled for 33 years.

Births: The tidal wave began in 1946 and peaked in 1957, when 4.3 million babies were born. At least 4 million babies were born in each of the bumper crop years from 1954 through '64, the last real year of the baby binge. All totaled, 76.4 million babies, or one-third of the U.S. population, arrived in the 18 years from '46 through '64. Because it was preceded and followed by smaller generations, the baby boom makes a permanent but moving bulge in the population.

Personal income: It soared by 293% in the 15 years from 1940 to 1955. The 6% of the world's people who lived in the U.S. by the mid-1950s were creating two-thirds of the world's manufactured goods and consuming one-third of the world's goods and services.

Spending on kids: There was a surge in parental spending. Diaper sales rose from $32 million in 1947 to $50 million by 1957; the toy industry grew from $84 million pre-1940 to $1.25 billion a year during the 1950s. "The Common Sense Book of Baby & Child Care," by Benjamin Spock, MD, unpromoted and unreviewed when it was published in June of 1946, sold 4 million copies by 1952 and went on to sell at least 1 million copies a year for 18 straight years.

Home ownership: It rose 50% between 1940 and 1950, and was up another 50% by 1960. By then, one-quarter of all housing in the U.S. had been built in the '50s, and for the first time, more Americans owned homes than rented.

TV: From fewer than 6,000 TV sets at the baby boom's outset in 1946, production leaped to 7 million sets a year by 1953. By 1967, 98% of all U.S. homes had TVs. By the time the average baby boomer reached the age of 21, he had been bombarded by as many as 300,000 TV commercials.

The beat goes on: Baby boomers have remained the dominant market force. In 1964, teen-agers accounted for 55% of all soft-drink sales, 53% of all movie tickets and 43% of all records sold. Baby boomers fueled the growth of the fast-food industry too, making McDonald's one of Wall Street's choicest stocks: 100 shares that cost $2,250 in the mid-1960s were worth $141,000 by 1972.

In this article: