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The Silent Generation: Definition, Characteristics & Facts

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Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Information Technology, and Literacy and has a master's in counseling psychology and business administration.

Did you know that there were around 50 million live births between 1925 and 1945? Learn more about the Silent Generation, how members of the Silent Generation were influenced by the Great Depression and World War II, and more.

We also recommend watching The Flynn Effect: Generational Increases in Intelligence Test Scores and Social Characteristics of an Aging Population

Definition

The Silent Generation refers to people who were born between 1925 and 1945.

Why the Silent Generation?

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'.

During this time, the House Committee on Un-American Activities launched an assault on political freedom in America. This, in conjunction with Senator Joseph McCarthy's overzealous attempts to feed anti-communist sentiment in America, made it dangerous for people to speak freely about their opinions and beliefs. They became cautious about where they went and whom they were seen with. Therefore, the people were effectively 'silenced'.

In 1951, a Time Magazine article was written in which the children of the generation were described as 'unimaginative', 'withdrawn', 'unadventurous', and 'cautious'. Time Magazine used the name 'Silent Generation' to refer to these individuals. The name has been there ever since.

Conflicts During the Silent Generation

The Silent Generation children grew up in conditions complicated by war and economic downturn. From 1929 until 1939, America suffered during the world economic crisis known as the Great Depression. The Great Depression affected those from all social classes alike. Many American citizens lost their homes, possessions, and were starving on the streets. It was estimated that over 24% of Americans were unemployed.

The loss of wealth from those of all classes blurred the distinctions between the different social classes. This caused the children of the Silent Generation to have identities that were not clearly defined, yet flexible.

The Dust Bowl, a period during the 1930s where severe dust storms swept through the country and destroyed farmlands, complicated the problem of starvation. Not only were people out of work and money, but there was also the food shortage caused by the Dust Bowl. Entire farmlands were abandoned, and there was even less food to go around. People who found themselves caught in or living near the dust storms developed serious lung problems.

In 1939, the rain finally fell and the Dust Bowl came to an end. Around the same time, the economy was finally able to bounce back from the Great Depression. The economic recovery was in large part due to the demand for new industries (i.e., increased demand for airplanes and weaponry) that was created by World War II, which began in 1939 and lasted until 1945.

In addition to being children of war, the Silent Generation also made up a majority of fighters in the Korean War, which was fought from 1950 until 1953 and led to the division of Korea into North and South Korea.

Characteristics of the Silent Generation

The Silent Generation has been described as being highly ambitious and having a need for achievement, power, and status. It has been suggested that the economic suffering and loss of status during the Great Depression led to the Silent Generation's ambitions to rise above these losses.

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