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Boomers vs. Gen Xers: Who's had it better?

October 11, 2011 | 11:45 am

Julie BowenAge doesn’t define us the way it did for baby boomers, wrote Alene Dawson in a recent Image feature about Gen Xers  now rounding 40. Thanks in part to progress made by boomers -- especially the activists among them who worked to break down social barriers -- the following generations have had the freedom to live life according to their own terms.

From Dawson's article:

"You know, 13 years ago women were not having babies at 40," [More magazine editor in chief Lesley Jane Seymour] says by way of illustration. Now she hears from many readers who are just starting families at that age, while others are preparing for an empty nest. She cites the celebrity example of Kyra Sedgwick, who at 46 has two college-age children, and Julie Bowen, who at 41 has twin toddlers.

"Gen X is not a homogenous group," she says. "They are doing their own things at their own time. You can no longer pull women out by age breaks." 

Sounds great, but did boomers actually have it better? In his Monday column, Gregory Rodriguez observes that there's a downside to too much personal freedom. That's why Americans are hooked on shows like "Mad Men," he writes -- because the programs occur in an era when Americans fought for their rights, rather than in one where they could simply enjoy them.

What these shows are selling -- and what "Mad Men" excels at -- are stories of characters fighting to achieve personal liberation in the restless years before the advent of the full-blown culture wars. Other 1960s narratives focus on the free-spirited joys and excesses that marked the end of that decade and the beginning of the next, by which time authority had collapsed. But these earlier stories depict a more tightly choreographed dance between those who would be liberated but aren't quite sure how to make it happen and those upholding the old social hierarchy.

In other words, maybe it's easier to live a life with clearly defined missions than to have one with too many choices. Choices, it should be noted, that now lord over us in the form of constant status updates on Facebook.

Rodriguez continues:

Nostalgia for a time when this tension shaped our lives shouldn't surprise us in the current moment. Increasing insecurity -- economically, globally, in our personal relationships and our work -- only heightens the burden of our hard-earned personal liberties. When the choices we make turn out to be the wrong ones, we have nowhere to turn and no one to blame but ourselves.

Leave it to H.L. Mencken to diagnose a social problem he didn't live long enough to see. In 1923, he wrote that the "average man" was "not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely."

ALSO:

Fall TV: Midcentury madness

'Will you marry me?' -- it used to be enough

Andy Rooney: The American icon's last kvetch

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Actress Julie Bowen, 41, has twin toddlers. Credit: Angela Weiss / WireImage

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