The parents of Baby Boomers may have been part of the Greatest Generation, but Boomers themselves are arguably part of the Luckiest Generation. We were born at that sweet spot in time, when American economic and innovative growth rates reached their peaks and when opportunities seemed boundless.
In this deep dive, Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University presents more than 750 pages of narrative and data about the changes in the U.S. standard of living since the Civil War. He shows how electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy grew from 45 to 72 years between 1870 an 1970.
At the same time, he demonstrates that it is unlikely that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 can be repeated. Change will still occur, however the rate of growth is likely to slow down — and the opportunities for the children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers are likely to be fewer and far between than we were fortunate enough to have.
Gordon combines economics and history in a unique blend. He analyzes the broader context of economic growth via a close examination of the small details of everyday life and work, both inside and outside of the home. He designates 1870 to 1970 as the “special century” and concludes that later years have seen a narrower palette of progress combined with diminishing returns.
On a more positive note, he concludes with a series of ideas about how to cope with declining growth. Demographic and fiscal headwinds can be important factors, but they need not be barriers to individual or societal success. Read this important and illuminating study for clues in how to continue to build a worthwhile future!
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