LOS ANGELES - President-elect Barack Obama may well be one of the 79 million members of the baby-boom generation. But he's a late-wave boomer, a child of the 1970s - as are half of the two dozen people he has selected to help him lead the country.
Many of those Obama is taking to Washington - including his education secretary, homeland security chief, treasury secretary, United Nations ambassador, and energy czar - came of age in the era of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. And their shared experiences offer insights into how they may govern: They tend to be less ideological than early boomers, more respectful of contrary opinions, more pragmatic, and a lot less likely to get bogged down by the shibboleths of the 1960s, according to historians, marketers and pollsters.
Late boomers were doing wheelies on bikes and playing with dolls when early boomers were fighting in Vietnam, avoiding the draft, singing along with the Mamas and the Papas, mourning a president, marching for civil rights, and trekking to Woodstock.
Obama's peers were defined by Watergate, stagflation, gas lines, and 20 percent interest rates. Their cultural touchstones were groups like the Commodores and Steely Dan (on cassette or eight-track tapes, of course) and shows like
All in the Family
The postwar baby boomers were born from 1946 to 1964. But Jonathan Pontell, a Los Angeles marketing and political consultant, said generational experience, not birth rates, defined a generation. Several years ago, he labeled the late boomers, born after 1954, as "Generation Jones."
Members of Generation Jones - including Pontell, 50 - were too young to really experience the tumult of the 1960s. "We were wide-eyed, not tie-dyed," Pontell said.
He came up with Generation Jones, he said, because he regards later boomers as a lost, anonymous generation. Among those traits are a competitive drive (a need to keep up with the Joneses) and an intense, often-unrewarded yearning. In the argot of the early 1970s, this generation always has a jones for something more.
"This generation had big expectations, but it was confronted with a souring economy that left it with a certain unrequited jonesing quality," Pontell said.
Generalizations about generations, of course, are fraught with exceptions for such factors as income, race, family circumstances and geography. Still, people who sell consumer products and politicians make big bets on those broad-brush portraits. And if late boomers, one of every four adults in America, are starting to take over from early boomers, that's bound to have some implications.
One result could be an end to the early boomers' obsession with the Vietnam War, said Scott Rasmussen, 52, a nonpartisan pollster.
"If you came of age in the 1960s, you had to make a decision about Vietnam," he said. "But if you were a few years behind that, as I was, you weren't faced with the same choices."
Late boomers are neither reliably Democratic nor Republican; they were about evenly split between Obama and Sen. John McCain. And, some argue, both sides seem to share Obama's pragmatic political outlook.
"Older boomers had this naive assumption that you could get rid of the bad and the good would be wonderful," said Ann Clurman, executive vice president of the Futures Co. and coauthor of
, a treatise on baby boomers. "Younger boomers tend to say there is bad and good in everything and nothing is perfect."
Julian Zelizer, a professor of public affairs and history at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, said the main difference between early and late boomers "is that people who came of age in the '70s saw a country where conservatism could do well politically."
In other words, they saw the power of Reagan.
Gordon Fisher, 44, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman, said, "There's no question that Ronald Reagan, for people my age, was a towering political figure."