If you are between the ages of 50 and 60 but never really fit in as a baby boomer, join the crowd.
And what a prestigious crowd it is. Its members — the youngest segment of the baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964 — have taken over the reins of the political and business world, with about two-thirds of the current members and presidents of the European Union and NATO countries falling in that age range, President Barack Obama included.
Jonathan Pontell, a 55-year-old social commentator originally from northeast Ohio with a law degree and a social science background who has lived in 20 countries and traveled to another 90, never felt like a baby boomer. Not in high school, not in middle age, not several years ago, when, living in a beach house in India, Pontell realized he and other children of the '60s were a generation of their own.
"I happened to hear a techno song booming across the beach there one night which sampled excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech. As I got teary-eyed with emotion hearing King's voice, I wondered to myself why this speech always seemed to elicit such an emotional reaction in me.
"As I thought about it, I realized that 1960s' Peace & Love stuff impacted me in a huge way because I was a young, impressionable child back then who was naturally stirred up by such idealistic sentiments. That zeitgeist of 'all you need is love' magnified the naturally open-hearted feelings I felt then, just by virtue of being a kid," Pontell said.
"I sat up thinking about all this for many hours that night, and by night's end, was committed to putting my generation on the map, to determine who my generation was, to figure out the correct birth years for our generation, to give it a name, and to find a way for our generation's voice to finally be heard.
"While labels are often misused, they nonetheless are useful, and in an increasingly info-blitzed world, labels help us make sense of ourselves. If we are going to be labeled anyway, we might as well be labeled accurately, and there are over 50 million Americans in our age group who have long been (and many of them have felt) mislabeled," Pontell said.
'We were witnesses'
Generation Jones is the name he came up with for those born between 1954 and 1964, but not until he ruminated and cogitated and pored — and even did national polling — over dozens of possibilities for years.
Its multilayered connotations suited him.
"The 'keeping up with the Joneses' connotation reflects this generation's collective competitiveness, which stems from the fact that GenJones includes the most populous birth years in U.S. history," he said.
And, the name pays homage to the word "jonesin' " that his generation made popular to mean any intense craving. An underlying collective yearning has turned out to be a core personality trait of this generation, Pontell said.
Generation Jonesers were too young to participate in the ideological arguments baby boomers were having about Vietnam, civil rights, abortion and women's rights.
"The boomers were out changing the world back then. We children were the ones being formed by those changes. They were participants, we were witnesses," Pontell said.
And that deep national zeitgeist that GenJonesers witnessed gave them a strong desire to make a political difference. They became idealistic and competitive, developed perseverance and irony, a sense of humor and entitlement in response to boomers' passionate ideals.
"As with all generations, there are countless data-based distinctions between boomers, Jonesers and Xers, in terms of attitudes and values, consumer behavior and political behavior," Pontell said.
"Take the example of boomer and Joneser voting behavior. If you look at five of the last seven national elections in the U.S., you'll find that boomers have been the most Democratic Party-voting generation, while Jonesers have voted more for Republicans than any other generation. So here you have the two opposite generations in the electorate, the furthest apart, and yet they sometimes still get lumped in together as if they are somehow one generation, with uninformed pollsters then absurdly declaring: 'Here's how the boomers are voting.' "
Though older Generation Jones members tend to be more conservative in their politics, the group as a whole is known for being volatile when it comes to politics. They're more likely to vote for a candidate out of their political party if they want change.
A coming revolution
The conventional wisdom that only young people are worth spending much ad money on is breaking down, and that's partly because of how attractive GenJones is becoming to marketers and advertisers.
"I've worked with quite a few major ad agencies and corporations, who have generally been very struck with how surprisingly persuadable Jonesers currently are to their messaging," Pontell said. "Add to that the large number of Jonesers (the most populous birth years in U.S. history, more than 50 million in the United States alone) and how much cash is at the disposal of this large generation, and it becomes understandable why GenJones is becoming such a key ad demo.
"While baby boomers are already changing, and will continue to change, the nature of aging and retirement, the real revolution will come when Jonesers hit that point in the life cycle."
"The disparity between what Jonesers expected and the reality of what they got has been huge, and there is reason to believe that our generation's deep-seated jonesin' for those unfulfilled expectations will translate into a version of retirement that looks very different than what we've seen before," he said.
Jonesers also face a far less promising economic future in their senior years than the older boomers, Pontell said.
"GenJones will almost certainly be key in what looks like an inevitable generational battle over who gets how big a slice of the finite Medicare pie."
Times news researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.
GenJoneser Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8746.