An Urban's Rural View

The More Expensive World Boomers Are Passing On

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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When 10 million soldiers and sailors returned home after four long years of war, the baby boom ensued. (Chart by Census Bureau)

The end of World War II sparked a demographic revolution whose consequences remain with us to this day.

Between mid-1945 and mid-1947, more than 10 million soldiers and sailors returned home and started families. The result was the baby boom generation -- the 76 million Americans born between 1946-64.

It's my (born 1947) generation. It's also the generation of many American farmers. According to USDA, 38% of U.S. farmers in 2022 were 65 or older; the average age was 58.1. Read about that here:….

Boomers were for many years the biggest population cohort -- "the pig in the python," demographers called us -- a bulge in the population that would have big but evolving consequences as we aged. Our parents, the so-called greatest generation, born between 1901-27, numbered only 63 million by comparison. The generation in between, the so-called silents, born 1928-1945, was even smaller at 47 million.

Our generation's tendency to annoy other generations was evident early on. In the 1960s and '70s, boomers were the vanguard of the counterculture -- anti-war demonstrators, hippies, the Haight-Ashbury and Woodstock crowd. Our greatest-generation parents were not amused.

The tendency continues to this day. To many of our millennial children (born 1981-96), we're the generation whose favorite pastime is finding fault with them. To society at large, we are, fairly or unfairly, the narcissistic generation that inherited a better world from our parents and grandparents but left a worse one to our children and grandchildren.

Like most generations, when we were young, the idea that we'd eventually get old was hard to believe. Simon & Garfunkel captured that in a 1968 song:

"Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be 70"

Now that we're 70 (OK, boomers range from 60-78), the thing that seems strange -- and terribly sad -- to us is the time we spend attending funerals of friends.

Yes, boomers are no longer the pig in the python generation. Enough of us have shuffled off this mortal coil, as Hamlet put it in his "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy, that the millennials overtook us recently as the largest population cohort.

But those of us still here are still leaving our mark. Some of us have done this by retiring. The economy suffers from a shortage of workers with critical skills in part because many of those who have them no longer work.

Others leave their mark by NOT retiring, thereby frustrating younger generations trying to move up. Farmers rank high among the boomers hanging on, but they're not alone. Although I retired 12 years ago at age 65, I continue to write for DTN/The Progressive Farmer and serve on non-profit boards. My wife insists I just brought my office home.

And all of us have left our mark on Social Security and Medicare, which combined devour about a third of the federal budget. Owing in part to us, these programs are drawing down their trust funds, which (unless changes are made) will be exhausted early in the 2030s.

I say "in part" because two other trends are contributing to the pressure on these programs. One is improved health care. In 1940, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old was 14 years. Today it's over 20 years. Boomers will be drawing benefits for many more years than their parents did. See:….

The other is the nation's fertility rate, which has long since fallen below the 2.1 replacement rate and last year hit a historic low of 1.62 births per woman. Because fertility has declined, the number of taxpaying workers per Social Security recipient is expected to fall from 2.7 in 2023 to 2.3 in 2035.

That there are a lot of us, though, is the inescapable root of the problem, and not just for Social Security and Medicare. For other drivers, especially at night. For our children, who are often dragged into playing the role of tech help desk.

And for the next generation of farmers, who in some cases are waiting for mom and dad to stop trying to run things, and for the next generation's siblings who fear they may lose out when the succession finally comes. I've sat through enough of my colleague Lance Woodbury's seminars to know that these are emotional and complicated issues.

And finally for beginning farmers, or would-be beginning farmers, who need to acquire land. By one estimate, farmers 65 and older own 40% of the land today and as they retire, 350 million acres will change hands over the next two decades. See:….

When the wait's up, how many of these acres will those aspiring farmers who don't inherit land be able to afford? We boomers may or may not be passing on a better world but we're certainly passing on a more expensive one.

Urban Lehner can be reached at


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