“Hi Sweetie! It’s such a beautiful day here. We’re taking the dogs to the beach for a walk now, then getting takeout. Oh this one beagle just came up and is giving me kisses, so cute. Anyways, our neighbors might come over for dinner. Oh, I have a cute sweater you might want. Call me back!” This is a voicemail I recently got from my mom—one among many quite like this in recent weeks. Does she not know that, um, the world is burning?! She sounds so relaxed. I’ve had to remind her several times not to have the neighbors over for dinner and not to pet all the dogs she meets out on her walks.
I’ve been FaceTiming with one of my best friends every week during this economic shutdown, and her parents—both in their sixties—will eventually dance onto the screen. Literally dance onto the screen. They’re having wine and talking about stories from their wine club meetings last month.
What is going on with this generation of baby boomers? They do not seem to be sweating this pandemic. The more I talk to other friends, the more I learn that they feel the same way about their parents. My peers are panicking. We’re freaking out. You can see us talking about it on social media all of the time. There’s been a huge surge in Internet and data usage since this pandemic. My generation is on there, talking about it—posting about it and texting about it. Want to know what a few of my friends in their late fifties posted about the last week? “Looking for suggestions on what to do with a surplus of heirloom tomatoes” and “Anyone know a safe way to die a dog’s hair pink?” Hello…? People are dying and you’re looking for a marinara recipe!
Do they just understand something we don’t? Maybe. I started asking my parents, friends’ parents, and other baby boomer contacts why they seem so chill about this all. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Their careers are locked in
While older millennials, such as myself and my boyfriend, are having this terrible feeling of, “I was just making headway in my career and now all of that progress is lost!” our parents are well-established in their careers. They have been for a long time. A six-month economic lockdown won’t impact their reputations in their industries. A five-year lockdown wouldn’t!
Or they’ve retired
Either they’re totally established as forces to be reckoned with in their industries, or, they’re retired. So they really aren’t worrying about job prospects. They aren’t concerned about how quiet their incoming emails have become from clients. They aren’t wondering how this pandemic will affect their industries—they got out a while ago.
Their aspirations are behind them
Aside from career aspirations, other aspirations are behind the baby boomers, too. They already had their kids, gave them good lives, traveled, purchased homes—all the things millennials mostly still hope to do. So they aren’t sweating how this pandemic will impact their ability to do those things. They already did them!
They’re used to worrying about health
“Once you turn 50,” my dad explained to me, “You get used to health care professionals telling you that something will probably go wrong from time to time, with your health, from here on out.” Whereas younger generations are mostly enjoying pretty great health that they don’t want to be tarnished, baby boomers are like, “Hey, I’ve got high cholesterol, I have to wear a knee brace, and I have a colonoscopy scheduled for next month. I’m very used to the idea that my body is not invincible.”
They’ve seen the market crash before
Baby boomers have seen the market crash before. To give you a quick glance at which market crashes your parents’ generation may have seen, just look at this list. They understand that, sometimes, the market crashes. But it has always comes back up again. It’s just the way the world works. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but it always bounces back. This may be the first major market crash millennials have experienced.
They aren’t making rent/mortgage payments
This is a luxury that many of our parents are experiencing: they are no longer making rent or mortgage payments. They already paid of their homes long, long ago. They aren’t renters. If they do still have remaining mortgage payments, it’s not that many, and the amount is pennies compared to the monthly mortgage payments first-time homeowners today take on.
They already weren’t that social
Your parents and mine probably already weren’t that social to begin with, as of a few years ago. Sure, they are social for their age, perhaps. But, unlike people my age, baby boomers don’t need to be in constant contact with others. They can be happy with, say, one social occasion a week. So, now that’s down to one a month. Big deal.
Their parents saw the Great Depression
My parents’ parents saw the Great Depression, and so my parents heard all of the stories about that. They know how devastatingly terrible times those were. They know how frightening of times those were. And they know that this pandemic is nothing compared to that.
Their parents saw World War II
My parents’ parents also saw World War II. And my parents heard all about that. That’s an entirely different type of terror. They feared bombs wiping out hundreds of thousands in an instant. They feared certain death was coming at any moment, from humans who wished them harm. That’s a very different, very unnerving type of fear, than worrying one might get a virus from which one can recover, and from which most do. And no human or group is actively trying to kill us.
They’ve learned panicking does nothing
From personal experiences and from witnessing it, the baby boomers have learned, at this point in their lives, that panicking does nothing. Actually, at best it does nothing, and at worst, it causes people to do stupid and dangerous things. They’ve just learned that there is no upside in worrying about the things you cannot control.
And they’ve seen that panic subsides
My boyfriend is worried that there will be riots in the streets. He may or may not have his, um, weapon prepared by the bed in case people ravage our home looking for food and water. We are currently in the suburbs in Vail Colorado but…okay. Sure. But others my age worry about the same type of post-apocalyptic reality. Baby boomers, however, know that the panic usually subsides before it turns into anything like that.
They’re a generally happy generation
There is a lot of interesting information out there about happiness—what countries are the happiest, what decades have been the happiest, what’s the relationship between money and happiness—but we have learned that, as far as age goes, people tend to be their happiest after the age of 60. So, baby boomers might just be handling this pandemic well because they’re happy.
They have contingency plans
I don’t think many individuals between the ages of 25 and 38 really had the time to create contingency plans. All we could do was try to get whatever jobs we could for a while to barely pay our rent until we finally learned what we really wanted to do for a living and barely started making a decent income with that by, say, our early to mid thirties. We didn’t have the down time to create contingency plans the way baby boomers did. Our parents probably have ways to financially survive, even if things get really tough for a while. They prepared for this moment.
They need to stay calm for us
Truthfully, they may be half as calm as they appear, and the other half is just a front they’re putting on for us. “I don’t want my baby to worry” my friend’s mom said to me, in confidence, the other day when I said, “You seem pretty calm about everything.” At the end of the day, the baby boomers feel some sense of responsibility over millennials, and don’t want us to panic.
Their kids are home
And finally—and this is a cute one—a lot of people 50 and up are happy because they get to spend extended time with their kids right now! Many young adults, from college students to those in their thirties, have traveled home to be with their families right now. And how can parents not love that?