The Silent Generation: Definition, Characteristics & Facts

Lesson Transcript
Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Expert Contributor
Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University and has taught History courses at private and state institutions of higher education since 2012.

Did you know that there were around 50 million live births between 1925 and 1945? Learn more about the Silent Generation, how members of the Silent Generation were influenced by the Great Depression and World War II, and more. Updated: 11/24/2019

Why Is it Called the Silent Generation?

The Silent Generation refers to people who were born between 1925 and 1945. There are several theories as to where the label 'Silent Generation' originated. The children who grew up during this time worked very hard and kept quiet. It was commonly understood that children should be seen and not heard.

During this time, the House Committee on Un-American Activities launched an assault on political freedom in America. This, in conjunction with Senator Joseph McCarthy's overzealous attempts to feed anti-communist sentiment in America, made it dangerous for people to speak freely about their opinions and beliefs. They became cautious about where they went and whom they were seen with. Therefore, the people were effectively 'silenced.'

In 1951, a Time magazine article was written in which the children of the generation were described as unimaginative, withdrawn, unadventurous, and cautious. Time magazine used the name 'Silent Generation' to refer to these individuals. The name has been there ever since.

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Conflicts During the Silent Generation

The Silent Generation children grew up in conditions complicated by war and economic downturn. From 1929 until 1939, America suffered during the world economic crisis known as the Great Depression. The Great Depression affected those from all social classes alike. Many American citizens lost their homes and possessions and were starving on the streets. It was estimated that over 24% of Americans were unemployed.

The loss of wealth from those of all classes blurred the distinctions between the different social classes. This caused the children of the Silent Generation to have identities that were not clearly defined, yet flexible.

The Dust Bowl, a period during the 1930s where several dust storms swept through the country and destroyed farmlands, complicated the problem of starvation. Not only were people out of work and money, but there was also the food shortage caused by the Dust Bowl. Entire farmlands were abandoned, and there was even less food to go around. People who found themselves caught in or living near the dust storms developed serious lung problems.

In 1939, the rain finally fell and the Dust Bowl came to an end. Around the same time, the economy recovered from the Great Depression. The economic recovery was in large part due to the demand for new industries (for example, increased demand for airplanes and weaponry) that was created by World War II, which began in 1939 and lasted until 1945.

In addition to being children of war, the Silent Generation also made up a majority of fighters in the Korean War, which was fought from 1950 until 1953 and led to the division of Korea into North and South Korea.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts for The Silent Generation:

Writing Prompt No. 1:

Imagine you were born in 1925 on a farm in Oklahoma. Your granddaughter is writing a report for school, and asks you to write down your remembered experiences from the 1930s through the Korean War. What was your life like? How did you live and work? How did major national and global events affect your life?

Writing Prompt No. 2:

Based on this lesson, develop and outline of major events from 1925 through 1955. Provide an annotation for each event that includes its date, its affect on the United States, and its significance for the Silent Generation.

Additional Questions to Consider:

Why do some theories claim that anti-communist hysteria in the mid-20th century contributed to the Silent Generation's development?

Why is the Silent Generation considered to be patriotic and trusting of the government?

What were some effects of the Great Depression on the Silent Generation?

Do you think that it is useful to categorize people born in certain years into "generations" such as the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation Z, and Millennials? Why or why not?

How did mobilization for World War II affect the United States's economy?

What factors may have contributed to the Silent Generation's desire for power and status?

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