Why Is It Called the Silent Generation?

Before there were Baby Boomers there was the Silent Generation—a group of people 50 million strong in America whose power should not be underestimated.
Times weren't as simple as they seemed for members of the Silent Generation.
Times weren't as simple as they seemed for members of the Silent Generation. / George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

You’re undoubtedly familiar with Millennials, the term used for people born between 1981 and 1996 who seem to dominate headlines for their generational traits of being tech-savvy, living on social media, engaging in politics, loving to travel, and being cautious with their money. You’ve also likely heard of Generation Z (formerly known as Post-Millennials), who were born between 1997 and 2012; and Generation Alpha, which includes those born after Gen Z and through 2025; and Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1980 and are known for being resourceful and self-reliant, as many of them grew up as “latchkey kids.”

But there’s another generational wave living amongst us—the Silent Generation. And they play a key role in modern culture.

The Silent Generation’s Birth Years

The Silent Generation consists of people born before 1946 and who have been formed and shaped by a unique set of circumstances. Early life for the Silent Generation was influenced by the events and aftermath of both World War II and the Great Depression, harrowing chapters in American history that informed their feelings about domestic life and financial security.

Because of this, the Silent Generation typically deals very well with handling adversity. A 2020 survey indicated that respondents in the category were navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with a stoic optimism, with just 23 percent reporting that they were concerned with their psychological response, compared to 56 percent of Generation Z. This was in spite of older populations generally being more at-risk during the pandemic. Of course, isolation and social distancing are hard for seniors, but while the Silent Generation may be feeling the emotional strain, they’re more apt not to express it—which is how the Silent Generation got its name.

The Silent Generation’s Common Characteristics

By and large, the Silent Generation appreciates the stability of peacetime, embraces traditional family values, and takes little for granted. They might be more likely to ask someone to clean their plate, embracing a waste-not, want-not attitude. At work, they’re efficient team players.

While some may dismiss the Silent Generation out of ageism, their influence should not be underestimated. They have a large lobbying group—the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP. The generational group, which boasts 38 million members, engages in issues affecting older adults at the local, state, and federal levels, making it a potent force when it comes to health care and financial issues.

Altogether, the United State is home to an estimated 50 million members of the Silent Generation, many of whom are still at the top of their games in the worlds of entertainment, business, science, politics, and beyond. Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, Rita Moreno, Clint Eastwood, Buzz Aldrin, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Joe Biden are just a few of the Silent Generation members whose names—and accomplishments—you know well.

Make no mistake: Despite the moniker, the Silent Generation does have a voice—and it is a voice that has been informed by decades of lived experience.

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A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2024.