What is the Silent Generation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Silent Generation is a generation of people born in the United States between roughly 1923 and the early 1940s. Members of this generation experienced vast cultural shifts in the United States, and many of them struggled with conflicted morals, ideas, and desires. Some claim that they are one of the least understood generations from the 20th century, perhaps because of its relatively small size.

Civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was a member of the Silent Generation.
Civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was a member of the Silent Generation.

Describing this generation as the “Silent Generation” is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, many revolutionary leaders in the civil rights movement came from this group, along with a wide assortment of artists and writers who fundamentally changed the arts in America. The Beat Poets, for example, were members, as were Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem, and many other notable agitators for change in the 20th century.

The Silent Generation hit its peak in the 1950s following the conclusion of World War II.
The Silent Generation hit its peak in the 1950s following the conclusion of World War II.

This generation is comparatively small when compared to the surrounding generations because people had fewer children in the 1920s and 1930s, most in response to financial and global insecurity. As a result, those children were uniquely poised to take advantage of economic opportunities, thanks to the reduced competition. Many of them went on to harness the scientific and technological advances of the Second World War, developing innovative inventions that laid the groundwork for even more technological progress in the late 20th century.

However, the term “Silent Generation” is not wholly inappropriate. While some members did become outspoken activists, many were also quiet, hardworking people who focused on getting things done and advancing their careers, even as they struggled with what to do with their lives. These people were generally encouraged to conform with social norms, and many did so, but this generation often seethed on the inside as people coped with the growing civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, and the explosion of the Baby Boomers. Internal conflict plagued many individuals.

The Silent Generation was at its peak in the 1950s, an era in American history that many people find interesting as a transition between the war years and the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. In the wake of the Second World War, this generation had to make amends with Germany and Japan, recognizing these countries as allies and friends less than a decade after the chaos of the war. At the same time, they were faced with the Cold War, a prolonged period of political and military posturing between the United States and Russia.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Any of you people ever heard of the Korean War?


Right on #1. We were the little kids who went to the movies on Monday night to see the latest Pathe News Reel for news of the war front where our fathers served in Europe or the Pacific. We saw the opening of the death camps, we saw stragglers on the Bataan Death march. We read the internment notices and later knew about Japanese families leaving in the night.

We knew about the Battle of the Bulge and Salerno and Monte Casino. We saw our elders mourning the death of FDR. We saw the mushroom cloud which meant our fathers would be coming home soon. We had the Lone Ranger and The Shadow and Jack Armstrong on our family radio. We witnessed history as no one else ever before us. I can't think of any time in history I would have rather lived.


We've lived through so many changes--our dreams and visions as teenagers in the 50's of what our lives would be were sent into a tailspin by the events of the 60s and 70s.

How did we adapt? What happened to those who resisted change? What became of the lives of those who welcomed it? Many of us are going to live longer than any earlier generations--we're the pathfinders.

What new structures will we create for our old age that will begin to show the way for the baby boomers behind us?


As a member of the silent generation I could not be more happy to have grown up during the late 40s and 50's.

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