In 2010, I compiled a list of the top 200 most-cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (By "contemporary" I mean born in 1900 or later.) One striking feature of this list is the underrepresentation of baby boomers, especially near the top.
Let's compare the representation of people born 1931-1945 (the fifteen years before the baby boom) with those born in 1946-1960 (the bulk of the baby boom), among the top 25.
Among the pre-baby boomers, we find:
David Lewis (#1)Among the baby boomers we find:
Saul Kripke (#6)
Thomas Nagel (tied #7)
Jerry Fodor (#9)
Daniel Dennett (tied #10)
Frank Jackson (tied #10)
Robert Nozick (tied #13)
John Searle (tied #13)
Gilbert Harman (#16)
Ronald Dworkin (#18)
Joseph Raz (tied #19)
Bas Van Fraassen (tied #19)
Fred Dretske (tied #22)
Peter Van Inwagen (tied #22)
Alvin Goldman (tied #24).
Martha Nussbaum (tied #19)These numbers seem to suggest that the depression-era and World War II babies have had a much larger impact than the baby boomers on mainstream Anglophone philosophy.
Philip Kitcher (tied #24).
You might have thought the reverse would be the case. Aren't there more baby boomers? Haven't baby boomers been culturally dominant in other areas of society? So what's going on here?
One possibility is that the boomers haven't yet had time to achieve maximum influence on the field. Someone born in 1940 has had ten more years to write and to influence peers and students than has someone born in 1950. Although I think there is something to this thought, especially for the younger boomers, I suspect it's not the primary explanation. A boomer born in 1950 would be sixty years old by 2010. The large majority of philosophers who have a big impact on the field achieve a substantial proportion of that impact well before the age of sixty. Certainly that's true of the top philosophers on the list above -- Lewis, Kripke, Nagel, and Fodor. Their most influential work was in the 1960s to early 1990s. The boomers have had plenty of time to generate the same kind of influence, if it were simply a matter of catching up from a later start. In fact, contemporary Anglophone philosophers seem to have their average peak influence from about age 55-70, declining thereafter. On average, the baby boomers should be enjoying peak citation rates right now, and the depression babies should be starting to wane.
Here's an alternative diagnosis: College enrollment grew explosively in the 1960s and then flattened out. The pre-baby-boomers were hired in large numbers in the 1960s to teach the baby boomers. The pre-baby boomers rose quickly to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s and set the agenda for philosophy during that period. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the pre-baby-boomers remained dominant. During the 1980s, when the baby boomers should have been exploding onto the philosophical scene, they instead struggled to find faculty positions, journal space, and professional attention in a field still dominated by the depression-era and World War II babies.
This started to change, I think, with the retirement of the depression babies and the hiring boom of Gen-Xers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It remains to be seen if history will repeat itself.