Tides of opinion

Climate change Public opinion Generations

The rise of the OK Boomer meme has given a shot in the arm to the idea that social divisions can be understood in terms of conflict between generations. The boomers — named for the “baby boom” of 1946 to 1963 — were the first generation to receive a widely accepted name, so it’s not surprising they still feature the most prominently. I’ve been pointing out the problems with this way of looking at attitudes for a generation or more, and will restate some of them below.

But first, it’s useful to say what this kind of discussion gets right, and why. The starting point is an analysis of the political attitudes of white Americans by statisticians Yair Ghitza and Andrew Gelman of Columbia University. (There’s an immediate alert here: American attitudes differ far more by race than by generation. For most issues, gender and social class also outweigh generation.)

Ghitza and Gelman focus on party preference and show, unsurprisingly, that people’s attitudes are formed relatively early in life. People who grow up during a period when the Republican Party is popular, for instance, are more likely to vote Republican as adults. This influence is greatest in the years between fourteen and twenty-four, smaller between twenty-five and forty, and quite limited after that.

Read the full article on Inside Story.

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