Conservatism and Age

old manI recently had some colleagues over for drinks. Ultimately overshadowing the entire evening was a heated debate over race, immigration, welfare, drug legalisation and homosexuality in modern day America, which proved nonetheless entertaining.  Dominating one side was an ex-navy, straight laced baby boomer (we’ll call him Frank) on the other a younger art teacher with two tattooed sleeves (we’ll call him Tom).

Frank argued their differing outlooks were primarily generational. He argued that, as you get older, the circle of people you generally care about gets smaller, and that having a family ‘changes everything’, the well being of your flesh and blood being of ultimate importance over everything else.  Whilst I agreed more with Tom over Frank on the topics we discussed, he did raise a few good points.

I have since done my own research.

As people age, the more conservative they become. 60% of British over 50 voted for Brexit in 2016, compared to the 75% of 18-24 year olds who voted Remain. Last year in the USA 36% percent of Baby Boomers, and 49% of the Silent Generation identified as conservative republicans. . The bulk of the staunchly pro-Republican Fox News’s audience too, are over 50. Meanwhile, more millennials voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries than Trump or Hillary combined

As a point of comparison the Baby Boomers, in their prime, were the most liberal generation the Western World had seen, spearheading the sexual revolution, civil rights and anti-war movements. Now over fifties lean conservative. So what happened? Risqué, drug taking hippies were more likely to die off before their more conservative peers,  but elections since the ’60s show that baby boomers as a whole are consistently sliding to the right.

baby boomers.jpg

Disillusioned with the Ford Presidency’s economic malaise, Boomers in the eighties turned to Ronald Reagan, who sought to end the perceived excesses of affirmative action, Carter’s unpopular policies and the Democrats’ welfare system. The shift of support of boomers was a key factor in his 1980 landslide. Many Reagan voters had previously been enthusiastic supporters of the 1960s zeitgeist.

Obviously there are, and have always been, young conservatives and older progressives, at all times and across all generational cohorts, but the generational trends are undeniable.

Peoples’ views of the world become less rose tinted and idealistic as they age.  The longer you’ve been around, the more comfortable you become with the status quo. Social change is risky at best, outright dangerous at worst.   Psychological studies show older people become more reliant on maintaining, rather than increasing, knowledge and are less induced to innovation and taking risks, than folk in their 20s.

These younger folk on the other hand, are more likely to possess university degrees, and degree holders lean liberal as they did in the 60s. Lower incomes and rates of cohabitation make the younger less ‘settled’ and hungry for change. This adds to existing conditions of creativity and intellectual curiosity.  The older one is, the less adaptable one is to change.

A frequently used, but widely misquoted, adage (most likely from Anselme Batbie or Edmund Burke), proves insightful:

“If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain.”


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