Prevailing stereotypes of older people hold that their attitudes are inflexible or that aging tends to promote increasing conservatism in sociopolitical outlook. In spite of mounting scientific evidence demonstrating that learning, adaptation, and reassessment are behaviors in which older people can and do engage, the stereotype persists. We use U.S. General Social Survey data from 25 surveys between 1972 and 2004 to formally assess the magnitude and direction of changes in attitudes that occur within cohorts at different stages of the life course. We decompose changes in sociopolitical attitudes into the proportions attributable to cohort succession and intracohort aging for three categories of items: attitudes toward historically subordinate groups, civil liberties, and privacy. We find that significant intracohort change in attitudes occurs in cohorts-in-later-stages (age 60 and older) as well as cohorts-in-earlier-stages (ages 18 to 39), that the changefor cohorts-in-later-stages is frequently greater than that for cohorts-in-earlier-stages, and that the direction of change is most often toward increased tolerance rather than increased conservatism. These findings are discussed within the context of population aging and development.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science