Generation gap in US largest since 1960s, study shows
Young, old disagree on social values
WASHINGTON - American adults from young to old disagree increasingly today on social values, ranging from religion to relationships, creating the largest generation gap since divisions 40 years ago over Vietnam, civil rights, and women’s liberation.
A survey being released today by the Pew Research Center highlights a widening age divide after last November’s election, when 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democrat Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Almost 8 in 10 people believe there is a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today, according to the independent public opinion research group. That is the highest spread since 1969, when about 74 percent reported major differences in an era of generational conflicts over the Vietnam War and civil and women’s rights. In contrast, just 60 percent in 1979 saw a generation gap.
Asked to identify where older and younger people differ most, 47 percent said social values and morality. People age 18 to 29 were more likely to report disagreements over lifestyle, views on family, relationships, and dating, while older people cited differences in a sense of entitlement. Those in the middle-age groups also often pointed to a difference in manners.
Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults. About two-thirds of people 65 and older said religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those 30 to 49 and 44 percent of people 18 to 29.
In addition, among adults 65 and older, one-third said religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while 4 percent said it has become important, and 60 percent said it has stayed the same.
“Around the notion of morality and work ethic, the differences in point of view are pretty much felt across the board,’’ said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project. He cited a greater tolerance among younger people on cultural issues such as gay marriage and interracial relationships.
Still, he noted that the generation gap in 2009 seems to be more tepid in nature than it was in the 1960s, when younger people built a defiant counterculture in opposing the Vietnam War and demanding equal rights for women and minorities.
“Today, it’s more of a general outlook, a different point of view, a general set of moral values,’’ Taylor said.
Among the other findings:
On the other hand, older adults end up having less leisure time than expected. While 87 percent of those under 65 think they will have more time for hobbies and other interests in older age, only 65 percent of older people report having it. Life at 65 and older also fell below expectations when it came to time with family, travel, having more financial security and less stress.
Pew interviewed 2,969 adults by cellphone or landline from Feb. 23 to March 23. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. Pew also used surveys by Gallup, CBS and The New York Times to identify trends since 1969.