17 March 2019

Generations Apart

Multiple generations: Warren
(center) with aunts, uncle,
cousin and grandmother.
Welcome back. I’m always interested in how people of different generations--never mind different political persuasions--vary in their feelings about current issues.

I’m now filed under Silent Generation, yet I often find myself more aligned with Millennials. Maybe it’s from years of teaching, advising or just interacting with a variety of bright U.S. and international students, today’s Baby Boomers, though it’s probably more a matter of how I was raised and that I was an undergrad and grad student through the 1960s.

Pew Survey of Generation Gap
Alas, despite my rambling, this post isn’t about me. The Pew Research Center released a report that examines the attitudes and political values of four U.S. generations: Millennials, born 1981 to 1996; Generation X, 1965 to 1980; Baby Boomers, 1946 to 1964; and Silents, 1928 to 1945. The findings are based on Pew surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018, with chronological trends incorporating Pew’s older survey data.

Opinion-wise, Millennials and Gen Xers regularly diverge from Boomers and Silents; on many issues, Millennials and Silents stand alone as opposites. As you might expect, the younger generations, particularly Millennials, express more liberal views on many issues and have stronger Democratic (vs. Republican) leanings. Diversity must be a major influence. Millennials are more than 40% nonwhite, Silents are 21% nonwhite.

I thought, like me, you might be interested in the generational responses to some topics. Perhaps, also like me, you’ll want to switch generations.

Immigrants and Openness
Opinions about immigrants have become more positive in recent years, albeit divided politically and by generation. A 2017 survey found 79% of Millennials, 66% of Gen Xers, 56% of Boomers and 47% of Silents thought immigrants strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents. Notably, the survey question did not distinguish legal from illegal immigrants.

Slightly higher percentages of each generation said that America’s openness is essential to who we are as a nation. When parsed by political party, however, the responses of each generation’s Democrats and those leaning Democrat (I’ll combine as “Democrats”) were about 30% higher than the corresponding responses of Republicans and those leaning Republican (“Republicans”). The Millennial Republicans were the only generation of Republicans with over half favoring openness.

America’s openness to people. (from
Border Wall and Dreamers
A 2018 survey registered opposition to expanding the border wall with Mexico, though generations differed significantly. Among whites, only Millennials were strongly opposed. White Boomers and Silents favored the wall, and Gen Xers were near evenly divided.

Border wall with Mexico. (from
In contrast to differing opinions regarding a border wall, there was broad support, especially from Millennials, for granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came illegally to the U.S. when they were children.

U.S. Uniqueness
Silents, at 46%, led other generations in thinking the U.S. stands above other countries, though 55% to 60% of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials describe the U.S. as one of the greatest countries.

America’s uniqueness. (from
Trust in Government and Economic Inequality
Years of partisanship and political gridlock have had their effect. The generations’ lack of trust in the federal government is sad. Only 18% of those surveyed say they can trust the government to do what is right most of the time or about always, and the difference among generations is 4% or less.

Economic inequality went from bad to worse after the Great Recession. Large majorities of all four generations--75% of Silents and nearly 85% of the other three generations--say economic inequality in the U.S. is a very big or moderately big problem.

President Trump’s Performance
Surveys through 2017 into 2018 found 37% approve and 57% disapprove of the way Donald Trump handled the first year of his presidency. Those approving his performance included 46% of Silents, 44% of Boomers, 36% of Gen Xers and 27% of Millennials.

President Trump’s first-year performance. (from
Wrap Up
Well, were you surprised by your generation’s responses? I’ll stop with this sample and encourage you to review the Pew Research Center report. Among other issues surveyed are diplomacy vs. military strength, taking allies’ interests into account, government and health care, global warming, Islam and violence, racial discrimination, same-sex marriage and legality of abortion.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pew Research Center report on generation gap: www.people-press.org/2018/03/01/the-generation-gap-in-american-politics/

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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