Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI, looks at generational differences to find out that the young aren’t revolting any more.
One of the most compelling findings in our work over the last few years has been our discovery of deep seated generational differences that mean our society is changing rapidly as the pre-1945 generation reach the end of their lives.
In the past we thought that long term decline in allegiance to political parties might in part reflect “political cross dressing”, the decline of major ideological differences with the rise of New Labour and the broad acceptance of Thatcher’s changes to the economy, and a less class ridden and more heterogeneous society. We were wrong. All those things are important, but what is actually happening can be seen in data going back to the 1980s. By re-analysing decades of data we can see that many changes going on around us are generational. The young aren’t revolting any more.
Generational differences : the young are pessimistic about their own future
Every successive generation in the UK has been less likely than the one before it to say it always supports the same political party, or that it regards the foundation of the welfare state as one of Britain’s greatest achievements. Their views stay different over time – the pre-1945 generation have always said – ever since they were first interviewed in the 1980s by the British Social Attitude Study – that they are party loyal. It’s not that tribal allegiances to parties have declined with time, it is that generational shifts mean that the overall pendulum is swinging away from the consensus held by post war generation.
The gap between those alive in the 1940s and the current generation of 20-30 somethings is now very marked. The young are markedly less homophobic, and laugh at traditional gender roles. But they are also more pessimistic – particularly about their own future – in a way that is unprecedented.
Last month we found 54% of the public believe young people’s lives will be worse than their own, the highest proportion we have ever recorded, up from 12% in 2003. The population’s deep sense of foreboding about the next generation’s prospects is in stark contrast to an overwhelming recognition from those born before the second world war, and the baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), that they have had a better life than their parents.
We over-50s are overwhelmingly positive about our lives compared to previous generations: two-thirds of boomers and 81% of the pre-war generation think our lives are better than our parents’.
In contrast, nearly half of Generation Y (those aged 18-35) – also known as millennials – believe they will be worse off. It’s not just Generation Y who think it’s bad: 63% of baby boomers expect young people’s prospects to be worse than their own – showing pessimism about our own kids’ futures. Tougher job markets and housing pressures are top of the concerns of the young.
This angst about the future is reflected in support for both UKIP and Jeremy Corbyn (yes he does have some supporters). In America it is part of the Trump phenomenon. What is most striking is that political turmoil seems built in; if generational differences do not change – and we see no sign of them shifting – declining party loyalties and pessimism seem to be here for a while.
Ben Page is Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. You can follow him at @benatipsosmori