How flexible are our attitudes? What are the values that are fixed in our core, and which are more malleable as we age? These are the questions I sought to find answers to in my research. I am curious to know how people’s social views change as they age. I have chosen three specific topics to explore and see how attitudes change over time and with age: views on same-sex relationships, marijuana legalization, and income inequality.
I have gathered data that address American views over the past 40 years. Along with these attitudinal data, I also have demographic data on these respondents’ age, sex, education, race, religion, and political affiliation. The primary independent variable I focus on is age. The end goal is to paint a picture of how individual Americans change their views as they age. There is no perfect way to figure this out. The issue is whether one’s attitudes simply change with the times, meaning that everyone is becoming more liberal or more conservative, for example, or whether it is part of the aging process itself that explains why people change their views. In my research, I apply a methodology to differentiate between the two possibilities.
Why should we care about knowing how people’s views change as they age or what factors are associated with how people think in certain ways? First, by looking at people’s views over the life course, we can more easily predict future attitudes of the population as a whole. Second, by understanding the future course of attitudes in this country, groups that are concerned about the public welfare, which would (presumably) include the government, can gear up to influence those attitudes with public education, to the extent possible and if they feel it is warranted.