BSA 40: Age differences
A new generational divide? The age gap in British political attitudes
Age has become the biggest demographic divide in British politics, with younger people being more likely to vote Labour, while older people mostly support the Conservatives. But does this mean that a generational divide has opened up in people’s values and policy preferences? This chapter traces the evolution of age differences in support for left-right and liberal-authoritarian values since the 1980s, together with attitudes towards taxation and spending.
Little difference in left/right values – until now
Until recently, there has been little difference between younger and older people in where they stand on the left/right spectrum. However, in recent years younger people have moved somewhat to the left.
- On a scale from 0 (left) to 100 (right), in 1986 those aged 18-34 and those aged 55 and over both had an average score of 37.
- In 2019, younger and older people still had the same score – 38.
- But now, with an average score of 28, younger people are somewhat to the left of older people whose average score is 36
Younger people have always been less authoritarian
Though both groups have become more liberal over time, younger people have always been less authoritarian than older people.
- On a scale from 0 (liberal) to 100 (authoritarian), in 1986 those aged 18-34 had an average score of 62, while those aged 55 and over had a score of 77 – a gap of 15 points.
- By 2008 the gap had narrowed to four points, with younger people on 66 and older people on 70.
- Now, however, the difference is 10 points. Younger people have a score of 50, while older people have one of 60.
Younger people have become less keen on increased taxation and spending
In the 1980s and early 1990s, younger people were more likely than older people to say taxation and spending should be increased. But since the mid-1990s the opposite has been true.
- In 1984, 42% of those aged 18-34 supported increased taxation and public spending, compared with 33% of those aged 55 and over.
- Although by 1995, support among younger people for more taxation and spending had increased to 55%, among older people it had risen to 60%.
- Now just 43% of younger people favour higher taxation and spending, whereas as many as 67% of older people express that view.