Getting More Stodgy? Maybe Not.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's popular wisdom that people become more rigid in their thinking, more politically and socially conservative as they age. You may even be able to cite a few examples from your own experience. But it's time to update that truism, according to a new study in the American Sociological Review.

Researchers who examined the attitudes of more than 46,000 Americans over a 32-year period found that their views about such issues as extramarital sex, race relations, childbirth outside marriage and homosexuality did not become less accepting as they grew older -- and that a person's attitudes on such topics could not be predicted simply by their age.

Lead author Nicholas Danigelis, chair of sociology at the University of Vermont, said three factors might explain why a group of people older than 60 might appear more conservative than a group younger than 40: physiological changes such as hearing loss; the process of becoming socialized to believe certain ideas; and the "period effect" -- having lived through a signal event such as World War II.

But these don't account for changes in views over time, which was the focus of his study.

What do the findings portend for the coming election? Danigelis, 62 next month, sidestepped. "I'm reluctant to try to take our data too far," he replied.

-- Susan Morse

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