Where Millennials Stand on Social Issues

March 11, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Demographics & Audiences | Youth & Gen X

Pew-Americans-Views-on-Social-Issues-by-Generation-Mar2014The Pew Research Center has released a comprehensive report [pdf] studying Millennials, everybody’s favorite demographic (well, that may be a stretch). The study contains a host of data, but given the vast amount of research concerning Millennials and their media consumption and tech habits, it’s interesting to look at this demographic from a different angle: their social and religious views. And on these, they often vary significantly from the rest of the population.

Before moving on, here are Pew’s age ranges for each generation: Millennial (born 1981-98); Gen X (born 1965-80); Boomer (born 1948-64); and Silent (born 1928-45.)

The following is a generational breakdown of attitudes towards various social issues:

Support for Same-Sex Marriage

  • Millennials: 68%;
  • Gen X: 55%;
  • Boomer: 48%;
  • Silent: 38%.

Of note, each generation favors allowing gays and lesbians to marry to a greater degree than at any point this century.

Support for Marijuana Legalization

  • Millennials: 69%;
  • Gen X: 53%;
  • Boomer: 52%;
  • Silent: 30%.

The percentages of respondents feeling that marijuana should be legal is at its highest point for each generation save for Silents.

Support for Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

  • Millennials: 55%;
  • Gen X: 46%;
  • Boomer: 39%;
  • Silent: 41%.

Support for Legality of Abortion

  • Millennials: 56% (who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases);
  • Gen X: 59%;
  • Boomer: 52%;
  • Silent: 42%.

Millennials’ support for abortion is up from 2009, but down from its peak. Views on this topic have not evolved significantly since 2009.

Gun Control

  • Millennials: 49% (who believe it’s more important to control gun ownership than to protect the rights of Americans to own guns);
  • Gen X: 48%;
  • Boomer: 44%;
  • Silent: 51%.

Silents are the only generation to have increased their support for gun control from 2009.

Bigger or Smaller Government?

  • Millennials: 53% (would rather than a bigger government with more services than a smaller government with fewer services);
  • Gen X: 43%;
  • Boomer: 32%;
  • Silent: 22%.

These views vary widely when sorting by race, though. In each generation – including Millennials – whites are more likely to favor a smaller government than a larger one, while the opposite is true for non-whites. By contrast, support for same-sex marriage and use of marijuana is broadly similar among races for each generation.

The above results imply that Millennials are generally more liberal than their elders, and the study finds that to indeed be the case. In fact, Millennials are the only generation more likely to identify as liberal than conservative. Specifically, 31% identify as liberal, compared to 26% who identify as conservative. By contrast, Gen Xers are more likely to describe themselves as conservative (35% vs. 24%), as are Boomers (41% vs. 21%) and Silents (45% vs. 18%).

While that tends to translate to party affiliation for Millennials, of whom 27% identify as Democrat versus 17% as Republican (with both declining over the years), this young group is easily the most likely to identify as political independents. Exactly half do so this year, per the report, compared to 39% of Gen Xers, 37% of Boomers and 32% of Silents.

Other Findings:

  • Some 29% of Millennials claim to be religiously unaffiliated, compared to 21% of Gen Xers, 16% of Boomers, and 9% of Silents. Millennials are also the least likely to be certain that there is a God.
  • Millennials are the most likely generation to self-identify as supporters of gay rights, while being the least likely to self-identify as “a patriotic person,” “a religious person,” and “an environmentalist.”
  • Only 19% of Millennials believe that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. By contrast, 31% of Gen Xers feel that way, as do 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers. This is a curious result, given that Millennials appear to be more trusting of marketers with their personal information than other generations.
  • Millennials are the least likely to feel they earn enough now, but the most likely to feel that they will in the future.

About the Data: Pew describes its methodology in part as follows:

“Most of the analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 14-23, 2014 among a national sample of 1,821 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including an oversample of young adults ages 18 to 33 (481 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,340 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 786 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used. In order to increase the number of 18 to 33 year-old respondents in the sample, additional interviews were conducted with that cohort by screening a separate random digit dial cell sample. The landline and both cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in both cell samples were conducted with the person who answered the phone if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older (main cell sample) or 18-33 (cell phone youth oversample).”

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