Age and Politics

Fastcompany.com has a great set of charts on how political beliefs change over time. Interestingly, the graphs are created by OKCupid.com from mining the data collected in their dating database.

Economic-Social-Progression

The chart tracks the following typical lifestyle. A teenager starts out loving freedom, socially and economically. When the teenagers enters the job market at the bottom of the pyramid, they quickly develop progressive economic ideas, while their youthful live-and-let-live social philosophy begins to fade.

As the teenager starts to make money, economic progressivism goes out the window, but social views don’t change that much. But after the mid-40s, as retirement looms, former teenagers check their collective 401(k)s and think, you know what, let’s all get checks from the government. It’s hard to tell why social views take a hard turn for the more restrictive.

At the end of the journey, economic and social views are again in agreement, but opposite of what the libertarian teenager started out.

The big question that is unanswered in this post is: to what extent is this a reflection of the beliefs of specific generations, not lifecycles? I’m not convinced that this chart would reflect the same thing decades from now. It’s also very America-centric. There are some places in the world where you could find many of the “conservative” political beliefs — whether they be nationalism, religion, ethnic nationalism, or family values — are adhered to more by younger generations.

Final note: tracking my own political leanings during the course of my life, it seems that I “turned 40 ” according the graphs above at about the age of 25.

Political-Evolution-BW-Labels-1

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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9 Responses to Age and Politics

  1. “It’s hard to tell why social views take a hard turn for the more restrictive.”

    Really? Having children does it.

  2. ElamBend says:

    Hear, hear.

  3. McKellar says:

    I think the labels ‘permissive’ and ‘restrictive’ cloud the issue a bit with their inevitable slight bias. To balance it out a bit, image the chart relabeled with ‘independent’ and ‘dependent’.

    Young people take their social and economic dependence on their parents for granted, giving it scant value. Young adults and the elderly both are in financially precarious positions, and so would like to feel there’s an economic safety net they can depend on.

    As people mature into middle age, they become increasingly dependent on their long-term social relationships (e.g. spouses, family) and so cherish the social norms that keep those relationships stable and well-defined. Teenagers and young adults, having invested little in their relationships so far, can afford to be more adventurous in their lifestyle choices.

    Two questions remain, though: Where are the young republicans and old democrats? And where’s the obligatory Churchill quote about not having a heart and not having a brain?

  4. Aaron says:

    I think that it would be a great error of logic and statistical analysis to infer that this static information actually represents the “lifecycle” of an individual. To me, Curzon’s “big question” isn’t actually a question, as much as it is an observation that one should absolutely not interpret the data as a longitudinal. For example, imagine a graph that showed how homosexuality is shows the same kind pattern as the “social” line. I think we would all clearly attribute that not to the fact that people stop becoming gay over time, but that older people are less likely to attribute that label to themselves.

  5. Jeff says:

    Fascinating.

    Although, I share Curzon’s skepticism about a cohort effect vs. lifecycle of beliefs. Certainly baby boomers had a different social and political experiences (The 60s!) than their children (the 80s!) and their children (The 90s +00s).

    It would be impossible from this data to sort out those effects. One would need to see longitudinal data. What would be wonderful to look at is a a graph over time showing people who started out more liberal compared to people who started out more conservative and people who started out somewhere in the middle.

    I hypothesize that that there is a general shift towards social restriction over time, but a cohort effect in the economic axis which leads to that interesting wave-pattern in the second graph.

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  7. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    Remember Jacques from “As You Like It?”
    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages.”

    1) and 2) are not yet of voting age, but you can see the Lover (3), the Soldier (4), the Justice (5) and the “lean and slipper’d pantaloon” (6) in the graph. Off the graph again comes that “last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    … second childishness and mere oblivion,
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

  8. Interesting graphics. I’m 19 right now and would unabashedly place myself in that “libertarian” quadrant of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World's_Smallest_Political_Quiz lookalike graph. Does that mean I’ll inevitably end up in the “statist” quadrant?

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