Do People Tend to Become More Conservative as They Grow Older?

In this thread about Dennis Hopper being a loyal Republican who voted for Bush twice, I inadvertenly stirred up a hornet’s nest. Sorry about that. I put it in Cafe Society because it was about Dennis Hopper, but I probably should have realized it was going to generate a little heated debate.

So I’ll start a Great Debates thread asking whether people tend to become more conservative as the grow older. I thought Diogenes the Cynic made a good point when he said people from both ends of the spectrum gravitate toward the center. That could very well be true. I used to hang out with a largely liberal crowd when I was a young 'un, and my experience has been that people grow more conservative. I know I certainly have. But maybe I just did not know enough young conservatives back then. That’s not to say they weren’t around, that was in West Texas mind you, but I just didn’t hang out with any.

But these days it is my pleasure to count among my good friends both Democrats and Republicans. Liberals and conservatives alike. My good conservative friends I’ve not known as long as some of my liberal friends, but the sense I get is that the more radical changes have been experienced among the more liberal of my friends.

I freely admit that I’ve not conducted any scientific studies on the issue, I only have my personal experience and gut instinct to go on with this. In the other thread, I started getting the sense that some were feeling I might be some sort of idiotic satanist for feeling that people may grow more conservative as they age – I know I may have felt the same way when I was in my 20s and 30s, well into my 40s even maybe, if someone had suggested I would end up growing more conservative – but that has been my personal experience, so there you have it.

So let the debate begin. I only ask that we try to keep it civil, please.

No. I think its people get a lot older if they become more conservative.

I think a great many people desire to protect their assets and resources from government (for their families or themselves) a great deal more as they age which often, but not always, coincides with conservatism.

Depends on the issue. People certainly become more socially conservative, although that’s a relative thing. Usually you stick to the values you were raised with, so as society becomes more socially permissive many older people start to see a breakdown in the values they were raised with.

As far as economics goes, it depends. The sort of well off tend to become more conservative because taxes are a very difficult expense for them to pay and they don’t benefit much from social programs. The $75,000/yr-$250,000/yr range is like a big fat donut hole where a lot of Republicans exist because they are basically getting taxed to death while not getting much in return. once you get past $250,000/yr, you start to see more people who are still liberal, mainly because their tax bills, while super high, aren’t painful. What do Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or George Soros care if you take half their income?

Not me. I went from a solid conservative voter (the Liberal party, roughly the equivalent of the Rebublicans) in my 20s, to as far left as anyone I know now in my 50s.

Given the economic success of Australia under Liberal party leadership, and the fact there hasn’t been a decent Labor Government in decades, why the shift?

I was raised very leftist and idealist. You could say I’ve become more conservative; I myself think that I am simply more realistic about what works, in my own life, and in improving society, and what doesn’t. I like to think I’m also more realistic about the, often laudable, goals and aims of “the other side” .

The latter needed much improving: for instance, as a kid I thought that environmental pollution was caused by factory CEO’s in black top hats and coattails who sneaked to pristine brooks at night and, laughing evilly, unloaded barrels of fluorescent green liquid marked “poison” in the water.

I think the traditional answer is:
‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative when you’re older, you have no brains’.

I don’t believe the above by the way.

I think there is some general shift with age, but I think it has to do with experience and cynicism. If you spend all your time among leftists as a college student, you eventually realize that many of them are full of crap, and that some leftist ideas are stupid and unworkable.

If you remove these things from your personal political viewpoint and action plan, you’ve become, on average, more conservative.

At 18, in college, Dick hangs out in the lefty/liberal group. He believes the following, among other things:
war is bad
republicans are evil
democrats are also evil, basically just as fascist as republicans - Votes Green
Barack will fix it - Barack good
Socialized medicine good
We should all live in green, environmentally friendly commununities, sharing our goods
All gas powered vehicles should be taken off the roads immediately
All guns should be confiscated tomorrow

At 23 Dick has graduated, he took some upper level history classes, and lived in a semi communal - semivegetarian house off campus the last year or so of college. He now thinks:

war ----is usually bad, but the unprovoked invasion of Japan by North Korea is really bad, and we have to help them. Sometimes war is the lesser of two evils, maybe…God, this is really complex.

republicans evil -

democrats also evil, -still true- but who can else can you vote for- the greens have never gotten even close -votes democratic

Barack good, but not omnipotent, and surrounded by and deceived by advisors.

Socialized medicine good

we should all live in green, environmentally friendly commununities, but screw that sharing our goods stuff. Dave, back at Paisley House in college used to spout that stuff to get laid, then he’d borrow other people’s gear and trash it.

All gas powered vehicles should be taken off the roads immediately - as soon as we have some mechanism to replace them, 'cause I have to get to work. Top priority should go to making a public transport system to replace the car.

All guns should be confiscated tomorrow

So- Is Dick more conservative or just more nuanced and practical?

Assume that “conservative” and “liberal” are not absolute values but are relative to each other and to the state of society at any particular point in time. (So that for example, a relative “conservative” today who agrees that women and Blacks should have equal workplace opportunities - while perhaps being against abortion and affirmative action - would be considered “liberal” in 1940.) On a grand scale “the middle” of American society today is liberal compared to say 50 years ago.

Assume that individuals tend to “regress to the mean” of the norm of views held by the population at large.

It therefore follows that boomers who grew up when liberalism was at its peak among the young would become more conservative as they age merely by regression to the mean. And if indeed the pendulum swings back, than those who grew up during the heyday of the “Reagan Revolution” will become somewhat more liberal as they age. But for many moderately liberal in their youth, they could have kept the same exact positions and by today be considered relatively moderately conservative just because of the change of the mean and the meaning of the labels around them.

That said I think there is indeed also some loss of idealism as one ages - or some achievement of realism, or justifiable cynicism depending on how you view it. I guess that is part of the regression to the mean as young conservatives feel that they are following their idealistic values as well as young liberals, and equally become a bit disillusioned (as some have become during the Bush years.)

I’ve gone from left/liberal in my youth to anarcho-syndicalist in my thirties.

I’ve become more conservative AND more liberal. It depends on the issue.

According to this page, most of what happens is that people become increasingly less moderate. Men are more likely to become particularly Republican during their 30s-40s and then mellow out at ~50, again becoming more Republican as they grow older from that point. Women, fairly linearly, become consecutively more Democratic.

Seems like this should be an easy question to answer. Just look at who’s voting for which party. From what I understand, Republicans have no problem winning the elderly vote, and Democrats have no problem winning the 18-29 vote. So yeah, I do think people get more conservative as they get older, which is strange because wouldn’t you be more dependent on socialized government aid programs the older you are?

Slightly tangental, but I’ll also link to this study of IQ and political party. The overall result seems to be that stupid people significantly lean Democratic, intelligent people generally lean independent, until modern day where Bush seems to have made them lean Democratic.

Like someone else said, I’ve remained fairly liberal but have grown more realistic in terms of what will work and what won’t. I also have had plenty of rude surprises in real life, as anyone else, that shattered or changed some of my preconceptions. Some of the things your parents said that you scoffed at are really true.

From personal experience, I would say that we become more . . . diversified as we age.

When I was in my twenties, I identified myself as a Liberal. If it was labeled “Liberal,” I agreed with it. Having seen some so-called Liberal policies and idealogies completely fail, others stall, and some face drastically unintended consequences, as well as the opposite with some so-called Conservative policies and idealogies, I’m much more willing to ignore the label and consider the idea on its own merits.

As a consequence, while I still consider myself liberal (with a small L), I’m well aware that several of my stances are quite conservative. Or unmatched, as what is often perceived or labeled as conservative in the US lacks the slightest resemblence to the dictionary definition.

Looking at those around me, my father has become wildly more conservative. My mother had held steady while the world around her became more liberal. My older brother is closed mouthed. My younger brother has come out of the political closet in favor of Obama. Most of my friends tended towards liberal and have stayed that way. My housemates are neo-conservative and will die that way. It’s an interesting spectrum.

Only the poor ones. Most people also become wealthier as they get older.

Not so much poltically conservative but no one in their right mind at 56 want’s to live as a 20 year old. Being a parent brings a whole new perspective to life.

I’m with RickJay- it’s just change, period. I have become much more liberal on social issues than I used to be- much of that is tied up, perhaps, in a falling away from religion. But I cannot discount the fact that I have more life experience, have met more and more wonderful people, have lived in different places, etc.

As I have aged I have also become conservative on government expenditure. As I have earned more, I have become quite sensitive to my tax burden and the potential for its misuse, compared to the practical or at least not antiproductive ways that I could employ my money. This is not to say that I am necessarily for huge tax cuts- but my experience in large organizations and my personal share of the payment combine to make me certain that my money is being frittered away, and government waste has become a big issue for me. I suppose that it’s been different lately but small efficient government is a traditionally conservative position.

This is what I think, too - it’s not so much your age, as it is your responsbility load.

When you’re young, you typically don’t really have a lot of bills and a lot of possessions (expensive or otherwise). It’s very much a culture of live and let live, hey can I bum a smoke, I need $20 for gas, etc. That leads to a mindset where young people believe in the ideals of utopism (is that a word?)

But, as you grow up, you get a job where you have to go in everyday. Then you realize you need a good car to get there, which leads to a car payment. Then, you feel weird about living in your parent’s basement, which leads to a rental or mortgage payment. And you have some extra cash, so you finally start building your collection of rare-bobbleheads, and on and on…

So, as you learn the real life lessons of the actual cost in time and money for the things you like, you learn that those utopian ideals are unworkable, and generally unreasonable.

I think it’s a matter of economics. As pointed out above, those with very little money/posessions and those with a ton of money either never made it past their idealistic midset, or are comfortable enough to have re-adopted it. Those who sit in the middle class are conscious of the time/money costs, and therefore are more conservative financially.

Note - this does not apply to social ideals. I am a hardcore fiscal conservative that would legalize everything but property crimes tomorrow, given the chance.

(Sorry for the ramble-ness - it’s still early… :slight_smile: )