Do people really become more conservative as they age?

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Abstract

Folk wisdom has long held that people become more politically conservative as they grow older, although several empirical studies suggest political attitudes are stable across time. Using data from the Michigan Youth-Parent Socialization Panel Study, we analyze attitudinal change over a major portion of the adult life span.We document changes in party identification, self-reported ideology, and selected issue positions over this time period and place these changes in context by comparing them with contemporaneous national averages. Consistent with previous research but contrary to folk wisdom, our results indicate that political attitudes are remarkably stable over the long term. In contrast to previous research, however, we also find support for folk wisdom: On those occasions when political attitudes do shift across the life span, liberals are more likely to become conservatives than conservatives are to become liberals, suggesting that folk wisdom has some empirical basis even as it overstates the degree of change.

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Peterson, J. C., Smith, K. B., & Hibbing, J. R. (2020). Do people really become more conservative as they age? Journal of Politics, 82(2), 600–611. https://doi.org/10.1086/706889

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