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Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1985, pp. 525-528.

WHAT OLD PEOPLE BELIEVE: Age, Sex, and Conservatism



John J. Ray (1)

An international range of 18 general population samples was examined to find the scale of conservatism /radicalism that correlated most highly with age. Items of a scale correlating 0.51 with age are presented. Sex was in general negligibly associated with ideology.

KEY WORDS: sex; age; conservatism; radicalism.


INTRODUCTION

Many demographic variables have political importance. The role of occupation and education has been discussed elsewhere (Ray, 1983a), so here the concentration will be on sex and age. The focus, however, will be on political ideology rather than on the vote. Voting statistics are normally readily available from commercial polling organizations.

Over the past 15 years, the present author has carried out a wide range of surveys in which multi-item scales for the measurement of conservatism were used. Information on age and sex was also normally gathered for each respondent, and the present paper is devoted to a summary of the resultant archive. Fuller details of sampling and scale items for each study can generally be obtained in the references given for each study. Scales to measure subtypes of conservatism as well as scales of overall conservatism are included. Only random samples of the community at large are mentioned. All samples were predominantly English-speaking.

RESULTS

It will be seen from Table I that a popular conception of women as being more conservative is not supported. Only 7 of the 31 correlations (biserial) with sex were above 0.10. This means that any relationship at all between sex and conservatism is negligible.

Greater age by contrast is fairly reliably a predictor of greater conservatism. The items of the scale that showed the greatest correlation with age are given in an appendix. It will be seen that what old people believe does sound rather fearsome.

Table 1. Correlations among Sex, Age, and Conservatism (a)

..........Sample.....................................Scale...................................Age...Sex.....N

1. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).........Political conservatism.........0.07....0.20...118
..........................................................Social conservatism............0.18 ...0.07
..........................................................Economic conservatism......0.16....0.21
......................................................... Moral conservatism.............0.35.....0.01
..........................................................Attitude to authority..............0.17...-0.04
..........................................................Balanced F..........................0.22.....0.03
2. Australia-wide (doorstep)..............Economic conservatism.....-0.04....-0.03..4554
..........................................................Social conservatism............0.45.....0.08
3. London, England (doorstep)..........Short conservatism scale...0.15.... -0.20...100
4. Glasgow, Scotland (doorstep).......Short conservatism scale...0.20......0.04...100
5. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).........Balanced F.........................0.39.... -0.07.....95
6. Johannesb. S. Afr. (doorstep)........Balanced F.........................0.30.... -0.04...100
7. Los Angeles, Calif. (doorstep).......Balanced F.........................0.37......0.14...101
8. N.S.W., Australia (postal)...............Balanced F.........................0.31....-0.05...172
9. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).........Short conservatism scale....0.42....-0.02...145
10. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).......General conservatism.........0.51.... -0.04...102
..........................................................Economic conservatism......0.31......0.09
..........................................................Attitude to authority.............0.44.... -0.09
11. N.S.W., Australia (postal).............Social conservatism............0.33.....0.06...377
..........................................................Moral conservatism.............0.39......0.16
..........................................................Economic conservatism.......0.07.... -0.04
12. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).......Balanced F..........................0.43.... -0.01...207
13. Los Angeles, Calif. (postal)..........General conservatism.........0.41......0.05....70
14. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).......General conservatism.........0.40......0.02...200
15. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).......General conservatism........ 0.26.... -0.07...100
16. Brisbane, Austr. (doorstep)..........Right-wing auth. (RWA)......0.20.....-0.17....84
...........................................................General conservatism........0.35.....-0.14
17. Sydney, Australia (doorstep).......Balanced F..........................0.18.... -0.06....99
..........................................................Attitude to authority.............0.28.....-0.06
..........................................................Authoritarianism...................0.17.....-0.07
18. Australia-wide (postal).................Neoconservatism................-0.05......0.05....95

(a) Sex is scored: 1 = male; 2 = female.

References for Table 1:

1. Ray (1973)
2. Ray and Wilson (1976)
3. Ray (1979)
4. Ray (1978)
5. Ray (1981a)
6. Ray (1980a)
7. Ray (1980b)
8. Ray and Bozek (1981)
9. Ray (1981b)
10. Ray (1981c)
11. Ray (1983a)
12. Ray (1980c)
13. Ray (1983b)
14. Ray (1984a)
15. Ray (1984b)
16. Ray (1985)
17. Ray (1984c)
18. Ray and Najman (1984)

REFERENCES

Eysenck, H. J. (1954). The Psychology of Politics, Routledge, London.

Lentz, T. E., Jr., et al. (1935). Manual for C-R Opinionnaire, Washington University Character Research Inst., St. Louis.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.

Ray, J.J. (1978) Are Scottish nationalists authoritarian and conservative? European J. Political Research 6, 411-418.

Ray, J.J. (1979) How different are the Scots and English? Contemporary Review 234, 158-159.

Ray, J.J. (1980a) Racism and authoritarianism among white South Africans. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 29-37.

Ray, J.J. (1980b) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1980c) Authoritarianism and hostility. Journal of Social Psychology, 112, 307-308.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1981b) Measuring achievement motivation by immediate emotional reactions. J. Social Psychology, 113, 85-93.

Ray, J.J. (1981c) The new Australian nationalism. Quadrant, 25(1-2), 60-62.

Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1983b) A scale to measure conservatism of American public opinion. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 293-294.

Ray, J.J. (1984a) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.

Ray, J.J. (1984b) Achievement motivation as a source of racism, conservatism and authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology 123, 21-28

Ray, J.J. (1984c). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Defective validity in the Altemeyer authoritarianism scale. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 271-272.

Ray, J.J. & Bozek, R.S. (1981) Authoritarianism and Eysenck's 'P' scale. Journal of Social Psychology, 113, 231-234.

Ray, J.J. & Najman, J.M. (1987) Neoconservatism, mental health and attitude to death. Personality & Individual Differences, 8, 277-279.

Ray, J.J. & Wilson, R.S. (1976) Social conservatism in Australia. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 12(3), 255-257.

APPENDIX

The items of the General Conservatism scale (Ray, 1981c).

1. Australia will not win respect in Asia by building up armed forces.
2. An occupation by a foreign power is better than war.
3. Patriotism and loyalty to one's country are more important than one's intellectual convictions and should have precedence over them.
4. A standing Army of 100,000 men or over is necessary for our defense at all times.
5. "My country right or wrong" is a saying that expresses a fundamentally dangerous attitude.
6. Treason and murder should be punishable by death.
7. The English-speaking countries have reached a higher state of civilization than any other country in the world and as a consequence have a culture which is superior to any other.
8. In taking part in any form of world organization, this country should make certain that none of its independence and power is lost.
9. Our treatment of criminals is too harsh: We should try to cure them, not punish them.
10. Certain religious sects whose beliefs do not permit them to salute the flag should either be forced to conform or else be abolished.
11. We should have complete freedom of speech even for those who criticize the law.
12. The death penalty for crime is barbaric and should be abolished.
13. People should be allowed to hold demonstrations in the streets without police interference.
14. It is best not to try to prohibit erotic and obscene literature and pictures by law, but rather to leave people free to follow their judgments and tastes in such matters.
15. When the dictator Mussolini made Italy's trains run on time, that at least was an important thing to achieve.

Agreement with items 1, 2, S, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 earns a low score. Agreement with the remaining items earns a high score. The reliability (alpha) of the scale was 0.80. The composition of the scale was influenced primarily by the Eysenck (1954) R scale and the Lentz (1935) C-R Opinionnaire.

(1) University of New South Wales, Australia.



POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDUM

Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.



WHY do the old swing Right?

The report above shows what older people both favoured and what they rejected. Old people were shown to be very conservative.

Most people do swing rightwards as they get older, with the best-known examples being, of course, Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill.  Reagan was even a union official in his early days and yet became arguably the most beloved conservative leader of all time.

And there are other examples.  The person may not always change party loyalties but their views may evolve within that loyalty.  A good example comes from my home state of Queensland, in Australia.  Following is a brief excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:

Edward Michael (Ned) Hanlon (1887 - 1952) was Premier of Queensland from 1946 to 1952. After leaving school, he worked in the railways, and soon became a union official. In the 1912 Brisbane General Strike he played a prominent part as a militant....  Over the years Hanlon's outlook mellowed, and he shifted to the political right. He ended up, as [Labor Party] Premier, sending the police to suppress union demonstrations during the 1948 Queensland Railway strike.

So, again, why?   It couldn't be simpler: The essence of conservatism is caution.  And underlying that caution is a perception that the world is an unpredictable place.  So change has to take place in small steps if its objectives are to be achieved.  Massive changes such as Obamacare are to be avoided in case large unforeseen negative consequences emerge -- consequences  of the sort that emerged rapidly in the case of Obamacare.

And as we get older that unpredictability of the world is forced upon us -- and that makes us cautious. Experience conservatizes us. And that is why the young tend to be Leftist: They lack experience. Shielded by their parents, they have yet to realize that the world is full of surprises -- many of which are unpleasant. As the great Scottish poet Robert Burns put it so memorably (and prophetically):

"The best-laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley

and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy".

Apologies for quoting the less-known next line of the verse. But it is undoubtedly apposite.

The transformation wrought by experience is only part of the reason for the differences I found, however. The world has undergone large changes in the last couple of hundred years or so, with a big swing towards socialism in many countries in the middle of the 20th century, ending in a decisive swing worldwide back to broadly free-market economic policies after that.

The large economic upswing   -- greatly increased prosperity -- that began with the abandonment of socialist economic policies in the Reagan/Thatcher years, however, had consequences as well.  As economic concerns became less pressing for most of the population, the policies and attitudes that accompanied economic struggle became less pressing too.  People could afford to reduce greatly the strategies they saw as needed to put bread on the table.  So there was an upsurge in permissiveness all-round.  Survival was no longer a harsh master.  So social (non-economic) attitudes liberalized  -- reaching rather absurd lengths as time went by -- as with the idolization of homosexuality in the early 21st century.

So the age-related attitude differences noted in my research also partly reflected the era in which the individuals concerned were born.  People who grew up in times of economic stringency acquired attitudes appropriate to that.  Homosexuality, for instance, had to be anathematized because it threatened the survival of the family.  And the family is of course the original social security safety net.

And so people who grew up in times of economic ease formed the more permissive attitudes allowed by that.  People acquire attitudes in their youth which tend to last for the rest of their life  -- unless powerfully contra-indicated by life-experiences  -- which is the sad fate of many who enter adulthood with socialistic ideas.

A FOOTNOTE:  The USA is a very successful country economically and yet also has large pockets of social conservatism.  Why?  It's at least partly because many Americans don't FEEL economically secure.  And why is that?  Because the only way many Americans can find to keep their families reasonably safe is to engage in "white flight".  They need to get away from the extraordinarily high rate of violent crime that pervades black or partly black neighborhoods.

But the only presently legal (post-segregation) way to get away from such neighborhoods is to move to the more expensive suburbs that blacks can rarely afford.  And that takes money, rather a lot of money.  So Americans are economic strivers at a huge rate.  The pursuit of money is America's biggest religion.  It's a great pity that their society makes Americans so unrelaxed

The truth of all that can be seen in Australia.  Australia's largest non-European minority is hard-working and law-abiding East Asians  (mostly Han Chinese) -- at about 5% of the population.  And Australia is also an economically prosperous place with very conservative economic policies.  Australian Federal governments even bring down surplus budgets on some occasions!  Contrast that with the trillions of debt run up by the Obama administration.   So a prosperous but safe country should have a very relaxed population.  And that is exactly what Australia is known for.

Apropos of that, I remember reading about 30 years ago (in "The Bulletin", I think) that Australia had at that stage the world's highest proportion of half-millionaires.  Once they had accumulated that much, smart  Australians tended to hop off the treadmill and retire to more recreational pursuits.  Americans, by contrast, stayed on the treadmill for much longer -- because money is at least part of their religion.  They reject St. Paul's view that the love of money is the root of all evil.  They know money as the root of all safety.  Even in their churches, Americans are often subjected to a prosperity gospel that would do Calvin proud. -- JR.






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