Political Ideology over the Life Course

30 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2019

See all articles by Sam Peltzman

Sam Peltzman

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 9, 2019


Young people tend to be more liberal than older people. This paper goes beyond that generality to describe more precisely how self-described political ideology varies with age. I distinguish period (across people of different ages at a moment in time) from cohort (changes in people as they get older) characterizations of this age-ideology gradient. Data are from General Social Surveys from 1974 through 2018, including synthetic cohorts formed from 5 year subsamples of the data. Ideology is measured on a {-1, 1} scale: liberals (conservatives) are -1 (+1) and moderates are 0. The average of this measure (Libcon) generally increases with age both within every 5-year sub-period and among all available cohorts; the shape of these gradients varies considerably across these sub-periods. However, the longer run central tendency is a very well defined concave gradient that rises over the whole life course. The period and cohort versions of this gradient essentially overlap. The change in mean Libcon from early adulthood (25) to old age (80) is substantial (over. 20 on the -1, 1 scale), and around half of this occurs after age 45. I discuss implications for “purple America” characterizations of political ideology and for the strain of literature emphasizing ideological “persistence.”

Keywords: political ideology, liberal, conservative, age

JEL Classification: D72, D78, Z13

Suggested Citation

Peltzman, Sam, Political Ideology over the Life Course (December 9, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3501174 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3501174

Sam Peltzman (Contact Author)

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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