Generation gap narrowing on everything except our politics
transformed permanently the views and lives of the miners’ wives, mothers and daughters. In one of those clichés born out of truth, they’d come out of the kitchen, never to return. For the rest of us, attitudinal and behavioural change took longer, as again the BSA records. In 1987, nearly half (48 per cent) agreed that “a man’s job is to earn money, a woman’s to look after the home and family”, with just a third (33 per cent) disagreeing. By 2008 it was 16 per cent and 58 per cent respectively, and in 2017 just 8 per cent agreeing and 72 per cent disagreeing. Moreover, as on other social issues – pre-marital sex, same-sex relationships, abortion – the generation gap on gender roles is now narrowing rapidly. The gap between the proportions of ‘disagreers’ in the 18-34 and 65-74 age groups had dropped in just five years from 27 per cent in 2012 to 8 per cent. There will, inevitably, be those who dismiss all such findings as ‘fake news’. The reasons most of us should have greater confidence than in the one-off, quota sample opinion poll are partly the BSA’s sheer longevity, but above all its rigorous methodology of hour-long interviews with random and meticulously weighted samples of 4,000 respondents a time. It’s gold standard.
Returning to the generation gap, while it’s narrowing on social issues, politically the reverse is happening. There were age and educational divides on EU membership before the 2016 referendum, but that vote and last year’s General Election deepened both.
In last year’s survey, 72 per cent and 63 per cent of the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups reported voting Remain in the referendum, compared to 37 per cent and 45 per cent of the 65+ and 55-64 groups. Which, with around 750,000 17-year-olds at any one time and some older voters inevitably disappearing, has big implications for any Brexit-focused ‘People’s Vote’ we may be offered.
This year’s BSA survey, covering the 2017 election, conveys a similar message. In 2010 the 18-34 age group had split equally between Conservative and Labour, 32 per cent for each.
In 2015 the reported split was 32 per cent blue to 39 per cent red, and in 2017 a rather staggering 22 per cent to 62 per cent, a far higher gap than in any in recent memory.
Encouraging for Labour, except that the much higher-voting over-65s almost balanced the scale, their 55 per cent Conservative support also being significantly higher than in any recent election.
“Never before”, the BSA concluded, “has there been so large an age divide in British electoral politics”.
The “never” seemed uncharacteristically reckless, but there is definite evidence that social class, for decades the key dividing factor in British politics, is being displaced at least by a combination of age and education.
The BSA are canny, as well as good, and they remind us of their key findings at appropriate times, like the party conference season. Hence last week’s nudge, that “support for more tax and spend is at a 15-year high”.
This year’s survey showed 60 per cent favouring the Government increasing taxes and spending more on public services – nearly double the 31 per cent in 2010 and up from 49 per cent just last year. Those wanting lower taxation and spending were down to 4 per cent.
The major party divide is as expected, but the gap smaller than some might guess.
The 60 per cent wanting more tax and spend comprises two thirds of Labour supporters, but also a majority (53 per cent) of Conservatives – something for Chancellor Philip Hammond to mull over before his ICC speech to the party faithful on Monday morning. Chris Game is a lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of
Social class – for decades the key dividing factor in British politics – is being displaced at least by a combination of age and education
> summed up a permanent shift of miners’ wives and women in general out of the kitchen
> Hugh Grant, right, in