We found an interesting study on the AARP website looking at the attitudes of boomers back when we were young and idealistic and again in 2002. A lot has changed, a lot hasn't. You can read the report in its entirety on the AARP site
Tracing Baby Boomer Attitudes Then and Now: A Comparative Look at the Attitudes of Baby Boomers in the 1970s and 2002 --
Introduction and Highlights
In the early to mid-seventies, as the leading edge of the baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1952) was coming of age, America was undergoing a period of dynamic change. The Vietnam War had been raging for a number of years, the struggles for civil rights and women's rights were at their peak, and conventional values regarding everything from religion to sex were being questioned as never before. The leading voices in all these debates were young people-the baby boomers insisting that they be heard. And America was listening.
Since then, these same baby boomers have not only come of age, they are now beginning to show their age. Some of them are in their early 50s today, and many boomers have assumed leadership roles throughout society. Many have become parents, themselves, and some are already grandparents. In many ways, their booming voices still dominate public debate in communities and in the media. Some might say that boomers are tenaciously clinging to the mantle of leadership they have worn since the seventies. But, until new voices emerge to replace theirs, boomers are still a force to be heard.
In light of the challenges facing our nation since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, we have examined attitudes, beliefs and perspectives of leading edge baby boomers to see how they and their perceptions may have changed, or not, over the past 30 years. To do that, we gathered attitudinal surveys conducted in the early to mid 1970s, when these leading edge baby boomers were in their 20s. We then asked the same questions of this same group today, now that they are in their 50s. In some cases, the 30-year time span has meant huge changes in attitudes; in others, it seems as if hardly any time has passed.
The areas we examined included:
* Confidence in American Institutions: Government, Religion, Education and Business
* Perspectives on sex, personal responsibility and ethics; and
* A comparison of the attitudes of baby boomers and their parents' generation of the seventies with the attitudes of those grown-up boomers and their children's generation today-"The Vanishing Generation Gap."
Summary of Highlights
Two modes of data collection were employed for this study. The first mode of data collection was through a review of publicly available data from several 1970s telephone surveys. The second was through a 2002 Internet survey, which replicated the 1970s telephone survey questions from 30 years ago.
Since the 1970s questions were extracted from a variety of surveys, sample sizes vary per question or groups of questions. [A detailed list of survey questions, their origins and respective sample sizes may be provided upon request.] Sample sizes in these surveys range from 611 adults to 3,880 adults. The Internet survey was fielded from June 1, 2002 to July 19, 2002. The survey was completed by a total of 2,246 persons. These individuals represented three separate age groups of individuals: 20-26, 50-56, and 65 and over.
Here's a snapshot of what we found:
Attitudes Toward American Institutions
A cursory comparison of selected American institutions during the early to mid 1970s with those same institutions today reveals some interesting similarities. Presidential misbehavior, global conflict, war, concerns about the status of American education, and questions about organized religion are all issues that were in the headlines both in the 1970s and today.
Today's boomers have increased confidence in the Executive Branch.
* In the 70s, only 15% of boomers reported a great deal of confidence in the people running the Executive Branch. In 2002, the percentage of boomers with a great deal of confidence in the Executive Branch has almost doubled (26%).
Baby Boomers still show relatively little confidence in the Legislative Branch.
* Only 16% of boomers in the 70s and only 13% of boomers now, 30 years later, reported a great deal of confidence in Congress. The majority of those surveyed in both the 70s and today said they have only some confidence in Congress (63% of boomers then and 62% of boomers now).
Thirty years later few boomers still believe government is telling the truth.
* In the 70s, only 3% of boomers said they were very confident in what government leaders tell them. Thirty years later, 6% of boomers now say they are very confident that they can generally depend on what government leaders tell them.
The Supreme Court continues to be the most trusted government institution.
* A little over one-third (34%) of boomers in the 70s, versus slightly fewer boomers now (28%), reported a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court.
There has been a sharp decline in corporate trust.
* Almost twice as many 70s boomers (22%) as 2002 boomers (12%) expressed a great deal of confidence in major companies. The majority of boomers then (77%) and boomers now (87%) rated their confidence in major companies at only some or hardly any confidence at all.
Boomer confidence in our education system has drastically fallen.
* A little over one-third (36%) of 70s boomers had a great deal of confidence in people running the education system. This level of confidence has dropped to 20% among boomers now (2002)).
Currently, boomer confidence in religion has taken a big tumble.
* In the 1970s, 30% of boomers then reported a great deal of confidence in organized religion. Thirty years later, only 13% of boomers now have this same level of confidence.
Attitudes Toward America's Place in the World
Across the 30-year timeframe, there has been little change in the feeling that the U.S. is losing power around the world. In the early 70s, the U.S. was winding down an intractable conflict in Southeast Asia and perceptions of the U.S. military were largely negative. Boomers then felt that U.S. power was declining and that military power should be reduced. Boomers today are witnessing a global war on terrorism, but the blame for this challenge to U.S. power in the world is not placed upon the military. Unlike 30 years ago, the U.S. military is now held in high esteem, and boomers today feel U.S. military strength should be increased.
Today's boomers are far more supportive of the military than 30 years ago.
* In the early 70s, only 41% of boomers felt U.S. military power should be increased. In 2002, 66% of boomers feel military power should be increased.
Boomers overwhelmingly feel America will be at war within the decade.
* In the 1970s, many boomers (73%) believed that the U.S. would fight another war in the next ten years. In 2002, even more boomers (90%) believe that the U.S. will fight another war in the next ten years.
The Vanishing Generation Gap
In this study, comparisons were made between boomers in the 70s and their parents' generation versus boomers today in 2002 and their children's generation. In several key areas we see a phenomenon that we are calling "The Vanishing Generation Gap." That is, the significant differences of opinion boomers had with their parents in the early to mid 1970s are not so evident today between mature boomers and their children.
"Sexual attitudes today are more liberal," say Boomers and Generation X.
* In the 70s, when the parents of boomers were asked to compare their own sexual attitudes versus those of their children (boomers), 61% of the parents said their children had more liberal attitudes toward sex. Ninety percent of boomers said they had more liberal attitudes toward sex than their parents. This gap has narrowed in comparisons of boomers now, in 2002, with their children's generation. Both 2002 boomers (86%) and their children (86%) agree that young people today have more liberal attitudes toward sex.
Boomers now and their children agree that personal responsibility among young people is diminishing.
* When the parents of boomers in the 70s were asked to compare their sense of personal responsibility to that of their children (boomers), 86% said their children had less of a sense of personal responsibility. But, half (51%) of boomers today disagree that they have less of a sense of personal responsibility compared to other generations. Again, the gap is narrowed in comparisons of boomers now versus their children. Over seven in ten of both boomers now and their children agree that young people have less of a sense of personal responsibility compared to other generations.
Boomers and Generation X believe young people have less respect for parents.
* When the parents of boomers in the 70s were asked to assess the respect young people accorded their parents, almost seven in ten (69%) agreed that young people had less respect for their parents. Over half (54%) of boomers also agreed that they had less respect for their parents. Respect for parents is also an area where boomers now agree with their children. Seventy-seven percent of boomers in 2002 and their children agree that young people have less respect for their parents today.
Younger generation isn't very trustworthy.
* The parents of boomers in the 70s were split when asked to assess their children's honesty, with slightly over four in ten disagreeing (43%), and slightly more agreeing (44%) that, compared to the earlier generation, young people had less concern about being honest. Again, the generation gap of the 70s is evident in that over half (59%) of boomers disagreed that they, themselves, were less concerned about being honest. In 2002, seven in ten of both boomers and their children agree that compared to the earlier generations, young people today have less concern with being honest.
Boomers and their children disagree about who is more knowledgeable about what's going on in the world.
* In 2002, boomers and their children's generation disagree more compared to boomers and their parents in the 70s. Back then, when the parents of boomers were asked to assess their children's knowledge about world events, almost nine in ten agreed that young people of that day had more knowledge about things happening in the world. Looking back, there was no generation gap since 91% of boomers themselves also agreed with this statement. Boomers today are distinct from their children on this issue. A little over half (55%) of boomers in 2002 disagree that their children are more knowledgeable about world events, while 63% of their children agree that their parents (boomers) are more knowledgeable about things happening in the world.
Written by Curt Davies and Jeff Love, AARP Knowledge Management
May be copied only for noncommercial purposes and with attribution; permission required for all other purposes.
AARP, Knowledge Management, 601 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20049
publication date: August 2002