Aging doesn't mean growing more conservative: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Contrary to common belief, aging seems to make a person more liberal and tolerant, not more conservative or rigid, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Vermont and Pennsylvania State University found that people over the age of 60 become more liberal, more quickly as they age compared to younger people.

“We still hold these age stereotypes about older people becoming more rigid in their thinking or becoming more conservative,” said Nick Danigelis, a professor of sociology in Vermont who headed the research team.

“It’s a false stereotype, and in fact, the evidence suggests that older people in some cases appear to be moving at a more rapid rate towards a liberal position than younger people.”

Using data from the U.S. General Social Survey that measured changes in attitudes at different stages in life, Danigelis and his colleagues studied the political beliefs of 46,510 people between 1972 and 2004.

The research, which was published in the American Sociological Review, included feelings about political and economic roles of groups such as woman and African-Americans, as well as the civil liberties of groups such as atheists and homosexuals, and privacy issues including premarital sex.

The study showed attitude changes in both 18-39 and 60 and older age groups, with the latter tending to grow more tolerant rather than more conservative.

“Over the last 30 years or so there have been a number of shifts in attitudes on a variety of issues important to Americans,” Danigelis said.

“In a few cases, for example with regard to civil liberties, older Americans have become more liberal during this time period while younger Americans have become more conservative.”

Danigelis said that people who grew up during the Depression have different beliefs compared to those who grew up during the 1960s. But he added that the research also showed a general pattern that is “trumping any notion that as you become older there’s a hardening of the attitude arteries -- that’s just not true.”

Reporting by Natalie Armstrong; Editing by Patricia Reaney