Sister blog of Physicists of the Caribbean in which I babble about non-astronomy stuff, because everyone needs a hobby

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Blame it all on the hippies

This is a much more compelling argument than the idea that we inevitably get stupider and more racist as we get older : successive generations are shaped by their own unique histories. With such different forces at work, they inevitably turn out differently. And of course, there's enough scatter to explain, say, my parents, who aren't of the anti-integration mindset. We should also remember that racism was much more socially acceptable back in the day (that is, after all, a major factor in why the Nazis rose to power at all). But the narrative has a strong appeal : a war generation who saw the world at its worst, a succeeding generation of the relatively privileged who were presented with scapegoats for their misfortunes, and latter generations like mine who have grown up with European integration as being absolutely normal. To the war generation, of course we shouldn't go back to the bad old days. To my generation, of course we shouldn't undo decades of economic and political harmonisation, any more than we should cut our arms off. But to the middle generations, the EU is neither normal nor necessary. Damn those ungrateful hippies.


When defining a ‘war generation’ that experienced the majority of their formative period during the Second World War, as well as a number of other more recent generations, this war generation is revealed as displaying significantly more positive views towards European integration than the immediate post-war generations. In fact, the size of this generational effect between the war and post-war generations is approximately equivalent to the same change in attitude that would be expected from a two-year reduction in education levels, a factor well known to increase Euroscepticism... the war generation have more positive attitudes towards the EU than the immediately following generations. Indeed, only the most recent generation, the millennial generation, display more positive attitudes towards the EU than the war generation.

One explanation for these results is that the war generation give a premium to the pacific benefits of European institutions. Having experienced first-hand the horrors of war, they place a high value on the founding principles of unity that the EU promotes. The most recent generations also view integration more positively, given that these individuals have grown up with the UK’s membership of the EU as the norm. The concept of not being a part of Europe – with its visible signifiers of flags, anthems and institutions – is likely to be discordant to those from the millennial generation. Conversely, the post-war and 60/70s generations in the UK have neither the memories of wartime nor the routinised experiences of EU membership during their formative years. They therefore display the most hostile attitudes towards integration.

However, this analysis also reveals additional elements that are driving the cohort effects between the war and the following generations. Indeed, the post-war generation are in fact more likely to associate the EU with bringing peace than their younger counterparts, and yet they display more negative overall attitudes towards integration.

Explanations for these results can be found in British history; the post-war and 60s/70s generations were the first to confront the fall of empire during their formative years, as well as the first mass immigration from the Commonwealth. This fuelled insecurities over British identity, coming to the fore in such instances as Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood Speech” and the Immigration Acts of the 1960s. These results therefore support the notion that it is during times when identities are threatened that they become mobilised as points of political salience, and that these heightened political environments can shape individuals’ opinions long into the future.

Britain's wartime generation are almost as pro-EU as millennials

There is a significant difference in opinion on Brexit between different age groups in the UK, with older citizens generally exhibiting more negative attitudes toward the EU than younger ones.

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