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Posted on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Older Americans: Are their attitudes changing?

By Wayne Baker


The Wikipedia staff occasionally organizes public workshops. You know who loves to learn about Wikipedia? This photo shows a public Wikipedia workshop at a library.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing older Americans.

Can a leopard change its spots? Can an old dog learn new tricks? Can older adults change their minds about controversial moral issues? You might be surprised!

A majority of Americans now say that gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable, and support for these relations has never been higher. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that, for the first time, a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

Young adults show the highest level of support for gay and lesbian relations, and their support has grown over time. According to new Gallup poll results, three-quarters (74 percent) of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 say that these relations are morally acceptable. Over the past 12 years, support has increased by 22 points for this age category.

But the big news is this: For the first time, a majority of older Americans now agree with their young compatriots. Fifty-one percent of Americans 55 years of age and older now say that gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable. And, their support has grown the fastest of any age category. Since 2001, acceptance of gay or lesbian relations by Americans 55+ has increased by 25 points.

And, as we’ll see this week, this isn’t the only moral issue where older Americans are changing their attitudes.

Just for the record, the age-old saying that you can’t teach old dogs (canis lupis familiaris) new tricks is a myth. Myth Busters busted it (see the episode here).

Are you surprised to learn that older Americans are changing their minds about gay and lesbian relations?

Have you changed your mind?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.


Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 11:51 a.m.

There is a wonderful film and book by a University of Colorado professor called "What You Are is Where You Were Then" that explains this "seniors are changing" business. His theory is that we are all influenced by what was going on in our lives at certain junctures - birth to 5 years, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20. Family, friends, school, music, war, peace, loss - all it it impacts us as we grow. The main thing is that we do not all experience the same things at the same time - many of us "older" folks were not part of the depression era, many of us grew up during WWII, but not all older folks did. We will never be "the same" because we were not influenced by the same events or family situations, or schools. Nor will our children be like us when they are our age.

Sarah Rigg

Mon, Jun 10, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

People constantly underestimate older generation. There are radicals, progressives and freethinkers in every age group!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Too right, missy! I'll be 61 on Saturday and I've been a flaming liberal for most of it!