The Frontal Cortex

The Centrism of Generation Next

I’m pleased with my generation:

Young Americans, it turns out, are unexpectedly conservative on abortion but notably liberal on gay marriage. Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the le ast Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20 percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious that on abortion they are slightly to the right of the general public. Roughly a third of Gen Nexters endorse making abortion generally available, half support limits and 15 percent favor an outright ban. By contrast, 35 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds support readily available abortions. On gay marriage, there was not much of a generation gap in the 1980s, but now Gen Nexters stand out as more favorably disposed than the rest of the country. Almost half of them approve, compared with under a third of those over 25.

That sort of pluralistic pragmatism is just the sort thing we need. The culture wars are stale: they exist to excite the stupid extremes. Take abortion. For the last twenty-five years, we’ve talked about abortion as an all-or-nothing issue. It’s either legal or it’s illegal. You can either be pro-choice or pro-life. I’m happy that my generation seems to endorse the sort of messy compromise that such difficult issues demand.

The boomers tend to see every issue through the black and white lens of the civil rights struggle. There is a good side and a bad side. It’s Martin Luther King versus Strom Thurmond. But the issues dividing our country today usually aren’t this simple, and these crazy young folk seem to get it. So on abortion they seem to endorse the sort of pragmatic compromise that other countries – like Britain, where abortion is an issue debated by doctors, not grandstanding Parliamentarians – have settled on. Living in Britain during the last national campaign, I was astonished that abortion was scarcely debated, even though Blair, following the advice of the National Health Service, had recently cut the legal limit for an abortion to 24 weeks. (A plurality of British women think the legal limit should be cut further.) Polarizing debates don’t have to be polarizing forever.

So I’m heartened by this lack of interest in divisive politics among my demographic peers. We seem like a generation willing to admit that difficult questions (like abortion) don’t have easy answers, that moral questions are often shaded by gray, that skepticism is better than self-righteousness. Pragmatic centrism has its limits, but six years of corrupt Bushian certainty have shown my generation that there is no correlation between certainty and wisdom.


  1. #1 Bruce
    March 13, 2007

    With each new generation, comes the realisations of some of the mistakes of the former.

    Something to do with evolution I suspect.

    Many practices of the past are no longer practiced.

    Abortion should soon join the practices of old.

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