Gene Expression

The two gay-friendly cohorts

Matt Springer’s comment that while differences in regards to abortion remain important among the young, but that there no deep fissure in regards to homosexuality, rings true. I decided to look at the same variables as I did below across the years, but limited to the age group 18-30. In other words, each year from the early 1970s to the 2000s you are looking at the opinions of individuals who are in the age range 18-30 during that year. An interesting trend popped up.


The trends for abortion and opposition to interracial marriage are familiar (though the latter exhibits differences by magnitude if not direction). But as you can see attitudes toward homosexuality among the young varied greatly, with a “false dawn” of tolerance for homosexuality among the young of the early 1970s, probably in the wake of 1960s radicalism. It seems that a second wave of tolerance for homosexuality is emerging, and interestingly it seems the trend began to reverse about 20 years after the early 1970s, when large numbers of the offspring of the “flower children” would themselves be reaching adulthood.


  1. #1 Mark
    April 27, 2009

    It seems like familiarity breeds a lack of contempt. The more gay people you meet, the more interracial couples you meet, the less horrible they seem.

    But who’s going to tell you about her abortion? There have been 30 million of them in the US over the last 30 years, presumably by 25% of American women. They are more common than either interracial marriages or homosexuality but are nowhere near as public. If we knew that one-quarter of our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters had abortions, we’d feel differently.

  2. #2 Gloria
    April 27, 2009

    Is it possible to get a cite for this data? A link to the study’s paper, perhaps?

  3. #3 Cal Gal
    April 27, 2009

    I think the abortion question also implies “at any time” even though it doesn’t state it.

    Although I personally believe in abortion for any reason early in a pregnancy, by the third trimester I don’t.

    I wish the question had STATED the time frame.

  4. #4 razib
    April 27, 2009


    click here, enter in “ABANY HOMOSEX RACMAR” into “ROW”. then enter “YEAR” into column. also, “AGE(18-30)” into selection filters. submit. that’s it.

  5. #5 jim
    April 27, 2009

    I’m skeptical that more familiarity with abortion would help. Every pregnant woman I’ve known (mainly college educated whites and asians who rarely attend church) has those ultrasound baby pictures on her fridge, and sends them out in email announcements. The reason most people disapprove of abortion (esp. late term abortion) is because they believe there is a human being killed in the process, not just because they’re unfamiliar with the process. That’s also why most women who get an abortion keep it private.

    The clarity of the ultrasound pictures have done more to help the pro-life movement than anything else in recent years.

    And the technology will only get better. And viability will only get pushed to earlier and earlier.

    I’ll be very surprised if acceptance of abortion shows a significant upward trend in coming decades. At the same time I do expect acceptance of gays to increase.

  6. #6 Marny
    April 27, 2009

    Abortion is especially susceptible to “push polling” methods. If you phrased the question along the lines of “Should doctors go to jail for helping a woman terminate a pregnancy?” or “Should the government decide if a woman has to continue a pregnancy”, I bet your “yes” and “no” bars would be almost exactly inverse of what you have here in response to the “abortion on demand” question that was asked. Asking the question in a more neutral way, like “Should first trimester abortions be legal?” would probably yield results somewhere in the middle, which is where most Americans of all ages probably are on the question. But your point that people’s feeling about the issue aren’t changing much over time is well-taken and would probably be born out by any phrasing of the question.

  7. #7 razib
    April 27, 2009

    i tend to agree with jim here. the analogy is weak because the presumed victims of homosexuality and interracial marriage are society. attempts to claim that homosexual marriage is hurting an individual’s specific marriage is generally met with skepticism. if you believe that the fetus is a person there isn’t any viable argument about it being a victimless crime.

    i would like to see more social science data though. many women who have abortions, or have had them, turn against them.

  8. #8 razib
    April 27, 2009

    It seems like familiarity breeds a lack of contempt

    also, in this vein, we’ve had legal abortions for nearly two generations now. there has been some tendency for people to oppose the criminalization of abortion; the status quo bias. but aside from that it doesn’t seem that long term legalization has changed much (and it isn’t for nothing that women keep their abortions to themselves).

  9. #9 divalent
    April 27, 2009

    No offense, as I really like your analysis of these interesting questions … but might I suggest you pick up a copy of “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte? It actually is a very interesting read.

  10. #10 xyg
    April 27, 2009

    What do the almst always wrong, sometimes wrong & other options wrt to homosexuality mean?

  11. #11 razib
    April 27, 2009

    yes, i know that the GSS output sucks. that’s why i redo them sometimes.

    xyg, that homosexuality is wrong means that it’s wrong. you shouldn’t do it. society should sanction it as bad. is what i assume.

  12. #12 stipe42
    April 27, 2009

    What do the almst always wrong, sometimes wrong & other options wrt to homosexuality mean?

    It’s fairly simple: some individuals feel that homosexuality between obese hairy men is wrong, but homosexuality between attractive women is right. Especially if caught on tape.

  13. #13 minty
    April 27, 2009

    Isn’t the real story that just under 50% of *young people* still think homosexuality is wrong? What a depressing and shockingly high figure. Jesus, it sucks to be hated.

  14. #14 Ron Guhname
    April 27, 2009

    No, the real story is that so many don’t think it’s wrong. Everyone, probably even most homosexuals, thought it was wrong in America for 350 years. And how do you get so easily from disapproval to hatred? I think prostitution is immoral, but I don’t have much feeling for those involved one way or the other. Throwing the term hatred around so loosely is irresponsible.

  15. #15 Seth Rogaine
    April 28, 2009

    I think it’s possible that earlier and clearer ultrasounds may bolster support for early-term abortion rights—the less human it looks, the less likely to see it as a being.

    Then again, some will insist on full citizenship for blastocysts regardless….

  16. #16 Robert
    April 28, 2009

    I too think that familiarity works against abortion rights. As a young male I was naturally in favor of easy, quick and anonymous abortion. Once I was married, my young wife was of similar mind – within the first year of our marriage, she rode a bus to the capitol of Missouri and marched in support of abortion rights. She had had two abortions a few years before I met her. Fast forward, after having two children and many ultrasound pictures and films .. she is very anti-abortion. She is haunted by the spectre of the two individuals who would now be young adults that she pulled the plug on. She still does not favor outlawing abortion, but she gets furious at attempts to remove the stigma from them. She felt no stigma at the time she had her own, and now she wishes she had. She gets especially angry at efforts to keep parents in the dark about abortions contemplated by their daughters. My own opinions haven’t moved much – but I have noticed that the strongest advocates of guilt-free and even government-subsidized abortions tend to be ingle men, young straight women and lesbians of all ages – i.e. those who have had the least exposure to actual pregnancy.

    Robert in DC

  17. #17 amazed
    April 28, 2009

    I think the real shock for me on this polling relates to inter-racial marriage. If I’m reading that bar graph correctly, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of 18-30 year olds believe it should be ILLEGAL (not just socially frowned upon) for a white and black to marry. Just WHERE do these morons grow up? Doesn’t that statistic show the sorry state of education in this country? Geez.

  18. #18 Ethan
    April 28, 2009

    I was pretty shocked by the miscegenation data too. I hoped it might be black separatism (not sure why, but it felt like that’d be less unpleasant). But separating blacks and whites (um) in the GSS made it clear that whites are mostly responsible for the figures. There is a small black anti-miscegenation rate though. I’m curious what it is; Nation of Islam, or just some people in every group are really going to hate the idea of out-marriage?

  19. #19 Mara
    April 28, 2009

    Robert in DC, contrary to your belief on who supports abortion…60% of the women who got abortions in ’08 already have one or more children. Your wife, basically, wants mothers to be ASHAMED of themselves for choosing NOT to overwhelm themselves with more children than they feel they can successfully parent. Nice woman. REAL nice woman.

  20. #20 Tom Bri
    April 28, 2009

    To Amazed:

    No, 5 or 10% doesn’t mean much at all. That same percentage will believe almost anything. There are very few questions you can ask in the political realm that won’t get similar numbers.

    I would be more interested to find out if it is the SAME people who always answer the kook way, or, as I suspect, a lot of people have different areas of kookiness.

  21. #21 eyelid
    April 28, 2009

    I work with women seeking abortions. I also have had one myself. I also have two children.

    I 100% agree with Mark that the main reason abortion is not more widely approved is the cycle of stigma.

    Gay rights did not make significant progress until gay couples were open about their sexuality and their relationships. It’s easy to stigmatize or condemn people you don’t know. Similarly, because people are not open about their abortions, it is very easy for others to condemn or stigmatize abortion.

    Additionally, Jim is wrong that women hide their abortions while gays (sometimes) do not because women have cause to be ashamed and gays do not. Both abortion and being gay have carried heavy stigmas in the past, and both still do in many places. The reason that gays have come “out” while women having abortions have not is that for gay people to marry/have rights, they HAVE to be visible – the whole point they are trying to achieve is to not have to hide their relationships/orientation. Conversely, when a woman is seeking an abortion, she’s just seeking the abortion, a medial procedure; public acceptance or acknowledgement is not the point. So gays have stepped forward and become open, while women who have had abortions have not.

    When I have been open about my abortion, I have seen people change their assumptions (and even, sometimes, opinions). I believe that if women were en masse to become more open in fighting stigma, abortion would become more accepted.

    Though frankly, I think that when it comes down to it, most people would not outlaw abortion – they just like to be self-righteous about it in polls ;). See, e.g., South Dakota’s recent rejection of the proposed abortion ban. If South Dakota didn’t pass a ban, I don’t know what state would.

  22. #22 razib
    April 28, 2009

    re: abortion, i think it is important to go beyond black and white stereotypes. most people’s opinions are in shades of gray. they don’t believe in criminalization, but neither do they think that the act is without consequence (like blowing your nose as amanda marcotte might say). also, i think people would judge (and stigmatize) differently a 40 year old woman who had had one abortion when was 17, and 40 year old woman who had 5 abortions.

  23. #23 minty
    April 28, 2009

    “Few whites approved of interracial marriage in 1958, but support gradually increased, reaching majority level in 1997

    1997. Pretty shocking, but then again I can remember when the Bodyguard kiss between Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston was a big deal. On this issue at least, times really have changed.

    “I think prostitution is immoral, but I don’t have much feeling for those involved one way or the other. Throwing the term hatred around so loosely is irresponsible.”

    To your point, perhaps I should have said “widespread contempt” rather than hatred. On the other hand, it is dishonest of you to suggest that people are indifferent, or “don’t have much feeling for those involved one way or the other.”

    I am indifferent to tall people, short people, people who wear ties, and people who don’t wear ties. But I have contempt and moral disapproval for thieves, murderers, rapists, arsonists, and the like. And apparently, just under 50% of young people – young people! – feel this way about gays to some degree.

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