According to some recent analysis by the Financial Times, millennials in both the United States and the United Kingdom are not only the least conservative generation in polling history, they do not seem to be getting more conservative with age. It turns out that because other generations got more conservative with age, people figured millennials would too. Psych! As a millennial myself, I have a couple of theories as to why this is.

First, we must acknowledge that there are two categories of conservatism when it comes to politics: the economic sphere and the social sphere. I’ve met people who consider themselves economically conservative but socially liberal (I think it’s just called “being a cheap Yankee”) and I’m sure there are economic liberals who are socially conservative.

And, of course, there are outliers and exceptions in every generation. My parents, both baby boomers (despite my mom’s protests that she is part of whatever “Generation Jones” is), grew more liberal with age. And it’s not like they were Birchers to begin with; Dad was raised by lesbians and Mom was Episcopalian. Lauren Boebert, the gun-toting anti-drag-queen congresswoman, is a millennial. We’re talking about general generational trends, here.

The baby boomer generation was born between 1946 and 1964. America was the only superpower in the world; Europe was still recovering from the effects of World War II and thus, America was the financial and manufacturing center. Trade union membership and taxes on the rich were way up; the government invested heavily in post-war housing (for its white citizens), which enabled boomers to, by and large, get married young, buy a house easily and pop out some babies.

Basically, the idea that if you worked hard, you could afford a decent – if not extravagant – life held up during this time period for white Americans. (The reasons it did not work that way for non-white Americans, particularly Black Americans, would take a whole other column and a few books to explain.) Boomers got their Medicare and their pensions and their houses, and so by and large do not have a desire to change the status quo they’ve benefited from. And some of it is certainly driven by fear. America has almost no public social safety net. If you can see the edge of the abyss over the horizon, you’re a lot more likely to lash out and zealously protect what little you already have. If all your wealth comes from the valuation of your home, you aren’t likely to be in favor of a low-income housing project moving in next door.

Millennials, on the other hand, were born between 1981 and 1996. Most of us graduated from high school or college right into the Great Recession. Even adjusting for inflation, our starting salaries were smaller. Our debts spiraled as well-paying jobs became almost impossible to get without a post-secondary degree. Unions have been attacked and their power whittled away for decades. Health care prices continue to rise and rise. New housing stopped being built and the remaining homes rose in value – great for the owners (guess which generation most of them are owned by). Is it any wonder millennials have, by and large, embraced more left-wing policies of wealth redistribution? I’m sorry for being a bleeding-heart liberal and all, but how many millions of dollars does one person need in the bank, especially when tens of thousands of people go bankrupt from medical bills every year? I’ve had people tell me I’ll get more conservative now that I own a home. I own a home because of a combination of hard work, luck and privilege. I’d like to remove luck and privilege from the equation, or at least cut down on their percentage.

Then there’s the social conservatism. That, I suspect, is in large part a backlash due to the appearance of a changing society. I say “appearance” because gay people and transgender people have always existed. My lesbian grandmas are proof of that. Gay rights and the number of openly queer people in American society have benefited from 50 years of the snowball effect. The more queer people you see in your community, the safer it feels to openly identify yourself as one of them (I can attest to this experience personally). A few brave queer people at the Stonewall riots turns into a few more brave queer people in the 1970s and, by the time millennials were born, gay people were an average fact of our life growing up. But for people who were already adults in 1969, and who probably didn’t grow up knowing of any gay people personally, it must seem as if us queer folk have swarmed out of the ground like cicadas.

Furthermore, the Immigration Act of 1965, passed as the first Gen Xers were being born, removed discriminatory national origin quotas, which had severely (and racist-ly) restricted immigration to America to largely favor northern and western Europeans. So the doors opened to non-white immigrants, and America got much more colorful. By the time Gen Xers were growing up and millennials came around, a diverse America was our natural habitat. But to older generations, it must seem like the country is so different from what they remember it being when they were kids. And because our experiences in childhood shape who we are and how we react to the world, I don’t see millennials jumping ahead into conservatism any time soon.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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