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Edward Carmines
Political Science Department

Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Generation gap study shows large difference in views on television sex, violence

Views on sex and violence on television constitute the largest difference between the old and the young in a generation gap survey involving Edward Carmines, the Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science at Indiana University.

Carmines, along with University of California political science researchers Douglas Strand, Merrill Shanks and Henry Brady, prepared the Public Agendas and Citizen Engagement Survey (PACES). The results were just released by the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center. The study involved phone interviews with some 1,250 people between ages 15 and 92.

Carmines said the greatest difference between the older and younger respondents involved their views on sex and violence on television. The amount of sexual content on television was viewed as a serious problem for 67 percent of those in the 27-59 age range. For those in the 15-26 age range, 47 percent thought this was a serious problem. Some 74 percent of the older adults thought television violence was a serious problem, compared to 45 percent in the younger age bracket.

"These findings reinforce our belief of a significant difference in views between the generations, and the gap appears larger than in earlier studies," Carmines said. "Younger people just are not as worried about these things that older people see as real threats to traditional culture." The IU faculty member worked on this project while on sabbatical leave in the 2000-01 academic year at the Center for Advanced Study in Social and Behavioral Change at Stanford University.

The survey on public opinion and civic engagement compared the views of younger and older respondents on such issues as religion, abortion, social security, education, job discrimination, military defense, gun control and criminal punishment.

The political scientists said their research provided evidence that contradicts the idea that American youth are generally more apathetic and less involved in political and community life. Younger Americans give time to candidate and ballot-initiative campaigns just as much as older Americans do, protest more than their elders, and engage equally in community service work.

Carmines said that a surprising finding for him involved social security and education. Both the old and the young supported government help regarding health care for seniors, but older respondents expressed considerably less support for education spending. He said another surprise finding involved views on abortion and religion, with the young expressing more conservative views than the older respondents.

"We were surprised by the greater support among young Americans for some aspects of the conservative cultural agenda," the report said. "Young Americans show more conservatism on religious politics and abortion even though youths, as a group, appear to be less likely than their elders to attend religious services regularly or consider religion a guide in their daily life."

The researchers want to test their findings over time by developing a continuing version of PACES with results reported on a regular basis.

The project was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. An executive summary of the report is available at the Web site Carmines can be reached at 812-855-5065 or