Will you still need me, will you still heed me, when you're sixty-four?*

In recent months we’ve seen several polls showing a majority of Americans now support marriage equality (plus one from NOM, less favorable, that merely highlights their own polling desperation).

These polls always display amazing support from young voters. Our opponents dismiss that: People get more conservative as they get older. They’ll change their minds. They’ll come to our side.

Many people do get more conservative as they age. Does that mean we’ll lose them? I’ve got two replies:

  1. No.
  2. It doesn’t matter.

I dove into the ABC/Washington Post poll, which compares results from March 2011 and October 2005 and breaks down the data by age.  It’s pretty damn interesting. First, let’s deal with…

It doesn’t matter.

Support for marriage equality has increased in every age group from 2005 to 2011.

Now, this doesn’t tell us whether we’re losing people as they age.  When you compare, say 30-39-year-olds in 2005 and 2011, you’re not comparing the same demographic group.  The older half of 2005’s 30-39ers aged up into the 40-49 group by 2011, and were replaced by 2005’s older 20-29ers.

But it doesn’t matter. Even if we were losing some individuals as they age, we’re still making inroads into every age group.  According to ABC/WP’s data, we’ve gone deep enough to gain a majority across the population, with momentum on our side.

Still, I would like to know what’s happening in people’s heads as they get older.  Are we losing them?  I can’t be sure, but I think the answer is…


I wish this data were broken into five-year cohorts  (30-34, 35-39, 40-44, etc.).  That would better match the five-and-a-half-year period between surveys:  2005’s 30-34-year-olds would become 2011’s 35-39ers, and we could see how they had changed.

But we’re stuck with these ten-year cohorts. That means about half of 2005’s 30-39ers have aged into 2011’s 40-49er group. Let’s make the best of it and compare those numbers.

This chart compares each 2005 cohort with its aged-up 2011 counterpart.

That’s pretty cool. Except for the oldest respondents, each group in 2011 was more supportive than its younger neighbor in 2005. (And that oldest group spans more years than any other, possibly making  it less susceptible to change.)  So in other words:

For the most part, older people are more supportive of marriage equality in 2011 than younger people were in 2005.

Of course, this on the sloppy side, the result of wrestling with whatever data’s available.  To do this right, we’d want a long-term longitudinal survey, asking a large sample of the same people year after year, preferably with the marriage equality question buried among a bunch of other issues covered by the survey.

That being said, I’d still like to point out this startling result:

Do you see that?

50-64-year-olds today aren’t just more supportive than 50-64-year-olds five years ago…

…or 40-49-year-olds five years ago…

…but are even more supportive than 30-39-year-olds five years ago!

That’s amazing. And it makes it hard to believe we’re losing people as they age. They may get more conservative (I don’t have data on that) but they’re not abandoning us. In fact, they’re joining us. That makes sense. Every year you live is another year you might meet more real, live gay people, decent folk to knock out the demonizing anti-gay stereotypes most of us grew up with.

Lord, I’d love more data. If anyone has other surveys conducted over time and broken down by age, please send them to me.

One last note.

Some people look at these surveys and say, We just have to wait for the bigots to die. Ugh. A gay commenter on another blog made an angry point along the lines of, I’ve been fighting for equality since the 60s. When you’re waiting for the older generation to die, you’re waiting for me to die. I fought too hard for too long — and you’re reaping too many benefits — for me to put up with that bullshit.

We don’t have to wait for anyone to die. And we don’t have to dismiss any generation as bigots. That’s what these numbers tell us. We can reach every age group. We can fight for everyone’s equality, no matter how old they are, no matter how old we are, and we can do it today.

*With deepest apologies to Lennon/McCartney.

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14 comments to Will you still need me, will you still heed me, when you’re sixty-four?*

  • 1
    Miriam says:

    maybe I read this here on this blog, but somewhere I read that when people change their minds about gay marriage it was always going from being against it to being for it.  is that true? does anyone ever go from being for equilty to being against it?

  • 2
    JCF says:

    Anecdotally, Miriam, I’ve heard several anti-marriage equality people SAY they were formally FOR marriage equality but where’s the proof? [Perhaps that “Ex-Gay” guy written up in the NYT a couple of weeks ago might qualify…but I’m not sure from that story, he was really “Pro Marriage Equality” to begin with. With his Queer Theory, it sounded more like he was against marriage for everybody! O_o]
    When it comes to people “becoming more conservative w/ age”, I would think that (IF true) it’s more to do w/ socio-economic issues (“I was for taxing millionaires at 20 . . . but then at 50 I became a millionaire, so…”) and perhaps law&order issues (the proverbial “A conservative is a liberal who got mugged”). But I sincerely doubt one changes one’s opinions on basic questions of civil rights.

  • 3
    Regan DuCasse says:

    Miriam, I know of one person who changed from being gay supportive to voting that they not marry. In fact, it damaged a very good friendship between a gay man and a straight man.
    The story: One of my best friends, who is gay, was asked to be the best man for his straight friends (who were themselves all kinds of ripe for Biblical discrimination) Because HE was divorced and remarrying and Jewish. And SHE was Catholic. They had a mixed ceremony. Our straight male friend said that it was all the commercials regarding children being taught homosexuality in schools and kids attending same sex weddings that was the tipping point when he decided THAT is why gay people shouldn’t get married.
    His attitude infuriated his new bride, and brought my other friend nearly to tears. And this is how Prop. 8 divided a friendship, and a marriage too. And dashed the hope that my gay friend might have reciprocated the best man role for his own wedding.
    See, NOM and their supporters truly are delusional if they think this is a positive outcome for their efforts.

  • 4
    Spunky says:

    I think you’re right, Miriam. I did a brief Google search to find statistics on the proportion of the US that was against racial segregation. I imagine you’d see similar results as the ones Rob posted about support for marriage equality. This is just a guess though. Does anyone know where to find these numbers?

  • 5
    Miriam says:

    Regan- that’s such a sad story. it’s really sad that this straight guy totally bought into the anti-gay propaganda *over* his real world friendship with gay folks.

  • 6
    Doyle says:

    Living in New England (Massachusetts) where marriage equality is the law. The majority support same-sex marriage. My husband and I have found that there are a LOT of st8 people who supportive and have expressed their support for the LGBT community. This has come from complete strangers and then some family members. My Father in-law told me on our wedding day he now can call me his son inlaw and introduces us has spouses to their friends. I personally think that as we live our lives open, honest it will change the beliefs of those around us. I always reminded of the phrase “An army of lovers can never be defeated”.

  • 7

    […] Rob at WakingUpNow defuses one of my biggest fears on the issue of same-sex marriage — the fear that as people get […]

  • 8
    Emma says:

    Miriam, sadly, our president.  He supported marriage equality when he was still in Chicago, and then turned against it as a Senator running for the Oval Office. Hopefully he’ll eventually come full circle.

  • 9
    Spunky says:

    Emma, I am pretty convinced that Obama does support gay marriage but just won’t openly say it for fear of losing too much support. I guarantee that, should he be elected, in his second term he will fully support gay marriage. Of course, this is speculation, but I felt that when he spoke at the fundraiser in NYC, he was trying to convey this.
    Here’s an article by LZ Granderson that better explains my belief: http://articles.cnn.com/2011-06-24/opinion/granderson.lgbt.obama_1_marriage-equality-gay-marriage-gay-couples?_s=PM:OPINION

  • 10
    Emma says:

    Spunky, I actually think you’re right on this as well — that his vocal lack of support for gay marriage in the last four years has been born out of political expedience rather than personal conviction.  It’s just been so frustrating that up until recently his only “official” stance on marriage supported it only between a man and a woman, whatever his “unofficial” stance may be. I hope you’re right about his second term (and seeing as he’s supporting the legislation to overturn DOMA, he’s part way there already!).

  • 11
    Miriam says:

    oh, I feel silly, I totally forgot about our President. I’m glad I live in CT where it wouldn’t matter who I voted for really, becouse if DOMA isn’t gone by Novemeber 2012, I’m going have a really hard time voting for Obama. I usally try to be pragmatic about voting, but I find DOMA too odious to not take into serious consideration when I vote.

  • 12
    Alex says:

    if DOMA isn’t gone by Novemeber 2012, I’m going have a really hard time voting for Obama

    I can think of a number of good reasons for voting against Obama,* but “because he hasn’t done something the President of the United States can’t do without the unattainable cooperation of a House of Representatives controlled by the most fanatical faction of the opposing party” isn’t one of them.  Obama could scream, shout, jump up and down and hold his breath until his face turned blue, and it wouldn’t get a bill to repeal DOMA as far as the House floor, let alone passed and sent to him for his signature.

    * In the primary, at least, if a more progressive candidate challenges him, and in the general election in the fantastically unlikely event that there’s a progressive third-party candidate with a real chance of winning.

  • 13

    […] out that not only is support for marriage equality getting stronger in each age group, but that people get more supportive as they age, contrary to expectations that they ought to be getting more […]

  • 14

    […] out that not only is support for marriage equality getting stronger in each age group, but that people get more supportive as they age, contrary to expectations that they ought to be getting more […]

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