have youth opinions of race changed?

Los Angeles Public Radio station 89.33 KPCC interviewed to me last Thursday on the topic, “Are young people’s views on race really that different from their parents?” I emphasized that young people are demographically more diverse than their predecessors; about 40% of 18-29s are now people of color, and rising fast. I also think that some issues that were once contested (e.g., de jure segregation, interracial marriage) have been settled for the younger generation. However, de facto segregation is actually worse than it was when I was a kid. To be precise, there are more racially diverse schools–ones that enroll people from many racial/ethnic groups–yet a larger proportion of Whites attend overwhelmingly White schools. Meanwhile, in some polls, an outright majority of young Whites believe that discrimination is worse against Whites than against African Americans.

I now offer a Free Graph of the Day. The American National Election Studies have asked people to agree or disagree that “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” (I wouldn’t phrase the question that way, for several reasons, but it provides a trend over time.) Below I show results for Whites between the ages of 18 and 29. The pattern seems to be a general decline from 1986, when the question was first asked, until 2012, followed by some recovery in 2016–possibly in response to Black Lives Matter and related activism? About the same proportion–just under half–of White Xers in the 1980s and Millennials in the 2000s have agreed with this statement.

American National Election Studies, analyzed by Peter Levine

My takeaway is that it’s a mistake to depend on generational change to improve racial equity in the US, although the increasing number of people of color helps, and Millennials certainly have an opportunity to promote justice if they work at it.

See also: who is segregated?a snapshot of Millennialsinterracial tolerance among the young and White racial resentment and the 2016 election

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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