Then I heard 66-year-old Richard Stilgoe mourn (51 min) the imminent demise of Dennis Hopper as marking the end of the Easy Rider and Rebel Without a Cause generation. But this means nothing to me. I associate Mr Hopper with the villain in Speed and 24. I’m of the Half Man Half Biscuit generation:
James Dean was just a careless driverAll of which is a way of saying that our beliefs are shaped not just by class but by age. There’s firm research on this. This paper finds that individuals whose formative years (18-25) were spent in recession:
And Marilyn Monroe was just a slag
tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions.This one (pdf) found that people who saw poor stock market returns in their youth invest less in shares even decades later. This one shows that people who grew up in communist East Germany favour big government more than those who didn’t. And this pdf estimates that the political views of a 60-year-old are shaped more by events in their 20s than in their 50s.
All of this rings true for me, as I’m very much a child of the 80s. I mean this in three different ways:
1. The memory of mass unemployment made me very aware that capitalism is dysfunctional. I suspect it also contributed to my risk aversion; I’ve no taste for gambling.
2. The miners’ strike impressed upon me that Tories are class warriors, so strongly so that I’m unmoved by Cameron’s efforts to “decontaminate the brand”, and that coppers are the bootboys of the ruling class - and racist ones too; this classic sketch spoke for the times.
3. Within a few weeks of starting work, the stock market crashed. I therefore became very aware that extreme events do happen. So my response to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s talk about non-Gaussian distributions was: “no shit Sherlock.”
The contrary is also true. More recent events leave me cold. I can’t get worked up by climate change; I regard 9/11 as an extremely criminal act rather than a politically significant one; and “culture wars” about religion seem unimportant.
Of course, I’m not saying that all mid-40-somethings are Marxist copper-hating nervous ninnies. What I am saying is that whilst economic determinism is not to be dismissed, we should perhaps give more weight to generational determinism.
And on this score, remember that many first-time voters weren’t even born when Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister. Whilst she is, for me, a strong influence upon my views, first-time voters might see her as I regarded Harold Macmillan - as just a doddery old relic.