millennials have the same attitudes towards free speech as everyone else

The 2016 General Social Survey is out! Time to update our trend lines, and mark our beliefs to market (as the economists like to say). I’ll start with one: how are attitudes towards free speech changing? Answer: Not very much. The GSS asks a range of questions on free speech related issues. The handy GSS explorer lets you look at trends over time for each question, broken down by various demographics. Here’s a key trend, looking at attitudes towards racist speech:

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.54.14 PM

As far as I can tell, “millennials” (the 18-34 group here) look pretty similar to everyone else. And if anything, the trend is that youths these days are *more* embracing of free speech norms than they were 10 years ago. The same is more or less true for a variety of other free speech questions. Millennials just aren’t that different.

That said, I’m sure there are important, interesting, nuanced stories to tell about these variables. Perhaps there’s an important age X education X region interaction, where young college-educated adults in New England are growing more intolerant now. Want to find out and test your theories against the data? Dig in, the GSS is available to all. But at first glance, the Narrative of a rising trend of anti-free speech outrage among the youths doesn’t seem to hold up, at least not as a mass public opinion phenomenon.

Note: The full question wording, for reference, is “consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior… A. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?”

Update: Brown soc grad student Patrick Mayne flipped the data around to show trends within cohorts:


Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

7 thoughts on “millennials have the same attitudes towards free speech as everyone else”

      1. Thanks. Smoothed out it does look a bit like both older ans younger folks of past 3-4 cohorts are less tolerant than the midlife folks (where the pundit/parental generations are?)


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.