Millennials Aren’t Getting More Rightwing With Age. I Suspect I Know Why
Chewing gum. Napkins. Thongs. Over the past decade, millennials have been accused of killing off a dizzying variety of things. And despite the fact that some of them are now approaching middle age and the world has turned its attention to the shenanigans of gen Z, it looks as though millennials still have a taste for murder. Their victim this time? Conservatism.
Historically, people tend to become less liberal as they age: the Che Guevara posters come down and conversations about home improvements replace debates about social improvements. But millennials are bucking that trend.
The shift is remarkable. According to an analysis by the Financial Times, if millennials were following previous trends, someone aged 35 would be about five percentage points less conservative than the national average and would gradually become more conservative. The reality, says the FT? “They’re more like 15 points less conservative, and in both Britain and the US are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history.”
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too. You’re thinking home ownership is largely to blame. (Perhaps you were thinking about what to have for dinner, in which case I apologise.) As we know, millennials spend all their money on avocado toast and takeaway coffee, meaning that they have lagged behind other generations when it comes to owning their own home. If they had mortgages to pay and property prices to protect, they would probably be a lot more conservative, right?
Turns out it isn’t as simple as that. John Burn-Murdoch, who authored the FT analysis, tweeted: “If Millennials owned homes at the same rate as boomers did at that age, they would be a couple of points more conservative, but only a couple.”
There are deeper issues at play. “The most likely explanation is a cohort effect – that millennials have developed different values to previous generations, shaped by experiences unique to them, and they do not feel conservatives share these,” wrote Burn-Murdoch. To put this in my own, blunter, terms: millennials have been royally screwed by an inequitable economic system and a runaway climate crisis. Only an idiot with loads of money would be happy with the way things are.
For the record, I am not an idiot with loads of money. I’m 39, which makes me a geriatric millennial, and I certainly haven’t gotten more conservative as I’ve aged.
Perhaps what has pushed me more to the left than anything else is having a child; specifically, the ridiculous cost of having a child. I always knew childcare was going to be expensive, but [insert string of expletives here]. The nursery in Philadelphia that my 19-month-old goes to costs just under $2,000 (£1,680) a month for care from 9am to 3pm. This is actually reasonable compared with the cost of childcare in New York City, where I used to live.
My partner and I have had conversations about having a second kid, but I don’t know how we would afford it. It’s not just nursery to think about: university tuition fees have rocketed, as has the cost of living. A second child has become a luxury item.
I’m certain that childcare costs have radicalised a generation of new parents. If the Republican party in the US and the Tory party in the UK had any desire to woo millennial voters, they would support their chat about family values with family-friendly policies. Instead, they’re doing the opposite.
On Sunday, the Telegraph reported that Rishi Sunak – a man who owns four luxury houses and has never had to worry about the price of daycare – has shelved plans to overhaul England’s childcare system and make it more affordable. Across the Atlantic, abortion-obsessed Republicans are more concerned with forcing people to have children than making it easier to look after them.
While this is all horribly grim, there is a glimmer of hope: the kids are all right and my fellow millennials are sticking stubbornly to the left.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist