Older Americans Are Pushing Marriage Equality Forward

Gallup has just released new data on public support for legalizing same sex marriage. They describe support as “solidifying” above 50 percent, and that’s not just because of the rise of the younger generation: older folks, according to the new data, are quickly coming around to the marriage equality cause.

According to the Gallup data, support for marriage equality has doubled in the 17 years since 1996 going from a meager 27 percent then to 53 percent now. This is a quite remarkable rate of change: about a percentage point and half per year. At this rate, we’ll hit 60 percent support by 2018:

Why are things changing so fast on this issue? Many are aware of the big age differences on this issue and assume it’s mostly liberal young people who are driving the change. It’s certainly true that young people are very liberal on same-sex marriage: 70 percent of 18–29 year olds support marriage equality, whereas 41 percent of those 65 and older do:

But that kind of generational difference is not enough to explain the enormous change we’ve seen in the last 17 years. For example, that 41 percent for 65 and over sounds, and is, low compared to the 70 percent figure for the 18–29 demographic. But that 41 percent is also 27 points higher than the figure for 65 and over in 1996 (a mere 14 percent supported legal same-sex marriage then). Essentially none of this change is accounted for by the entrance of younger cohorts into the 65 and over group because 50–64 year olds in 1996 were just as conservative (15 percent support) as those 65 and over.


The same logic applies to the big shifts we see in every age group 30 and over in the 17 year period. It’s not just younger cohorts replacing older cohorts within various age groups: everybody is becoming more liberal on this issue. That is why we’re seeing such rapid change — and why it’s likely to continue for many years to come.