Changing attitudes toward aging policy in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s: A cohort analysis

M. Silverstein, J. J. Angelelli, T. M. Parrott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objectives. This research assessed how the attitudes of Americans toward government programs that serve older people changed between the mid-1980s and late 1990s and how much of the shift was due to intracohort change and how much was due to cohort replacement. Methods. Data come from three nationally representative cross-sectional samples, surveyed by telephone in 1986 (N = 1,209), 1990 (N = 1,500), and 1997 (N = 1,559). Results. Attitudes of Americans have become less supportive of expanding entitlement programs for older people and more supportive of cutting their costs and benefits. Between 1986 and 1997, most cohorts, particularly older adults, grew more in favor of maintaining Social Security benefit levels but less in favor of expanding them. Young adults tended to be driving the societal shift in attitudes toward decreasing benefits. Intercohort change was more important than cohort replacement in this process. Analyses of change in 2 attitude domains between 1990 and 1997 revealed that the general population felt less strongly that older people are entitled to benefits and expressed greater opposition to the associated costs. However, young adults moderated their concerns about costs as they got older, although the young adults in the cohort replacing them had become more critical of the principle of entitlement. Discussion. These findings enhance the understanding of the roles that historical conditions and aging play in shaping the attitudes of adult cohorts toward public programs for older citizens. Discrepant findings based on the intercohort change in younger age groups are reconciled by differentiating maturation effects from period effects on impressionable youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S36-S43
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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