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by Val Bissland - 22:15 on 16 May 2014
A psychology tutor in the Learning in Later Life programme of the University of Strathclyde, Val challenges age stereotypes and perceptions of older members of society. This article relates to voting behaviour and the simplistic views that many politicians hold concerning what sways older voters.
I read an interesting article today on The Conversation website which explored politicians responses to the fact that more older citizens turn up to vote than younger citizens. The authors examined a view in common circulation that governments cynically pander to older voters for this reason - with pledges to protect pensions, contrasting with hitting the young with increased student fees. Certainly, it is true that younger people vote less. However, a significant number do indeed exercise their right to vote, and several surveys have found that the top priorities for additional public spending for young and old alike, were health and education, with health the most popular for each (British Social Attitudes survey).
Another BSA survey asked respondents to name their first priority for additional spending on welfare benefits. Again, the main finding was similar preferences across generations: all age groups, including 18-29 year-olds, gave retirement benefits top priority. This completely overturns the notion that young people are only interested in their personal situation at the time. The International Longevity Centre’s survey (2010) also found that all ages wanted to protect the pension budget.
I find it illuminating that the most popular form of welfare among young and old is retirement benefits. When you think about it, it is not really so surprising, because most young people care about their parents and grandparents, and don’t want to think of them impoverished in later life. The idea that the population think and vote in blocs according to age-related self-interest is ridiculous. We are interdependent as a society, and people in later life are as concerned about the future prospects of their young family members as they are about their own pensions. Politicians who believe otherwise must hold an incredibly simplistic view of human motivation and dismiss the common concerns that bind the generations together.
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