May 23, 2016

What do you think is the chief fault of teen-agers today?

Hi there!

If you found this TinyLetter through my Twitter account, you may have noticed that I've been writing fewer articles lately. A major reason for this: I've decided to focus on getting my dissertation done in the near future (rather than just, you know, sometime). And that's been great! But I really miss having an excuse to jump into random historical rabbit holes on a regular basis. 

So without further ado, here's a weird thing I've been thinking about lately.

Bewailing the morals of young people was already a time-honored tradition by the time Cicero moaned "O tempora! O mores!" But when George Gallup started the American Institute of Public Opinion (now known as Gallup, Inc.) in 1935, he gave fogies across America a whole new, quantifiable way to express how they felt about teenagers. Thanks to the Roper Center's iPoll database and my Columbia affiliation, I recently wasted some time finding out what midcentury Americans really thought about the kids on their lawn.

The first public opinion poll to mention teens, from June 1940, actually showed a pretty positive feelings about youngsters. Sure, the question was phrased in a leading way—but only 11% of respondents could find nothing to admire about the teens of 1940. 
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After the war, however, young people started to become the threat to national morals that we know and love.

Respondents seemed to have a tough time identifying exactly how teens' behavior had gotten worse, however.

And in a poll conducted in March of that year, respondents tended to point to factors beyond teenagers' control for their indiscretions.

Note that only 4% of respondents blamed the media for teenage misbehavior in 1946. Then take a look at these poll questions from 1954.

Anyone have any idea what happened here? I have a vague hypothesis about the way generations interact with each other during times of crisis vs. times of economic prosperity, but who knows? 

Bonus poll weirdness: