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. (Can't see the image above? Make sure your email settings allow images to display)
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?