- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

More than half of today’s young people say they hold different values than the Woodstock generation, but a surprisingly large percentage of today’s youth think earlier generations had the better morals, a new poll by the Pew Research Center has found.

About 80 percent of those surveyed said youths and older adults hold different moral values, and the same number of respondents said that the young and the old have a different attitude toward work. Seventy-eight percent also said young people and older adults differ in showing respect to other people, the poll found.

“The cultural conflicts of the 1960s were largely fought over values and along generational lines,” survey authors Paul Taylor and Richard Morin said. “Forty years later, the public still believes the generations embrace many fundamentally different values and beliefs.”

Yet, researchers said, such differences between the generations don’t seem to matter as much as they once did.

“This modern generation gap is a much more subdued affair than the one that raged in the 1960s,” said the authors, “for relatively few Americans of any age see it as a source of conflict - either in society at large or in their own families.”

Mr. Taylor, director of Pew’s Social and Demographic Trends project, added: “This survey suggests the generations have discovered they can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Pew interviewed 1,815 people by phone from July 20 to Aug. 2 for a poll that sought to examine the generation gap, releasing the results just days before the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, the symbol of 1960s youth rebellion. The poll has an error margin of 2.7 percentage points.

So whose values are better? Surprisingly, everyone seemed to agree that those of the older generations are, on most matters.

Those surveyed said the generations differed on four core values: work ethic, moral values, respect for others and tolerance of different races and other groups.

Overall, nearly three-quarters, or 74 percent, think that older adults have the superior work ethic, a judgment surprisingly shared across age groups, with 68 percent of respondents under 30 agreeing with that statement.

Seven-in-10 adults said older people have better moral values than the younger generation. This judgment also was held by 66 percent of young adults and 69 percent of adults ages 50 and older, the poll found.

About seven-in-10 also think the older generation is more respectful of others, an assessment made by 67 percent of respondents younger than 30 and 69 percent of those 50 and older. About three-quarters of those ages 30 to 49 say the older generation is more respectful.

The story is different when it comes to social tolerance.

By a ratio of more than 2-to-1, young people are viewed as being more tolerant of races and groups different from their own than the older generation, 47 percent to 19 percent. Fifty-five percent of young adults say their generation is more tolerant, while 37 percent of all adults 50 and older shared that view, the poll found.

Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, said the definition of morality has changed over the years, partly because of the way the country has evolved culturally.

“Morality has taken more of an elastic meaning. It has more of a social meaning [than a personal one. Morality] is a lot more than being nice to people. It is about following fixed standards that are eternal,” he said.

Mr. Schwarzwalder said he thinks the younger generation will change its views and behaviors as it grows older and has the life experiences the older generation has faced. Ultimately, he said, the sense of right and wrong is inherent in every person.

“When you have to pay bills and then you get married, you face issues like marital fidelity, all of a sudden, you find yourself coming to the same conclusions as your parents,” he said. “Human conscience doesn’t change.”

The gap between generations is more pronounced in the black community, the Pew poll found.

According to the poll, blacks are far more likely to see big differences between young and older adults when it comes to moral values, political views and respect for others.

For example, about two-thirds of all blacks, or 65 percent, said the moral values of the generations are “very different,” compared with 53 percent of whites and 48 percent of Hispanics. About seven-in-10 blacks, or 69 percent, said the generations are “very different” in terms of the respect they show others, compared with 51 percent of all whites and 52 percent of Hispanics.

But on the bright side, the young and the old have come together over music. Rock rules across the generations, and the Beatles were the most widely liked over all age groups, with 49 percent of respondents saying the liked the Fab Four “a lot” and an additional 32 percent liking them “a little.”

The Beatles finished ahead of 1970s supergroup the Eagles, who placed second in terms of respondents who liked them a lot (42 percent), and country star Johnny Cash, in third at 39 percent. Placing fourth was the recently deceased Michael Jackson, with Elvis Presley fifth and the Rolling Stones sixth.

All these acts had their first major successes by 1972.

By contrast, such superstars of this decade as Kanye West, Coldplay and Carrie Underwood didn’t do nearly as well. For example, only 17 percent of respondents said they liked Mr. West a lot, versus 33 percent who “haven’t heard of” the hip-hop star. Nearly half the respondents (45 percent) also hadn’t heard of the British alt-rockers Coldplay.

Miss Underwood did the best of the recent crop of 20 musical acts respondents were asked about, with 34 percent liking her a lot - the same percentage who held the same opinion of Frank Sinatra, who died several years before Miss Underwood rose to stardom on “American Idol.”

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