Support for Abortion Rights Among the Young Hasn’t Changed Much

Ed Kilgore draws my attention to a new PRRI survey which suggests that young people are becoming friendlier toward abortion rights.

Most Americans say their own views have not changed on the issue in recent years….The pattern among young Americans, however, is unique. Approximately one-third of young Americans say their views on abortion have changed in recent years, and nearly three times as many say their views have become more supportive of abortion rather than more opposed to abortion (25% vs. 9%).

This is good news, but I found myself a little dubious. I’d rather see a plain old trendline of young people’s attitudes toward abortion rights over time, but PRRI doesn’t provide that. Neither do most pollsters. But the biannual General Social Survey does, so I went there.

GSS asks questions about whether you support abortion in case of rape, in case of birth defects, etc. The closest we can get to a general question is whether you support abortion no matter why the woman wants one. However, the thing to look at here isn’t the raw numbers, which always depend strongly on question wording, but on the trend over time. Here it is:

The data is surprisingly variable and hard to read, but you can run a trendline through it. Here’s a summary of the trendline changes since 1980 in percentage points:

  • Age 18-34: up +1 pp
  • Age 35-49: up +6 pp
  • Age 50-64: up +10 pp
  • Age 65+: up +6 pp

There is, for some reason, a huge, decline and recovery in abortion support between 1995-2010 among the youngest age group, but in the end, virtually no change since 1980. It’s actually the older age groups that have changed the most.

Perhaps this is on the cusp of changing, but given the long-term trends and the year-to-year variability of opinions, I’m sort of skeptical. If I find more data that directly shows abortion attitudes by age group, I’ll pass it along.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend