Age, gender and the climate

After a pub conversation the other day about the role that climate change will play in the election, I wanted to have a look at the demographic profile of those whose vote is more likely to be influenced by the environment.

It’s tempting to assume that green beliefs and actions are concentrated in certain groups of people, like the young. But, to borrow from Ben Goldacre, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

There are some quite detailed analyses of this kind of thing, dividing populations into groups according to their attitudes to the environment – like Defra’s Framework for Pro-Environment Behaviours, and the Center for American Progress’ Global Warming’s Six Americas. And that’s really the point: you need to conduct multivariate segmentation analyses to be able to pull out population groups that have consistent views about the environment.

As an example, here are data from a Nov ’09 MORI poll about nuclear issues. The first question was “What issues, if any, concern you the most these days?”. Looking specifically at the proportions answering “Greenhouse effect / Global warming / Climate change”, the results by age and gender show no signifant differences (base size for this q is 1011, so not shoddy):

While if we add social class as another cut, we see a much clearer distinction that works independently of age or gender:

But this isn’t to say that age and gender are irrelevant. In fact, in other climate issues they turn out to be important factors. A ComRes poll in July ‘09 asked various questions about the UK government’s commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, including level of agreement with the statement “It is unlikely that the government will be able to achieve this target”.  This time (on a base size of 1018), the role of age and gender is far greater:

So age and gender do have more influence on optimism – the 35-44 year olds and men are significantly less likely to believe that carbon reduction targets can be met.

Which brings me to the conclusion that simple demographics aren’t a good predictor on their own of climate attitudes and behaviours. For some attitudes they can be influential, and for others they’re irrelevant; we get more out of segmenting populations in other ways to understand their climate attitudes, and voting behaviour.

  1. Guy says:

    Aha! Nice analysis… What I guess cannot be shown by polls (or these polls at least) is potentially greater willingness amongst younger people to take action against climate change. So the 18-24 demographic may be no more concerned about global warming than their older peers, but they are perhaps more likely to translate this concern into protest, lifestyle change etc. Or are they? I suppose to do this you’d need to profile attendees of marches, 10:10 signups etc?

    Thanks Leo – this is invaluable.

  2. Leo says:

    Completely fair point – thanks Guy. Let me see what I can find for this uber-analysis I’ve got brewing.

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