Our latest nationwide survey included questions on what people consider to be morally acceptable or morally wrong.
Here’s a look at generational differences, particularly looking at Canadian Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). Here’s what we found:
Generations largely agreed (within five percentage points) on:
- Birth Control and abortion;
- Sex between an unmarried man and woman; gay or lesbian relations; married men and women having an affair;
Millennials were more likely to find the following morally acceptable:
- Smoking marijuana for recreational purposes (68% of those 18-34; 60% of those 55+)
- Pornography (66% of those 18-34; 54% of those 35-54; 32% of those 55+)
- Suicide (38% of those 18-34; 26% of those 35-54; 27% of those 55+)
- Cloning animals (34% of those 18-34; 28% of those 35-54; 27% of those 55+)
- Cloning humans (21% of those 18-34; 15% of those 35-54; 7% of those 55+)
- Doctor-assisted dying (72% of those 18-34; 81% of those 35-54; 83% of those 55+)
- The death penalty (49% of those 18-34; 61% of those 35-54; 61% of those 55+)
- Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur (38% of those 18-34; 41% of those 35-54; 55% of those 55+)
- Medical testing on animals (29% of those 18-34; 38% of those 35-54; 49% of those 55+)
We also considered the differences between Canadian Millennials and American Millennials. Here are some interesting comparisons between the American 18-34 demographic versus our own (using the latest publicly available American data from 2013):
- Only 49% of American Millennials deemed pornography morally acceptable versus 66% of Canadian Millennials (17 point difference)
- 74% of American Millennials thought gay and lesbian relations were morally acceptable compared to 84% of Canadian Millennials (10 point difference). An interesting point to consider here is that gay marriage was legalized in Canada 2005, compared to a full ten years later in The States. For the majority of Canadian Millennials adult-lives, gay marriage has been legal, which could have a definite impact on shaping moral views in Canada that would have been absent for the same age cohort in the US.
- American versus Canadian Millennial views on animal fur are 58% v 38% (20 point difference)
- Similarly on Medical Testing on animals, 47% of young Americans agree versus 29% of young Canadians (18 point difference)
- A significant gap exists on the topic of abortion- 48% of American Millennials v 68 of Canadian Millennials. (20 point difference)
- Suicide is seen as much more morally permissible by Canadian Millennials at 38 per cent compared to 17 percent of Americans of the same age. However, the largest gap between North American Millennials is over the issue of doctor assisted suicide. A mere 46% of young American see it as morally acceptable compared to a full 72% of young Canadians. That is a 26 point difference.
- We do share views on a few things, however. Namely: Cloning humans (US 19, CA 21), cloning animals (US 37, CA 34), and married men and women having affairs (US 7, CA 13).
A truly interesting dynamic emerges when comparing generational difference in the US versus that in Canada. Data indicates that generations in the US are more divided than those in Canada. Take the follow examples:
- There is a 23 point gap between Millennials and Boomers in America on the topic of gay and lesbian relations (74% of Millennials versus 51% of the 55+ demographic). In Canada, the gap between the youngest and oldest generations is only 4 points. (84% of Millennials versus 80% of the 55+ demographic)
- On the topic of having a baby outside marriage, there is a 14 point gap between American Millennials (71) and Boomers (57). This is compared to only a 6 point gap between Canadian Millennials (82) and and Boomers (88).
- Finally, when asked about unmarried sex, there was a 16 point gap in American opinion (72 v 56) compared to only a 1 point gap among Canadians (86 v 85).
While there are some meaningful differences between generations, overall, Canadians fundamentally appear to hold the same moral values. Several things stand out:
Given their status as digital natives, Millennials seem more comfortable with technology than their older counterparts. For example, Millennials were a full 14 points more comfortable with human cloning than the 55+ demographic (21% versus 7%).
However, Millennials are seemingly more protective of animals, with a full 20% separating Millennials and Boomers on the question of medical testing on animals (29% versus 49%). They are also uncomfortable with buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur, with only 29% deeming it morally acceptable.
An interesting generational divide is also visible over issues of suicide and doctor assisted dying. While Millennials are more morally open to the idea of suicide(38%-26%-27%), they are more than 10 points less likely to support doctor-assisted suicide compared to boomers(72%-81%-83%). As one reddit user aptly pointed out, “old age isn’t for sissies”.
However the largest gap existed over a particularly controversial topic- pornography. Over 30 points separated Millennials from Boomers on the issue, with the majority of Millennials deeming pornography morally acceptable (66% versus 32%). The rise of the internet and corresponding exponential increase in the accessibility of pornography may be having implications for younger generations’ conceptions of morality on this issue.
When compared to American Millennials, young Canadians appear more tolerant and progressive. We are notably more open to abortion, pornography, and doctor-assisted suicide. In contrast, American Millennials are more likely to see wearing animal fur and medical testing on animals as morally acceptable.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of this data is the degree of generational polarization in the US and Canada. In the US, the oldest and youngest generations often seem to hold wildly different belief systems. There are sometimes upwards of 20 points separating Millennials and Boomers on issues such as gay and lesbian relations, and sex and childbearing out of wedlock. On these same issues, young and old Canadians often diverge by only a point or two. One might speculate that this kind of generational polarization, or lack thereof, has serious ramifications for society. Social cohesion is difficult to build when the values held by its citizens are dependent on their age.
Overall, Canadians young and old should take comfort in the fact that despite some differences, we hold the same values on many fundamental issues.
Our survey was conducted online with 1,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from June 14 to 16, 2016. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys.
The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 1,500 is +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Abacus Data Inc.
We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and value added insight. Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, PhD.