(Young) Generations as Social Identities: The Role of Latino*Millennial/Generation Z in Shaping Attitudes About Climate Change

Abstract

Climate change is a divisive issue in the United States, and most research has focused on partisan differences, thereby leaving the impact of social identities on climate change attitudes underexplored. However, research has shown that the strength of varying and overlapping identities is key to understanding political attitudes. In this paper, we introduce Millennial Generation/Generation Z (“MillZ”) as a meaningful social identity that influences political attitudes. Moreover, we contend that Latino*MillZ is an identity that has explanatory value for understanding climate change beliefs. While Latino and Millennial/Generation Z identities are not perfectly aligned, members of the Millennial Generation and Generation Z include a relatively high proportion of Latinos. Furthermore, since Latinos are disproportionately affected by climate change (i.e. the “climate gap”) the MillZ identity should generate increased concern for the environment. We utilize an original national survey to explore the interplay of Latino and MillZ identities on attitudes about climate change. Results show that Latino and MillZ identities are both associated with heightened climate change concern and that strong attachment to one identity is sufficient to induce concern when the other is weak. These findings point to the importance of exploring multiple identities and offer evidence that social identities are activated in different ways to influence climate change attitudes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Millennial Generation comprises those born between 1981 and 1996; Generation Z are those born after 1996. Below we explain both theoretical and methodological reasons for combining these generations.

  2. 2.

    Twenty one percent of Latinos belong to the Millennial Generation and 25% belong to Generation Z. These percentages are as of 2018.

  3. 3.

    See Online Appendix A for a table that reports Pew Research Center data on selected political beliefs and attitudes across generations.

  4. 4.

    We acknowledge that conducting an English-only survey that gauges the opinions of Latinos is not ideal, given that a portion of the Latino population in the U.S. are not English proficient. However, English proficiency among Latinos has been significantly on the rise; 68% of all Latinos reported speaking English proficiently in 2013, compared to 59% in 2000 (Krogstad et al. 2015). Increase in English proficiency among Latinos coincides with rise of native-born Latinos who now make up the majority of Latinos in the U.S. and are much younger than immigrant Latinos (Flores 2017)—a segment of the Latino population we are particularly interested in for this study.

  5. 5.

    See Online Appendix B for a comparison of sample (with weights applied) and population proportions on selected demographic parameters.

  6. 6.

    The scale points assigned to these categories were chosen for conceptual neatness. On the 11 point scale the mid-point is 5, thereby making the points of 8–10 the highest while 0–7 represents low to moderate degrees. We adopt the label “low” to represent the points that are none, low, and moderate.

  7. 7.

    We considered including in the analysis other Christian groups, in particular Evangelical Protestants. However, studies have shown that global warming skepticism among Evangelicals may be attributed more to worldviews than theology (Smith and Leiserowitz 2013). For this reason among others, we opted to exclude Evangelicals from the analysis. For more details on religion measurement and modeling choices, see Online Appendix C.

  8. 8.

    Data and replication code are accessible at the Political Behavior Dataverse, available at: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/IOX23B.

  9. 9.

    The marginal effects (with 95% confidence intervals in parentheses) for the outcome “climate change is personally important” are: a Latino with high ethnic identity—76.34% (lower ci: 0.664; upper ci: 0.863); a Latino with low ethnic identity—58.78% (lower ci: 0.476; upper ci: 0.699); a non-Latino—57.40% (lower ci: 0.544; upper ci: 0.604).

  10. 10.

    The marginal effects (with 95% confidence intervals in parentheses) for the outcome “climate change is personally important” are: a MillZer with a strong generational identity—68.12% (lower ci: 0.630; upper ci: 0.732); a MillZer with a low generational identity—57.42% (lower ci: 0.528; upper ci: 0.621); and a non-MillZer—57.10% (lower ci: 0.534; upper ci: 0.608).

  11. 11.

    The marginal effects (with 95% confidence intervals in parentheses) for the outcome “climate change is personally important” are: a Republican with strong attachment to party—41.05% (lower ci: 0.337; upper ci: 0.484); a Republican with weak attachment to party—41.38% (lower ci: 0.356; upper ci: 0.472); and a non-Republican—68.11% (lower ci: 0.648; upper ci: 0.714).

  12. 12.

    We also ran the regression with Democrat identity. See Online Appendix D for the results.

  13. 13.

    The marginal effects (with 95% confidence intervals in parentheses) for the outcome “climate change is personally important” are: a Catholic with strong attachment to religion—68.26% (lower ci: 0.594; upper ci: 0.771); a Catholic with weak attachment to religion—57.51% (lower ci: 0.499; upper ci: 0.651); and a non-Catholic—57.10% (lower ci: 0.540; upper ci: 0.602).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Lilliana Mason, Michael Hanmer, and participants at Brigham Young University’s 2019 Civic Engagement Research Conference for helpful feedback on earlier versions of this article. Comments from Political Behavior editor, Geoffrey Layman, and the anonymous reviewers significantly improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stella M. Rouse.

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Ross, A.D., Rouse, S.M. (Young) Generations as Social Identities: The Role of Latino*Millennial/Generation Z in Shaping Attitudes About Climate Change. Polit Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-020-09649-8

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Keywords

  • Social identity
  • Climate change
  • Latino
  • Millennial Generation
  • Generation Z