Harmony Fills Generation Gap, Study Finds

Concert-goers sit on the roof of a Volkswagen bus at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair at Bethel, N.Y. in 1969 and Fans cheer at Lollapalooza 2006 concert in Chicago, Illinois. AP Photo

Forty years ago, young Americans moved to music their parents despised, upended the conventions of their elders and, as the saying went, did not trust anyone over 30.

These days? All is groovy in the American family.

So finds a poll, out Wednesday, that examines the generation gap four decades after Woodstock and the rebel yell of 1960s youth.

The Pew Research Center noticed what could be an eternal truth: Young people and older people exhibit marked differences in attitudes. Whether it is the work ethic, religious beliefs, racial tolerance, the way they treat other people or the use of technology, the young and the old are not on the same page.

What is striking, researchers say, is that the differences seem not to matter anymore.

Full Coverage: Woodstock's 40th Anniversary

Young people, far from rejecting the values of their parents, seem to fault themselves for not living up to those standards. People under 30 tend to think older people have better moral values than they do, the poll said.

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

They have come together over music, too. Rock rules across generations, and the Beatles are high on the list of every age group's favorite musicians.

Inside the home, the researchers say, "something approximating peace seems to have broken out between parents and teenagers."

Only 10 percent of parents of older children said they often have major disagreements with their kids. Nearly twice that many reported sharp conflicts with their own parents back when they were growing up. Parents also say they are spending more time with their children than their parents spent with them.

In the years since Aug. 15-18, 1969, the weekend the muddy chaos of the Woodstock event marked rock music as the great divide between generations, that fissure seems to have closed.

In 1966, one survey found rock was distinctly on the margins - liked only by 4 percent, disliked by 44 percent, clearly the most unpopular form of music. Now it is No. 1 overall, and the favorite of every age group except those 65 and over, who prefer country, according to the poll.

In the new poll's multigenerational battle of the bands, the Beatles come out on top, favored over the Eagles from the 1970s; the late Johnny Cash, a dominant country star for nearly half a century; the recently deceased Michael Jackson; Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.

The Beatles are just one of the bands from the 1960s and '70s loved by people who were born well after those acts broke up.

Hip-hop is a dividing line now: the second favorite music type for the young, off the charts for people 50 and older.

The poll follows one done a month ago that puzzled researchers because so many people in it - close to 80 percent - said they believed a generation gap exists in America. That is even more than identified a generation gap in 1969: 74 percent.

Pew decided to take a closer look and found that the gap, if broad, is not deep.

Only one-quarter of respondents see strong conflicts these days between the generations. That is down from 42 percent who saw such tensions in 1992. Fully two-thirds now say such conflicts are either weak or do not exist.

Among other findings:

-55 percent identified strong or very strong conflicts between immigrants and U.S.-born citizens; 47 percent between the poor and the rich; and 39 percent between black and white.

-73 percent say younger and older people are very different in their use of technology, 69 percent see such differences in musical tastes, 58 percent in the work ethic, and 54 percent in moral values.

Pew interviewed 1,815 people by telephone July 20 to Aug. 2 for a poll that has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. Its findings about musical acts were put to a second round of interviews.

In 1964, Berkeley free speech activist Jack Weinberg commented, "We have a saying in the movement that we don't trust anybody over 30." Others picked up on the thought. It inspired a slogan on buttons.

That attitude seems gone. If anything, people under 30 may be disinclined to trust themselves.

Two-thirds of respondents under 30 said older people have a superior work ethic, better values than the younger generation and more respect for other people. Older people agreed they are superior in those ways.

The young got the nod from young and old on matters of tolerance. They are considered more open on race and on groups different from them.

Forty years after, opinions about Woodstock remain diverse. "Hippie drug fest," said one respondent. "A celebration of freedom and new ideas," said another. "Everyone went to a field and got naked," said a third.

But the rancor behind that disagreement is long gone.
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