PRRI’s newest survey of over 40,000 Americans, The State of Abortion and Contraception Attitudes in All 50 States: Findings from the 2018 American Values Atlas, shows a significant generational gap between older and younger Americans when it comes to their views on abortion.
Younger Americans (ages 18-29) are more supportive of abortion compared to other age groups. Nearly six in ten (59%) younger Americans support abortion legality in all or most cases, compared to 54% of adults ages 30-49, 53% of adults ages 50-64, and 49% of seniors (ages 65 and older). Support remains high from younger Americans across partisan lines, across most races and ethnicities, and across most religious affiliations. Younger people are not a monolith, however, as there are some differences between Generation Z (ages 18-24) and young millennials (ages 25-29) on this issue.
Among all partisan groups, the youngest Americans are approximately 10 percentage points more likely than seniors to support abortion legality: Democrats (75% vs. 66%), independents (59% vs. 51%), and Republicans (40% vs. 30%). Notably, senior Democrats are more likely to support abortion than young independents, while senior independents are more likely to support abortion than young Republicans, suggesting that party affiliation may be a stronger predictor of support for continued abortion legality than age.
About six in ten young Americans of every racial group except Hispanics support continued abortion legality. Support among young Hispanics is much narrower than other races at 53%; Generation Z Hispanics are more likely to support abortion legality in all or most cases (59%) than young millennial Hispanics (43%). A similar divide is seen between other races or mixed-race Generation Z Americans (73%) and other race or mixed-race young millennials (55%), though not among any other racial group.
In several religious groups, younger members are likelier than their older counterparts to support abortion legality in all or most cases, though the differences are muted among the groups most opposed to abortion legality.
Just under six in ten (59%) young black Protestants support abortion legality in all or most cases compared to a slim majority (51%) of senior black Protestants. Similarly, notable divides between the youngest and oldest Americans appear among white Catholics (52% vs. 46%), Hispanic Catholics (47% vs. 37%), and the religiously unaffiliated (74% vs. 70%). With the exception of Hispanics, there are generally no major divides between Generation Z and young millennials within racial and ethnic groups.
In two religious traditions—white mainline Protestants and Jews—this generational pattern is reversed. Only a slight majority (51%) of young white mainline Protestants say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 60% of white mainline Protestant seniors. This reverse generational pattern also exists among younger and older Jews; two thirds (66%) of young Jews, compared to 77% of Jewish seniors, favor the legality of abortion in all or most cases.
Over the past five years, young people are more likely to have changed their opinion on abortion than any other age group. Twenty-nine percent reported a change—10 percentage points higher than any other age group. Young adults have changed their opinion to be more supportive (19%) rather than opposed (10%) to abortion by a margin of nearly two to one.
There are significant differences between Generation Z and young millennials on support for abortion over time. Generation Z members are more likely than young millennials to say they have become more supportive of abortion in the last five years (22% vs. 15%).
On the Abortion Index (a five-point index that shows where respondents lie on a spectrum from strongly pro-choice to strongly pro-life), seniors (13%) are almost twice as likely to be strongly pro-life than young people (7%). Younger Americans are more likely to be moderately pro-choice than seniors (44% vs. 38%), but not more likely to be strongly pro-choice (9% vs. 8%).
There are some interesting differences between Generation Z and young millennials when it comes to where they fall on this five-point index. Generation Z members are more pro-choice (47%) than young millennials (41%), though there is no difference in their likelihood to be strongly pro-choice, with both groups at 9%.