Attitudes towards the British monarchy vary significantly by age.
According to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the BBC’s Panorama (1)only 32% of 18-24 year olds think we should continue to have a monarchy compared to 67% of 50-64 year olds.
So more than twice the proportion of 18-24 year olds are against the idea of continuing the monarchy compared to 15-64 year olds.
When you stretch the age gap further you find the difference is even greater: Only 26% of 18-24 year olds think the monarchy is good for Britain, compared to 72% of over 65 olds:
The difference is certainly significant, but why is there such a remarkable difference in attitudes towards the monarchy between younger and older Britons?
Lifecycle or Cohort Effect?
Is this stark difference in attitudes towards the monarchy down to a lifecycle or cohort effect?
- A lifestyle effect would mean that all younger people in general, from any generation, start off viewing the monarch less favourably and as they get older view the monarchy more favourably.
- A cohort effect would mean that there is a difference in attitude across the younger and older generations, in which case we can expect younger people to keep their more negative attitudes towards the monarchy as they get older.
Of course it is also possible that BOTH of the above effects are at work: intuitively it makes sense that the monarchy is becoming less relevant over time AND that as people get older they are more likely to defer to authority.
One way determining the relative strength of each effect would be to ASK older people whether they used to support the monarchy or not (although there are potential validity flaws related to memory in this), so a more valid measure would be to look at PAST opinion polls on the monarchy.
If we go back to this 2020 survey on whether Britain should have a monarchy the results for the older age groups are slightly higher to that of the 2023 survey suggesting what we are seeing here is a cohort effect, rather than a lifecycle effect.
What is surprising is that 52% of 18-24 year olds reported wanting a monarchy only three years ago…
To my mind this possibly suggests what is known as a ‘period effect’ – where a significant event effects public attitudes, and this case the event was the death of the Queen and forthcoming coronation of the new King: people simply aren’t that keen on King Charles compared to the Queen, and maybe this has had more of an impact on younger people.
Also there is the negative press associated with Prince Andrew and his love of sleeping with teenage girls, which probably didn’t do the institution many favours in the eyes of 18-24 year olds!
If you go back further, you can find a lot of historical polls on public attitudes towards the monarchy, but it’s hard to find anything which is split clearly by age cohort, so we are left with national average figures.
In general there is broad support here for there being a cohort effect – if we go back 20 years we see nearly 80% supporting the monarchy, compared to just over 50% on average today, and given that we’ve got an ageing population clearly people aren’t changing their minds and becoming more pro-monarchy as they get older!
In some of these polls people are even asked ‘what should happen to the monarchy after the Queen dies’ and it’s clear that there was less support for the monarchy in that previous hypothetical situation compared to when the Queen was alive, and we see that being played out in the statistics now!
Why do young people show less support for the monarchy?
I don’t know of any research looking at WHY the younger generation are less likely to support the monarchy compared to the older generation, but decades of surveys give us some kind of idea and we can theorise about why more broadly, based on social changes over the past decade.
First of all it seems there has been an immediate decline in support for the monarchy based on the death of the Queen. We see this in the relatively rapid decline in pro-monarchy attitudes in 2023 compared to 2020.
This makes intuitive sense: even teenagers today would have ‘grown up’ with the Queen, and more so for older people. Media coverage of the Queen was always very positive and she’s been a mainstay of British popular culture for decades, whereas our new King Charles has received much more negative press (‘the crazy organic guy’) and Camilla isn’t that popular, and he simply doesn’t have the historical kudos of the Queen: he doesn’t link us back to this warm and toasty (albeit mythical) 1950s feeling like the Queen did.
And then think of the turmoil the Royal Family has gone through over the last decade: with Meghan and Harry leaving and Andrew’s taste for teenage girls, it’s all a bit sordid, they’re just a bit all over the place, they simply don’t represent wholesomeness in the same sort of way the Queen did.
So it kind of makes sense that once the Queen is dead, there’s not a lot positive within the monarchy to support anymore.
Younger generations may also be less inclined to support the monarchy because they haven’t grown up with just television: personalised feeds mean younger people are probably much less exposed to BBC representations of royalty, less likely to get news items about royalty and when they do they will be presented more as media celebrities rather than anything special.
Possibly national identity means less to younger people in a global age, and royalty are ‘British’, so maybe they are less supported because of this.
I’d like to think that there’s a sense of injustice about so much tax payers’ money being spent on this defunct institution when they are already so wealthy, but I doubt this is much of a thing, maybe for a few percent it is though.
Signposting and Sources
These statistics seem to be evidence of the broad shift towards postmodern society. The fact that young people have such different attitudes towards the monarchy than older people suggests a degree of social fragmentation, certainly not anything like value consensus.
Declining support for the monarchy also suggests we are less likely to defer to authority and hierarchy based on tradition, and presumably more likely to decide for ourselves what we should be doing with our lives.
BBC News (April 2023) How Popular is the Monarchy Under King Charles?
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