Trends in Attitudes Towards Scottish Independence in Different Age Groups

Research brief for the AQMeN & ScotCen event
       “Through the public’s eye: Researching attitudes on Scotland’s constitutional future using the SSA”

               Trends in Attitudes Towards Scottish Independence
                              in Different Age Groups
Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
Dominika Dykiert (University of Edinburgh)

Across the waves of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA), there is a clear tendency of
younger age groups to be more in favour of independence than older age groups. People
over the age of 65 showed least support for independence in nearly all 13 waves of the SSA
that are available so far, whereas the youngest group of the 18-24 year olds is always
among the groups most likely to embrace the idea of Scottish independence. In this project
we investigate the roots of those attitudinal differences. Are they related to a ‘natural’
process of becoming more conservative and averse to change over the life course? Or is the
respondents’ age associated with other characteristics that influence their perception of the
advantages and disadvantages of the various routes Scotland could take in the future?

Age group differences – An overview
When examining the data of the SSA over all interview waves for an association of the
respondents’ age with their constitutional preference (Scotland in UK with or without own
parliament or independent Scotland), we find a weak but statistically significant correlation in
all years apart from 2002. The trend for decreasing support for independence with increasing
respondents’ age is clear. Figure 1 shows the association between age and attitude towards
independence in 1999 and 2012—the first and last year in which the data were available.

 40%         1999
 30%                                                    Figure 1: Percentage of people in favour of
 25%                                                    Scottish independence across age groups in 1999
 20%                                                    and 2012. Source: Scottish Social Attitudes Survey
                                                        1999, 2012.
    18‐24 25‐34 35‐44 45‐54 55‐59 60‐64 65+

A close inspection of the rankings of the various age groups by their level of support reveals
that this varies over the years. It is not always the case that the youngest age group is the
one most in favour of independence, and the number of supporters is not consistently
decreasing in a strictly linear manner the older respondents become, so that the oldest age
group is the least interested in Scottish independence.
The conventionally utilised division of age groups distinguishes several groups amongst the
working population and unites all people aged 65 and over in a single category. Using these,
we find for example that while in 2001 the 55-59 year-olds were the second most supportive
                                                 Dominika Dykiert and Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
Research brief for the AQMeN & ScotCen event
        “Through the public’s eye: Researching attitudes on Scotland’s constitutional future using the SSA”

group with 33.3% of them choosing independent Scotland over a Scotland within the UK,
just a year later in 2002 they suddenly were the least supportive. In that year, only 26.9% of
them chose independence – while 28.4% of the respondents in the oldest age group did so.
However, by and large, with some variations blurring the picture slightly, it is true that the
younger age groups tend to be at the top of the ranking for independence and the older age
groups lag behind. The 18-24 year-olds are always to be found in the top three (of here
seven) groups.
These observations were put to test as we modelled the data using logistic regression. The
results revealed that the support for independence was lower among older than younger
individuals, it decreased slightly from 1999 to 2012, and that the magnitude of change
differed at different ages – the views among the youngest group varied the most over the
If we do not look at calendar years but at Scottish election periods, the picture becomes
even clearer. In figure 2, you can see that the youngest three age groups constantly remain
above the average rate of support for independence. The 45-54 year-olds used to be slightly
below average at the beginning of the survey, yet they showed support matching the
average in the period before the 2007 Scottish parliament election and have since
maintained an attitude towards an independent Scotland that is more positive than the mean
attitude observed within the representative sample of the population. The 55-64 year-olds
also tend to stick close to average values; they are, however, the only age group amongst
the working population showing stagnation in its attitude development in the period before
the 2011 elections.
Since the population aged sixty and over made up nearly a quarter (22.6%) of the UK
population in 2010 (UN World Population Prospects) and the population over age 65 is the
one most diverting from the average attitude towards independence to the negative side, we
also differentiated older age groups – and they indeed show diversity. While for a long
period they were clearly ranked by rising age, with quite steady figures for the group right
after retirement and the group aged 76 and over, in the recent election period, the 65-68
year-olds have drastically lost faith in Scottish independence, whereas the older respondents
seem to think of it more favourably.


                                                                              25‐34      Figure 2: Percentage
                                                                                         of people in favour of
  35%                                                                         35‐44      Scottish independence.
                                                                              45‐54      Results of years in
  30%                                                                                    Scottish parliament
                                                                              55‐64      election periods
                                                                              65‐68      combined and
                                                                                         displayed by age
                                                                              69‐75      groups. Source:
  20%                                                                         76+        Scottish Social Attitudes
                                                                                         Survey 1999-2012 (no
                                                                              Total      data for 2008).
 1999‐2002            2003‐2006            2007‐2010           2011‐2012

                                                  Dominika Dykiert and Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
Research brief for the AQMeN & ScotCen event
      “Through the public’s eye: Researching attitudes on Scotland’s constitutional future using the SSA”

Attitudes towards Scottish Independence – A question of who you are or
how much you have to risk ?
We know already that men and people with Scottish national identity are more likely to
support independence and those with high levels of education are less likely to do so. We
considered each of these characteristics in different age groups to test whether they explain
the age differences in the attitudes to independence. Here, we considered three broad age
groups; men were more likely to support independence in each of these, and by the same
amount. However, the groups were not equal in their gender composition—the youngest
group (18-24) consisted of 50% males and 50% females but the gender split shifted towards
more female in the middle (25-64) and older (65+) groups. It is therefore not surprising
that the attitude towards independence of the older groups are more like those of females,
that is, less supportive of independence.
When asked to choose the nationality that best describes them, three out of four
respondents in all age groups chose ‘Scottish’. However, when asked about the degree of
‘Scottishness’, there emerged slight differences between the groups. Although, on average,
all groups considered themselves more Scottish than British, the youngest Scots thought of
themselves as more Scottish than the other two groups, and the oldest respondents tended
to think of themselves as least Scottish. In all groups people thinking of themselves as more
Scottish on the Scottish-British continuum were also more likely to support independence,
and this trend was strongest in the youngest group.
One interesting apparent paradox resides in the fact that a higher level of education and/or a
higher professional position is associated with lesser likelihood of supporting Scottish
independence, which in turn means that people with lower educational degrees are more
supportive of independence. The paradox lies in the differences of attained educational
degrees in the various age groups: of those people with a school degree below the A-levels,
a third declared they were in favour of independence, while only a quarter of those with A-
levels did so. At the same time, older age groups, who are much less likely to have a high
school degree, are also less supportive of independence. How can this be explained? It
appears that other factors contribute to attitudes towards independence, which do not relate
to the past or present, but rather to the future.
How much is there to risk?
There are a number of classical socio-demographic indicators that when checked against
constitutional preference clearly show that the more settled the respondent, the better their
life works in the present system, and the more they are tied into a close social network that
requires stability, the less likely they are to favour independence.
For example, respondents were asked about their perception of how well they get by with
their household income. Looking at the specific indicator used in waves 2004-2009, those
who said they were living very comfortably on their present income were only slightly more
than half as likely to say they would prefer an independent Scotland (22.2%) than those who
replied they were finding it difficult on their present income (39%; of those finding it very
difficult, just over a third support independence). There was a notable change over time in
the proportion of people who reported living comfortably on their income since 2001 (the
first time the question was asked). In 2001, 35% of the respondents aged 18-64 and 37% of
those aged 65 or above lived comfortably on their level of income. In the following years,
these figures rose to 47% for the young group (18-24), 50% for the middle group (25-64)
                                                Dominika Dykiert and Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
Research brief for the AQMeN & ScotCen event
      “Through the public’s eye: Researching attitudes on Scotland’s constitutional future using the SSA”

and 71% for the oldest group (65+). A decrease in the proportion of people having difficulty
living on their income could also be observed and it was also most marked for the oldest
group. Overall, in statistical modelling, the higher level of satisfaction with income among
older people partly explains their lower support for independence in comparison with the
other age groups.
When looking at income sources throughout all years of the SSA, we find an even clearer
picture: overall, three out of ten respondents supported Scottish independence. Amongst
them, people gaining their income through paid work were as likely to be in favour of
independence as the average person. Of those with occupational or private pensions as main
income source, only one in five is open towards that idea; 24% of the state pensioners are.
This shows that those people who have spent a life investing into their financial security
within the current system tend to shy away from the risk of something changing in the
political and economic situation that might put their pensions at risk. In contrast, over half of
those respondents in need of job seekers’ allowance (54.5%) and more than two out of five
out of those relying on income support (41.5%) want independence.
There is also a clear association with marital status. This is most pronounced in the people
aged 25 to 68. Overall, a person living with a partner in the youngest age group is two
percentage points more likely to be in favour of independence. However, in the following
age groups, being in a live-in relationship decreases the likeliness of support for
independence by seven to nine per cent. While there is not much of an influence in the ages
69-85, the very oldest age group again shows a positive effect of having a partner, just like
the youngest age group did.
Furthermore, there is a noticeable association between respondents’ expectations towards
the economic development of an independent Scotland and their likeliness to want
independence. Unsurprisingly, those people convinced that Scotland’s economy would
worsen (a little or a lot), are much less inclined towards independence than the average
person (93% choose another constitutional option over independence); those expecting
equal economic circumstances have an approximately average likeliness of wanting
independence, and those expecting economy to be a little or a lot better are much more
inclined towards independence – over half of them support it. While this effect is detectable
in all age groups, it is strongest among the very old.
Our small sample of people aged 86+ (n=34 for the years 2009, 2011 and 2012, when this
question was posed) seems especially pessimistic towards an independent Scotland’s
economic prospects (only 3 believe in a positive economic development). Yet when taking all
age groups into consideration, there overall is no statistically significant correlation between
age and these expectations. There is, however, an association between these expectations
and the respondents’ income source. Specifically, people depending on job seekers’
allowance are much more hopeful towards a better economy in independent Scotland (51%)
than the average respondent (33.4%).

Age conventionally is a variable ‘controlled for’ when aiming to explain attitudes towards
Scottish independence. In this project, we explored in how far it in itself renders
explanations or allows for predictions of respondents’ stance on this topic. We found that
younger people are most in favour of independence but they also experience most variation
from year to year. We come to the conclusion that age is correlated with a number of
                                                Dominika Dykiert and Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
Research brief for the AQMeN & ScotCen event
      “Through the public’s eye: Researching attitudes on Scotland’s constitutional future using the SSA”

personal characteristics and other factors around social and economic stability that influence
a person’s decision making processes. Perhaps younger people will be more likely to approve
of plans for an independent Scotland because they have invested less into the old political
and economic system and have thus less to risk. Middle aged adults have risk factors such as
unemployment or badly paid jobs that may render them more inclined towards change.
Older adults in turn depend on a stable political system and economy in order to ensure the
continued payment of their pensions and are therefore on average more sceptical towards
new developments.

                                                Dominika Dykiert and Anna Schneider (University of Edinburgh)
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