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Generation Z’s Rightward Drift

The data is consistent across the board: today's kids are more conservative than their parents were.
High school students

Blaming “kids these days” for society’s shift towards social progressivism and libertinism is common within conservative circles. The right loves to reminisce about how previous generations walked uphill both ways to school and romanticize the values with which they grew up. I mean, they did have “Little House on the Prairie” while kids these days just spend all their time on smartphones, right?

But is this criticism really fair? Younger generations are actually embracing traditional conservative values more than people realize.

According to a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexual intercourse among high school students has decreased in the United States by quite a bit. Among males, 43.2 percent of high schoolers surveyed admitted to having sexual intercourse, while 39.2 percent of females answered the same. While that may seem high, it’s a stark decrease from 2005, when 47.9 percent of males and 45.7 percent of females admitted to having sex. And it’s an even bigger dip from the more than 50 percent that the CDC counted in 1995. According to a 1998 Los Angeles Times article, high school sex started to rise in the ‘70s, hit its peak in the ‘80s, then began to slowly decrease in the ‘90s.

A study last year also showed a decrease in marijuana and alcohol use among teens despite many states pushing for the legalization of marijuana. Instead of hitting the bong or grabbing a drink, some kids are going to church instead. According to a 2016 study, 41 percent of Generation Z, the cohort after Millennials, said they attend weekly church services. That’s compared to 18 percent of Millennials who said they went to church at that age, 21 percent of Generation X, and 26 percent of Boomers, a huge shift.

About 40 percent of Generation Z high school seniors disagreed that men should be breadwinners and women homemakers, compared to more than 60 percent in the mid-’90s. That study, led by sociologist David Cotter from Union College, shows that younger generations are turning back towards traditional gender roles after a half century of going in the opposite direction.

Business Insider also points out that Gen Z has a stronger entrepreneurial spirit than previous cohorts, and shows signs of being more fiscally responsible. According to one study by a British brand consultancy called The Gild, Gen Z in the UK is exhibiting more socially conservative views than prior generations.

On the other hand, a study by Northwestern University shows that Gen Z is about as likely to support gay marriage and government involvement in health care as Millennials, and more likely to support transgender rights. Atheism rises by five percentage points among Gen Z, and despite promising signs of an increase in religiosity, teenagers are taking less traditional approaches to Christianity than previous generations, according to researchers at the Barna Group.

But while not everything is looking up, decision making and moral behavior definitely are. And while many don’t see Millennials as very conservative, they are actually more conservative than Boomers and Gen Xers were when they were growing up. Considering that the latter two generations both got more conservative as they aged, if Millennials and Gen Z do the same, we could see a strong revival of conservative values.

This counters the conventional wisdom that society is on an unstoppable drift towards libertinism and progressivism. Could this be because we’re now tasting the rotten fruit of second-wave feminism, the sexual revolution, and left-wing economics? While the “free love” movement certainly had its immediate pleasures, they were obtained at the expense of the future. Promiscuity trivialized sex and led to rampant hedonism. Hence the expansion of unwed motherhood and divorce, which causes all manner of problems, including increased crime.

The United States isn’t the only place where we’re seeing a shift in political and cultural thought. Looking at Europe, far-right and nationalist groups are gaining power, a reaction against the European Union and its forced open borders and multiculturalism. While some of the ideas espoused by these leaders are quite bad, they should be a wake-up call to the far left to tone down their extremism and to the right that it has to foster smart conservatism to prevent the United States from going down a dangerous road.

Instead of attacking the younger generation, we need to teach our kids the values of traditional culture without the radicalism of the alt-right. As conservatism’s popularity increases, older conservatives can seriously impact the future of the country if only they play this opportunity right.

Tyler Arnold is a freelance journalist. He has been published in National Review, the Washington Free Beacon, and The Federalist.