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Not all boomers: temporal orientation explains inter- and intra-cultural variability in the link between age and climate engagement

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Some previous work suggests that older adults, relative to younger adults and teenagers, are less engaged with climate change; yet, this pattern is not consistently found across all countries or populations. Here, we consider whether temporal orientation might act as a boundary condition for age effects on climate change engagement. We assess whether cultural (study 1) and inter-individual (study 2) differences in temporal orientation moderate the tendency for older adults to be less engaged with climate change than younger adults. Study 1 (N = 44,387) reveals that among European countries, countries with a greater long-term orientation tend to show a weaker (i.e., less negative) relationship between age and the salience of climate change (i.e., cognitive engagement with the topic). Study 2 (N = 798) demonstrates that in the USA, the negative relationship between age and climate action intentions becomes smaller in magnitude (i.e., less negative) among those higher in consideration of future consequences, but increases in those higher in consideration of immediate consequences. These findings support the notion that it is a confluence of age and present orientation (and low future orientation) that that drives age-related declines in climate engagement.

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  1. Here, we use the temporal orientation broadly to encompass a host of related constructs. Some constructs focus on the distinction between an individual’s concern with the immediate versus future consequences of their actions (Joireman et al. 2008), while other conceptualizations focus on the distinction between a society’s emphasis on honoring tradition and achieving success in the present versus emphasizing the persistence needed for long-term success (Hofstede 2011). For simplicity, we use the broader term temporal orientation to include the variety of ways in which an individual or society’s thought can be oriented toward the present or the future.

  2. We conducted supplemental analyses examining the following country-level moderators: (1) average education level, (2) GDP per capita, and (3) population density (with the latter two taken from 2016 World Bank data). None of these variables significantly moderated the age-climate salience relationship.

  3. Results are similar if these participants are included.

  4. Predictors in multilevel models (vs. OLS regression) tend to explain a lower proportion of the total variance because multilevel models have variance at multiple levels and thus more total variance (Snijders and Bosker 2011).

  5. Results were similar if excluded participants were included.

  6. Nationally, representative polling of US adults (rather than registered or likely voters) typically shows that more Americans identify as Democrat than as Republican (Pew Polling 2020). However, our numbers have somewhat more Democrats than the public, in part because those excluded for climate change denial were disproportionately Republican.

  7. Effect size was estimated using standard OLS regression.

  8. Results are similar, and somewhat larger in magnitude, if political orientation is not included. Supplemental analyses showed that the age-climate relationship was not moderated by (a) gender, (b) education, or (c) income.


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Thanks to Lizbeth Benson for developing ideas around socioemotional selectivity theory.

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NG, BM, and JV designed the research; BM collected data; NG and JV analyzed the data; NG, BM, and JV wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Nathaniel Geiger.

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Geiger, N., McLaughlin, B. & Velez, J. Not all boomers: temporal orientation explains inter- and intra-cultural variability in the link between age and climate engagement. Climatic Change 166, 12 (2021).

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