January 25, 2009

Data: teenagers don't care about dopey stuff white people like

While some may be able to stomach the moral superiority preening contests that are satirized on Stuff White People Like, I have to control the urge to choke the person. You can't even say, "God, you're full of shit" -- at least to those who you're forced to be around regularly. You have to pretend that you're joking, and even then most people will interpret it as one of those faggy meta ironic statements.

Having to tolerate others grates on the nerves, but to avoid SWPL, do we hang out with Blacks instead of Whites, men instead of women, young instead of old?

What nearly no one discusses about Christian Lander's satire is the effect of age: the SWPL group is made up mostly of people aged 23 to 63. After that, people enter their brutally honest, cranky oldperson stage. They no longer hobnob with large parts of their social group, and so don't need to publicly pretend that most of them aren't utter fools. During the second or third year of college, students begin to dabble in SWPL stuff, but it's really after they graduate and have to join the world of 20 - 50-somethings that they preoccupy over whether the rice at their dinner party is organic whole grain or not.

Teenagers live in a world entirely divorced from that. Adults are sort of in the background producing the music they listen to and building the malls they hang out in, but they never interact with any of them. They have their own savage status competitions, but theirs highlight how arbitrary the contest is -- your group wears baggy jeans, but we wear skinny jeans, so you suck. The SWPL crowd, though, believes there's a deeper moral war being fought on the battlefield of things that don't matter. If we don't make our city more bike-friendly, Fascism will win!

So, here are some data to back this up. I didn't need them, but most people have probably forgotten the difference between being in high school vs. college, as far as having dopey views goes -- even though it's incredibly obvious. First, here is how the personality trait Openness to Experience changes across the lifespan *:

Openness increases during adolescence, peaks in college, and declines after. The peak is at age 19 -- I guess they don't call it "sophomoric" for nothing. That's the year I got really into leftist student activism and anarchism. Makes me long for high school, when no one gave a shit about that stuff. During the 1998 election, I wore an authentic Nixon / Agnew pin on my field jacket -- not because I knew anything about them, or cared, but just to be obnoxious and cool.

Speaking of raising awareness, when does sympathy with this crap peak? I checked an online petition site for ones that included the signers' ages. Two are about SWPL causes -- Help Stop Animal Abuse! and Save the Madagascar Rain Forest -- and the third is a control case, Lower Legal Drinking Age. Here are box plots of the signers' ages for each:

The median signer of the two Green petitions is in their early-mid 30s, and the middle half of them are 20-somethings through 40-somethings. Only about a quarter of them are 21 or under. Just to show that this isn't because young people don't visit that website, or don't feel like signing petitions, the plot for signers of the "lower the drinking age" petition clearly shows interest among people in their late teens. And the number of signers is much larger in this case -- 606, compared to 249 and 371 for the "rainforest" and "animal abuse" petitions.

And here are histograms, which are more fine-grained but don't all neatly fit on the same graph. Each bin has 5 years, centered on years ending in 3 or 8.

No surprise that almost all of the "lower the drinking age" people are drawn from such a tiny age range, compared to the other two causes. The two high bars in the "rainforest" graph represent ages 21 - 30. Signers of the "animal abuse" petition are nearly uniformly distributed by age, although there is an increasing trend.

So, when an issue really does appeal to them, adolescents are all over it. It's just that the issues they care about -- like being able to get drunk sooner -- aren't about showing off how morally superior they are. The poor bastards have the idea that once you graduate high school, you putz around for a few years, nothing too different, and then you become a full adult. And they just want to get to that part quickly, as I showed before. Ah, but first they have to waste their 20s "finding themselves," in order to have more ammo in the preening contests:

"Oh, you found yourself in Sydney? That's not too bad -- for me it was Tanzania, but I guess Australia's OK too. I just don't get how you tolerated all those tourists, though!"

Maybe for fun sometime I'll ask one of the girls at the teen dance club how much she's looking forward to finding herself during her 20s. "finding myself? ummmm... idk, sounds kinda gay. but i can't WAIT to get my own place and my own carrr!"

So, while individual females in their 20s and beyond may reject the moralistic status contests, as a group the 20 - 60 year-olds are the worst. Sure, teenagers have their own silly status contests -- just like you do. (No one cares that you know who the "it pianist" is this year, and that you were like totally into them before everyone else found out about them in the New York Times.) Every group of people is annoying, but some are less so -- don't let the best be the enemy of the good. I'll take a skinny vs. baggy jeans debate over a tirade about why iodized salt is evil any day.

* From McCrae, Martin, & Costa (2005). Age Trends and Age Norms for the NEO Personality Inventory--3 in Adolescents and Adults. Assessment, 12(4): 363-73.


  1. I don't know...would you really trade idiocy for willful ignorance?

  2. Whiterpeople vanity can be destructive:


    The reason that the bill was defeated was that regular whites have fled the county and couldn't vote in the election anyway. Here was our chance to conduct govenrment affairs in English-only, de facto telling illegals to at least learn the language and this wasn't --really-- their country, but for the vanity of whiterpeople, did not. My hometown will now be described in underground spanish language newspapers as "very accepting" and "a good place" and therefore become even more of a magnet than it already is.

    Glad I live out here beyond the county lines of Mordor on the Cumberland.

  3. My impression is that the SWPL age window is substantially narrower than 23-63. It doesn't really open until the later 20's and pretty much closes by 50. People in their early and middle 20's are too preoccupied with getting started in their lives, and by 50 increasing cynicism and world-weariness makes SWPL'ing seem trivial.

  4. No, it starts after graduating college. Indie rock, studying abroad, iPods, wanting to live in Manhattan, etc. Also goes through the 50s -- look at Baby Boomers.

    would you really trade idiocy for willful ignorance?

    Idiocy is the wrong word, implying they're incapable of processing some information. Rather, they just don't give a shit.

    Yes, I'll take "doesn't care" over "cares a lot and makes me want to strangle them."

  5. the SWPL group is made up mostly of people aged 23 to 63

    SWPL is mostly absent from high school, though there are early adopters there too. It really starts in first year college and picks up steam each year.

  6. Here's food for thought: how many SWPL characteristics does one have to possess before qualifying as an SWPL? Everybody has some of the characteristics, nobody has all of them, so where's the tipping point?


  7. Thursday's assertion strikes me as spot on.

    Which leads me to suggest that the whiterpeople you work with and the whitergirl you eventually marry (or steal away from whiterness in her teens, as Agnostic plans to do) do not have to be the people you hang out with, especially if you don't mind your friends not giving a damn about social causes and redistributive justice. Once they get past the looking-over-the-shoulder (for image) stage, people who work in lumber yards or in retail don't always make bad company--and they're even more candid than well-bred teenagers on their way to whiterness. There are the devout professional types, too, just a few years out of college, who often don't have time to do anything that involves more than sharing a glass of water and talking, because they have kid(s) to take care of and chores to attend to.

    But the 16-19 year-old crowd is a lot of fun. The key if finding a way into their universe that doesn't mark you as a creepy invader.

  8. The tragically hip are dips. My barometer of the level of something's coolness is inversely proportional to whether others find it so. I have to take exception to issues that have relevance like health. Should you proseletyze? No, but you shouldn't ignore the science in your personal life either. Just don't go trying to convert everyone to your pet bullshit.

  9. I would love to see an assesment of teens of other cultures. That is cultures in which teens spend very little time with each other and almost all of their time with their parents and families. Before this modern era, most teens were employed or working either in the home on the farm, or outside the home. Few were in schools. The average marriage age was lower and the teen motherhood rate much higher. That would imply concerns among teens being far more similar to those who these days are in an older age group. I have no data, but it make me curious.

  10. a tirade about why iodized salt is evil

    Please tell me that you made that up.

  11. No really, look up "sea salt" or other gourmet salts, and see how much they look down their nose at iodized salt.


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