- Majority of adults aged 18 to 49 identify as "pro-choice"
- Majority of adults aged 50+ identify as "pro-life"
- Age differences in support for legality of abortion fairly consistent since the 1970s
This story is part of a special series on Americans' attitudes toward abortion in 2018.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Across three indicators of Americans' views on abortion, young adults -- those aged 18 to 29, and to a lesser extent aged 30 to 49 -- express greater support for abortion rights than those aged 50 and older. This is most evident in adults' self-labeling on the issue, with majorities of those younger than 50 identifying as "pro-choice," while more than half of those in the older two groups identify as "pro-life."
|18 to 29||30 to 49||50 to 64||65+|
|Legal under any circumstances||37||30||25||25|
|Legal only under certain circumstances||42||50||52||55|
|Illegal in all circumstances||19||18||19||19|
|Abortion morally acceptable||51||46||36||38|
|Abortion morally wrong||45||44||54||53|
|Gallup, May 1-10, 2018|
The 12-percentage point gap between the youngest and oldest Americans identifying as pro-choice (56% vs. 44%, respectively), is mirrored in a 12-point gap in the two groups' belief that abortion should be legal under any circumstances (37% vs. 25%) and a 13-point gap in those saying abortion is morally acceptable rather than morally wrong (51% vs. 38%).
These double-digit age differences exceed the three- to four-point differences Gallup finds by gender on the same questions, suggesting abortion is more of a generational than a gender issue.
Despite their willingness to put themselves into one of the two main attitudinal camps on abortion, the plurality or majority of all four age groups express qualified support for abortion, saying it should be legal only under certain circumstances. This ambiguity has been a defining feature of U.S. abortion attitudes since Gallup first started tracking this question in 1975.
Long-Term Stability in Age Differences on Abortion
The current findings by age aren't new -- those aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 have generally expressed the most support for abortion rights of the four main age groups in the past, and those 65 and older have expressed the least support. The views of those aged 50 to 64 have generally fallen in between.
While there has been variation over the years in the level of support for legal abortion among all four age group, these changes have largely occurred in tandem. Support was lower than today in Gallup's earliest polling on this in the 1970s and 80s, and support was slightly higher in the early 1990s.
A similar pattern is seen in the four age groups' identification as pro-choice in Gallup trends since 2011. Adults 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 have consistently been the most pro-choice, and those age 65 and older the least. Americans aged 50 to 64 have been the most varied over time, sometimes closer to younger adults in their views and other times, including now, closer to seniors.
Gallup's question about the moral acceptability of abortion has a shorter trend, originating in 2001. But since then, seniors' belief that abortion is morally acceptable has increased while the views of younger age groups have been steady. As a result, the four groups are much more similar in their outlook on this today than in the past, with all closely split between saying abortion is morally acceptable and morally wrong.
Abortion is unique among the various public policy issues that deal with the morality of human-life issues. Unlike euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and the death penalty -- which are all gender and age neutral in their implications -- abortion primarily affects women in their child-bearing years. Despite this, Gallup polling demonstrates that the issue doesn't spark markedly different views by gender.
At the same time, it has generated different responses by age, with young and young-middle aged adults being somewhat more supportive than older-middle aged adults and seniors. That remains the case today.
The reason behind these age differences isn't clear. It could relate to young adults' stage of life, or to differences in religiosity by age, with young adults being less religious than those 50 and older. Attitudes about abortion are also highly related to partisanship and ideology, and young people are significantly more likely to identify as Democrats and less likely to identify as Republicans than those who are older. To the extent these influences change as people age, their abortion views could as well. Future Gallup analyses will explore these questions in greater detail.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.
Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.