The Diffusion of Tolerance: Birth Cohort Changes in the Effects of Education and Income on Political Tolerance

Philip Schwadel, Christopher R.H. Garneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Political tolerance—the willingness to extend civil liberties to traditionally stigmatized groups—is pivotal to the functioning of democracy and the well-being of members of stigmatized groups. Although political tolerance has traditionally been more common among American elites, we argue that as tolerance has increased, it has also diffused to less educated and less affluent segments of the population. The relative stability of political attitudes over the life course and the socialization of more recent birth cohorts in contexts of increased tolerance suggest that this diffusion of tolerance occurs across birth cohorts rather than time periods. Using age-period-cohort models and more than three and a half decades of repeated cross-sectional survey data, we find persistent and robust across-cohort declines in the importance of both income and higher education in determining levels of political tolerance. Declines in the effects of socioeconomic status are evident with tolerance toward all five out-groups in the analysis—anti-religionists, gays and lesbians, communists, militarists, and racists—but to varying degrees. These findings fit with a model of changes in public opinion, particularly views of civil and political rights, through processes of cultural diffusion and cohort replacement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)748-769
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • birth cohort
  • civil liberties
  • political attitudes
  • political tolerance
  • social change
  • social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Diffusion of Tolerance: Birth Cohort Changes in the Effects of Education and Income on Political Tolerance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this