Millennials with college degrees don’t favor censorship

There’s a specter haunting the academy. The specter of “red guards” destroying lives and tearing down Western civilization and all its accomplishments in the interests of antinomian leveling impulses through denunciations and purges. (here is the latest instance; the whole thing leaves me yawning, because too few people have the courage or gall to stand up for what they know is right, so this will happen again and again and again)

I am plain in my view that this is a problem. Some of my friends in the academy agree, but in the end they make different choices about priorities. Others don’t think this is a problem at all (and honestly, they clearly think that free speech is more about speech that they think is acceptable). Ultimately I don’t think that this will end well; I’m most certainly going to be on the other side of people whom I consider friends if and when the end of our current liberal democratic order collapses of its own contradictions.

But this isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about an aspect of it: are Millennials, those born after 1980, who go to college more opposed to freedom of speech than previous generations? Is this what’s driving the flair up of campus events? The answer, as clear in the GSS is that Millennials who have gone to college are not more censorious.

The GSS has a variable, SPKRAC. It asks:

…. consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

Should this person be allowed to speak? As you can see above there is hardly any difference between people of different generations if they have a college education on this question.* The big difference is between generations among those who have a high school education or less. I think this is simply due to the reality that if you have only a high school education as a Millennial you’re much more likely to be not very intelligent in relation to older generations. The slight decline for college educated Millennials might be due to this effect as well, and more marginal kids are now going to, and finishing, college.

If you do a logistic regression in the GSS you see what I have reported earlier: both education and intelligence have independent and notable impacts predicting support of free speech to a liberal extent. Being a woman usually correlates with lower tolerance of deviant or abhorrent speech. Socioeconomic status, income, and age, don’t really matter too much when other variables are accounted for.

What about politics? The results might surprise you.

As you can see on the whole liberals are the most supportive of free speech for racists. It does look that there has been some regression since the real “greatest generation.” And as I expected moderates are the least tolerant.

Moderates are usually less intelligent (this is easily confirmed with the GSS) and informed, and they’re conformists. Today racism is in bad odor, so their instinct to ban or restrict it is strong, as opposed to the abstract principle of free speech. This impulse probably explains the declines broadly among Millennials.

But the results at the top indicate that university education may actually inoculate a bit against this! (remember, it’s not just intelligence, as university education had an independent effect on opinions in the regression)

There’s something going on. It’s a problem. Perhaps a big problem. I do think it ultimately threatens the credibility of the academy in a way we haven’t seen in generations. But it’s not because the majority of students agree with driving speakers they don’t like off the campus or banning speech they find hurtful. A minority of students are loud, mobilized, and active. Sometimes minorities can shape history….

* I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites. I used the variables SPKRAC, COHORT and DEGREE. I recombined some. E.g., COHORT(r:1800-1945″pre-Boomer”;1946-1964″Boomer”;1965-1980″GenX”;1981-*”Millennial”). Adding groups besides non-Hispanic whites didn’t change the qualitative result, though support for free speech declines among minorities.

Less intelligent people want to exclude racists from the public square

Coefficients  
  B SE(B) Probability
SEX 0.739 0.217 0.001
DEGREE -0.302 0.092 0.001
WORDSUM -0.338 0.068 0
POLVIEWS -0.078 0.078 0.317
INCOME -0.026 0.06 0.671
AGE 0.007 0.007 0.283
ATTEND 0.09 0.046 0.05
GOD -0.018 0.077 0.819
Constant 3.341 0.937 0

It’s been a while since I’ve done much GSS blogging. Part of it is that I’ve got only so much attention I can devote to things, and most of my focus has been on the area of science that I’m interested in, and one or two non-scientific topics. The second variable is that I started blogging about GSS data a long time ago (~2008), and there’s only so much interesting stuff you can talk about.

But over the past few years there have been some controversies related to speech in public spaces, and what is and isn’t acceptable. There has also been some chatter that young people today in particular are intolerant of freedom of speech. I’ve wanted to address this, so here I go.

The toleration of racists is in today’s America is like testing a boundary condition. If you are willing to tolerate racist speech if you are not a racist, then you are pretty likely to be a free speech absolutist. I am not interested in rehashing arguments, I support free speech in an absolutist sense personally. Rather, let’s look at some data.

The General Social Survey has a question up from 2014 for the variable RACEMEET that asks:

Should people prejudiced against any racial or ethnic group be allowed to hold public meetings?

The question was asked in 2010 and 2014, and 2,651 individuals answered this. The answer was converted to ordinal, so I decided to probe relationships between variables and the score of toleration through regression. Some independent variables, such as political viewpoint (POLVIEWS), were recoded in an ordinal fashion (so that “extremely liberal” = 1, “liberal” = 2, and so forth, to “extremely conservative” = 7). Others, such as age, do not require any recoding. RACEMEET itself was converted to an ordinal.

The above results suggest that political ideology does not predict your response to this question much once you account for other variables. In fact, I did a query on ideological views first, and the results indicated to me what was really going on.

  EXT. LIB. LIB. SLIGHTLY LIB. MODERATE SLGHTLY CONSERV. CONSERV. EXT. CONSERV.
1: Should definitely be allowed 39 24 17 15 22 17 20
2: Should probably be allowed 12 24 24 21 22 22 15
3: Should probably not be allowed 26 20 19 22 19 24 22
4: Should definitely not be allowed 23 32 40 43 37 38 43

As you can see moderates are relatively skeptical of allowing racists to have a public meeting. All of my analysis of the GSS indicates that moderates are not as smart as more liberal or conservative people.

Let’s go through the variables which were significant predictors above. First, sex.

Male Female
1: Should definitely be allowed 21 13
2: Should probably be allowed 22 21
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 36 43

These results were expected. On the whole women tend to be more skeptical of absolutist free speech positions which allow offensive material to be promoted (women are more skeptical of allowing Communists to speak too in comparison to men, so it’s not because of the ideology of the speaker or viewpoint).

Then church attendance frequency:

Never attends church More than once a week
1: Should definitely be allowed 20 23 19 14 21 15 13 14 13
2: Should probably be allowed 21 21 27 24 13 16 26 22 20
3: Should probably not be allowed 21 17 20 18 28 24 18 24 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 37 39 34 44 37 45 43 40 44

A modest difference.

Next, highest educational attainment:

No HS HS Some college College Graduate
1: Should definitely be allowed 7 14 11 26 32
2: Should probably be allowed 14 20 23 29 27
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23 21 19 20
4: Should definitely not be allowed 59 43 45 26 21

The big gap here is between those with college and those without college educations.

Finally, we look at WORDSUM, which is a proxy for intelligence. It’s a ten word vocabulary test. Below in the columns are the number of answers a respondent got correct:

<5 5 6 7 8 9 10
1: Should definitely be allowed 8 10 12 16 24 30 36
2: Should probably be allowed 13 22 18 24 26 34 33
3: Should probably not be allowed 27 20 23 22 21 18 18
4: Should definitely not be allowed 52 48 47 38 29 18 12

I combined those who scored below 5 out of 10 (0-4) into one class. You can see that as score on this vocabulary test goes up, the view that racists should be allowed to meet in public goes up. It’s almost monotonic. The smartest people are more tolerant than the next smartest people who are more tolerant than the next smartest people, with the dumb being the least tolerant.

I made the below chart to illustrate this:

Often when it comes to views associated with “smart” people when you put it into some regression eduction accounts for all of the difference. In other words, the less intelligent educated have the same views as the intelligent educated, and the more intelligent but less educated have the same views as the less intelligent less educated. There are more older people who are intelligent but not educated, so it could be generational too (though in this case age does not seem to matter). A plausible hypothesis is that in many cases it is social milieu. Even if you are not bright, being in college inculcates certain values.

And college is a predictor. But these data show that even if you account for college education the brighter you are, the more likely you favor allowing tolerance for views that most people find intolerable.