Green and graying: Age differences in environmental decision making

Lisa Zaval, Erica Spada, Elke Weber

The goal of this research is to employ theoretical insights from relevant age-related scholarship to examine age dynamics in climate change public opinion. This analysis provides an opportunity to adjudicate among competing lifespan hypotheses, while also improving our understanding of the public’s beliefs and attitudes about this impending environmental problem. An additional goal of this project lies in to use of a rich set of dependent variables that measure environmental preferences, including willingness to pay and generative motives, which we can use to explore different channels through which individuals express their environmental preferences and beliefs. Moreover, our objective is to explore variables that have not been investigated previously in the literature, and which may reveal age effects, such as concern for future consequences, generativity, and future time perspective.


Major Findings

  • Initial analysis reveals enduring age differences in concern about climate change, environmental engagement, and our novel measures of “environmental generativity”
  • Initial analysis also suggests that these age differences may be mediated by future time orientation, and concern for future consequences. We will continue to work on data analysis, publishing and disseminating our results to communities of interest.


Broader Impacts

  • Climate change is a theoretically and empirically interesting case for examining age dynamics, and yet gerontological scholarship on research about environmental attitudes is conspicuously lacking. This project will be the first to characterize the attitudes of older people toward climate change and sustainability, and to clarify what psychological factors may promote age-differences in pro-environmental attitudes.
  • We hope to address fundamental questions regarding which factors may promote age-differences in positive attitudes towards climate change and mitigation. This will be the first project to do so, and will thus improve public knowledge, and hopefully, could change behavior and policies.


CRED2 Award (2010-2015): Funding was provided under the cooperative agreement NSF SES-0951516 awarded to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.

Funding was also provided by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Communicating Uncertainty research community at Princeton University.