There is a perception that cultural differences between different groups in society are growing larger. Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, conservative and liberal, and more or less educated have different attitudes, consumer behavior, media diet, time use, and give their newborns different names. However, a new paper by Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica finds little support for this perception.
Across the five groups and five cultural components, they find little change over time in 21 categories. That is not to say that people of different income levels have the same cultural interests, just that those interests have not changed over time. For example, since the 1990’s, watching football and baseball games on TV is more indicative that the viewer is high-income. However, social attitudes of the rich and poor toward law enforcement have diverged over time, but views on government spending have converged.
Movie consumption has remained constant over time between males and females, with females more likely to watch dramas and romantic comedies while males are more likely to watch action, thriller, and sci-fi movies. One area where males and females have converged is overtime use. Female labor force participation increased dramatically between 1965 and 1995, due to the contraceptive pill, labor-saving home appliances, and more egalitarian attitudes to gender roles.
Interestingly, products and brands used can be indicative of race, with consumer behavior able to predict a person’s race 87 percent of the time in 2016, compared to 79 percent in 1992. If you use Verizon Wireless, Nestle baking chips, and Thomas English muffins you are probably white. If you use T-Mobile, Fabuloso household cleaners, and Ajax Lemon dishwashing liquid you are probably non-white.
The one area where cultural differences have diverged is when grouping people by political ideology. Some activities have remained constant over time, for example, conservatives watch college football and go fishing, while liberals watch the Academy Awards and drink alcohol (I watch college football and drink beer, usually at the same time!). The greatest divergence is over religion and views on marriage, sex, and abortion. In 2016, four of the top ten indicators of being a liberal related to abortion. Abortion did not appear as an indicator in 1976, when the legalization of marijuana was the top indicator of being liberal. Legalization of marijuana, or indeed any drugs, no longer is a good indicator of whether you are conservative or liberal.