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The Silent Revolution in Europe: Intergenerational Change in Post-Industrial Societies*

Ronald Inglehart

American Political Science Review, 1971, vol. 65, issue 4, 991-1017

Abstract: A transformation of basic political priorities may be taking place in Western Europe. I hypothesize: (1) that people have a variety of needs which are given high or low priority according to their degree of fulfillment: people act on behalf of their most important unsatisfied need, giving relatively little attention to needs already satisfied—except that (2) people tend to retain the value priorities adopted in their formative years throughout adult life. In contemporary Western Europe, needs for physical safety and economic security are relatively well satisfied for an unprecedentedly large share of the population. Younger, more affluent groups have been formed entirely under these conditions, and seem relatively likely to give top priority to fulfillment of needs which remain secondary to the older and less affluent majority of the population. Needs for belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment (characterized as “post-bourgeois†values) may take top priorities among the former group. Survey data from six countries indicate that the value priorities of the more affluent postwar group do contrast with those of groups raised under conditions of lesser economic and physical security. National patterns of value priorities correspond to the given nation's economic history, moreover, suggesting that the age-group differences reflect the persistence of preadult experiences, rather than life cycle effects. The distinctive value priorities imply distinctive political behavior—being empirically linked with preferences for specific political issues and political parties in a predictable fashion. If the respective age cohorts retain their present value priorities, we would expect long-term shifts in the political goals and patterns of political partisanship prevailing in these societies.

Date: 1971
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