Political Science, Department of


First Advisor

John R. Hibbing

Second Advisor

Kevin B. Smith

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

Date of this Version

Summer 6-16-2017

Document Type



Peterson, Johnathan C. 2017. “The Seeds of Change: Attitudinal Stability and the Direction of Attitudinal Change across the Lifespan.” Ph.D. diss. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Political Science, Under the Supervision of Professor John R. Hibbing. Lincoln, Nebraska: June, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Johnathan C. Peterson


Folk wisdom has long held that people become more conservative as they grow older. The empirics behind this claim, however, are not definitive. Utilizing panel data from the Michigan Youth-Parent Socialization Panel study and a longitudinal sample of Australian twins, my dissertation answers this question and many others as I examine patterns of attitudinal stability and the direction of attitudinal change when it does occur. These data allowed me to longitudinally track attitudinal change at the individual level. I first uncovered latent classes defined by patterns of attitudinal stability across the lifespan. The majority of people in these latent classes were defined by general patterns of stability. Of those who did change their attitudes across the lifespan, most moved in a conservative direction. However, there was still a significant group of people who were defined by a pattern of liberal change. After ascertaining these latent classes, I then began to uncover the reasons underlying these basic patterns of stability. I show attitudinal stability is a somewhat heritable trait which can be explained by psychological predispositions and sociological life events.

Advisor: John R. Hibbing