Older Adults Feel Responsible for Climate Change and Political Polarization

A new AARP–NORC Foresight50+ panel poll reveals how older generations view their legacy and more

CHICAGO, March 10, 2022 – Americans age 50 and over are pessimistic about the state of the world they are leaving behind for future generations, particularly when it comes to climate change, political polarization, crime and violence.

A new Spotlight on Aging poll from NORC at the University of Chicago surveyed 1,011 adults age 50+ about the current state of the country, their legacy on social and political issues, and their optimism for future generations. The survey also examined how older adults perceive their own generation versus younger generations when it comes to values, work ethic, respect, and tolerance for others.

“Older generations have witnessed increasing political polarization and civil unrest,” said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at NORC. “They fear increasing instability both domestically and globally, and feel responsible for these shifts.”

This latest poll is one of a series of surveys conducted through the Foresight 50+ panel by AARP and NORC, the nation’s largest and highest-quality survey panel for this demographic, combining the consumer expertise of AARP with the scientific rigor of NORC to amplify the voice of the fastest-growing age group in the country.

Five Things You Should Know….
From the NORC Spotlight on Aging Survey of
U.S. Adults Age 50 and older:

  1. Survey respondents felt responsible for climate change. Forty-five percent said they made climate change worse for future generations and only 22 percent believed their generation made the environment better for future generations.
  2. Just over half of those surveyed (54 percent) say their generation made political polarization worse for future generations.
  3. There were mixed views on inequities, with nearly one of every three 50+ respondents reporting that they made race relations and income inequality (33 and 31 percent, respectively) worse for future generations.
  4. Four in 10 (41 percent) said they made economic opportunities better for future generations.
  5. Nearly three of every four (74 percent) stated that their greatest contribution to society is the advancement of technology.

How Older Adults Believe They Impacted Social and Political Issues for Future Generations

For more, read the NORC Spotlight on Aging Survey of U.S. Adults Age 50+.


This NORC-funded poll was conducted December 9-13, 2021, through AARP–NORC’s Foresight 50+ probability-based panel—which is designed to be representative of U.S. adults age 50 and older—during a monthly AARP-NORC Omnibus survey. It included 1,011 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older (margin of error +/- 4.23 percentage points). A detailed methodology is available here.

About the Spotlight on Aging
NORC at the University of Chicago’s Spotlight on Aging is a series of quick-hitting national surveys on issues vital to Americans age 50 and older, conducted using AARP-NORC’s Foresight 50+ Omnibus panel.

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

For more information, contact Eric Young at NORC at young-eric@norc.org or
(703) 217-6814 (cell).