Does Age Matter? The Effects of Age Composition on Social Movement Success

May 5, 2020   /  

Student: Claire Miller
Major: Political Science
Minor: Chinese
Advisors: Professor Leiby, Professor Bienvenue

This study examines the relationship between youth membership in social movements and the likelihood of social movement success. First, I hypothesize that age diversity will have a positive effect on the likelihood of campaign success. Then, I hypothesize that movements composed of mostly young people will increase the likelihood that the public see movement members and leaders as bold and inspirational, and as a result, positively impact their likelihood to support the movement. To test the first hypothesis, I conducted various statistical analyses using Chenoweth and Lewis’s NAVCO 2.0 dataset to analyze the relationship between the age diversity of campaigns and campaign success. For the second hypothesis, I conducted a survey experiment to evaluate the relationship between the age composition of social movements and their ability to gain public support. My first hypothesis was not supported. However, part of my second hypothesis was supported, specifically the relationship between the intervening variable, public perception of the movement, and dependent variable, the public’s likelihood of supporting the movement.

Claire will be online to field comments on May 8:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

30 thoughts on “Does Age Matter? The Effects of Age Composition on Social Movement Success”

  1. Claire – How wonderful to see this come to fruition, and how interesting that youth diversity did not have the effect that you hypothesized, but that perceptions did have an important effect on movement support. If you had to suggest a follow-up IS topic to someone in next year’s class based on your study, what would it be?

    1. Hello Professor Krain! Thank you so much. In my conclusion I suggest that people take my research question and test it using different methods, such as case studies and interviews. A case study method could entail someone comparing a youth movement, an adult movement, and possibly a movement with all ages. Someone would need to control for many variables with the selection of cases. I think interviews with youth movement leaders and adult movement leaders would also be interesting to gain insight into how they believe they are being perceived and how they navigate that.

      I would also suggest that people consider a different dependent variable other than success because if one only defines this as a social movement achieving its goals, then that is very limiting. Many social movements are “successful” not because they saw their policy goals realized but because they made an impact on society and changed the cultural norms around an issue. Some suggestions for a different dependent variable could be movement support, movement impact, etc. Again, these can be hard to measure as well.

  2. Hi Claire – A very interesting and important study of social movements. I am curious to better understand how you approached “age diversity” since in the second hypothesis you focus in on “mostly young people.” Would a fuller mix of different ages have an impact? Does perceived experience for older participants play a possible role?

    1. Thank you, Professor Kille! For “age diversity” I just used Chenoweth and Lewis’s definition and operationalization from their Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcome (NAVCO) 2.0 Dataset. Chenoweth and Lewis have several diversity variables such as race, gender, and class. They attribute these campaigns being diverse in these areas if they span two or more-sub categories of the population. Then, they operationalize this variable by whether or not a campaign embraces age diversity, where 1 =diversity is present, 0 = diversity is not present and -99=unknown. I put the data that they collected measuring “age diversity” for all the campaigns in STATA and ran that data against their variable of “success” (campaign outcome successful within one year of peak activities) using tabulation, correlation, and regression tests.

      I believe that having a fuller mix of different ages could have an impact. It may gain more legitimacy in the public’s eyes and possibly in the government’s eyes because they see the movement representing a cause that people from a wide range of ages care about. I think perceived experience for older participants certainly plays a role. It helps with credibility in both the public’s and government’s eyes. Through my qualitative research on social movements, I can see this phenomenon.

  3. Did you learn anything about a specific student or social movement that you found to be particularly surprising, unusual, or unexpected? Does completion of this IS make you more or less interested in a specific area of activism?

    It does raise a lot of questions about what kinds of activism leaders/power holders will respond to – a whole new wealth of IS topics! What aspect of activism/social change most interests you – being a social scientist that collects and examines the literature and data or more of a “hands on” activist creating awareness of an issue, proposing policy and bringing supporters together?

    1. In my theory section, I discussed an article that analyzed how two student movements in California (United Youth: led by working-class youth) and Oregon (Coalition of Student Activists: led by white middle class youth) navigated power dynamics due to age and also other aspects of their identity including race. I thought it was surprising how these two different student movements partnered or did not partner with adults to help them operate and how that affected them. The United Youth used adults to talk to administrators and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public while the Coalition of Student Activists did not want to partner with adults at all. The Coalition of Student Activists wanted to be strictly a youth movement and not be put down by adults whereas the United Youth realized that they needed support and could strategically integrate adults into their movement while not letting them take over. As a result, the United Youth had mentors and people to rely on when facing challenges while the Coalition of Student Activists lacked this.

      Completion of this I.S. makes me more interested in this area of activism and activism in general. I feel like I touched the surface in regards to this topic and a lot more can be discovered.

      The latter part you mentioned most interests me because I believe that it is neat to see people come together and build a movement from the ground up and fight for a cause that they are passionate about. I also find it fascinating how these movements do see their goals realized and even if they don’t, they often change the societal norms around that topic. The former is very important though in helping activists improve their strategies and educate people about the nuances of activism.

  4. Claire, first of all congratulations 👩🏻‍🎓🎓📚💫✨ Your research is amazing and all effects of the social movements are well explained Why do you choose to get in this topic?

    1. Thank you! I chose this topic because I was inspired by the #NeverAgain Movement formed after the 2018 Parkland shooting. Several Parkland survivors, shortly after the shooting, started this movement where they protested legislators, talked at CNN town halls and on news shows, and planned the nationwide March for Our Lives demonstration in D.C. I was amazed by how bold these activists were in calling out the NRA and politicians backed by the NRA. They framed school shootings as a wider epidemic of gun violence and how it affects everyone.

      I also was so sickened that another mass school shooting happened and followed the news stories regarding the shooting and the Parkland activists pretty regularly. While I was following the news stories, I saw a lot of backlash against the Parkland activists. Some people said that they were crisis actors which is pretty concerning. I saw other comments of people saying that they didn’t know what they were talking about. I saw this again regarding the activism of Greta Thunberg. So, I thought, there are people like me who are inspired by youth movements and then others who are very critical of them. How does this affect these youth movements’ likelihood of succeeding? Ultimately, I wanted to do research that would contribute to the literature regarding youth movements and potentially help youth activists be more effective in their tactics, gaining support, and seeing their goals realized.

  5. Hi Claire,

    I love this project, it is very interesting especially with today’s political climate with frequent protests and movements. My question is, was it difficult to reframe your project once part of your hypothesis was not supported by data?

    1. Hello Rachel! Thank you so much for your support! That is a good question. It was difficult when I was making my conclusions since my findings didn’t support evidence for a relationship between age of participants and social movement success or support but I didn’t feel like I had to reframe my project. I still looked at the relationship between age composition and social movement success even if my results did not prove that there was a relationship. In the I.S. process, it is okay if your results don’t support your hypotheses because you are still contributing to the literature.

  6. This is really great Claire. I’m happy you were able to still able to make real-life applications and connections even though your hypotheses weren’t supported.

  7. Congratulations, Claire! And great job with your video presentation – it came together so well to showcase the work that you did 🙂

  8. Great presentation, Claire! It was interesting that older adults have more positive than negative stereotypes of young adults. How do you think young adults can frame their messages to target a larger demographic and gain their interest supporting their movement? Congratulations!

  9. Hi Claire! I absolutely loved your presentation. I think you raise some intriguing points about activism and successful social movements.

  10. This is such an interesting and topical research project! I hope other Wooster students continue to explore your questions about youth participation in social movements. How has this IS informed your future pursuits? Do you hope to pursue a career in advocacy or public policy?

  11. Wow, what a creative and important project! Your finding that younger leaders might be impact the public perception of a movement –> likelihood of supporting a movement (correct me if I’m wrong) is so relevant. I can see some pros and cons to this– I’m thinking back to our dinner conversations about ageism, etc. What was your favorite part about going through this entire year-long process?
    Congratulations on four years of hard work and growth, I’m so proud of you!!! <3

  12. Awesome project Claire! I enjoyed learning more about youth activism!

  13. Great job, Claire! I know this isn’t how you thought you would be sharing your IS, but I am so glad I got to see it!

  14. Claireeeee you’re awesome!! Great job on your project. I appreciate you.

  15. Hello Claire,
    It’s great to visit the Symposium today to learn about your work. Congratulations on a job well done, and thank you for presenting your work here today!

  16. Great presentation, Claire! It’s interesting to see how age can affect the visibility and effectiveness of activist movements. Congratulations on a great study!

  17. Awesome work Claire! This is such an interesting topic and a new innovative way to look at social movements! Did you have any ideas on how you or someone else could expand on this topic in the future? Congrats again!

  18. What an interesting project, Claire! You did a really good job. The role of age is something that stuck out in my studies as well. I particularly like your conclusion that ageism is something that both sides need to be wary of. I was also wondering, however, if you think gender also plays a role. When you discussed Greta Thunberg, for example, do you think backlash could also have something to do with her gender as well as age?

  19. So clear and interesting, Claire! And the whole theme just makes me want to be brave and use my voice where it matters. 🙂 I’m proud of you!!!

  20. Congratulations, Claire. You are the absolute best! Thanks for sharing your amazing work <3

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