Tolerance by degree

November 22, 1996

GRADUATES are one of the most liberal, tolerant and permissive groups in the community, according to the latest British Social Attitudes report.

Having a university degree is a strong predictor of support for the legalisation of cannabis and generous attitudes towards the portrayal of sex on television and in the cinema. Graduates are strikingly less censorious of homosexuality than the population at large.

An implication of these findings is that the expansion of higher education may be serving to "liberalise" Britain - and the process seems likely to continue.

The survey's authors say that the generally much more permissive attitudes of younger people will stay with them as they age, suggesting Britain will be a more tolerant place in the 21st century.

On the proposition that cannabis should be legalised, 58 per cent of the population disagree, compared with 44 per cent of those educated beyond the age of 19. A degree is closely associated with pro-euthanasia views. On the "permissiveness index" constructed by the researchers, graduates come second only to 18 to 24-year-olds.

Social attitudes do not readily translate into voting preferences. People who have had higher education tend, for example, to be more likely to have private health insurance or to have children who have been educated in private schools - and these factors tend to be associated with pro-Conservative votes. However, some recent opinion polls have shown Labour almost equal with the Conservatives among social classes A and B, where most graduates end up.

British Social Attitudes is produced by a team including academics from Strathclyde and Westminster universities and researchers from Social and Community Planning Research and the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

The authors say the data do not prove that higher education causes graduates to have more liberal attitudes.

But Government ministers who support both the expansion of higher education and the "new morality" may need to study the findings with care.

British Social Attitudes. The 13th Report. Dartmouth Publishing.

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