2.4 The role of age, annual income, and education level in forming attitudes, opinions, and social acceptance
Socio-demographic factors play an important role in shaping views and attitudes of individuals. Resultantly, these factors may also play important roles in determining an individual’s level of social acceptance to a proposal. Research such as that by Wustenhagen et al. (2007:p2686) indicated that factors including age, annual income and education level may be important determinants in predicting social acceptance to renewable energy infrastructure. However, despite such indications there is a distinct lack of research into such factors, with the majority of research focussed upon aforementioned place based factors. Devine-Wright et al. (2017:1) acknowledge this lack of research into the socio-demographic factors which could be combined or compared with place based factors in current research. Other fields however, and other areas of geography have demonstrated the significance of age, annual income and education level on an individual’s opinions, attitudes, and social acceptance.
Lowell et al. (2003) cite age as a key determinant in forming attitudes and behaviour, they compared attitudes of those aged 18-29 with those over 50, finding significant differences in attitudes on public schooling. Older respondents they concluded, had less flexible viewpoints and were less willing to trial solutions to perceived attitudinal issues. Frassen et al. (2012) similarly found age to significantly impact attitude and opinion formation regarding ethnic prejudice. Younger participants were significantly less likely to hold prejudicial attitudes than older participants, age they claim may be particularly influential upon opinions relating to controversial topics. Such problems would likely include the siting of controversial post carbon energy infrastructure. Krosnick and Alwin (1989) also state in their early years hypothesis, how those of early-adult ages are disproportionately susceptible to attitude change, while over time this susceptibility dramatically reduces. They also outline the increasing persistence hypothesis, where over time individuals become more resistant to change or proposed change. In relation to the social acceptance of renewable energy, it may be possible that older individuals may be less socially accepting of proposals due to the early years and increasing persistence hypotheses. This may be compounded by generational difference, where younger individuals have been raised in an era where climate change has been an ever-present concern. Contrastingly, older generations may not have been exposed to such climate rhetoric, and were not exposed during the critical and susceptible early years. Those of younger generations may also view place differently, and have differing attitudes to older generations on what are acceptable changes to be made to their environment. However little research exists on direct social acceptance of infrastructure, instead being focussed upon opinions and attitudes. Research from other disciplines however, suggests that age is highly likely to be a significant factor in producing an individual’s perceptions of social acceptability, and their attitudes and opinions towards renewable energy.
Branas-Garza et al. (2010) cite annual income as another socio-demographic factor impacting attitudes and opinions, finding higher earners displayed significantly more prejudice towards other races. Further research by Owens and Pedulla (2014) has shown annual income and material assets significantly impact political affiliation, with higher earners often supporting more right-wing political entities, clear evidence that income can impact opinions and attitudes. Grubbs et al’s (2014) entitlement hypothesis attempts to explain these impacts, stating higher wealth can lead to feelings of ‘entitlement’, believing their opinions are superior and more valid than those of less affluent persons. High earners hold such views as they deem themselves to be successful, rational, and ‘correct’ in their decisions due to achieving personal materialistic goals. Consequently, the wealthier can exhibit higher confrontation levels and be less flexible in their views. This could therefore impact the acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure. Sheehy-Skeffington and Rea (2017: 1), state that those in poverty may also exhibit differing opinions and attitudes, making different decisions to more wealthy persons due to the poverty expense hypothesis. They argue low income persons, or those raised in such an environment, make decisions and form opinions based upon their ability to cope with ‘present stressful circumstances’, namely impacts upon meeting ambitions. They also place emphasis on the ‘here’ and ‘now’. This is particularly relevant to the social acceptability infrastructure, which often affects the ‘here’ element of this pairing, due to physical impacts of development. In relation to infrastructure construction, this factor may also carry significance as it is largely constructed using private taxation. Siddhartha et al. (2017) suggest there are evident differences of opinion and concerns regarding taxation. Low income persons fear that their tax is not benefitting their lives, and thus may be less socially accepting of energy infrastructure, believing another facility like a hospital, would be more personally beneficial. Contrastingly high earners have little issue with taxation use, but question taxation levels, therefore potentially opposing such developments more strongly, believing funding comes predominantly from their own pocket, and thus they should have more influence in relation to development. This may cause lower levels of social acceptance, directly related to the entitlement hypothesis. Those with higher wealth also possess more property assets to defend which could impact their attitudes. This area of research is relatively new, but already shows signs that annual income may impact an individual’s decision making, attitudes, and opinions, and resultantly may affect their social acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure.
Finke et al. (1992) state education as another socio-demographic factor impacting decision making, attitudes and acceptance. Stevenson et al. (2014) found more highly educated individuals made better informed decisions, and were more accepting of the climate change. Gang et al. (2013) found that education level produced drastic differences in attitudes towards foreigners. Those educated to undergraduate level or higher were more accepting of foreigners than lesser educated individuals. The integration paradox (De Vroome et al., 2014) attempts to explain these differences, proposing these occur as lesser educated persons are less successful at differentiating legitimate from false information. Lesser educated persons are more likely to believe information from an authoritative source, or a source deemed educationally superior to themselves, potentially leading to differing views and conducting different action compared to higher educated persons. Contrastingly, Finke et al’s (1992) creative cognition hypothesis argues that in a world where we rarely have the volume of information we would favour, that higher educated persons are more successful when making assumptions and searching for information to complete understandings. As such, higher educated persons may reach drastically differing conclusions compared to those with lower education levels, thus holding differing opinions and attitudes. Education levels therefore, may impact social acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure, as higher educated individuals may be more understanding of the potential benefit of proposals, or more knowledgeable regarding potential negative externalities, also being more articulate when defending their interests. Lower educated persons may simply follow general consensus, or make drastically differing judgements on such proposals, due to being less able to effectively complete their fragmented understandings. However, Vaughter (2016) and others do suggest that education may not be as critical as once thought in attitude formation and decision making, proposing that this process is heavily impacted by other constructs including context.
2.5 Chapter Summary
This literature review presents a gap in existing research, highlighting the lack of research into socio-demographic factors on the social acceptability of renewable energy infrastructure. Current research is dominated by investigations into place based factors (Devine-Wright et al. 2017), failing to address the social element of framework models produced by Wustenhagen et al. (2007) and others, which have become central to understandings within this research area. As Devine-Wright (2017) states, social factors have been identified as potentially impactful to social acceptance in energy infrastructure, but research is scarce.
It is known that the socio-demographic factors of age, annual income, and education level are integral to the formation of an individual’s opinions, attitudes, and behaviours, whilst also impacting their decision making. As such, due to these factors determining what an individual deems ‘acceptable’ and shaping their views, it is plausible such factors play an important role in producing or deterring social acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure. This dissertation therefore studies the factors of age, annual income, and education level in relation to their impact upon social acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure, seeking to address whether these factors are important, and if they should be considered with the same weight and significance as the place bases factors of current research.