Communicating climate change as a generational issue: experimental effects on youth worry, motivation and belief in collective action

April 21, 2024

Climate Policy, 1–17

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Generations differ in their contribution to climate change and susceptibility to its effects. Contextualizing climate change as an intergenerational issue may therefore alter public engagement. We report a pre-registered, online experiment with a youth sample (N = 500, aged 16–24 years) in Ireland that tested whether highlighting generational differences in descriptions of climate change affects (i) worry about climate change, (ii) perception of others’ worry, (iii) belief in collective action and (iv) pro-environmental intentions. We also tested the effect of correcting young people’s misperceptions about how concerned older generations (aged 40+) are. The generational narrative amplified self-reported worry about climate change, from 5.42 (SD = 1.45) on a 7-point rating scale in the control group to 5.76 (SD = 1.18) among those who read the generational narrative (d = 0.26). Those who read the generational narrative also believed their close friends (M = 5.14, SD = 1.32) and other peers (M = 5.28, SD = 1.19) were more worried than those who read the control narrative (M = 4.85, SD = 1.48 and M = 5.03, SD = 1.19, respectively; ds = 0.20). There were no significant effects of contextualizing climate change as an intergenerational issue on perceived worry among older people, belief in collective action or pro-environmental intentions. Providing accurate information on older people’s worry, however, boosted belief in collective action, particularly for the majority who initially underestimated it (M = 4.22 out of 7, SD = 1.14 vs. M = 4.63, SD = 1.18, d = 0.36). The results have implications for communications with young people about climate change. Correcting underestimations of concern about climate change between socio-demographic subgroups may help to foster engagement.

Publication Details


Taylor & Francis Group

Date of Publication

April 21, 2024

ESRI Series

Journal Article


© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

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