Do the Young Feel More Embolden to Act in Extreme ways

This continues our series of student reflections andanalysis authored by our research team.

Do the Young Feel More Embolden to Act in Extreme ways

Sarah Carrier

This week in tPP we scraped cases, which is a process where we double check our data set with another. While going through all the cases, one thing that stood out to me was the ages of the perpetrators. Ages ranged from early 20s to late 60s. Most of the cases we scraped were right-wing extremism, and more often than not the perpetrators were white men. I started to wonder if the age of those who committed extreme acts of violence was as much as a factor as their race or religious beliefs.

A study done by the University of Pennsylvania called “The Age and Crime Relationship” discusses how, in general, people of a younger age are more inclined, or likely, to commit crimes. An example of this can be seen below. This chart shows the age range of those who have committed homicide, going back all the way to 1940.

This chart shows how those in their 20s committed up to almost 30% of homicides in their respective years. Reason would leave one to agree with this study. Those who are younger have more energy, less fear of consequences, and more inclined to act out. That’s why I was surprised to see so many cases in tPP coded as individuals in their middle ages, or older.

After scraping cases I took a closer look at the age category in our codebook. Upon examination, it seemed to me that age had less to do with the terrorist act itself, and had more of a relationship with the persons ideological affiliation. I came to the conclusion that, while the young may feel more emboldened to act, they do not feel emboldened to act in extreme or violent ways. Those affiliated with the alt-right seemed to average middle age or older, while those affiliated with the alt-left seemed to average from 20s-mid 30s. I believe this has a lot to do with psychological factors. Those who are older are more set in their ways, and more likely to react when those ways are challenged. The young, on the other hand, are more likely to call for change, and are more likely to react when change does not occur. I believe this to be the reason why one sees an older White Nationalist act out when he is challenged by those who are different. At the same time, it is also why one sees a young environmentalist react boldy when change in air quality is not a priority in the government.

Also, while the young are more inclined to protest, evidenced in the 1960s Civil Rights movement and 1970s anti-war movement, they are not more likely to act in extreme ways. An example of this is a current issue facing the world: climate change. While younger people are a more physical presence on this issue, shown in this New York Times Article, they are by no means the only ones who care. Ones ideological views is what inspires their action, not their age. Correlation is not causation, and I believe, after reviewing the tPP dataset, that age does not cause someone to act out in extreme and violent ways. Rather, age is one of many factors contributing to ideological affiliation, and ideological affiliation correlates to extremist acts.


Sengupta, Somini. Protesting Climate Change, Young People Take to Streets in a Global Strike.Sept. 20, 2019. New York Times

Ulmer, Jeffrey T and Steffensmeier, Darrell. The Age and Crime Relationship. Social Variation,Social Explanations. Chapter 23, 377-397. The Pennsylvania State University.

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