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Digging into the Brexit vote’s stark generation gap

In British households and across the United Kingdom, the question of whether the nation should break away from the European Union split along one clear dividing line. In general, older voters voted to leave, while younger voters wanted to remain. Hari Sreenivasan talks to people on both sides of the generation gap about the factors that influenced their choices and how they see the outcome.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    We return now to the story of Brexit, and a look at the generational divisions among British voters in last week's referendum.

    Hari Sreenivasan is in London.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Carshalton, less than 15 miles from the center of London. Unlike their downtown neighbors, these South London voters decided it was best for Britain to leave the European Union.

    After Sunday services at All Saints Anglican Church comes Sunday tea, this week with a spoonful of Brexit.

    Hillary Wortley is happy that the U.K. is getting out of the E.U.

  • HILLARY WORTLEY, England:

    They take our money, they don't give it all back to us, and what they do give back to us, they tell us what we should spend it on.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Forty-seven-year-old Tracey Hall-Green works in financial services, an area already hit by the Brexit. But she says that the E.U. was providing diminishing returns.

  • TRACEY HALL-GREEN, England:

    More and more weak countries are joining. Initially, there were seven countries, so that was fine, but now there are 28. And there's strong powers, and then there's a lot of other ones which are bankrupt, like Greece.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    As for the current market turmoil?

  • TRACEY HALL-GREEN:

    If there's a blip, I'm quite happy to take a bit of a hit in the interim for the good of the country.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In nearby Sutton, Martin O'Leary was taking a smoke break outside a pub where he was watching a soccer match.

    And you voted which way?

  • MARTIN O’LEARY, England:

    I voted to leave the European market, yes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How come?

  • MARTIN O’LEARY:

    First of all, I think most of it was mainly immigration, but also it's like the schooling system. It's like my granddaughter can't be guaranteed to go to a school near here — she might have to go four or five….It's just overpopulating our schools, our hospitals and everything.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We caught up with Paul Scully, who represents this bedroom community in Parliament.

    His family was getting ready for brunch. We sat down on his patio. And he told us why a majority his constituents voted the way they did.

    Why is it better for someone in this neighborhood if Britain is no longer part of the E.U.?

    PAUL SCULLY, MP, Sutton and Cheam: I think there's three things. There's the economy. There are opportunities around the world, whereas the European economy isn't growing at all.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    He also mentioned immigration.

  • PAUL SCULLY:

    Where people can come from Greece, where youth unemployment is 50 percent, to London on the hope of a job, whereas if you have got a skilled worker, skilled I.T. consultant from India or you have got a nurse from the Philippines or from Australia, they have got to apply and go through a lot of bureaucracy to have the hope of coming here to do a job that we really want them to do.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And, finally, sovereignty.

  • PAUL SCULLY:

    They don't want an unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat in Brussels, in Belgium, talking — telling us what we should be doing and creating regulations and directives.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Bill Main-ian and his friends at the local U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, campaigned for nine months to convince voters to leave the E.U.

  • BILL MAIN-IAN, England:

    In a word, sovereignty. In a word, democracy. In a word, destiny.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Bill wasn't able to convince his own children.

    After your daughter came home from the polls and you figured out that she didn't vote the same way you did, what was that conversation like?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • BILL MAIN-IAN:

    Look, once they understood the issues, they made it on the other side, I respect that. Wouldn't agree with it, but I would respect it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It wasn't just the Main-ian household. Across the country, there was a generational divide; younger voters wanted to remain, older voters wanted to leave.

  • HALEY:

    I'm really quite terrified about the whole thing.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Haley and her husband, Dan, who didn't want to give us their last names, are in their 20s and live in London. Unlike Haley's parents, they voted to stay in the E.U.

  • HALEY:

    I'm not really sure what's going to happen and that uncertainty is really — is really unsettling.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Nineteen-year-old Phoebe Jordan is also worried.

  • PHOEBE JORDAN, England:

    In two years, I will be leaving university, which is the same time we will be leaving the E.U. And I'm nervous about jobs, working abroad. I think it makes the majority of me and my friends very nervous.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Swati Dhingra, a professor at the London School of Economics, says the fears of Jordan and her peers are well-founded.

    SWATI DHINGRA, London School of Economics: The large, persistent negative effects of wages on young college graduates if they enter during a downturn, even 15 years afterwards, they have 2.5 percent lower income. So, in that sense, these are persistent effects which stay with the younger population, and they are the ones who are going to be growing up with that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Quite a few of the young people say this is going to jeopardize our futures.

  • BILL MAIN-IAN:

    Their future actually I think has been guaranteed because of the patriotic campaigning that our side of the debate has been doing. They may not see it now. Perhaps in five, 10, 15 years' time, they may recall their position and may be grateful.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Back at All Saints Church, Hillary Wortley says Britain's young voters have only themselves to blame for the outcome.

  • HILLARY WORTLEY:

    A lot of the young people didn't vote and that's why they're angry now. My nephew didn't vote because he thought he could vote online, and when he found out he couldn't, he couldn't be bothered to move down to the polling station.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The message from the pulpit, healing after division.

  • MAN:

    Revenge is sweet to start with, but living on sugar will kill you.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    A sermon likely to be repeated as this continental divorce continues.

    For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm Hari Sreenivasan in London.

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