The Whys and Hows of Generations Research

  • Posted on: 8 September 2015
  • By: Max Scott

Pew Research Center - 3 September 2015

At the center of the Pew Research Center’s mission is a commitment to measuring public attitudes on key issues and documenting differences in attitudes between demographic and political groups.

An individual’s age is one of the most common predictors of differences in attitudes and behaviors. On issues ranging from foreign affairs to social policy, age differences in attitudes can be some of the widest and most illuminating.  Age denotes two important characteristics about an individual: their place in the life cycle – whether a young adult, middle-aged parent or retiree – and their membership in a cohort of individuals who were born at a similar time. The nature of age as a variable allows researchers to employ an approach known as cohort analysis to track a group of people over the course of their lives.

Age cohorts give researchers a tool to analyze changes in views over time; they can provide a way to understand how different formative experiences interact with the life-cycle and aging process to shape people’s view of the world. While younger and older adults may differ in their views at a given moment, age cohorts allow researchers to go further and examine how today’s older adults felt about a given issue when they themselves were young, as well as to describe how the trajectory of views might differ across age cohorts.

Generations are one way to group age cohorts. A generation typically refers to groups of people born over a 15-20 year span, such as the Millennial generation, currently the youngest adult generation. Generational analysis is an important tool used by Pew Research Center and other researchers. This report aims to describe the basic approach of generational analysis at the Pew Research Center and some of the key insights it provides into understanding public attitudes and behaviors.

The full articel can be read at The Whys and Hows of Generations Research