Aging versus cohort interpretations of intercohort differences in GSS vocabulary scores

Duane F. Alwin, Ryan J. McCammon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


We investigate the plausibility of aging versus cohort interpretations of cohort-linked differences in vocabulary knowledge using data from 13 GSS surveys over a 22-year period, 1974 to 1996. We argue that one way to assess the effects of aging in these surveys is to examine the diachronic data within cohorts and to assume minimal period effects. Holding cohort constant in this fashion reveals detectable effects of aging that are not likely to be due to period influences between 1974 and 1996. Aging, however, explains only a tiny portion of the variation in the data, and aging effects are of insufficient magnitude to account for the larger intercohort patterns in the GSS vocabulary test data. Even when taking into account the effects of aging, the results of a cohort analysis support the argument that unique cohort experiences make important contributions to variation in GSS vocabulary test scores, especially among cohorts educated in the post-World War II era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-286
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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