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Aging versus Cohort Interpretations of Intercohort Differences in GSS Vocabulary Scores

Duane F. Alwin and Ryan J. McCammon
American Sociological Review
Vol. 64, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 272-286
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657532
Page Count: 15
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Aging versus Cohort Interpretations of Intercohort Differences in GSS Vocabulary Scores
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Abstract

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.

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