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Posts Tagged ‘generations’

Vocabulary Retrogression

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As is now well-known, scores on “intelligence” tests rose strongly over the last few generations, world-wide – this is the “Flynn Effect.” One striking anomaly, however, appears in American data: slumping students’ scores on academic achievement tests like the SAT. Notes of the decline starting in the 1960s sparked a lot of concern and hand-wringing. A similar decline is evident among adult respondents to the General Social Survey. The GSS gives interviewees a 10-item, multiple choice vocabulary test. (Practically speaking, vocabulary tests yield pretty much the same results as intelligence tests.) In over 40 years of the survey, a pattern emerged: Correct scores rose from the generations born around 1900 to the generations born around 1950 and then dropped afterwards. Are recently-born cohorts dumber – or, at least, less literate – than their parents and grandparents?

A new study presented to the American Sociological Association in August by Shawn Dorius (Iowa State), Duane Alwin (Penn. State), and Juliana Pacheco (U. of Iowa) tested a hunch several researchers have had about the generational pattern in the GSS vocabulary test – that words have histories.

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Inequality Hits Home

In recent days, President Obama has returned to speaking on the theme of rising economic inequality in America since the 1970s (e.g., here and here), addressing the insecurity that it has caused the middle class, which now needs more hands on deck working harder to keep up, and speaking about how it has demorilized young people unlucky enough not to be born into advantage. To be sure, some claim that inequality has not been widening and that, even if it has, the middle class has nonetheless done just fine (e.g., here). The dueling calculations in this debate can get pretty complex, though most serious scholars agree with the President’s summary (see these earlier posts: herehereherehere). A new study reveals what has been going on from yet another viewpoint: that of parents and grown-up children who are living together.

Demographers Joan Kahn, Frances Goldscheider, and Javier García-Manglano have just published an important paper [1] tracking Americans’ living arrangements over 50 years. Their results send two strong messages: One, the economic struggles of young adults today, particularly of men and of the less-educated, have led many more of them to live with their parents than before. And, two, young people living with parents increasingly depend on their parents’ income. Both findings reinforce the President’s concerns about our economic stagnation.

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Timing is (Not?) Everything

Americans generally claim that what you get in life is mainly a result of what you put in, your talents and your effort.

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Yet it hard to deny that, often, factors outside a person’s control have major consequences – such as the year the person was born. This post is about what some social scientists have called the intersection of biography and history, when turning points in individuals’ lives coincide with turning points in history.

One critical life transition is looking for that first job. And young people entering the job market now are severely disadvantaged by the fact, totally outside of their control, that their parents conceived them in the late 1980s instead of earlier.

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Boomer Blues

A June 6 story in the New York Times, “Rise in Suicides of Middle-Aged is Continuing,” reported that 45-to-54 year-olds have the highest rate of suicide and that their rate is rising (– see here and a complex follow-up on June 13 here ). Although there are technical reasons to put a big asterisk on that claim* [see endnote below], it appears to be true that Baby Boomers’ lives have turned out to be a bit different — in unfortunate ways — from those of their parents and of their children. Americans who came into adulthood in the ‘60s were distinct.

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“The Sixties,” in a social and cultural sense, probably ran from about 1964 to about 1974, when the bulk of the Baby Boomers were under 18. They (I should say “we”) had a doubly-marked experience: First, Americans born between roughly 1946-48 and 1960-64 grew up in the largest cohort ever (largest until the 2000s, when of course the whole American population was about 50 percent larger); and second, the Boomers grew up in a time of great cultural turmoil. The two facts may well have been connected.
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