Redefining Generational Research: A New Approach by Pew Research Center

In an era where the terms “Millennial” and “Gen Z” are frequently used to categorize and understand societal trends, Pew Research Center, a leading authority in generational research, is redefining its approach. The organization aims to move away from broad generational labels and towards a more nuanced and accurate analysis of groups of similarly aged people.

Pew Research Center has been instrumental in shaping our understanding of Millennials as they transitioned into adulthood and began to make their political mark. More recently, the organization has been keen to study Gen Z as this group begins to step into adulthood. However, the field of generational research has become crowded, often filled with content that leans more towards clickbait or marketing mythology than rigorous research.

In response to this, Pew Research Center embarked on a yearlong process of reassessing the landscape of generational research. They consulted with external experts, including critics of their generational analysis, and invested in methodological testing to ensure the accuracy and relevance of their findings.

The outcome of this process is a set of clear guidelines that will shape Pew Research Center’s approach to generational research moving forward. They will only conduct generational analysis when they have historical data that allows for comparison of generations at similar stages of life. This approach requires data collected over decades and methodologies consistent over time.

The organization will also attempt to control for other factors beyond age when making generational comparisons. This involves isolating the effects of social changes, economic circumstances, technological advances, or political movements that have uniquely shaped a generation during their formative years.

Pew Research Center acknowledges the complexity of isolating these forces from events or circumstances that have affected all age groups, not just one generation. They also recognize that changing demographics may play a role in patterns that might initially seem like generational differences.

When generational analysis is not possible, Pew Research Center still sees value in looking at differences by age. They believe that age is one of the most common predictors of differences in attitudes and behaviors, and understanding these differences can provide valuable insights into societal trends and responses to historical events.

In a significant departure from traditional generational research, Pew Research Center will not always default to using standard generational definitions and labels when studying groups of similarly aged people over time. They believe that these labels can often oversimplify people’s complex lived experiences and reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Instead, they may group people by the decade in which they were born, their age during key historical events, or technological innovations. This approach allows for narrower cohorts in which members may share more in common.

With these considerations in mind, audiences should not expect to see a lot of new research from Pew Research Center that uses the generational lens. The organization will only talk about generations when it adds value, advances important national debates, and highlights meaningful societal trends.

This new approach by Pew Research Center is a significant shift in the field of generational research. It underscores the importance of rigorous, nuanced, and accurate analysis in understanding societal trends and behaviors. It also serves as a reminder that while generational labels can be useful, they are not the only lens through which we can view and understand society.

As a sociologist, I am heartened by Pew Research Center’s decision to redefine their approach to generational research. This shift towards a more nuanced and accurate analysis of age cohorts is a significant step forward in our collective understanding of societal trends and behaviors.

Generational labels, while useful in some contexts, often risk oversimplifying the complex lived experiences of individuals within these broad categories. By moving away from these labels when they’re not appropriate, Pew Research Center is taking a stand against reinforcing harmful stereotypes and promoting a more inclusive and comprehensive view of society.

This approach not only adds depth to their research but also enriches the public dialogue with more accurate and meaningful insights.


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