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Cohort Effect: Definition & Research

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  • 0:02 What Is a Cohort?
  • 0:58 The Cohort Effect
  • 2:15 Cohorts & Research
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
The cohort effect can have a big influence on how you see the world and a bigger influence for those seeking to understand behavior. Through this lesson, you'll learn how to define the cohort effect and explore why it's significant through some examples.

What Is a Cohort?

If you pay any attention to the news or politics lately, you probably hear the terms Baby Boomers or Gen X-ers being thrown around with regard to the nation's future. These are large groups of the population that are defined by a particular year that a person was born. But while these terms tend to be used frequently, what is often overlooked or under-analyzed is what it means to be a part of one of these generations. For many people, these labels are akin to stereotypes, and they hardly seem relevant, but they're actually much more than that, particularly for researchers in the social sciences.

From the social science perspective, these generations or groups of people are often referred to as a cohort, which are generally comprised of people born during a certain time period. For example, if you were born in the United States between 1980 and 1985, everyone else born in the U.S. between those years could be considered your cohort.

The Cohort Effect

Like Baby Boomers or Generation X, the term cohort is very broad and does little to describe the often large and diverse collections of people that fall into each identifiable cohort. Where it does have certain significance, however, is in the context of social research design and recruiting a sample for a particular study.

The influence that a person's date and place of birth has on social research is known as the cohort effect, which refers to the similarities in experiences and social influences across a particular age group. This does not ignore the influence of individual beliefs or values; rather, it takes a big-picture view of how major social, cultural, or political influences and events experienced by everyone can shape their perspectives.

For example, Millennials, a cohort that reached adulthood around the year 2000, have a very different perspective on marriage equality than someone born in 1950. This could be because of the way that they were raised, but it's also related to the social and cultural events that they were exposed to in their young years. For young people in the present, homosexuality has become normalized through the media, entertainment industry, and the legal system, which is something that everyone of their generation has experienced and is unique to that generation.

Cohorts and Research

If you were to conduct a study only with those born between 1980 and 1985, the cohort effect wouldn't be much of an issue because all of your participants were exposed to the same social and cultural events, and it wouldn't have much of an influence on the results. If, on the other hand, you wanted to conduct a cross-sectional study, which is a study that includes participants from different groups, the cohort effect could be problematic.

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