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The Persistence of the Past: The Class of 1965 Turns Fifty


This paper revisits the linked questions of attitudinal crystallization and generational formation in an attempt to nudge the understanding of these matters forward. Our goal, put most generally, is to bring ideas about the formation of political generations into an analysis of the long-term dynamics of attitude crystallization. Although scholars have quite often tried to trace the long-term development of political generations, and often employ comparison groups (e.g., Alwin, Cohen, and Newcomb 1991, Cole, Zucker, and Ostrove 1998, Elder 1974, Fendrich and Lovoy 1988, Jennings 1987, Markus 1979, Stewart, Settles, and Winter 1998), less common are analyses of attitudinal crystallization that bring ideas about political generations to bear. We do this in the paper in two ways.

First, our analysis distinguishes within an age-cohort between those who were politically engaged and those who were politically unengaged during their early adult, and presumably politically formative, years. The former resemble the "generational unit" Mannheim (1952) described far better than does the age-cohort as a whole. We explore the importance of this distinction to how attitudinal stability and constraint develop over time.

Second, we compare age cohorts to suggest how the crystallization process produces age-related differences in the response to political events. Age, in this analysis is treated as a marker both of political experience and of political generation. This effort demonstrates how the unfolding of political history can influence the extent to which attitudes crystallize within a political generation.

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