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Social Trends in American LifeFindings from the General Social Survey since 1972$
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Peter V. Marsden

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691133317

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691133317.001.0001

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Population Trends in Verbal Intelligence in the United States

Population Trends in Verbal Intelligence in the United States

Chapter:
(p.338) 13 Population Trends in Verbal Intelligence in the United States
Source:
Social Trends in American Life
Author(s):

Duane F. Alwin

Julianna Pacheco

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691133317.003.0013

This chapter examines trends in adults' performance on a 10-item vocabulary battery administered within the General Social Survey (GSS). Measured ability remained relatively steady over time. This stability reflects the confluence of two offsetting trends: lower baseline vocabulary knowledge among adults in post-World War II birth cohorts counterbalances achievement gains attributable to their greater schooling. The intricate analysis here assesses two explanations for apparent cohort-related drops in verbal knowledge—that the GSS vocabulary test became more difficult because its words grew obsolete and that the drops reflect population aging rather than cohort-related differences. The chapter concludes that little evidence supports either account and suggests that vocabulary declines in postwar cohorts reflect their family and school experiences as well as the selective survival of higher-ability adults.

Keywords:   General Social Survey, vocabulary test, test performance, verbal knowledge, adult intelligence

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