Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.23, No.4, 2007. pp. 515–528

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The Perils of Interpreting Age Differences in Attitude Reports: Question Order Effects Decrease with Age

Secondary analyses of survey data and two laboratory experiments demonstrate that question order effects decrease with respondents’ increasing age. Presumably, the content of preceding questions is less likely to remain accessible for older respondents, thus attenuating or eliminating their impact on answers to subsequent questions. Supporting this assumption, question order effects were obtained for older respondents with high working memory, but not for older respondents with low working memory. This age-sensitivity of question order effects can compromise comparisons across age groups, even to the extent of reversing the ordinal placement of cohorts along the attitude dimension. Theoretical and methodological implications are discussed.

Self-reports; attitude measurement; age; working memory; cohort comparisons.

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