The Longitudinal Study of American Youth at University of Michigan has issued a new report “The Generation X Report: Active, Balanced, and Happy: These young Americans are not bowling alone“, whose conclusions are evident from its title.
Data they use: the LSAY began in 1987 with a national sample of 7th and 10th grade students in 50 U.S. public school systems; these 5,900 students were tracked for 6 years. Then 95% of them were relocated in 2007 and interviewing has resumed annually for the last 4 years. Survey participants are now 36 and 39 years old.
Some of their evidence:
“One in three Generation X young adults is an active member of a church or religious organization and almost all of these young adults report attending one or more church or religious activities or events each week. Thirty percent of Generation X young adults indicated that they are active members of a professional, business, or union organization, which provides additional opportunities for social interactions. Seventeen percent of all LSAY young adults are active members of a parent-teacher organization and 24% of the parents of minor children indicated that they are active in a school-based parent-teacher organization. Seventeen percent of Generation X young adult say that they are active in one or more community service groups and 29% report that they do some hours of volunteer work in their community each month. Four percent were active members of a book group and 3% indicated that they were active members of an environmental group….
The young adults in Generation X maintain an active social network outside formal groups and organizations. Ninety-five percent of LSAY young adults report that they talk to friends or family by telephone at least once each week and 29% say that they talk to friends or family on the phone once a day. Ten percent indicate that they have at least two telephone conversations with friends or family each day. Slightly more than 80% of young adults report visiting a friend or relative each week and 29% say that they make three of more visits to friends or family each week. Clearly, these young adults are engaged in continuous communication and interaction with other members of their family and their social network.
One of Putnam’s indicators of social capital was the frequency of inviting friends into one’s home for dinner, and he found this kind of social interaction to be diminishing. Generation X young adults in the LSAY report a substantial level of social interaction over food. Two-thirds reported that they entertain friends for dinner in their home or engage in group cooking activities with other adults at least once each month and 35% say that they entertain or participate in group cooking two or more times each month.
We have written about how the generation below Gen-X (those in their late 20s) are more engaged now than a generation ago (See Sander-Putnam “Still Bowling Alone“). As the scholars involved in LSAY surely know, there is no way just by looking at the levels of engagement of a group at a specific period of time to sort out how much of this is age (activities that people do more at certain ages than others), cohort (what is distinctive about, say GenXers), and period (what is distinctive about a specific period in history, say the Great Recession). To sort out these age-period-cohort effects one needs to either compare people at the same age over time (say interviewing high school seniors every year for 30 years and seeing how high-school seniors are different now than high-school seniors 30 years ago) or having cross-sections of the US at multiple points in time so you can have multiple points for different birth cohorts at different ages. Without this, it is somewhat like a Rohrshach pattern to observe GenXers today and opine about whether they are or not engaged.
Many of the activities they focus on (home entertaining or church attendance or PTA involvement) peak in the middle years as parents are trying to introduce their kids to religion or getting involved through schools.
That said, I hope their conclusion is correct, much as I’d need to see different evidence to believe it.
Read the LSAY report here.