Historic events come to define our national identity. But do we all agree on what’s important?
Pew asked 2,025 Americans from each generation to name the 10 events in their lifetime with “the greatest impact” on the country. The answers reveal a world newly redefined by the rise of domestic and foreign terrorism, and the transformative role of technology and civil rights.
Everyone agreed on one thing. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stood out as the most important event, cutting across age, race, and political party. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of all respondents included the terror attacks in their top 10, and the events of that day were seen as the most defining overall for each generation, even ranking ahead of World War II for the Silent Generation (born between 1901 and 1927). The next closest contender was Barack Obama’s election to the White House, which 40% of the public named as one of their top events. (It shared the top spot among the survey’s black respondents.)
Selections were limited to events in each respondent’s lifetime. Younger generations’ rankings were dominated by school shootings, bombings, and wars in the Middle East (roughly half of the events). The brighter spots focused on digital technology, gay marriage, and Obama’s election. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation picked the US civil rights movement, the end of the Cold War, the Vietnam war, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King as the most impactful events in their lifetimes.
You can see all the responses below. The survey was conducted from June to July in 2016 in association with A+E Networks’ HISTORY.
Correction: A previous version of this post failed to note that Pew combined survey results from the the Silent and Greatest Generations. This has been corrected above.