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The most defining moments in America, as ranked by each generation

The "Tribute in Lights" shines on the skyline of lower Manhattan as the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center is observed in New York, September 11, 2007. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES)
Gary Hershorn / Reuters
Our collective memory.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

Millennials (born between 1981 – 1998)

Sept. 11
86%
Obama election
47%
Iraq/Afghanistan wars
24%
Gay marriage
19%
The tech revolution
18%
Orlando shooting
17%
Hurricane Katrina
11%
Columbine shooting
10%
Bin Laden
10%
Sandy Hook
7%
Boston Marathon bombing
7%
Great Recession
7%

GenX (1965 – 1980)

Sept. 11
79%
Obama election
40%
Fall of Berlin Wall / End of Cold War
21%
The tech revolution
20%
Iraq/Afghanistan wars
18%
Gulf War
15%
Challenger disaster
14%
Gay marriage
10%
Hurricane Katrina
10%
Columbine shooting
9%
Orlando shooting
9%
Oklahoma City bombing
9%

Baby boomers (1946 – 1964)

Sept. 11
70%
JFK assassination
45%
Vietnam war
41%
Obama election
38%
Moon landing
35%
The tech revolution
26%
Civil rights movement
18%
Fall of Berlin Wall / Cold War
16%
MLK assassination
15%
Iraq/Afghanistan wars
11%

Silent and Greatest Generations (1901 – 1945)

Sept. 11
59%
WWII
44%
JFK assassination
41%
Vietnam war
37%
Moon landing
29%
Obama election
28%
The tech revolution
27%
Civil rights movement
18%
Korean War
18%
Iraq/Afghanistan wars
14%

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. 

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