WP185: Age-group differences in social and political interactions in Africa

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Working papers
Aaron Erlich and Andrew McCormack

Differences in age play an important role in social interaction across the African continent. However, the social effects of these differences remain understudied. Using Afrobarometer data, we investigate how age differences between interviewers and respondents may shape how respondents answer questions across Africa. We explore three mechanisms through which age differences may induce response-pattern variation. The first is social acquiescence, where younger respondents say what they think the socially dominant older interviewer wants to hear because they are socially inferior, but the socially dominant group does not change its response pattern. The second is in-group loyalty, where both younger and older respondents are more likely to present themselves in ways that reinforce their social standing when talking to interviewers whose age differs from their own. The third is social distance, where all respondents, regardless of social status, say what they impute the interviewer wants to hear, which we assume will vary by age group. We find relatively large and statistically significant effects for age differences across a variety of questions. While more research remains to be done, we believe these finding generally support social acquiescence and in-group loyalty, rather than social distance. Additionally, we show preliminary evidence that age differences induce larger response-pattern variation than does coethnicity. Our findings speak to the importance of age in social interaction in Africa and provide important lessons for the survey research community.