Younger Americans are better at picking out factual news articles when compared to older Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.
The research center conducted a survey asking U.S. adults to identify “five factual statements and five opinion statements.” It found that one out of three 18- to 49-year-olds was able to identify all five factual statements as factual, whereas only 20 percent of Americans over the age of 50 were able to identify the five factual statements.
Opinion statements also followed a similar trend, with almost twice as many 18- to 49-year olds (44 percent) picking out all five opinion statements as the group of those surveyed who were 50 and older (26 percent).
Jeffrey Gottfried, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and one of the writers of the study, told IJR that the goal of the study was to find out how “Americans internalize the news.”
“We were really interested to the extent to which people could differentiate between factual statements and opinion statements,” he said. “Many raised concerns are whether facts and opinions are increasingly becoming blurred…”
A previous study Gottfried collaborated on found that all participants were able to pick out each of the five factual statements 26 percent of the time and all five opinion statements 35 percent.
While digital savviness was played up as a role in people’s understanding of factual news, Gottfried said that did not hold up when age was factored in.
“The age differences persisted even when you accounted for digital savviness,” he said. “So there’s something there above and beyond digital savviness that determines age still matters.”
The research also determined that, regardless of the ideological appeal of the 10 statements, younger Americans were consistently better at picking which ones were fact and opinion.
“They were able to classify statements that appealed more to the left,” he said, “as well as classify statements that appealed those that appeal more to the right.”
For example, the opinion statement that read “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient,” which was determined to lean right ideologically, was correctly identified by 77 percent of younger respondents as opposed to 65 percent of the older respondents.
The 18- to 49-year-old group also was better at determining the left-leaning ideological statement of “abortion should be legal in most cases” (82 percent) over the respondents who were 50 years old and older (78 percent).
Gottfried said that the overall findings “do raise caution.”
“With the massive array of content that does flow through the digital space and the country’s increasing political divisiveness, it’s really important for people to quickly sort through information, and there are certain members of the population that do better than others do,” he said.
The survey was conducted between February 22 and March 4, 2018. Gottfried said the study’s release did not correlate with the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.