Original Paper

Population and Environment

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 1-25

First online:

Cohort change and the diffusion of environmental concern: a cross-national analysis

  • Raphael J. NawrotzkiAffiliated withInstitute of Behavioral Science, CU Population Center, University of Colorado, Boulder Email author 
  • , Fred C. PampelAffiliated withInstitute of Behavioral Science, CU Population Center, University of Colorado, Boulder

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This study explores value change across cohorts for a multinational population sample. Employing a diffusion-of-innovations approach, we combine competing theories predicting the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and environmentalism: post-materialism and affluence theories, and global environmentalism theory. The diffusion argument suggests that high-SES groups first adopt pro-environmental views, but as time passes by, environmentalism diffuses to lower-SES groups. We test the diffusion argument using a sample of 18 countries for two waves (years 1993 and 2000) from the International Social Survey Project. Cross-classified multilevel modeling allows us to identify a nonlinear interaction between cohort and education, our core measure of SES, in predicting environmental concern, while controlling for age and period. We find support for the diffusion argument and demonstrate that the positive effect of education on environmental concern first increases among older cohorts and then starts to level off until a bend point is reached for individuals born around 1940 and becomes progressively weaker for younger cohorts.


Diffusion Environmental concern Multilevel ISSP Affluence hypothesis Post-materialist hypothesis Cohort change