Using freelisting to identify, assess, and characterize age differences in shared cultural domains

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2008 Nov;63(6):S385-93. doi: 10.1093/geronb/63.6.s385.


Objective: Freelisting is a brief, paper-and-pencil technique in which participants make lists of items that they believe belong in a particular domain. Where cultural domains are shared, as for young and old in the same society, subtle intracultural differences may be difficult to detect. This article presents a series of techniques for revealing and describing this intracultural variation in freelisted data among young versus old age groups.

Methods: Older (N = 30) and younger (N = 31) Mexicans in Mexico City made freelists in four quotidian domains: animals, emotions, illnesses, and gendered occupations.

Result: We used minimum residual factor analysis (consensus analysis) to establish domain coherence and assess overall consensus concerning contents of the domains. We established subvariation within the overall consensus by comparing levels of observed versus predicted inter-informant agreement. Results showed divergent patterns of inter-informant agreement between young and old participants across domains. Qualitative examination of items with higher salience for young versus old revealed age differences consistent with prior findings in each domain.

Discussion: The concatenation of these techniques renders freelisting an accessible, easily administered tool for probing age and group differences in cultural domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods*
  • Consensus
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Female
  • Human Development*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics