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Americans’ attitudes toward same-sex relationships have liberalized considerably over the last 40 years. We examine how the demographic processes generating social change in attitudes toward same-sex relationships changed over time. Using data from the 1973 to 2018 General Social Survey and decomposition techniques, we estimate the relative contributions of intracohort change and cohort replacement to overall social change for three different periods. We examine (1) the period prior to the rapid increase in attitude liberalization toward same-sex marriage rights (1973–1991), (2) the period of contentious debate about same-sex marriage and lesbian and gay rights (1991–2002), and (3) the period of legislative and judicial liberalization at the state and federal levels (2002–2018). We find that both intracohort and intercohort change played positive and significant roles in the liberalization of attitudes toward same-sex relationships in the postlegalization period, but that individual change was more important than population turnover over this period.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Sociological Perspectives, volume 65, issue 2, in 2022 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at

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