10 most historic events of your lifetime

Getty Images A New York City firefighter walks away from Ground Zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers Sept. 11, 2001.

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September 11, 2001

Which historic events that happened during your lifetime have had the greatest impact on America? That’s the questions Washington, D.C.-based think tank Pew Research Center posed to more than 2,000 American adults. The No. 1 answer they got: 9/11, with 76% of the public saying the terror attacks were one of the top 10 events during their lifetime with the biggest impact on our nation.

“The perceived historic importance of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon span virtually every traditional demographic divide,” Pew writes. “Majorities of men and women, millennials and baby boomers, Americans with college degrees and those without a high school diploma rate 9/11 as one of the 10 most historically significant events to occur during their lifetime.”

Getty Images Barack Obama and his family arrive on stage for his election night victory rally at Grant Park on November 4, 2008 in Chicago.

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Obama election

Four in 10 Americans say that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency ranks in the top 10 most important events of their lifetime. This is particularly true of African Americans (62% note its significance vs. 36% of whites) and millennials — nearly half (47%) of them rank his election in the top 10, compared with just 28% of the Silent Generation.

Chris Hondros/Newsmakers A boy surfs the Web at a Burger King with Internet access on Nov. 17, 2000 in New York.

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The tech revolution

Fully 22% of Americans say that some aspect of technological advance is among the most important events in their lifetime. “This includes changes ushered in by the internet and social media, cellphones (and smartphones) and innovations in computer and digital technology,” Pew notes. Interestingly, older generations are more likely than younger ones to cite this: 26% of baby boomers and 27% of the Silent Generation say that the tech revolution is among the most significant events, compared with just 18% of millennials.

Getty Images Nov. 22, 1963: John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the U.S., and his wife Jackie Kennedy travelling in the presidential motorcade at Dallas, before his assassination.

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The assassination of JFK

President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963 was named by more than one in five Americans (21%) as a very significant event. More baby boomers (45%) than members of the Silent Generation (41%) cited this event as significant.

Getty Images A wave of combat helicopters fly over an RTO and his commander on an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, a search and destroy mission on the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

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Vietnam War

One in five Americans cited the Vietnam War as a most important event of their lifetime. “Fully 41% of baby boomers and 37% of those in the Silent and Greatest generations list the war in their top 10,” Pew notes. “It did not make the top 10 list for those in Generation X, a significant portion of whom were children during the war years.”

Getty Images Astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin poses next to the U.S. flag July 20, 1969 on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

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Moon landing

This 1969 event resonates most with baby boomers (35% vs. 17% overall), followed by the Silent Generation (29%). “The momentous event does not register significantly with those in Generation X, most of whom were not alive (or were very young) when Neil Armstrong took ‘one small step’ onto the moon’s surface,” Pew notes.

Shawn Hussong/U.S. Navy via Getty Images Iraqi Army Soldiers from 4th Iraqi Army Division leave a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during Operation Swarmer in Brassfield Mora, Iraq.

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Iraq/Afghanistan wars

Fully 17% of Americans rank the Iraq War (2003-11) and the Afghanistan War (2001 – 2014) in their top 10. The youngest generation cited these wars more frequently with 24% of millennials adding them to their list. The war’s unpopularity — and duration — may have played a role in this: In a poll taken 10 years after the start of the Iraq War by the Washington Post and ABC News, fully 58% said Iraq was not worth the flight and 56% said Afghanistan wasn’t.

AFP/Getty Images West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall early Nov. 11, 1989 as they watch East German border guards demolishing a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin, near the Potsdamer Square.

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Berlin Wall falls/end of Cold War

“The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and 1990s is cited by 13% of Americans, although Gen Xers (21%) cite it more frequently,” Pew writes. “It fails to register in the top 10 with millennials, despite the fact that some in this generation were born as early as 1980.”

Getty Images Rainbow-colored lights shine on the White House to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.

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Gay marriage

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 to grant same-sex unions is cited by 11% of adults as a high-level historic event. The topic has a “strong impact” on millennials with 19% choosing it as a top 10 event, roughly twice the share of those in Generation X that did (10%).

Getty Images People hold candles during an evening memorial service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings.

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Orlando/Pulse shooting

The ranking of this shooting in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub on the list may be due, in part, to the fact that this survey was conducted just days after the deadly shooting. But it was also the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, in which 49 people died and dozens of others were injured, and that may also explain why one in 10 Americans named it among their most significant events.

Getty Images

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The Gulf War

One in 10 Americans named the Gulf War (1990-1991) among their top 10 events. “It owes its spot on the list in large part to the share of Generation Xers (15%) who named it as one of the most significant events in their lifetimes,” Pew writes. “In fact, Generation X is the only generation to name the Gulf War as one of its top 10 lifetime events.” It’s likely many of them still remember the 24-hour-a-day television coverage of the event across numerous stations.

Getty Images

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The Gulf War

One in 10 Americans named the Gulf War (1990-1991) among their top 10 events. “It owes its spot on the list in large part to the share of Generation Xers (15%) who named it as one of the most significant events in their lifetimes,” Pew writes. “In fact, Generation X is the only generation to name the Gulf War as one of its top 10 lifetime events.” It’s likely many of them still remember the 24-hour-a-day television coverage of the event across numerous stations.

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