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Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A cohort is a group of people that have some demographic or statistical characteristic in common.

The term is commonly used to refer to people that were born at a particular time although the group can be based on just about any commonality, such as profession, pay scale, height or geographic location – among many other possibilities. 

In IT environments, individuals from Generation Y (the Millennial generation) and Generation Z, for example, are assumed to be inherently comfortable with digital technologies. They are sometimes characterized as born digital because they grew up surrounded by personal computers and mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets and have known no other world. In such environments, the Generation X cohort that preceded those two is often assumed to understand technology at a more nuts-and-bolts level because they grew up during the development and popularization of personal computing, when applications were less automated.

Dividing populations into cohorts helps refine data analysis in many fields, including statistics, business intelligence (BI), marketing, customer relationship management (CRM) and human resource management (HRM). For some types of research cohorts are assumed to have more in common than the defining characteristic.

The word cohort originates from the Latin cohors where it meant an enclosure or an enclosed group: Co (from com, meaning with) and hors (from hortus, meaning garden). In ancient times, a cohort was one of ten divisions in the Roman Legion. In modern times and in a more general sense, cohort is often used to refer to a single companion, often with a connotation something like partner in crime.

This was last updated in April 2016

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