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Socio-economic problems and political intergration over the life course

Political Participation
Political Sociology
Quantitative
Public Opinion
Youth
Sebastian Jungkunz
University of Bamberg
Sebastian Jungkunz
University of Bamberg
Paul Marx
Institut für Politische Wissenschaft und Soziologie Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

Abstract

Recent research on socio-economic inequality in political participation has emphasized socialization patterns as a key explanation (e.g. Akee et al. 2020). A tentative consensus has emerged that political involvement becomes resilient with age and hence unresponsive to economic experiences (Prior 2019). This insight has led to the conjecture that the socio-economic gradient in political participation really results from the long-term effects of unequal socialization patterns. In this view, experiences in youth and childhood tend to produce rather stable trajectories of political apathy or involvement. To the extent that socio-economic characteristics of families influence socialization, the foundations for political inequality would emerge before voting age and last far into adulthood. Despite some evidence pointing in this direction (Emmenegger et al. 2017; Jungkunz and Marx 2021), we still know little about how exactly unequal participation develops over the life course. A number of important questions remain unaddressed. At which point in the life-cycle do people typically make socio-economic experience that translate into the well-known income gradient in political involvement? Relatedly: at which point in the life-cycle is political involvement malleable enough to respond immediately to socio-economic shocks? What are the long-term consequences of adverse socio-economic experiences in youth or childhood for political socialization and involvement later in life? And which role do parents’ socio-economic experience play as opposed to personal experiences early and later in life? The main obstacle to addressing these questions arguably has been data availability. Most datasets cover the population from (or close to) voting age onwards. They hence do not allow observing potentially crucial processes taking place in youth and particularly childhood. To overcome this limitation, we rely on the youth questionnaire in the British Household Panel Survey / Understanding Society. They allow us to combine information on political interest at the age of 9-12 years, psychological characteristics of children, and parental socio-economic standing. With latent growth curve modelling, we show that political inequality emerges at a very young age and is likely mediated by negative effects of socio-economic problems on family life and child wellbeing. Moreover, our results show that childhood experience still have an independent effect on voting propensity in young adulthood. Akee, R., Copeland, W., Holbein, J. B., & Simeonova, E. (2020). Human Capital and Voting Behavior across Generations: Evidence from an Income Intervention. American Political Science Review, 114(2), 609–616. Emmenegger, P., Marx, P., & Schraff, D. (2017). Off to a bad start: Unemployment and political interest during early adulthood. Journal of Politics, 79(1), 315–328. Jungkunz, S., & Marx, P. (2021). Income changes do not influence political involvement in panel data from six countries. European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming. Prior, M. (2019). Hooked: How politics captures people’s interest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.