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An International Comparison of the Effect of Education on Democratic Attitudes

Lenka Drazanova
European University Institute
Lenka Drazanova
European University Institute
Open Panel

Abstract

Previous empirical research on the effect of education has reported as one of its most solid findings the correlation between educational attainment and an embracement of values regarded as congruent with democracy. However, the universality of the effect of education has been brought into question by preliminary cross-national studies. Moreover, most of the previous studies did not seek to explain variances of the effect of education or did not test them systematically at the country level. Firstly, the article tests whether the strength of the educational effect varies cross-nationally. Secondly, it is crucial to test how this influence is exerted. Generally, there have been three possible interpretations of such an effect of education. The cognitive-psychological theory argues that education develops one’s cognitive competence and cognitive sophistication into a better understanding that the principles of equality apply to all. The ideological refinement model maintains that the tolerance of the better educated is in fact a sophisticated tool, or ideology, to legitimize and maintain the status quo of their economic class. According to the socialization theory the difference in liberal attitudes is mediated by the transmission of the official norms and values of society throughout the educational system. By following education, individuals become exposed to dominant values which in consequence countervail their cognitively simplistic beliefs. The article unravels the connective mechanisms of the educational process and attitudinal characteristics of democratic citizenship by testing the three possible theories for its explanation. The article contributes to the existing knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it applies existing theories to units that have not yet been covered and tests for the universal existence of previous findings using cross-national comparisons. Secondly, it improves existing quantitative methods by which previous findings have usually been handled by proposing a multilevel model.