College Socialization and the Economic Views of Affluent Americans

July 25, 2017

From the student demonstrations of the 1960s to the recent campus protests of conservative speakers such as author Charles Murray, universities are often portrayed in the media as hotbeds of left-wing ideas. But as college tuitions continue to soar and economic inequality deepens in the U.S., what kinds of political ideologies actually take shape on campuses?

The most recent issue of the American Journal of Political Science contains a new report by former RSF visiting scholar Tali Mendelberg, Katherine T. McCabe, and Adam Thal (Princeton University) that investigates how the socialization of students on college campuses affects those students’ political beliefs. Focusing on campuses with high concentrations of affluent students, the authors find that, contrary to popular perceptions of colleges as promulgating liberal ideas, the processes of socialization on these campuses often lead students to become more economically conservative. They write, “We argue that affluent campuses produce an affluent class culture involving expensive consumption patterns and leisure activities. When this culture combines with cohort norms of financial gain, it socializes affluent students to conceive of their class interests in a way that favors pro-wealth views.”

During her time as a visiting scholar at RSF, Mendelberg studied how these campus socialization processes are both caused by, and inadvertently help perpetuate, economic inequality. Read Mendelberg’s interview with RSF on her research.

Read the report in full from the American Journal of Political Science.

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