Families, Divorce and Voter Turnout in the U.S.

Publication Date:
Jan 2005
Published In:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

How large a role does the family play in civic development? This paper examines an important aspect of family influence by tracing the impact of divorce on voter turnout during adolescence. We show that the effect of divorce among white families is large, depressing turnout by nearly 10 percentage points. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, we demonstrate that the impact of divorce varies by racial group and can rival the impact of parents’ educational attainment, which is generally regarded as the most important non-political characteristic of one’s family of origin. We attempt to explain the divorce effect by examining the mediating impacts of parental voter turnout, active social learning, income loss, child–parent interaction, residential mobility, and educational attainment.


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