Political Participation and Cumulative Disadvantage: The Impact of Economic and Social Hardship on Young Citizens

Publication Date:
Jan 2007
Published In:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

In this article, we seek to provide the most comprehensive exploration to date of the effects of economic and social disadvantage on young citizens' voter turnout. We look at four overlapping domains of hardship—those rooted in (a) the family context, (b) the community context, (c) the school context, and (d) major events and life transitions. Our conceptual model of cumulative advantage/disadvantage identifies the different ways in which disadvantages can have cumulative effects on social outcomes generally and on civic participation in particular. Our framework also suggests how patterns of advantage and disadvantage may be mediated by social institutions. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Survey, we show that disadvantages rooted in the family have major impact on all groups of young citizens and that family disadvantage interacts with school disadvantage for whites. We also show that the effects of early parenthood, being arrested, and dropping out of school have differential effects depending on race. We also show that community colleges function as civic leveling institutions—especially for African American youth.


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