Stay in School, Don't Become a Parent -- Teen Life Transitions and Cumulative Disadvantages for Voter Turnout

Eric Plutzer, Pennsylvania State University
Julianna Sandell, University of Michigan
Publication Date:
Jan 2007
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

We investigate three important life transitions—becoming a parent, getting married, and dropping out or graduating from high school—on the development of civic engagement. We qualify the socioeconomic status and resources frameworks by arguing that effects should differ across racial and ethnic lines. We address these issues by analyzing data from a nationally representative, 12-year panel study comprising more than 12,000 eighth graders in 1988 (National Educational Longitudinal Survey, 1988-2000). We show that early parenthood can have important and lasting impacts on voter turnout many years later. For Whites, early parenthood leads to increased risk of dropping out of high school. High school interruption has major negative impacts on later turnout, even when the student eventually returned to earn a diploma. The findings advance our understanding of the crucial period of adolescence by showing how race and event timing condition the impact of formative life events on later political participation.


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