Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Young and Gapped? Political Knowledge of Girls and Boys in Europe

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Young and Gapped? Political Knowledge of Girls and Boys in Europe

Article excerpt

Although political knowledge is considered to be a vital ingredient of democratic health by a large body of scholars, there is nonetheless ample evidence that political knowledge is unequally distributed (Althaus 2003; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996). In particular, one of the most recurrent results in the literature is that there are significant differences in the levels of political knowledge between men and women. Not only do women tend to provide fewer correct answers than men to political knowledge questions (Burns, Schlozman, and Verba 2001; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, 2000; Dow 2009), but they are also more prone than men to respond "don't know" (hereafter, DK) to these types of questions (Fraile 2014; Frazer and Macdonald 2003; Kenski and Jamieson 2000; Lizotte and Sidman 2009; Mondak and Anderson 2004). In fact, even if most differences in political knowledge can be explained as a function of resources, opportunity, and motivation, these factors are insufficient to fully account for gender differences in knowledge (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996).

In this article, we aim to explore gender differences in levels of political knowledge, with a focus on girls and boys in Europe. The study of this population is of particular interest because the majority of explanations of the gender gap in knowledge are connected to social, economic, and psychological processes that mostly take place during transition to adult life. In this study, we draw on data from European lower secondary school students, at a moment in their lives in which these processes have not yet been completed. In addition, this population has completed exactly the same number of years of education, which makes it possible to keep constant one of the main determinants of knowledge for adult citizens. As a longitudinal study of the long-term effect of education on political knowledge in the U.S. case concludes, explaining citizens' differences in civic knowledge requires attention to pre-adult causes (Highton 2009).

We find that there is a gender gap in political knowledge among children, even after controlling for different levels of access to resources, opportunities, and motivations (both at family and school levels) for girls and boys. More interestingly, this gender gap is dependent on the type of knowledge domain that is considered, namely, whether it is either more factually, or more analytically, demanding. Boys systematically know more than girls when asked about facts, but girls display greater knowledge when asked to reason about a particular political matter. These findings have implications for the study of political knowledge, suggesting that part of the gender gap in political knowledge might be a function of what is defined as knowledge. All previous studies on the persistent gender gap in knowledge of adult citizens have used data that strictly measure the factual dimension of politics, a type of knowledge in which men apparently outperform women. We argue that it is necessary to broaden the conception of political knowledge by including a wider range of topics and cognitive domains, as the advantage of men with respect to women might decrease or even disappear (at least for certain kinds of knowledge).

The present study makes a significant contribution to the debate over gender differences in political knowledge from both a substantive and an empirical point of view. Substantively, it attempts to bridge the two literatures on young and adult political knowledge that often appear divorced. Empirically, it draws a unique and innovative distinction between factual and analytical domains of knowledge; no previous research has incorporated this important dimension in the study of the determinants of political knowledge (see, however, Prior and Lupia 2008). Finally, it brings together in the same empirical estimation all different explanations of the gender gap in political knowledge, which are not normally considered simultaneously. …

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