Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Political Socialization and Voting: The Parent-Child Link in Turnout

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Political Socialization and Voting: The Parent-Child Link in Turnout

Article excerpt


Brady, Schlozman, and Verba (2015) have recently drawn attention to the lack of study of political reproduction. Just as social reproduction refers to the processes that transmit social and economic inequality from one generation to the next, political reproduction denotes the processes underpinning the intergenerational transmission of political inequality. Brady et al. argue that political reproduction and social reproduction are inextricably linked: parental socioeconomic disadvantage translates into political disadvantage. When it comes to transmitting political inequality, the key aspect of socioeconomic status (SES) is seen to be parental education. According to status transmission theory, education serves as "the engine for the transmission of political activity from generation to generation" (Verba, Schlozman, and Burns 2005, 98). Well-educated parents are more likely to provide a politically stimulating home environment and, more importantly, they are more likely to have children who are well educated.

Status transmission theory poses a challenge to the social learning perspective that has dominated studies of political socialization. Social learning theory highlights the role of observational learning and the modeling of behavior on the parental example (Bandura 1977; see, for example, Jennings, Stoker, and Bowers 2009). The two theories are not necessarily incompatible as observational learning could be one path through which the parents' educational attainment influences the propensity of their adult children to be politically active. However, according to proponents of status transmission theory, this path is secondary as the critical mechanism behind the reproduction of political inequality is the parent-child link in educational attainment (Verba, Schlozman, and Burns 2005).

Status transmission theory is an important contribution to our understanding of political inequality in the United States, but there is a question mark over the generalizability of the theory to other settings. The U.S. context is not typical when it comes to the intergenerational transmission of educational attainment. Among thirteen highincome Western countries, only Italy (.54) has a higher intergenerational schooling correlation (Hertz et al. 2007). This puts the United States (.46) on a par with Ireland and Switzerland, but well ahead of countries like Denmark (.30), Great Britain (.31), New Zealand (.33), Norway (.35), and the Netherlands (.36). In fact, as far as the correspondence between the education of parents and their children is concerned, the United States is much closer to countries like Pakistan (.46), Sri Lanka (.48), and Egypt (.50) than to most of its high-income counterparts.

To assess the generalizability of status transmission theory, we investigate the relative importance of status transmission and social learning in explaining the intergenerational transmission of unequal turnout in Finland. There are a number of reasons why Finland is a good case for this purpose. First, Finland (.33) ranks thirty-fifth among forty-two countries in terms of the average parent-child schooling correlation, whereas the United States ranks fifteenth (Hertz et al. 2007).1 There is, nonetheless, an important element of educational persistence:

. . . in Finland too, the universal logic that the children of parents with a high level of education will have a long educational career and that the children of parents with a low level of education will follow a shorter and more practically oriented path applies. (Kivinen and Rinne 1996, 303)

At the same time, Finland is one of the countries, along with the United States, where education has a particularly strong relationship with turnout, especially among young people (Gallego 2015). In other words, Finland is not a least-likely case for status transmission theory to hold.

A final advantage of studying Finland is that it enables us to overcome one of the key limitations of much of the existing literature, namely, the reliance on recall data (Brady, Schlozman, and Verba 2015). …

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