Political-Engagement

FAMILY BREAKDOWN TO BLAME FOR DECLINING POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT: EVIDENCE FROM GERMANY

Growing up in a broken family causes adults to be less civically, socially and politically engaged. The effects are equally strong for males and females, for the children of low and highly educated mothers and for residents of rural and urban areas. These are the central findings of research by Timo Hener, Helmut Rainer and Thomas Siedler, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.

The study looks at the link between the breakdown in traditional family structures due to increasing rates of divorce and births outside of marriage on one hand and the rising disengagement of citizens from public affairs on the other.

The research analyses survey data from Germany over the last 26 years, looking at family structure and four measures of political involvement: political interest, party identification, involvement in organisations and volunteering. It finds that:

  • Growing up in a broken family reduces civic engagement by 15.7 percentage points.
  • Family ‘non-intactness’ during childhood decreases the occurrence of political interest by 9.4 percentage points and decreases identification with democratic parties and individual voluntarism by around 8 percentage points.
  • Spending half of childhood (eight years) in a broken family decreases civic engagement by 19.2%.
  • The effects of growing up in a broken family are not restricted either to males and females, to children of low or highly educated mothers or to residents of rural or urban areas.

The authors comment:

‘The phenomenon of adverse effects of non-intact families on civic engagement seems to be strikingly universal.

‘Our findings suggest that schools or community organisations, which reach children across socio-economic strata, might need to offer more opportunities for civic and political learning to counteract some of the negative effects on civic engagement stemming from the break-up of families.’

More…

Well-functioning democracies depend on interested, active and informed citizens. This research studies the link between family structure during childhood and civic engagement in adulthood. The main finding is that growing up in a non-intact family causes adults to be less civically, socially and politically engaged.

Over the last several decades, many countries in the developed world have seen a breakdown in traditional family structures due to increasing divorce rates and non-marital birth rates. Simultaneously, the developed world has seen another significant social development: an increasing disengagement of citizens from public affairs. The research investigates the link between the two phenomena.

An extensive body of research across a range of disciplines has identified childhood family structure as a key determinant of children’s socio-economic outcomes in later life. But its impact on children’s later-life civic engagement has been largely neglected.

For example, for Robert Putman, lack of civic engagement and declining respect for the obligations of citizens in democracies are the result of the pervasive individualism that accompanies the disintegration of communities. He dismisses the decline in the traditional family as a possible explanatory factor for the erosion of civic engagement.

The primary contribution of this new study is to fill that void. The findings add a new dimension to the research by showing that family disintegration may also be a root cause of civic disengagement.

In the empirical analyses, the researchers use 26 waves of annual longitudinal data from the German Socio-Economic Panel and an index of civic engagement that averages together four component measures: political interest, party identification, organisational involvement, and individual voluntarism.

In sibling difference analyses, the study finds that growing up in a non-intact family reduces civic engagement by 15.7 percentage points. For the component outcome measures, family non-intactness during childhood decreases the occurrence of political interest by 9.4 percentage points and decreases identification with democratic parties and individual voluntarism by around 8 percentage points, respectively. Results of cross-sectional analyses suggest similar effects.

The duration of family non-intactness plays also an important role. Having spent half of childhood (eight years) in a non-intact family decreases civic engagement by 19%.

The findings also suggest that the effects of growing up in a non-intact family are not restricted either to males and females, children of low or highly educated mothers or residents of rural or urban areas. Thus, the phenomenon of adverse effects of non-intact families on civic engagement seems to be strikingly universal.

What can be concluded from a practical point of view? The findings suggest that schools or community organisations, which reach children across socio-economic strata, might need to offer more opportunities for civic and political learning to counteract some of the negative effects on civic engagement stemming from the break-up of families.

ENDS


Notes for editors:

‘Political Socialization in Flux? Linking Family Non-Intactness during Childhood to Adult Civic Engagement’ by Timo Hener, Helmut Rainer and Thomas Siedler

Contact:

Helmut Rainer: +49(0)89/9224-1607, +49(0)170/3289327 (rainer@ifo.de)

Timo Hener: +49(0)89/9224-1418 (hener@ifo.de)

Thomas Siedler: +49 40 42838 9460 (Thomas.Siedler@wiso.uni-hamburg.de)

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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