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May 12, 2008

a widening gap

A wide gap has opened between the half of young Americans who attend college and the other half who do not. I am particularly concerned about the gap in political and civic participation. Those who express their views and cast their votes get more attention from government. Voting also correlates with other forms of civic engagement, such as following the news, joining organizations, and volunteering. When young people are not engaged in these ways, society misses their contributions: their ideas, energy, and social networks. And engaging in these ways is good for young people themselves: it provides information, networks, opportunities, motivation, and support. Those who volunteer are substantially better off than those who do not. A dramatic example is the finding that belonging to voluntary associations in Chicago is associated with lower death rates, especially for African American men.*

The following two graphs show the prevalence of civic engagement for young Americans during the 1970s and during the current decade. The first graph shows only young Americans without college experience; the second shows the ones who have attended at least some college.

Comparing the two graphs shows that youth on a college track are far more engaged. Engagement has declined in both groups over time; but proportionally, the change among non-college youth is much greater. While their voting rate has fallen significantly, their rates of union membership, newspaper readership, and contact by major political parties have been cut by more--at least by half. (I include trust in other people because it correlates with membership in groups and social networks.)

*See Kimberly A. Lochner, Ichiro Kawachia, Robert T. Brennan and Stephen L. Bukac, Social capital and neighborhood mortality rates in Chicago, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 56, issue 8 (April 2003), pp. 1797-1805

May 12, 2008 10:56 PM | category: none


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