Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 793–816 | Cite as

Do Parents’ Life Experiences Affect the Political and Civic Participation of Their Children? The Case of Draft-Induced Military Service

  • Tim Johnson
  • Christopher T. Dawes
Original Paper


Myriad studies show that politically-salient events influence civic and political engagement. Yet, on the other hand, decades of research indicate that familial factors mold political and civic dispositions early in life, before an individual experiences political events outside the family. Viewing these two lines of research together, we ask if individuals’ political and civic dispositions might be influenced not solely by their own experiences, but, also, by the experiences of those individuals who create their family environment—namely, their parents. Do parents’ life experiences—before the birth of their children—affect their offspring’s public engagement? To answer that question, we examine how the assignment of military service, via the Vietnam-era Selective Service Lotteries, affected rates of public participation among the children of draft-eligible men. Our analysis finds a negative relationship between a father’s probability of draft-induced military service and his offspring’s public participation. In addition to highlighting how parents’ life experiences can influence the social behavior of their children, this finding challenges the prevailing view that the Vietnam conflict did not contribute to declining civic engagement and it shows how experiences within bureaucratic institutions can yield long-standing effects on politically-relevant behaviors.


Vietnam Selective Service Lotteries Military Conscription Civic Participation Intergenerational Transmission Policy Feedback Bureaucracy 



We received helpful advice on an earlier version of this manuscript from audience members and fellow panelists at the 2014 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting. Also, three anonymous reviewers, as well as the past and present editors of Political Behavior, offered insightful comments that improved the paper.

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9334_MOESM1_ESM.doc (394 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 394 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Willamette UniversitySalemUSA
  2. 2.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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