Social Indicators Research

, Volume 124, Issue 1, pp 295–316 | Cite as

The Effect of Parental Separation on Young Adults’ Political and Civic Participation

  • Marieke VoorpostelEmail author
  • Hilde Coffé


Whereas an extensive literature exists on the effect of parental separation on young adults’ health, well-being and educational attainment, relatively little is known about its effect on young adults’ political and civic engagement. The current paper aims to remedy this deficiency and explore to what extent parental separation affects young adults’ likelihood to vote and volunteer. Taking insights from the social learning and parental status theories, we argue that because of separated parents’ overall lower levels of political and civic engagement as well as socioeconomic status compared with parents who are living together, young adults with separated parents will be less likely to engage in political and civic life compared with those whose parents are living together. Using data from the Swiss Household Panel Survey (1999–2009), our analyses reveal in line with our expectations that parental separation has a negative effect on young adults’ voting and volunteering patterns. Supporting the social learning theory, this negative effect of parental divorce or separation can be partly explained by the lower levels of political and civic engagement among separated parents compared with parents who are living together.


Separation Divorce Young adults Voting frequency Volunteering 



The authors are grateful to Laura Stoker for her valuable suggestions and the fruitful discussions. They would also like to thank Harry Chapman for his editorial help. This study uses data from the Swiss Household Panel (SHP), which is based at the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS. The SHP is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.FORSUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Political Science and International Relations ProgrammeVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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