Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 921–949 | Cite as

The Compensation Effect of Civic Education on Political Engagement: How Civics Classes Make Up for Missing Parental Socialization

  • Anja NeundorfEmail author
  • Richard G. Niemi
  • Kaat Smets
Original Paper


The development of political engagement in early life is significant given its impact on political knowledge and participation. Analyses reveal a large influence of parents on their offspring’s curiosity about politics during their teenage years. Increasingly, civic education is also considered an important influence on political interest and orientations of young people as schools are assigned a crucial role in creating and maintaining civic equality. We study the effects of civic education on political engagement, focusing especially on whether and how civic education can compensate for missing parental political socialization. We use data from the Belgian Political Panel Study (2006–2011) and the U.S. Youth-Parent Socialization Panel Study (1965–1997), which both contain information on political attitudes and behaviors of adolescents and young adults, those of their parents, and on the educational curriculum of the young respondents. Our findings suggest that civics training in schools indeed compensates for inequalities in family socialization with respect to political engagement. This conclusion holds for two very different countries (the U.S. and Belgium), at very different points in time (the 1960s and the 2000s), and for a varying length of observation (youth to old age and impressionable years only).


Civic education Political engagement Young people Latent growth curve analysis 



The supplementary material, the code to replicate the recoding of the data and model estimation, as well as the data of the Belgian Political Panel Study (BPPS) can be downloaded from The data of the U.S. Youth-Parent Socialization Panel Study can be accessed from the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center and Center for Political Studies (ICPSR, study number 4037): We would like to thank Marc Hooghe and his team for allowing us to use the BPPS dataset. Special thanks go to Ruth Dassonneville and Ellen Quintelier for answering our many queries in relation to the BPPS project. We presented earlier drafts of this paper at the following workshops and conferences: the 12th Dutch-Flemish Political Science Conference Politicologenetmaal (Ghent, Belgium, May 30/31, 2013); the workshop “Young people’s politics” (Lincoln, UK, September 5, 2014) organised by the PSA Specialist Group on Young People and Politics; the conference “Inequality of active citizenship: Can education mend the gap?” (London, UK, May 28/29, 2015) organized by LLAKES and AMCIS; as well as the workshop on “The crisis for contemporary youth: opportunities and civic values in comparative, longitudinal and inter-generational perspective” (London, UK, June 4/5, 2015) organized by LLAKES. We would like to thank the panelists for their useful comments. Lastly, we are grateful for the constructive feedback of the three reviewers and the editor of Political Behavior.

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9341_MOESM1_ESM.docx (233 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 232 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Politics and International RelationsUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA
  3. 3.Department of Politics and International RelationsRoyal Holloway, University of LondonEghamUK

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