Education and political participation: the impact of educational environments

  • Jacob Aars
  • Dag Arne Christensen
Original Article


What are the effects of educational environments on individual-level political participation? There is abundant evidence that education at the individual level affects political participation. However, we lack studies that systematically link the effect of individual-level education to that of the environment. For example, what are the effects of being a member of a high vs. low education community? Using a dataset composed of a Norwegian citizen survey comprising more than 11,000 respondents living in 414 municipalities, we relate the effect of education at the individual level to that of the educational environment. The analyses reveal that the educational gap is smaller in high-educated environments and is in fact neutralized in those municipalities that have the greatest share of educated citizens. Thus, the Norwegian case lends support to the relative educational model; the higher the level of education in the environment, the smaller the effect of individual-level education. Judging from our study, citizens with few resources are not lifted by their environment, but educated citizens tend to free-ride in resourceful environments.


Political participation Local democracy Educational environment Contextual effects 


  1. Aars, J., and K. Strømsnes. 2007. Contacting as a channel of political involvement: Collectively motivated, individually enacted. West European Politics 30 (1): 93–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baldersheim, H., and Rose, L.E. 2010. Territorial choice: Rescaling governance in European states. In Territorial choice: the politics of boundaries and borders, eds. Baldersheim, H., and Rose, L.E, 1–21. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Berinsky, A.J., and G.S. Lenz. 2011. Education and political participation: Exploring the causal link. Political Behavior 33 (3): 357–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biezen, I.V., P. Mair, and T. Poguntke. 2012. Going, going,…….gone? The decline of party membership in contemporary Europe. European Journal of Political Research 51 (1): 24–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Books, J., and C. Prysby. 1988. Studying contextual effects on political behavior: A research inventory and agenda. American Politics Quarterly 16 (2): 211–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bovens, M., and A. Wille. 2010. The education gap in participation and its political consequences. Acta Politica 45 (4): 393–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brody, R.A. 1978. The puzzle of political participation in America. In The new American political system, ed. A. King, 287–324. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell, A. 1962. The passive citizen. Acta Sociologica 6 (1): 9–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, A., and H. Valen. 1961. Party identification in Norway and the United States. Public Opinion Quarterly 25 (4): 505–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell, D.E. 2013. Social networks and political participation. Annual Review of Political Science 16: 33–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cho, W.K.T., J.G. Gimpel, and J.J. Dyck. 2006. Residential concentration, political socialization, and voter turnout. Journal of Politics 68 (1): 156–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christopher, B.K. 1992. Political participation and effects from the social environment. American Journal of Political Science 36 (1): 259–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dahl, R.A., and E.R. Tufte. 1973. Size and democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Davis, J.A. 1966. The campus as a frog pond: An application of the theory of relative deprivation to career decisions of college men. American Journal of Sociology 72 (1): 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Denters, B. 2002. Size and political trust: Evidence from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Environment and Planning C 20 (6): 793–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gainsborough, J.F. 2005. Voters in context. cities, suburbs, and presidential vote. American Politics Research 33 (3): 435–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gidengil, E., Tarkiainen, L., Wass, H., and Martikainen, P. 2017. Turnout and education: Is education proxying for pre-adult experiences within the family? Political Science Research and Methods 1–17.Google Scholar
  18. Hagen, T., N.A. Kebebew, G. Godager, T. Iversen, and H. Øien. 2011. Utviklingen i kommunenes helse- og omsorgtjenester 1986-2010, Helseøkonomisk forskningsprogram Skriftserie 2011:5. Oslo: University of Oslo.Google Scholar
  19. Holmberg, S. 1999. Representativt Demokrati, SOU 1999: 64. Demokratiutredningens skrift no 24, Stockholm: Statens offentliga utredningar.Google Scholar
  20. Hooghe, M., and D. Stolle. 2004. Good girls go to the polling booth, bad boys go everywhere: Gender differences in anticipated political participation among American fourteen-year-olds. Women & Politics 26 (3–4): 1–23.Google Scholar
  21. Horowitz, J. 2015. Doing less with more: Cohorts, education, and civic participation in America. Social Forces. Scholar
  22. Hox, J. 2002. Multilevel analysis: Techniques and applications. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  23. Huckfeldt, R.R. 1979. Political participation and the neighborhood social context. American Political Science Review 23 (3): 579–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huckfeldt, R. 1984. Political loyalties and social class ties: The mechanisms of contextual influence. American Journal of Political Science 28 (2): 399–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, M., W. Phillips Shively, and R.M. Stein. 2002. Contextual data and the study of elections and voting behavior: Connecting individuals to environments. Electoral Studies 21: 219–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kam, C.D., and C.L. Palmer. 2008. Reconsidering the effects of education on political participation. Journal of Politics 70 (3): 612–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. King, G., R.O. Keohane, and S. Verba. 1994. Designing social inquiry: Scientific inference in qualitative research. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Lazarsfeld, P.F., B. Berelson, and H. Gaudet. 1944. The people’s choice. New York: Colombia University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lazarsfeld, P.F., and H. Menzel. 1961. On the relation between individual and collective properties. In Complex organizations: A sociological reader, ed. A. Etzioni, 422–440. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  30. Lidström, A. 2006. Commuting and citizen participation in Swedish city-regions. Political Studies 54 (4): 865–888.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Listhaug, O., and M. Wiberg. 1995. Confidence in political and private institutions. In Citizens and the state, ed. H.-D. Klingemann and D. Fuchs, 298–322. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Nannestad, P. 2008. What have we learned about generalized trust, if anything? Annual Review of Political Science 11: 413–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Newton, K. 2001. Trust, social capital, civil society, and democracy. International Political Science Review 22 (2): 201–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nie, N.H., J. Junn, and K. Stehlik-Barry. 1996. Education and democratic citizenship in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Oliver, J.E. 2001. Democracy in Suburbia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Parry, G., G. Moyser, and N. Day. 1992. Political participation and democracy in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Paxton, P. 2007. Association membership and generalized trust: A multilevel model across 31 countries. Social Forces 86: 47–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Persson, M. 2011. An empirical test of the relative education model in Sweden. Political Behavior 33 (3): 445–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Persson, M. 2013. Is the effect of education on voter turnout absolute or relative? A multi-level analysis of 37 countries. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties 23 (2): 111–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Persson, M. 2014. Testing the relationship between education and political participation using the 1970 British cohort study. Political Behavior 36 (4): 877–897.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Persson, M. 2015. Education and political participation. British Journal of Political Science 45 (3): 689–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Petersson, O. 1991. Democracy and power in Sweden. Scandinavian Political Studies 14 (2): 173–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Putnam, R.D. 2015. Our kids: The American dream in crisis. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  44. Rokkan, S., and A. Campbell. 1960. Citizen participation in political life: Norway and the United States of America. International Social Science Journal 12 (1): 69–99.Google Scholar
  45. Rose, L.E. 2002. Municipal size and local nonelectoral participation: Findings from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway. Environment and Planning C 20 (6): 829–852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rose, L.E., and Hansen, T. 2013. Fylkestingsvalgene: Demokratisk milepæl eller demokratisk staffasje? In Et robust lokaldemokratilokalvalget i skyggen av 22. juli 2011, eds. J. Bergh and D. A. Christensen. (pp. 203–222). Oslo: Abstrakt forlag.Google Scholar
  47. Sampson, R.J. 2012. Great American city: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sellers, J.M., and A. Lidström. 2007. Decentralization, local government, and the welfare state. Governance 20 (4): 609–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith, D.H., and C. Shen. 2002. The roots of civil society: A model of voluntary association prevalence applied to data on larger contemporary nations. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 43: 93–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Snijders, T., and R. Bosker. 1999. Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  51. Steenbergen, M.R., & Jones, B.S. 2002. Modeling multilevel data structures. American Journal of Political Science, 218–237Google Scholar
  52. Stolle, D., and M. Hooghe. 2011. Shifting inequalities. Patterns of exclusion and inclusion in emerging forms of political participation. European Societies 13 (1): 119–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tingsten, H. 1937. Political behaviour. Studies in election statistics. London: P. S. King & Son Ltd.Google Scholar
  54. Toft, M., and J. Ljunggren. 2015. Geographies of class advantage: The influence of adolescent neighbourhoods in Oslo, 0042098015601770. DOI: Urban Studies.Google Scholar
  55. Verba, S., K.L. Schlozman, and H.E. Brady. 1995. Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Verba, S., and N.H. Nie. 1972. Participation in America. Political democracy and social equality. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  57. Wray-Lake, L., and D. Hart. 2012. Growing social inequalities in youth civic engagement? Evidence from the National Election Study. Political Science & Politics 45 (03): 456–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Administration and Organization TheoryUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Uni Research Rokkan CentreBergenNorway

Personalised recommendations