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date: 22 January 2022

Generations and Political Engagementlocked

Generations and Political Engagementlocked

  • Miroslav NemčokMiroslav NemčokDepartment of Political Science, University of Helsinki
  •  and Hanna WassHanna WassDepartment of Political Science, University of Helsinki

Summary

The concept of “generation” constitutes a useful tool to understand the world of politics. Trends in political behavior typical for the youngest generation are indicative for future development. In a wider perspective, large differences between generations also reveal potential for intergenerational conflict and a shift in the entire political paradigm. Four important topics need to be addressed in order to properly understand the body of research studying specifics of political behavior across generations and the use of generation as an analytical tool: (a) conceptual definition of generation, (b) its distinction from other time-related concepts, (c) methodological challenges in applying the time-related factors in research, and (d) understanding the wider implications of these factors for individuals’ political behavior which has already been identified in the scholarship.

A political generation is formed among cohorts who experience the same event(s) during their formative years and become permanently influenced by them. Therefore, members of the same generation share similar socialization experiences which create a sense of group belonging and shape the attitudes and behavior throughout their lives. This definition of political generation is distinctive among the three time-related factors—age, period, and cohort—each of which has a well-grounded and distinctive theoretical underpinning.

However, a truly insightful examination of the time-related development in political engagement needs to utilize hybrid models that interact with age and period or cohort and period. This imposes a challenge known as identification problemage (years since birth), period (year), and cohort (year of birth) are perfect linear functions of each other and therefore conventional statistical techniques cannot disentangle their effects. Despite extraordinary effort and outstanding ideas, this issue has not been resolved yet in a fully reliable and hence satisfactory manner.

Regardless of methodological issues, the literature is already able to provide important findings resulting from cohort analysis of political engagement. This scholarship includes two major streams: The first focuses on voter turnout, exploring whether nonvoting among the youngest generation is a main reason for the turnout decline in contemporary democracies. The second stream examines the generational differences in political engagement and concludes that low electoral participation among the youngest generation may be explained by young people being more engaged with noninstitutionalized forms of political participation (e.g., occupations, petitions, protests, and online activism).

Subjects

  • Groups and Identities
  • Political Behavior
  • Political Sociology

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