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Human Capital and Voting Behavior across Generations: Evidence from an Income Intervention

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2020

University of California, Los Angeles and NBER
Duke University Center for Developmental Epidemiology
University of Virginia
Carey School of Business, Johns Hopkins University and NBER
*Randall Akee, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles and NBER,
William Copeland, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Vermont, and Center for Developmental Epidemiology, Duke University,
John B. Holbein, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy University of Virginia,
**Emilia Simeonova, Associate Professor, Carey School of Business, Johns Hopkins University and NBER,


Despite clear evidence of a sharp income gradient in voting participation, it remains unclear whether income truly causes voting. In this article, we investigate how exogenous increases in unearned income affect voting in U.S. elections for two generations (parents and children) from the same household. In contrast to predictions made by current models of voting, we find the income shock had no effect on parents’ voting behaviors. However, we also find that increasing household income has heterogeneous effects on the civic participation of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It increases children’s voting propensity among those raised in initially poorer families—resulting in substantially narrowed participatory gaps. Our results are consistent with a more nuanced view of how individual resources affect patterns of voting than the dominant theoretical framework of voting—the resource model—allows. Voting is fundamentally shaped by the human capital accrued long before citizens are eligible to vote.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2020 

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We wish to thank E. Jane Costello, Gordon Keeler, and Jurgen Henn for their assistance with accessing the GSMS data. Holbein wishes to thank the National Science Foundation for funding support (SES #1416816 and SES #1657821). We also wish to thank Vanessa Williamson, Lidia Farre, Hye Young You, Chris Warshaw, Ariel White, and audiences at Tulane University; Brigham Young University; Brookings Institution; the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (2017); the Midwest Political Science Association (2018); the Children’s Health, Well-being, and Human Capital Formation workshop at the Barcelona GSE Summer Forum (2018); the NBER’s Children’s Program and Economics of Education Program (2018); and the Society for Political Methodology (2018) for their invaluable feedback. We also wish to thank Kevin Collins for the encouragement to start this project.The data used for this paper is proprietary. Replication code is, however, available on the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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