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Childhood Skill Development and Adult Political Participation

  • JOHN B. HOLBEIN (a1)

Recent child development research shows that the psychosocial or noncognitive skills that children develop—including the ability to self-regulate and integrate in social settings—are important for success in school and beyond. Are these skills learned in childhood also important for adult political behaviors like voting? In this article, I use a unique school-based 20-year field experiment to explore whether children who develop psychosocial skills early on are more likely to vote in adulthood than those who do not. Matching subjects to voter files, I show that this intervention had a noticeable long-run impact on political participation. These results highlight the need to better understand how childhood experiences shape civic behaviors later in life. During this critical period, children can be taught the not explicitly political, but still vital, skills that set them on a path toward political participation in adulthood.

Corresponding author
John B. Holbein is Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, 745 Kimball Tower, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602 (
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I wish to thank the National Science Foundation (SES-1416816) for its generous financial support. I would also like to thank Kenneth Dodge for providing invaluable feedback and assistance throughout this project; the other members of the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (CPPRG)—Karen L. Bierman, John D. Coie, Mark T. Greenberg, John E. Lochman, Robert J. McMahon, and Ellen E. Pinderhughes—for their very generous access to the Fast Track data; Jennifer Goodwin and Jeff Quinn for their help with the Fast Track data; and Marisa Abrajano, Nicholas Carnes, Anna Gassman-Pines, Christina Gibson-Davis, Donald Green, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Bradley Jones, Helen Ladd, Jan Leighley, Quin Monson, Marcos Rangel, Lucy Sorensen, Steven Sexton, Steven Snell, Jacob Vigdor, five anonymous reviewers, and participants at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), Boston University, Brigham Young University, Columbia University, Duke University, University of Virginia, Princeton University, University of Chicago, University of Tennessee, and Tufts University for their thoughtful feedback.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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