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Enhancing Electoral Equality: Can Education Compensate for Family Background Differences in Voting Participation?



It is well documented that voter turnout is lower among persons who grow up in families from a low socioeconomic status compared with persons from high-status families. This paper examines whether reforms in education can help reduce this gap. We establish causality by exploiting a pilot scheme preceding a large reform of Swedish upper secondary education in the early 1990s, which gave rise to exogenous variation in educational attainment between individuals living in different municipalities or born in different years. Similar to recent studies employing credible identification strategies, we fail to find a statistically significant average effect of education on political participation. We move past previous studies, however, and show that the reform nevertheless contributed to narrowing the voting gap between individuals of different social backgrounds by raising turnout among those from low socioeconomic status households. The results thus square well with other recent studies arguing that education is particularly important for uplifting politically marginalized groups.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Karl-Oskar Lindgren, Associate Professor, Uppsala University, IFAU, and UCLS,
Sven Oskarsson, Professor, Uppsala University, and UCLS,
Mikael Persson, Associate Professor, University of Gothenburg,


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We are grateful for the detailed and helpful comments from Adrian Adermon, Anders Sundell, Pär Nyman, Martin Lundin, four anonymous reviewers and the editor Thomas J. Braeuninger. We also thank participants at presentations at the Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy in Uppsala, the Department of Government in Uppsala, the Toronto Political Behavior Workshop, and the University of Oslo. This project has been financed by IFAU, the Swedish Research Council, and the European Research Council. Information on the specifics regarding how to obtain the data can be found in the appendix.



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Lindgren et al. supplementary material
Lindgren et al. supplementary material 1

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