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Revisiting the political life-cycle model: later maturation and turnout decline among young adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2015

Kaat Smets*
Affiliation:
Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK

Abstract

Turnout among young adults has declined steadily in various advanced industrial democracies in recent decades. At the same time, as a consequence of delayed transitions to adulthood, many life-cycle events considered important for the development of electoral participation are experienced later in life. These combined trends call for a revaluation of the political life-cycle model and the way in which it explains voter turnout among young adults. More specifically, in this paper it is argued that variation in the timing of life events has been overlooked as an explanatory factor of generational differences in young adults’ propensity to turn out to vote. With accumulating evidence that the decision to vote is to some extent habitual, a lack of life experiences may cause young adults to form the habit to abstain rather than to vote. If the mechanisms of the life-cycle model are indeed correct, later maturation should at least partially explain why young adults these days are less inclined to vote than their parents or grandparents in their younger years. Based on the British Election Studies from 1964 to 2010, the findings of this study confirm generally observed patterns of a delayed assumption of adult roles by young citizens. This trend toward later maturation negatively affects turnout levels of young citizens. If maturation levels had remained at pre-war levels, the average turnout among Britain’s post-seventies generation would have been no less than 12 percentage points higher.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© European Consortium for Political Research 2015 

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