The Origins of Political Inequality: Economic and Political Life-Courses of Siblings
22 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 4 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
The equality of political voice is a cornerstone of liberal democracy. In practice, however, economically well-off individuals are more likely to be politically active than citizens at the lower end of the status hierarchy. This paper scrutinizes the common interpretation of this association established in many cross-sectional surveys as reflecting a causal effect of socio-economic status on political voice. Drawing on long-term panel data and natural experiments, the paper shows that a change in socio-economic status only has minor impact on individuals' political mobilization. Moreover, this effect can go in both directions. Investigating the effect of income, occupation, and education on political involvement and action in siblings corroborates the panel results. That is, a financially successful sibling is not more politically active than his or her less successful brother or sister. This implies that much of the difference in political voice across status groups originates in the family background and in stable across the lifecourse. The findings in this paper raise doubts on the validity of both the resource approach and the deprivation approach to political participation, and support the infrequently cited habitus approach.
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