Marshmallows and Votes? Childhood Skill Development and Adult Political Participation

73 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2015 Last revised: 10 Apr 2016

John B Holbein

Princeton University

Date Written: March 28, 2016

Abstract

Recent child development research has shown that the psychosocial or non-cognitive skills that children develop — including the ability to self regulate and to integrate in social settings — are critically important for success in school and in the labor force. Are these skills learned in childhood also important for political behaviors, like voting? In this paper, I use a unique school-based 20-year field experiment to show that at risk children who develop psychosocial skills are more likely to vote in adulthood than those who do not. Matching participants to public use voter files, I show that this childhood intervention had a large long-run impact on political participation, increasing adult turnout by 11-14 percentage points. These results suggest a refocusing of political behavior studies on childhood. During this critical period, children can be taught the not explicitly political, but still vital, skills that set them on a path towards political participation in adulthood.

Keywords: Voter Turnout, Non-Cognitive Skills, Psychosocial skills, Political Socialization, Field Experiments, Civic Engagement, Civic Education

Suggested Citation

Holbein, John B, Marshmallows and Votes? Childhood Skill Development and Adult Political Participation (March 28, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2632714 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2632714

John B Holbein (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

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