Young People’s Demography in Democracy: The Effect of Youth Cohort Size on Youth Political Attitudes and Behaviors in Democratic Societies (1995-2020)

Nkansah, Godfred Bonnah (2023) Young People’s Demography in Democracy: The Effect of Youth Cohort Size on Youth Political Attitudes and Behaviors in Democratic Societies (1995-2020). PhD thesis, Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem, Nemzetközi Kapcsolatok és Politikatudományi Doktori Iskola. DOI

PDF : (dissertation)
PDF : (draft in English)


Despite a few pockets of evidence to the contrary, the traditional literature on youth political attitudes and political participation generally asserts that young people in Western democracies are shunning institutionalized politics such as voting, for non-institutionalized politics such as protests. Young people are also argued to be the least adherent to attitudes that support democracy as a political system. Extant research has looked to socioeconomic resources, incentives, and value/cultural changes for explanations to the observed trends. The explanatory potential of demography, however, remains unexplored. This dissertation accordingly examines whether the share of young people within the adult population of democratic countries explains their political attitudes and participation. It investigates the effects of young people’s cohort size on their individual propensities to (1) vote in national elections, (2) participate in peaceful demonstrations (3) support democracy as a political system, across both established and new democracies. The study uses single-level and multilevel logistic regression modeling techniques within large -N research designs, on individual-level data from World Values Survey Waves 3-7 (1995- 2020), and country-level data from the United Nations Population Division, World Bank, the Polity IV democracy Index, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, in three research studies that comprise this portfolio dissertation. The study shows that young people’s cohort size predicts key youth political attitudes and participation in both institutionalized and non institutionalized activities. Young people’s cohort size was found to exert significant direct effects on their propensities to vote in national elections, participate in peaceful demonstrations, and support democracy as a political system. On the one hand, the larger the cohort size of the youth, the less likely that compared to their peers in democratic societies with smaller youth cohort sizes: I. They will vote in national elections. II. Those with higher education will participate in protests when faced with high rates of unemployment. The mechanism by which young people’s cohort size affects their political participation behaviors is argued in this dissertation to manifest through a reduction in the social and economic fortunes of young people growing as part of a large youth population, due to a disequilibrium between their large numbers and the often-limited employment opportunities in the labor market. I argue that this imbalance between their demography and available economic opportunities tends to delay their transition into adulthood, marked by social and economic milestones such as completion of education, gainful employment, marriage, ability to afford your own accommodation, and also provide financial assistance to their significant others. The quest to improve their socioeconomic situations consequently deflects their attention from the more political demands of life, towards a focus on meaningfully integrating into economic life, in order to achieve these social markers of adulthood at that stage of their lives. And while, on the other hand, it is tempting to believe that such declining commitments to political participation by young people could actually be symptomatic of a more serious disillusion with democracy itself as a political system, the findings of this study are rather reassuring in this regard. The study shows that a large youth cohort size associates positively with young people’s propensity to support democracy as a political system. Importantly, however, this positive effect is conditional upon the quality of democracy of the countries in which they live, such that the more established a democratic society, the stronger the propensity that members of a youth bulge will show approval for democracy as a political system. I argue, therefore, that contemporary young people in democratic societies are rather shrewd. They behave like critical citizens/dissatisfied democrats: they believe in and remain committed to the core ideals of democracy as a political system and support it. Their declining commitment to key political activities such as voting and participation in demonstrations, particularly for the unemployed among them, in the face of their burgeoning numbers, may thus be related more to efforts at navigating around the existential challenges associated with being a part of a youth bulge, which cause them to, sometimes, prioritize socioeconomic goals over politics. To an extent, the feeling of a lack of political efficacy may also account especially for their voter apathy. The present findings are novel and hold important implications for both theory and empirical research.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD thesis)
Supervisor:Bartha Attila, Papp Zsófia
Subjects:Political science
ID Code:1323
Date:28 November 2023
Deposited On:05 Oct 2023 13:59
Last Modified:06 Dec 2023 14:33

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