Intergenerational differences in social and political participation in Western Europe

Christiane Meyers

The global crisis and its negative consequences on living conditions in Europe have led in some countries to massive protests, especially among young persons. Kern et al. (2015) argue that this rising and sudden political engagement can be explained by grievance theory: individuals whose interests are threatened react by engaging themselves politically. However, they also demonstrate that political participation in a more long-term perspective is better explained by the civic voluntarism model. Brady et al. (1995) establish that resources like time, money and civic skills are central for getting politically active. Persons with a low socioeconomic status who possess fewer resources are generally less political active. In a long-term perspective the economic crisis and the deterioration of living conditions should lead to less political participation of young people.
I want to use the civic voluntarism model to analyse and describe the changing political participation forms of different generations. Generations are defined as persons having experienced similar historical conditions when growing up, thus developing similar values and beliefs (Grasso, 2014). I will look at the generation of the baby boomers born after World War II and compare them to the generation Y born before the turn of the millennium. Both generations grew up in times of social changes and challenges. I will use a broad definition of participation, which integrates political and social engagement, to look at the different participation modes of the generations (Meyers & Willems, 2016; Sloam, 2014; Dalton, 2008).
The analysis is based on data of the European Values Study and uses multivariate methods (factor and cluster analysis) to determine different engagement types within the two generations in Western Europe. Are there signs that the young generation disengages from society? Do they engage themselves in other ways than the older generation? How can the civic voluntarism model help to explain the differences between older and younger generations?

Suggested Citation

Meyers, C. (2017). Intergenerational differences in social and political participation in Western Europe. Presentation at the ESA RN30 Midterm Conference 2017, in association with ISA. ESA RN30, & ISA RC34. ESA RN30 Midterm Conference 2017: Global Youth Futures: Perspectives and Prospects, Ericeira.

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