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Sociopolitical Participation of Young Adults in Estonia and the United States

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Silver, Brian D., and Jaak Uuekula. "Sociopolitical Participation of Young Adults in Estonia and the United States." PSC Research Report No. 90-201. December 1990.

Citizen political participation is an important norm in both the Soviet Union and the United States. This study focuses on the relationship between individual life orientations and political activity among young adults, using data from a longitudinal survey conducted in Estonia and from the third follow-up of the "High School and Beyond" survey conducted in the United States. A major aim is to show that the methodological approach to studying sociopolitical activity in Estonian studies of the life course is an instructive model for political scientists in the United States. Underlying this approach is a conviction that an individual's political activeness can only be understood by relating it to the individual's broad orientations toward life and toward work and to the developmental stage of the individual's life course. In contrast, most surveys of political participation in the United States study participation in isolation from the individual's broad social values and career stage. They tend to account for political activeness in terms of a narrower set of explicitly political value orientations, in combination with badkground factors sudh as education, sex, and race.

Multi-item measures of 'life orientation," "work orientation," and political activeness are derived from both the Estonian and American surveys. Although the indicators used in the two data sets are not identical, the comparisons are useful.

The study finds that even though most young people in Estonia in 1987 were active in organized political activity only in formalistic terms, the more active individuals were more likely to be motivated by altruistic rather than by self-serving motivations; and those who were more strongly committed to career mobility and material gain we re riot more active than others. This evidence strongly counters the common stereotype that those who took part in conventional politics in the USSR before perestroika were mostly careerists and self-interested rather than sincerely committed to the collective good.

The analysis of the data from the United States shows that those who wished to be a leader in their community or who valued the reduction of social and economic inequality were more active in politics than those who were less committed to these goals. Also, those who especially valued family life tended to be model citizens in other respects: they were more likely to vote, to engage in discussion of public affairs, and to participate in organized social group activities. "Work value" orientations were also related to levels of political participation. Young people who valued challenging work, being independent-minded, and working with friendly people were more likely to be active in election campaigns. But they were not distinctively more likely to participte in other ways, such as by pining political clubs and community organizations. At the same time, those who wished to obtain a prestigious job and a good income were less likely to participate in politics on at least two of the dimensions studied. And those who valued a job that leaves a lot of time for other things apparently did not spend their leisure time in political activity.

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