Search Comment Central
Hooded Youth Edited

Disadvantaged young people don’t vote, and why education is making this worse

Bryony Hoskins
December 9, 2019

By Bryony Hoskins, Professor of Comparative Social Science at the University of Roehampton, and Jan Germen Janmaat, Reader in Comparative Social Science, UCL 

Although we have seen a record number of young people between 18-34 years of age register to vote in the 12 December election, not all of them will actually vote even if they are registered, and the least likely to do so are those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Why do we predict this? The turnout figures from the last general election in 2017 showed that the social group who voted the least were precisely young people aged 18-34 who were either unemployed or doing unskilled and semi-skilled labour, with a turnout of about 35% (IPSOS Mori 2017). This was followed by 18-34 years old doing skilled manual labor at 49%. All other social groups according to gender, age, social class and ethnicity had a turnout rate of more than 50% and the overall turnout was about 63% (IPSOS Mori 2017). Thus, the intersection between social class and age was the crucial factor that defines the likelihood of voting. What's more, these patterns are similar to the previous election in 2015. The long-term effect of these social differences in voter turnout has been that the older wealthy voters have acquired a greater influence on public policy leaving the younger and less wealthy feeling alienated, powerless and distrustful of mainstream politics. The feeling of political alienation not only excludes certain voices from the decision-making processes that affects everyone's lives, but also leaves untapped frustration.

One of the main factors that lead to socioeconomic inequalities in political engagement is education. This learning process starts at home and is already evident when entering schools, with young people displaying different levels of skill and efficacy in discussing and putting forward their points of view. According to our research*, at the age of 12 young people are already showing large differences in intentions to vote in England, and these differences increase significantly up to the age of 20 (figure 1 below). Our research shows that the additional rise is created through the education system and the lack of access to political learning – such as school councils, mock elections, debates and classroom discussions – for young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. These activities are usually dominated by middle class children. In addition, our study also found that children of parents with degrees were 50 per cent more likely to take part in political activities at school than those whose parents left school at 16, and 40 per cent more likely to do so than those whose parents left school at 18.  There are also differences between schools in terms of the amount of political activities offered. Indeed, schools with lower socioeconomic intake offer fewer of these opportunities than those schools who have an intake of more privileged children. 

In our analysis, we found that the subject Citizenship Education, which is compulsory in the national curriculum, played an important factor in helping disadvantaged young people to become more politically engaged. However, in the current climate where academies and free schools no longer have to follow the national curriculum, it is not clear how many students still receive citizenship education now. 

In order to reduce the social gaps in political engagement we need to rethink the priorities and purpose of education and place the learning of democracy at the heart of the education agenda. We need to reintroduce social class and inclusive education theory and practice into teacher training so teachers are able to understand the social groups in their classroom and include all groups within the full range of the curricula activities. We need all schools including vocational colleges, academies and free schools to follow the full national curriculum including citizenship education and make citizenship education compulsory up until the age of 18 for all students. Schools with more disadvantaged intake need to prioritise opportunities for student voice and activities that teach the skills for political engagement. Political activities in school should be made mandatory like debates and mock elections. If all of the above is implemented, then we might have a chance to start tackling social inequalities in political engagement and protecting our democracy for the future.

Professor Bryony Hoskins has a chair in Comparative Social Science at the University of Roehampton. She is an internationally renowned expert on political socialisation specialising in political engagement across Europe and the Middle East.
Most Popular
Shutterstock 2374504499
Events since Thursday, June 6th...
Professor Dan Stevens
June 13, 2024
Shutterstock 2206567965
Protecting vulnerable consumers from energy...
Screenshot 2024 06 12 at 11 08 32
Simon Francis
June 12, 2024
What to read next
Covid students edited
The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected the lives of the young...
Sharon Davies
November 5, 2020
Westminster Sunset Edited
Treating young people with respect and delivering a plausible, deliverable message...
Paul Scully MP
January 27, 2019