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ERIC Number: ED530036
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Sep
Pages: 39
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 28
Length of Compulsory Education and Voter Turnout--Evidence from a Staged Reform. CEE DP 108
Pelkonen, Panu
Centre for the Economics of Education (NJ1)
It is possible that human capital produces positive externalities to the society indirectly, through non-market channels such as health or crime. Another such channel could be the effect of education on the functioning of democratic decision-making. Measures of the functioning of democracy are bound to be controversial, but one such measure--voter turnout--reflects the engagement of people to democracy, and also receives a considerable amount of attention from social scientists as well as the media. A vast body of empirical research supports the conclusion that educated people have a higher tendency to vote in political elections. However, since the level of education is not assigned randomly, but is a conscious choice, the possibility remains that both education and political participation are determined by unobserved personal qualities or parental influences. So far few studies have been able to find and utilise an institutional change that would have produced experimental variation in the amount of schooling across individuals or groups of people and match it to data on voter turnout or other variables of civic engagement. The few recent studies that attempt this, end up with partly conflicting results. This study estimates the effect of education on voter turnout in the long run. It contributes to the empirical evidence based on institutional changes by using the timing of a Norwegian staged school reform as an instrumental variable for education. In contrast to previous studies, the Norwegian reform created relatively large individual level variation in the years of schooling at lower levels of attainment, as the minimum number of compulsory years was raised from seven to nine. The timing of the reform varied across Norway in a scattered fashion, and this variation appears to be quasi-random as it is difficult to find socio-economic correlates for it. To provide a robust view of the effects of the reform, the analysis is carried out at two levels. Firstly, by using survey data, the impact of the reform on voting in parliamentary elections is tested using individual level data two to four decades after the reform. To the extent that the survey responses can be trusted, this provides an ideal setting for the evaluation of the impact of education on voting. Since some assumptions regarding accuracy of the survey data cannot be fully tested, the analysis is also carried out at the municipality level, using data from up to two decades after the reform started. Municipality level turnout data is representative and accurately measured and also caters for potential behavioural externalities in voting behaviour. The results of the study are, at both levels of analysis, that education does not affect voter turnout. Further, using survey data, the causal impact of education on several measures of civic activity is estimated. Again, all effects are found to be non-significant, except for the likelihood of signing a petition. The findings of this study support the view that political activity of people is driven by other things than education. Appended are: (1) Construction of the sample using Norwegian Election Study data; (2) Predicted years of education; (3) How municipality mergers affect the sample; (4) Variable definitions and sources for municipality level data; and (5) Alternative way to define the instrumental variable in the panel data. (Contains 13 tables and 11 footnotes.)
Centre for the Economics of Education. London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE, UK. Tel: +44-20-7955-7673; Fax: +44-20-7955-7595; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Adult Basic Education; Elementary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Department for Children, Schools and Families
Authoring Institution: London School of Economics & Political Science, Centre for the Economics of Education
Identifiers - Location: Norway