Author's School

Brown School of Social Work

Author's Department/Program

Social Work


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Amanda McBride


ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION Understanding Political Involvement Among Disadvantaged Adolescents by Suzanne Pritzker Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work Washington University in St. Louis, 2009 Professor Amanda Moore McBride, Chairperson Following substantial concern in recent years about youth disengagement from the political arena, 2008 Presidential election data indicate that youth political participation is now on the rise. However, low-income and some ethnic minority youth are substantially less likely to participate and to hold positive attitudes about politics and government than their wealthier and/or White counterparts. This suggests a possible disconnect between ethnic minority or economically disadvantaged youth and the larger U.S. society, and may signal potential life-long disassociation from civic processes. Using four years of 12th grade data from Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth, this dissertation sought to assess differential impacts of economic status and racial/ethnic identification on adolescent political development, to inform civic interventions that seek to counter this possible disconnect. Bivariate analyses tested previous findings of racial and socio-economic differences in political attitudes and behaviors. Confirmatory factor analyses assessed whether adolescents of different socio-economic status or races/ethnicities similarly interpret political attitude and behavioral measures. Finally, structural equation modeling analyses tested whether socio-economic status or race/ethnicity moderate paths between political attitudes and behaviors. Results indicated that low-income, Black, and Hispanic adolescents held more negative political attitudes and lower levels of political behavior. While adolescents of different socio-economic status interpreted attitudinal and behavioral items and constructs similarly, important differences were identified across racial/ethnic groups. Specifically, Black adolescents interpreted political attitudes differently than other adolescents, suggesting caution in interpreting cross-group analyses of adolescent attitudes and perceptions towards government. Finally, path analyses indicated that White adolescents and adolescents across socio-economic status who are interested in government and hold political preferences and beliefs were more likely to engage in non-traditional political activities, while these attitudes did not predict electoral behavior. For these subgroups, positive views of how government acts predict electoral activity, while negative views of how government behaves predict non-traditional political activity. These paths were not all significant for Black, Hispanic, and Asian adolescents, however, suggesting that adolescent paths between political attitudes and behaviors may operate differently across races/ethnicities. Implications of these findings for youth development practice, future research, and civic education and civic development policy are presented.


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