For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Off to a Bad Start: Unemployment and Political Interest during Early Adulthood"

by Emmenegger, Patrick; Marx, Paul; Schraff, Dominik (2017)


It is often argued that unemployment depresses political involvement because unemployment deprives workers of important workplace-related resources. We challenge this argument from two sides. Theoretically, we argue that the resource approach neglects life cycle stages. Socialization theory suggests that workplace-related resources influence political involvement mostly during adolescence and early adulthood but not later in life. Ignoring life cycle stages therefore risks underestimating unemployment effects on young workers and overestimating them for older workers. Our second criticism is methodological. Existing literature on unemployment and political involvement largely uses cross-sectional data, which makes it impossible to eliminate unobserved heterogeneity. Using German panel data, we show that unemployment depresses the growth of political interest in early adulthood, while it does not have an effect later in life. Moreover, we find that early unemployment experiences have scarring effects that reduce the long-term level of political interest and participation.

Key Passage

Our study has important policy implications. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called youth unemployment “the most pressing problem facing Europe at the present time.” Although she was mostly referring to the well documented material and psychological repercussions of youth unemployment, such experiences, as we have shown, can also lower political involvement. This means that those who need public policies most are the least likely to make their voices heard. This finding reinforces arguments that fighting youth unemployment should be a top priority for policy makers—even in times of tight budgets. (p.326)


Political Participation, Democracy, Democratic Theory, Civic Skills, Unemployment


Democracy and Work

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