It Runs in the Family: A Study of Political Candidacy Among Swedish Adoptees

Sven Oskarsson, Christopher T. Dawes, Karl Oskar Lindgren

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    What motivates citizens to run for office? Recent work has shown that early life parental socialization is strongly associated with a desire to run for office. However, parents not only shape their children’s political environment, they also pass along their genes to those same children. A growing area of research has shown that individual differences in a wide range of political behaviors and attitudes are linked to genetic differences. As a result, genetic factors may confound the observed political similarities among parents and their children. This study analyzes Swedish register data containing information on all nominated and elected candidates in the ten parliamentary, county council, and municipal elections from 1982 to 2014 for a large sample of adoptees and their adoptive and biological parents. By studying the similarity in political ambition within both adoptive and biological families, our research design allows us to disentangle so-called “pre-birth” factors, such as genes and pre-natal environment, and “post-birth” factors like parental socialization. We find that the likelihood of standing as a political candidate is twice as high if one’s parent has been a candidate. We also find that the effects of pre-birth and post-birth factors are approximately equal in size. In addition, we test a number of potential pre- and post-birth transmission mechanisms. First, disconfirming our expectations, the pre-birth effects do not seem to be mediated by cognitive ability or leadership skills. Second, consistent with a role modeling mechanism, we find evidence of a strong transmission in candidacy status between rearing mothers and their daughters.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)883-908
    Number of pages26
    JournalPolitical Behavior
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


    • Adoption study
    • Intergenerational transmission
    • Political candidacy
    • Pre- and post-birth effects
    • Role modeling

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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