The Kids are All Right? Income Inequality and Civic Engagement among Our Nation’s Youth

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Prior work suggests that income inequality depresses civic participation among adults. However, associations between income inequality and youth civic engagement have not been assessed. This is true despite evidence that other features of communities influence youth civic development. To fill the gap, we examine associations between county-level income inequality and civic engagement among a nationally representative sample of 12,240 15-year-olds (50 % female). We find opposite patterns than those suggested by the adult literature. Higher county-level income inequality is associated with slightly more civic engagement (greater importance of helping others, higher rates of volunteering often), and this is particularly true for low-socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic minority youth. Potential developmental and structural explanations for these differences are offered. In addition, practical implications of these findings are drawn, and future research directions for scholars studying youth are proposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2218-2232
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Adolescence
  • Civic engagement
  • Civic participation
  • Income inequality
  • Poverty
  • Racial/ethnic differences
  • SES
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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