Naazneen Barma reports:
Julianna Sandell Pacheco and Eric Plutzer analyzed the effects of three important teen life transitions—adolescent parenthood, early marriage, and dropping out of high school—on later political engagement. In a paper published in American Politics Research, Pacheco and Plutzer report that the three transitions “can contribute to a pattern of cumulative disadvantage because experiencing one teen transition often leads to another.” Teen parents are much more likely to drop out of school, which in turn sets of other chains of events that dampen political participation, making it unlikely they’ll be able to advocate effectively for their needs and opinions.
Interestingly, the scholars find that the effects of these life transitions on voter turnout differ across racial and ethnic lines, with the impact of teen parenthood applying more to Whites than to Blacks or Hispanics. They suggest that the differences across racial groups may reflect divergent norms about educational achievement and early parenthood and marriage. This hints that providing the right kinds of social support to teens could offset the negative impacts of their life transitions...
The authors demonstrate that supposedly “nonpolitical” life events can have an influence on political behavior. From a harm reduction viewpoint, it may be possible to cut into the causal chain to prevent one bad choice from leading to another. Their results suggest that efforts to help teen parents in a way that makes it easier for them to stay in school could carry great benefits—both for their immediate educational success and their lifelong political engagement.
I have been thinking recently about how tough it is, period, to be a parent and stay politically active. This past weekend I attended a board meeting for an organization that I've been involved with for about a year, and as I sat there looking at spreadsheets I had a revelation: it's not just me volunteering my time, it's my entire family. I normally take responsibility for Liko over the weekend, which allows my wife to do whatever she wants (hanging out with us is one option, but it's her choice; she spends a lot of time cleaning the house and doing laundry, I'm afraid). When I go to a weekend-long meeting, my wife loses the break from caregiving, and of course my son loses my company. I've started to recently think that maybe it's just not the right time in my life to be politically active, but I fear that if I drop out completely I'll never go back. (I also just had a short story published, "What Do We Want? When Do We Want It?" that touches on this topic--one of my few stories to be available online!)