THE EDUCATION EFFECT – GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN DISGUISE? A longitudinal comparative study examining reasons for the liberalizing effect of education on socio-cultural attitudes

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Statsvetenskapliga institutionen

Abstract: The rise of a socio-cultural political dimension in post-industrial societies has substantially changed former patterns of political conflicts. Prior research has established that the level of education is the most predictive characteristic for different individual positions within this value-based dimension. Although the importance of education on socio-cultural values is well known, there is a lack of unity as to whether the effect is causal in itself or merely a correlation of other factors that impact both political attitudes and the propensity to attend higher education. In this thesis, I argue that generational differences might constitute a partial explanation for the strength of the education effect. Younger generations tend to be socio-culturally more liberal than older generations, but they likewise tend to be more educated. Also, the relative importance of education for the formation of attitudes could be weaker in generations that grew up when higher education was more widespread within the population and when the general societal climate was more liberal. The results from the pooled dataset from the European Social Survey 2002 –2018, including 30 countries, shows that a part of the education effect is generational in origin and that the strength of the education effect depends on the generational affiliation. Through an examination of European regions, the analysis further indicate that this dependency varies in strength and direction in different societal contexts.

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