Education, social attitudes and social participation among adults in Britain
A stable finding of research on civic participation is the correlation between overall educational attainment and various attributes that are relevant to democracy, such as propensity to be active, to vote, and to hold views on important public issues. But research since the 1990s has suggested that we should be cautious about this inference. The most important question is that raised by the findings of Nie et al. (1996) on the USA, showing that rising overall levels of education, while probably making populations more liberal, did not make them more likely to vote. Even that conclusion may be too general, because research by, for example, Campbell (2004) and Nie and Hillygus (2001) shows that the content and style of an educational course are relevant. More problematic still are questions about the nature of the citizens which education might help to create: is education democratically desirable because it makes people think, or because it makes people socially liberal (which is the general tenor of most of the writing on this topic)? The paper therefore asks, using British data, what kind of education matters for social attitudes and civic participation by adults? Several British data sources are used, mainly the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts, the British Social Attitudes Survey and the British Household Panel Study.